68 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group cleans up over Gutersloh

On March 24, 1945, the 364th Fighter Squadron was prowling the area west of Gutersloh when it spotted bandits airborne over the aerodrome. “We made a 180-degree turn and dove on their tails,” reported Capt. Paul Hatala. “The enemy aircraft saw us and broke up to fight. I picked out a Bf 109 and started turning with him. I got strikes in the wing. Pieces came off and it went into a dive from 3000 feet. The pilot bailed out and his chute opened.”

Hatala dove on another Bf 109 and sent it careening into the ground. “I looked at my tail and saw another 109 firing away at very close range. I immediately went into a steep turn to the right and dropped flaps. The 109 couldn’t stay with me, so he dropped out. When I leveled out he came in on me so he was set up for a 90-degree deflection shot. I got good hits on his wings and in the cockpit. Hits in his right wing knocked part of the wing off and he dished out and dove into the ground at about an 80-degree angle.”

Hatala spotted a Bf 109 on the tail of a P-51. “I got on the tail of this enemy aircraft and started shooting. I got some strikes on the wing and fuselage. He then leveled out and I gave him another burst. Pieces came off the enemy aircraft and the pilot bailed out.”

Lt. Robert Schimanski was leading White Flight; as the gaggle flew below him, he positioned his flight for a bounce. “I picked out one for myself, put the pipper on him and waited for him to blow up, but I couldn’t wait long enough to put the finishing touches on him,” Schimanski said. “I started turning with another Bf 109, finally catching him on the top of a climbing turn. I hit him in the cockpit and he snapped on his back and tumbled into the ground from about 2000 feet.”

Additional victims fell to Lt. Col. Andy Evans, F/O Charles Schneider, Maj. John Storch, and Lts. Stephen Waslyk, Lawrence Westphal, Roland Wright and Gilman Weber.

The 362nd Fighter Squadron heard the radio chatter and headed for the action. “The fight was at 12 o’clock low and we immediately started towards the engagement,” said Capt. Charles Weaver. He entered into a Lufbery, but lost the advantage and dove away. “Finally, I singled out a lone Jerry making haste from the scene of action; I turned and gave chase. My first burst, of three seconds, was at 650 to 700 yards. I observed strikes on the nose and engine cowling. The Bf 109 pulled up in a chandelle to the left and I closed very rapidly, firing a long second burst at 200 yards, noting strikes on the nose, engine, cockpit and all other parts of the enemy aircraft. Pieces were flying thick and fast. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and tried with some difficulty to get out. I gave several short bursts at 50 to 70 yards, at which time the pilot popped out of his cockpit. The Jerry’s chute did not open until he was about 80 feet from the ground. It did not have time to blossom.”

Charles Weaver's Mustang seen after the war's end.

Charles Weaver’s Mustang seen after the war’s end.

White Flight jumped into the same Lufbery. “I singled one out and got on his tail,” said Lt. William Gruber. “After a few deflection bursts at close range, I closed to about 100 yards dead astern. I put the pipper on the cockpit and fired a long burst of at least six seconds. Flames and black smoke enveloped the whole plane. The Bf 109 turned on its back and plummeted straight into the earth. A large, brilliant red flash followed.”

“I spotted a Bf 109 directly below at 9 o’clock to us and called it in to my flight leader,” said Lt. John Duncan. “He S’ed to the right and came in behind the enemy aircraft, which was turning to the left. Just then I sighted a P-51 with a Bf 109 on his tail shooting like mad. I called my flight leader and broke down on the Jerry’s tail. He pulled in to the left and made a 270 (degree turn). I opened fire at about 400 yards and he started streaming smoke. Then the pilot bailed out, making a delayed jump. I fired on him before his chute opened and believe I hit him.”

