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.

 

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.

 

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: The 362nd’s Joe Hunter keeps a vow to himself

The 362nd Fighter Group flew six missions on New Year’s Eve 1944, striking towns and marshalling yards to the east of the battle area because of poor weather. Trier was bombed through a hole in the overcast, and 16 rail cars and three trucks were claimed as destroyed. The 378th Fighter Squadron hit the rail yard at Hellenhausen, destroying 10 cars, and bombed the entrance of a nearby tunnel, then strafed and destroyed three trucks. On the day’s second mission, the marshalling yards at Longenlonsheim were hit, with six cars and three buildings destroyed.

No planes were lost this day, but, as was often the case, many came home with flak damage. “On one mission, I got hit and the sergeant in charge of maintenance told me that I had received a 20mm in my supercharger and that I was very lucky to be alive,” said Capt. Joe Hunter. “I vowed that I would return home the next time I was hit. As luck would have it, it happened the next time I went up – the very next day.”

Flak damaged Hunter’s Thunderbolt before he could find a target for his 500-pound bombs. “When I got back to the base, I still had my bombs and was directed to a bomb disposal area,” he said. “Only one bomb would drop despite all my efforts, so I proceeded to land with it on. The runway was covered with a lot of snow. When I started to put down flaps to land, only one flap was down. I went around and decided to try to land without any flaps. When I touched down at about 130 mph, I saw that I had only one brake. When the end of the runway neared, I spun around but stayed right side up!”

 

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.