67 Years Ago: The 362nd’s Battle of the Bulge Begins

On December 17, the 362nd Fighter Group flew 10 missions in support of XII Corps and VIII Corps. Although weather prevented the results of bombing from being seen in many cases, the group claimed nine gun positions, four locomotives and 55 rail cars destroyed or damaged. The 378th Fighter Squadron caught a 100-vehicle road convoy moving north from Brenschelbach and repeated strafing left all of the vehicles burning. The group earned kudos from the ground controller by silencing mortar positions north of Sarreguimines and for strafing an artillery position in the woods nearby. Near Dahlen, 40 Fw 190s, probably of JG.4, attacked eight 377th FS planes “very aggressively” and, in the ensuing scrap, one Fw 190 was destroyed by Maj. Loren Herway who terrified the pilot by firing four five-inch rockets past him, resulting in the panicked German flying into the ground. One other Fw 190 was damaged at no loss to the Thunderbolts. However, flak claimed Lt. Col. Richard Harbeson, the deputy group commander, while he was strafing a train near Landstuhl. After fighting to keep the plane in the air, “He finally hit a steeple on a building and ended up upside down,” said Lt. Ralph Ellis. Harbeson brought P-47D-28-RA 42-28801 down atop the belfry of the Eichelscheider Hof farm, splintering the wooden roof and ripping off the wings of his P-47 in the process, and was able to get out of his plane and wave from the rooftop that he was okay before being captured. Maj. Berry Chandler was selected to replace him, and Carroll Peterson took over as the CO of the 379th. A second 378th train-busting mission destroyed a 15-car train and its locomotive with phosphorus, general purpose and napalm bombs.

Richard Harbeson’s P-47D “Barbara” atop the belfry of Eishelscheider Hof

On December 18, the group sent out planes loaded with the same ordnance mixture as the previous day’s last mission to the Nunschweiler area, where they put it to good use, destroying 53 trucks, 24 rail cars and a locomotive, 21 gun positions and three supply dumps. The group ran a second mission with 11 planes, dropping into the woods where tanks were reported but observing no results. On the way home, they strafed and destroyed two tanks on a nearby road.

The next day, the weather moved in again, limiting the group to one mission per squadron. Gun positions near Gersheim on the Blies River were silenced by general-purpose bombs and M-76 incendiaries dropped by the 378th. The squadron also bombed a gun position near Bliesdalheim, but the results were unknown. Meanwhile, the 377th went after a tank column near Oberstein, and flak was heavy. “We were orbiting over the target area when several bursts of heavy flak (went off) behind me,” said Lt. Robert Campbell, who was leading Yellow Flight. “Lt. (Stanley) Krzywicki was crossing under me and called he was hit.” Campbell told Kryzwicki, flying P-47D-28-RE 44-19783 “Nancy Jane,” to jettison his bombs and head for home, and Kryzwicki started back to base, but a few minutes later, with bombs still on board, he radioed his leader. “He called in and said he thought he was OK and wanted to bomb with me,” said Campbell. “I said OK. Smoke was coming out of his supercharger in large black gobs. He no sooner entered my flight when he said he couldn’t make it and headed out once more. He changed to a different radio channel and called ‘Ripsaw’ and headed out.” Kryzwicki bailed out of his plane a few minutes later, and watched it slam into the ground just east of Kirn. He evaded and was able to return to the group.

The 379th sent 12 planes out to hit the marshalling yard at Weilerbach. “We made our bomb run from east to west and found that the target was protected with intense light flak,” reported Lt. Barton Williams. “As I pulled off the target to the north, I noticed that some of the flak was coming from some gun pits just to the south of the tracks. I turned back south and made a strafing run on these pits. As I pulled away, I saw Lt. (James) Nance who was flying Red Four, coming up behind me trailing white smoke. Just then he called in that he had been hit and was heading out. I then turned around to pick him up. He was headed east and going down as I came around.” Williams watched Nance belly-land “Toochy,” P-47D-26 42-28389, in an open field. “I then circled to see if he was all right and saw him climb out of the plane and run towards a woods about a quarter of a mile from where he landed.” Nance successfully evaded to return to the group.