The 363rd Fighter Squadron was flying its own segment of the sweep not far away when they heard about the hunting around Gutersloh. Maj. Robert Foy soon spotted two Bf 109s hugging the deck. “I alerted the squadron and started to dive onto the tail of the enemy aircraft. They apparently saw us diving to attack and one enemy aircraft on the right side of the two-ship formation broke right and I lost sight of him. The lead ship broke left and I continued on to his tail, pulling into range, giving him a short burst. He obligingly straightened out at about 600 feet. I closed in rapidly, giving him short bursts. The last burst clobbered him squarely and he began streaming smoke. He headed toward the deck and made a feeble attempt to crash land. He hit upon his right wing and cartwheeled, tearing the plane to bits.”

Foy circled and saw the German pilot running from the crash. He strafed the pilot and killed him, but when he tried to pull up he hit a tree with is left wing, then bounced off a second with his right wing. Foy managed to fly his battered Mustang home.

The day was marred by the death of Otto Jenkins who was killed when his Mustang crashed while returning to base.

This day, 67 years ago: the 357th wreaks havoc over Gutersloh

On March 24, 1945, the 364th Fighter Squadron was prowling the area west of Gutersloh when it spotted bandits airborne over an aerodrome. “We made a 180-degree turn and dove on their tails,” reported Capt. Paul Hatala. “The enemy aircraft saw us and broke up to fight. I picked out a Bf 109 and started turning with him. I got strikes in the wing. Pieces came off and it went into a dive from 3000 feet. The pilot bailed out and his chute opened.”

Hatala dove on another Bf 109 and sent it careening into the ground. “I looked at my tail and saw another 109 firing away at very close range. I immediately went into a steep turn to the right and dropped flaps. The 109 couldn’t stay with me, so he dropped out. When I leveled out he came in on me so he was set up for a 90-degree deflection shot. I got good hits on his wings and in the cockpit. Hits in his right wing knocked part of the wing off and he dished out and dove into the ground at about an 80-degree angle.”

Hatala spotted a Bf 109 on the tail of a P-51. “I got on the tail of this enemy aircraft and started shooting. I got some strikes on the wing and fuselage. He then leveled out and I gave him another burst. Pieces came off the enemy aircraft and the pilot bailed out.”

Lt. Robert Schimanski was leading White Flight; as the gaggle flew below him, he positioned his flight for a bounce. “I picked out one for myself, put the pipper on him and waited for him to blow up, but I couldn’t wait long enough to put the finishing touches on him,” Schimanski said. “I started turning with another Bf 109, finally catching him on the top of a climbing turn. I hit him in the cockpit and he snapped on his back and tumbled into the ground from about 2000 feet.” Additional victims fell to Lt. Col. Andy Evans, F/O Charles Schneider, Maj. John Storch, and Lts. Stephen Waslyk, Lawrence Westphal, Roland Wright and Gilman Weber.

The 362nd Foghter Squadron heard the radio chatter and headed for the action. “The fight was at 12 o’clock low and we immediately started towards the engagement,” said Capt. Charles Weaver. He entered into a Lufbery, but lost the advantage and dove away. “Finally, I singled out a lone Jerry making haste from the scene of action; I turned and gave chase. My first burst, of three seconds, was at 650 to 700 yards. I observed strikes on the nose and engine cowling. The Bf 109 pulled up in a chandelle to the left and I closed very rapidly, firing a long second burst at 200 yards, noting strikes on the nose, engine, cockpit and all other parts of the enemy aircraft. Pieces were flying thick and fast. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and tried with some difficulty to get out. I gave several short bursts at 50 to 70 yards, at which time the pilot popped out of his cockpit. The Jerry’s chute did not open until he was about 80 feet from the ground. It did not have time to blossom.”

White Flight jumped into the same Lufbery. “I singled one out and got on his tail,” said Lt. William Gruber. “After a few deflection bursts at close range, I closed to about 100 yards dead astern. I put the pipper on the cockpit and fired a long burst of at least six seconds. Flames and black smoke enveloped the whole plane. The Bf 109 turned on its back and plummeted straight into the earth. A large, brilliant red flash followed.”

