This day in 1944: the 378th’s Boughton nearly buys it

On June 29, 1944, Captain Wilfred Crutchfield led 12 planes from the 378th Fighter Squadron to the area south of Paris, where they bombed railroad tracks near Chartres and Augeriolle and the town of Chateuden. 20 Oil cars were destroyed during the mission, but in the process Lt. William Boughton picked up some flak. He called his leader, Capt. Richard Cline, “saying he was hit in the engine and was smoking.” Cline gave him a heading for home, but after about three minutes Boughton said he was bailing out. “He pulled up into the clouds at 1500 feet and his ship (P-47D-20 42-76424) was seen to hit the ground and explode. He landed safely and was seen to be making his way toward a small woods.” Boughton would later return to the group.

Later in the day, the 378thattacked the marshalling yard at Ploermel and put eight bombs into the tracks. Lt. Joe Matte damaged a truck and a trailer on the way home.

 

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Local paper headlines: “Laurel Flyer Drops Bombs from Thunderbolt Down Gun Turret of Nazi Tiger Tank”

Robert Campbell was a member of the 378th FS, 379th FG. The contemporary press reports may not be chock full of accurate detail, but they are entertaining! This was from the April 3 issue of the Marshalltown Times Republican:

Flying his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber, “Peg of My Heart,” Lt. Robert W. Campbell recently dropped a 500 pound bomb down an open gun turret of a Nazi Tiger tank during an attack in which his flight of three Thunderbolts destroyed 40 vehicles and six tanks near Bitburg, Germany. An account of some of the missions in which the flier has participated was sent to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Campbell of Laurel by a public relations officer of the Ninth Air Force.

“We were on an armed reconnaissance in the area,” the release said, quoting Lieutenant Campbell. “I spotted a convoy of 50 trucks and tanks dispersed in a woods alongside a road. Peeling off in a steep dive, I aimed for five tanks near the edge of the road. One of my bombs went right down the middle of an open gun turret of a Tiger tank. As the bomb exploded inside, the tank seemed to jump right into the air. When it landed it was a burning mass of twisted steel.”

“I gained altitude quickly and came in on the deck at over 300 miles an hour strafing. I must have got 11 trucks on that first strafing pass for I could see my tracers hitting at least 20 vehicles. I circled and came back in knocking out six more trucks. German soldiers were running like mad for open foxholes in the woods and alongside the road.

When we left, my flight had destroyed 40 vehicles and six tanks in the attack that lasted about 20 minutes,” said Lt. Campbell.

Robert Campbell (left) and Roy Christian horse around on a captured 88. Christian would be KIA by flak, but Campbell completed his tour.

In another mission, Lt. Campbell dived out of the sun in his rocket-carrying Thunderbolt at over 350 miles an hour to attack and destroy a two story house used by the Germans as a command post, west of Bitburg, Germany.

“The ground controller called and told me the house was being used as a German command post.” said Lieutenant Campbell. “I went down to look it over for a good steep approach. Circling back up into the clouds, I rolled over on my wing with the sun behind me and dived 3,000 feet and fired two rockets that exploded in the house.

“It seemed to crumble in two and began burning. I released another rocket into the two story structure for good measure.”

Lieutenant Campbell shot up five armored vehicles and three gun positions several miles from the command post with one strafing pass on his way back to the base.

Flying barely 50 feet off the ground over American infantrymen advancing near Echternach, Germany, recently, Lieutenant Campbell led a squadron of Thunderbolts in pumping .50 caliber bullets into the German defenses less than a mile away despite adverse weather conditions.

“That day the weather was poor as we came in low over the heads of our boys who were less than a mile away from forward German positions,” described Lieutenant Campbell. “As they saw us the boys waved and two Yanks threw their helmets into the air.

Heavy small arms fire greeted us as we began firing into the Jerry positions. We made another strafing run and then attacked an enemy-held town and 12 vehicles. Climbing back up into the overcast we headed home.”

Lieutenant Campbell remembers well one particular day last August when his group was attacking Brest harbor where German light naval ships were attempting to evacuate German soldiers from the city of Brest. While dive-bombing the ships, word was received at his base that the lieutenant had become the father of a baby boy.

“When I landed and they told me the good news, I practically fainted,” grinned the Laurel high school graduate who helped sink five merchantmen and damaged a German cruiser in the harbor.

 

Why one reads the footnotes…

I haven’t blogged for a while, primarily because of footnote.com. This remarkable site has most (but not all) of the USAAF’s Missing Aircrew Reports (MACRs) from the U.S. National Archives on line in a somewhat searchable form. I say “somewhat” because the various pages of MACRs are split up; you can see one document at a time, but often it takes two or three documents to reveal the entire story. These MACRs contain the name of the pilot and the aircraft involved in a loss (and sometimes even the plane’s nose art name!), and once you have the number, you can search on that at bring up a virtual dossier on that aircraft, usually including an eyewitness report of the loss. As you can imagine, for a guy writing a couple of books, this is titanically useful . Events which had a short sentence now have full eyewitness accounts, some causes of losses are corrected, and for days when a group flew more than one mission, it becomes much easier to determine on which missions planes were lost.
From a modeling standpoint, it’s also golden. I now have several new schemes for Roy Sutherland of Barracudacals, and I was able to track down data on some planes he’s wanted to do for a long time. But from a personal standpoint, it’s even more satisfying.

In 2006, James Kitts asked me to help find the details of the loss of Lt. Ken Kitts of the 379th FS/362nd FG, who went down April 8, 1944. At the afternoon briefing, the pilots were informed that 70 trains were moving from Arras to Rouen. The found only seven, but shot them up just the same. The 379th made repeated passes, with Capt. Thurman Morrison, Lt. Kent Geyer and Lt. Vernon Ligon knocking out one locomotive and Lt. Clough Gee and Lt. Jim Ashford destroying a second. Unfortunately, flak hit Lt. Ken Kitts’ Thunderbolt “Loko,” P-47D-15 42-75624, at 1500 feet. Kitts’ flight leader, Col. Morton Magoffin, radioed a warning to Kitts, who called back that his oil pressure was dropping, and he asked his wingman, Lt. Gordon Larsen, to accompany him home. “We flew toward the French coast for about five minutes when Lt. Kitts called me and said he would not be able to make it,” said Larsen. “We were flying at 5000 feet and just below a cloud layer. In about a minute, I observed that his engine had cut out. He immediately started to get ready to bail out. He left the ship at about 2500 feet. As he bailed out, he hit the horizontal stabilizer. I followed him down until he hit the ground.” Kitts was probably knocked unconscious, because his never made any attempt to open his parachute. He fell to his death in the St. Saens area.

His family had been unable to find the MACR for Kitts, and Jim wanted to build a model of his uncle’s plane. There’s a nice color photo of the nose art of “Loko,” but the rest of the details were unknown. I now have the pleasure of letting James know that the plane was P-47D-15 42-75624; I’ll go through my photo collection and see if I can find a tail fin and aircraft call letter to match that serial.

More discoveries as they happen…

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