“I spotted a Bf 109 directly below at 9 o’clock to us and called it in to my flight leader,” said Lt. John Duncan. “He S’ed to the right and came in behind the enemy aircraft, which was turning to the left. Just then I sighted a P-51 with a Bf 109 on his tail shooting like mad. I called my flight leader and broke down on the Jerry’s tail. He pulled in to the left and made a 270 (degree turn). I opened fire at about 400 yards and he started streaming smoke. Then the pilot bailed out, making a delayed jump. I fired on him before his chute opened and believe I hit him.”

The 363rd was flying its own segment of the sweep not far away when they heard about the hunting around Gutersloh. Maj. Robert Foy soon spotted two Bf 109s hugging the deck. “I alerted the squadron and started to dive onto the tail of the enemy aircraft. They apparently saw us diving to attack and one enemy aircraft on the right side of the two-ship formation broke right and I lost sight of him. The lead ship broke left and I continued on to his tail, pulling into range, giving him a short burst. He obligingly straightened out at about 600 feet. I closed in rapidly, giving him short bursts. The last burst clobbered him squarely and he began streaming smoke. He headed toward the deck and made a feeble attempt to crash land. He hit upon his right wing and cartwheeled, tearing the plane to bits.” Foy circled and saw the German pilot running from the crash. He strafed the pilot and killed him, but when he tried to pull up he hit a tree with is left wing, then bounced off a second with his right wing. Foy managed to fly his battered Mustang home.

The day was marred by the death of Otto Jenkins who was killed when his Mustang crashed while returning to base.

66 Years Ago: the 357th Fighter Group and the Big Day (part 3)

Capt. Leonard “Kit” Carson’s Blue Flight was busy, too. As soon as they spotted the fighters preparing to hit the bombers head-on, “we pulled out in front of the bombers and met them in a head-on attack,” said Carson. “I took Blue, Green and Yellow Flights to the left to break up the attack at 11 o’clock. I fired at them, as did most everyone else, coming head-on, then turned and tacked onto the rear of the gaggle. Their attack on the bombers had been diverted, so we concentrated on the tail-end Charlies. I closed to about 400 yards on an Fw 190 at the rear on the outside, firing a good burst, getting strikes all over his fuselage. I watched him for a second to see his reaction. He took no evasive action, but just peeled down to the right very slowly. I followed him down. His turns became more violent and then he started snapping from the right to the left. He was smoking quite badly. I believe the pilot was killed. I pulled off and watched him until he hit the dirt.”

"Kit" Carson's "Nooky Booky IV"

Meanwhile, another pilot in Carson’s flight, Lt. John Duncan, picked another Fw 190 to the right of Carson’s victim. “I opened fire from 600 yards, closing to 200 yards, getting strikes on both wings,” he said. “The Jerrys split-S’ed for the deck and I followed him down, firing some more and getting additional strikes. At about 18,000 feet, the pilot bailed out and I watched his chute open.”

When Duncan looked around, he saw none of his squadron members, or any P-51s for that matter. What Duncan did spot were eight Fw 190s approaching him from the rear. “They pulled off to the right, and I reversed my turn and went left,” he said. “I met them head on and managed to get inside the last man, turning in the opposite direction. We were at 15,000 feet altitude. I fired and saw strikes all over the canopy. He started streaming smoke and then dove straight down. I watched him go down in a slow spiral, still streaming smoke, it the ground and exploded. The pilot did not get out.”

While Duncan had descended, Carson and the two remaining members of his element had climbed. “I went back up to the bombers, looked around for a couple of minutes, looked straight back at 6 o’clock and saw a formation of 40 to 50 Fw 190s coming up about 1000 yards behind,” he said. “There were a couple of P-51s near me, and they broke with me. We met the enemy planed head-on. They didn’t fire, but we did, although I saw no hits. After we got behind them, we turned as quickly as possible and once again picked out a tail-end Charlie. I fired a burst at 350 to 400 yards at an Fw 190, getting strikes, He did a couple of snaps to the right, with his belly tank on, and wound up on his back. I fired again, getting more hits on the fuselage. Pieces came off the enemy ship and he began smoking. He split-S’ed and headed for the deck. I followed him down until he hit, bounced and crashed. The pilot did not get out.

“I climbed back up to about 14,000 feet when two Bf 109s came tooling by about 2000 feet beneath me. I dropped down and fired at the one in the rear, getting no hits. They dropped flaps and broke violently. I zoomed back up while they circled in a Lufbery. I made another ill-timed pass and pulled up again, getting no hits. The leader broke off and headed for the deck. I dropped down to tail-end Charlie as he started down. He pulled up, losing speed. I kept my excessive speed, firewalled it, and started firing at about 300 yards, closing down to about 20 yards, getting hits all over the fuselage. His coolant blew as I pulled over him. Then he went into a sort of tumbling spiral and crashed.”

A Bf 109 dived between Lt. Charles Weaver and his element leader, splitting the two up. While he scrambled to rejoin, he spotted another Messerschmitt whose markings caused him to pause before attacking. The plane was painted olive drab, with black and white stripes around the fuselage – perhaps “Defense of the Reich” bands, but ones Weaver instantly thought of as “invasion stripes.” He turned onto the Bf 109’s tail and fired a short burst from long range. The Bf 109 responded with a steep left turn. Weaver wracked his plane to draw lead, firing from a nearly inverted position. He saw no strikes, but just the same the Bf 109 dived straight into the ground.

Chuck Weaver's Mustang after the war's end

The 363rd had seen the action begin – “I saw planes exploding and spinning down in front of us,” said Capt. James Browning – and raced to join in. The fighters were flying what Capt. Robert Foy described as a “company front formation of eight ships in each wave. The attacking waves consisted of Fw 190s with Bf 109s flying close escort and above the 190s. Still further enemy cover was affected by Bf 109s flying high and a bit behind the 190s.”

When the Bf 109s dove on the bombers, Foy led his flight to cut them off. “The 190s broke their company front formation and headed in every direction imaginable,” said Foy. “I turned to the right and lined up with an Fw 190, closing to a good firing range, giving him short bursts while in a shallow turn and about a 30 degree deflection. Strikes were observed on both wings of the enemy aircraft and he immediately straightened out, flew level for a second or two when suddenly the pilot jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. This action took place at approximately 22,000 feet. I pulled up sharply to avoid colliding with the Hun pilot and as I flew directly over him I observed another Fw 190 flying 90 degrees to my path of flight ad directly beneath me about 3000 feet. I did a quick wingover and split-S’ed onto his tail. The pilot apparently saw me closing in and did a split-S toward the deck. I followed him, giving him short bursts, observing strikes on the left wing. He continued his dive and must have been indicating well over 550 mph as I was following closely behind and was indicating better than 550. He made no move to pull out of his dive, so I started a gradual pull-out at about 4000 feet, but kept his ship in view off to one side. The enemy aircraft dived straight into the ground and I made a 360-degree turn, diving to get a picture of his ship burning on the ground.”

Robert Foy's "Little Shrimp"

Meanwhile, Browning “saw a gaggle of 25-plus Bf 109s about 5000 feet below us and to the right of my flight, traveling 180 degrees to us, and they had not been engaged. I led my flight down on them, positioning the flight at the rear of the enemy formation. I picked out a Bf 109 on the right side and fired a burst, observing a concentration of hits on the cockpit and engine. The enemy aircraft did a violent snap roll and then spun down completely out of control. I did not follow him down as the pilot was undoubtedly killed and also because there were many enemy aircraft still in front of me. Meanwhile, a Bf 109 had gotten on my tail, but my wingman, Lt. Taylor, shot him down. I picked out another Bf 109 in front of me and, fired three or four bursts from short range, observing many hits in the center of the fuselage. Again the enemy aircraft went into a violent spin, completely out of control. I then tacked on to another Bf 109, which I followed as he broke right. I fired a short burst and observed hits. He must have been cutting his throttle because I closed on him instantly, but before pulling up over him I fired a long burst as he was crossing in front of me, raking the enemy aircraft the length of the fuselage to the engine with a good concentration of hits. The enemy aircraft rolled over and went down out of control. The entire gaggle of enemy aircraft had been broken up and I could see no more Bf 109s. I climbed back to 24,000 feet with my wingman. I saw a lone Fort pulling out of formation and heading north with two planes circling him. As I could not identify them, I went over to investigate and saw they were Bf 109s. One enemy aircraft then came down behind the Fort and I saw smoke coming out of his guns buy I did not see hits. There was no return fire from the Fort tail gunner. The Bf 109 kept closing and though I was about 900 yards away, I fired a burst to scare him off. All I had left were tracers and I didn’t see any hits, nor did I scare him away. I closed to 500 yards and fired another burst from the one gun I had left, this time observing good hits on him. He broke left and I tracked him with my K-14 sight, firing and getting more hits. The enemy aircraft then went into a spin, but I did not follow him as my wingman said that his engine was very rough. I did see him recover from the spin at approximately 5000 feet (the bastard!). Meanwhile, the other Bf 109 split-S’ed without attacking the lone Fort. The bomber showed no signs of being in distress and no longer in any apparent danger and as my wingman had a rough engine and as I was getting low on gas we set course for home.”

White Flight was being led by Lt. John Stern, and he positioned his four Mustangs behind a like number of Bf 109s that went into a Lufbery. “I broke into them, picking out tail-end Charlie,” stern said. “I fired several bursts, observing hits near the cockpit and wing roots. He made a couple of turns. Then he began to snap and spin. Smoke, flame and coolant could be seen; his wheels dropped partially down. Then he pulled up, went over on his back and spun in.”

John Stern's "Pappy's Answer"

“Just as it spun out I noticed a Jerry pulling deflection on me, so I broke into him and in about 360 degrees got in a snap shot,” said Stern’s wingman. Lt. George Rice. “He split-S’ed and I rolled over and followed. I fired another burst and saw a few strikes. I finally got into a good position with small deflection, fired a long burst and saw many strikes in the wing roots and cockpit area. He started streaming smoke and coolant, rolled over and jettisoned his canopy. The last I saw of him, he was headed straight for the ground out of control. I did not follow to watch it hit or the pilot bail out as, at the time, I believed myself to be all alone and the sky was full of Jerries.” Lt. Daniel Myers saw Rice’s victim spin into the ground with the pilot still in the cockpit.

Lt. Raymond Wolf had put several strikes into the wing of a Bf 109 during the initial contact, but was forced to break by fighters approaching him from behind and lost Myers, his wingman. A few minutes later, he saw a P-51 chasing two Bf 109s. “As I pulled up beside him, he fired a burst,” said Wolf. “I saw strikes on one of the enemy aircraft. The second enemy aircraft broke away sharply to the left. I followed him in a steep 360-degree turn and fired a short burst. He pulled up into a steep climbing turn. I gave him another burst from about 400 yards.” Myers saw Wolf’s fire “chew off about two feet of the Bf 109’s left wing.” The Bf 109 went into a flat spin from about 1000 feet, crashed and burned.

Blue Flight was behind White and Red Flights; upon reaching the flight, Blue Leader, William Dunlop, noticed there were Bf 109s up-sun of him. Even so, he dived into the main gaggle below him, passing through two groups of German fighters before pulling up behind another bunch of 30 fighters at about 20,000 feet. He had lost his second element in the dive, but believed his wingman was with him. “I began firing at the apparent tail-end Charlie which was a Bf 109, and he put his aircraft into a steep dive, kicking rudder violently,” Dunlop wrote later. “I had to cut my throttle to avoid overrunning and I fired each time he passed through my sites. I hit him repeatedly from wing tip to wing tip, his canopy flew off to the right and the pilot flew out, and just missed my wing as I flew between him and his smoking Bf 109. A fraction of a second later it felt like my guns were firing without me pressing the trigger, and then my controls went out, completely dead. I watched one of my left-hand .50 caliber machine guns blow out through the wing skin and my fuselage fuel tank catch fire. The plane was in a drifting dive and going straight down. The pressure held me in the right of the cockpit and was powerful enough to stop me raising my hand to release the canopy. Then everything blew.”

The wings, canopy, tail section and fuselage broke apart. Dunlop was convinced the canopy had been the first to go because he “felt the intense heat from the flames that were sucked into the cockpit,” he wrote. “I was cooked on the forehead and then felt cool air as I was blown from what was left.” At about 5000 feet, Dunlop grappled with his rip cord, pulled it and the chute blossom out from between him and his seat. He swung once and hit the ground. “I landed still in the bucket seat with the armor plate still attached and my shoulder straps still neatly in place.” The engine and one wing landed together about 50 feet away and other pieces of his Mustang came floating down all around him. Another 100 yards away was the crashed Me 109, “ammo still popping.” Dunlop walked a short distance before he was captured, and was later sent to Stalag Luft XIII at Nuremburg.

Meanwhile, Stern had lost Rice and his radio malfunctioned, leaving him essentially alone in a swirling dogfight. Stern got onto the tail of another Bf 109; “the action here was practically the same as the first,” Stern said. “Many hits were observed around the cockpit and wing roots. His wheels dropped partially. He then started spinning and snapping violently. I fired another burst, observing hits. Pieces came off the plane. I followed him down. Thinking he might be just taking evasive action, I followed him down until he crashed and exploded. It is my belief that the pilot was killed before the crash. I then located my No. 3 and No. 4 men. I saw two Bf 109s in a slight dive for the deck at 9 o’clock. They were flying line abreast. I attacked from dead astern, closing rapidly – too rapidly. I overshot one and called one of the other boys to take him, which he did. I fired several bursts at the other, which was out of range. As I closed, hits were seen around the bottom of the fuselage, cockpit and wingroots. Coolant and smoke could be seen issuing from the enemy aircraft. I then overran him and pulled up to one side. He then crashed into a woods, tearing off both wings. The plane slid a short way through the trees and caught fire. I think he was trying to belly-land in a small field, but overshot.”

By this time, Foy had climbed back to the bombers and picked up his wingman, breaking escort just west of Steinhurder Lake because his fuel was low and he was almost out of oxygen. “I took up a heading for base and dropped to about 10,000 feet altitude when I observed a train, which I proceeded to discourage by putting several bursts into the engine,” he said. “As I pulled off the train, I saw an Fw 190 and gave him chase. I lost him in the ground haze but soon saw an Fw 190 parked to the right of a runway on a beat-up aerodrome. I gave my wingman instructions to fly to the left of the airdrome and pass by it while I dived at the field out of the sun, making a pass at the parked enemy aircraft. I hit him with several good bursts and the aircraft exploded.”

The 363rd lost Lt. James Sloan, who was shot down by a German fighter became a POW, but added single victories by Lts. Glenwood Zarnke and James Windham. In all, the group posted a remarkable score of 56 ½ victories, the biggest single day for any U.S. fighter group in the war in Europe.

Two pilots not in on this show were “Chuck” Yeager and “Bud” Anderson. This was the last mission of their tours, so they were assigned as spares; not needed, the two broke off, and instead of returning to base flew a low-level tour of the Alps and the area around the Swiss/Italian/German border. This sightseeing meant they were the last to arrive home; after hearing of the exploits of the rest of the group, Anderson’s crew chief rushed to the plane, anxious to know how many his pilot has scored. “None,” croaked Anderson, who admitted later that when he’d missed out on a record mission, “I felt sick.”