67 years ago: “Kit” Carson goes to town, and Frank Gailer makes ace but goes down

On November 27, the 357th Fighter Group, and especially Leonard “Kit” Carson, had a huge day at the expense of the Luftwaffe. Near Magdeburg, two large formations of German fighters were reported; records show this was JG.300 and JG.301. “One of the formations made a turn and came toward us at 8 o’clock,” Carson said. “We dropped our tanks and turned to meet them. We tacked onto the rear of the formation, which consisted of 50-plus Fw 190s. I closed to about 300 yards on the nearest one and fired a medium burst with no lead, getting numerous strikes. He started to burn and went into a turning dive to the left. I believe the pilot was killed. He never recovered, but crashed into the ground and exploded.”

Leading the second element in Carson’s flight was Lt. William Gilbert, who came around on a group of Fw 190s, selected one, and began firing. “I observed numerous strikes all over the enemy aircraft and pieces flew off,” Gilbert said. “He burst into smoke and flame. The ship went into a spin and went straight into the ground. The pilot did not bail out.”

Carson returned to the main formation, again closing on the last plane. “I opened fire at about 300 yards, firing two short bursts, getting strikes all over the fuselage. He started to smoke and burn. He dropped out of the formation and turned to the right until he was in sort of half split-S position, never recovering from this attitude. I saw him crash and burn. The pilot did not get out.

“Closing again on the main formation, I pulled into the nearest man. At about 400 yards I fired a short burst, noting a few hits. He broke violently to the left and I broke with him. I picked up a lead on him and fired two more bursts, getting strikes on the cockpit and engine. He started to smoke and burn badly. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. The Fw 190 crashed about 50 yards from a house in a small town.

“I could still see the main formation about a mile ahead of me. Starting to catch them, I saw a straggler on the deck. I dropped down to engage him, but he saw me coming. He turned left away from me and I gave chase for about three minutes before I caught him. I opened fire at about 400 yards, getting strikes on the right side of his fuselage. He turned sharply to the right and I picked up a few degrees of lead, firing two more bursts, getting more strikes on the fuselage. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and bailed out.

“I pulled up and set course for home base when another Fw 190 came in at my wingman and me from seven o’clock high. We broke into him and started a zooming climb. I chased him, gaining slowly. Suddenly, he dropped his nose and headed for the deck. I gave chase and caught him in four or five minutes. I opened fire at 400-450 yards, but missed. I closed further and fired another burst, getting several strikes on the fuselage. The plane started to smoke. I fired again as he made a slight turn to the right, observing more hits on the fuselage. Then the pilot jettisoned his canopy and I broke off my attack to the right. I waited for him to bail out but he didn’t, so I turned back to engage him again. I was still about 700 yards away when the pilot pulled the nose up sharply and left his ship. His chute opened a couple of seconds later.”

Maj. Andy Evans saw an Fw 190 turning in an attempt to flee. “I turned as tight as I could, rolled to the left and down, firing as I came out of the turn. Before I could fix my sights on him and get off a good burst, he rolled into the ground from 1500 feet, exploding as he hit.”

John Sublett was flying on the wing of Capt. John England when they spotted 40 to 50 Fw 190s at about 10 o’clock to them at just below their altitude. “I pulled up behind the rearmost enemy aircraft to within 600 yards, opened fire and saw strikes around his cockpit and smoke and fire coming out around his engine nacelle,” said England. “This enemy aircraft flipped over and the pilot bailed out.”

England was still closing on the gaggle and picked out a second Fw 190, closed to 300 yards and fired again. “He broke, but I got good hits on his wings and cockpit while he was breaking and during one or two turns immediately after this break, his canopy and pieces of his wings came off. The pilot bailed out, but I believe he was seriously injured.”

Sublett saw England cull the first two Fw 190s from the formation and “was busy covering his tail expecting the Jerries to break into us, but thet just kept going and stayed in formation,” he said. England continued his murderous work as the gaggle dove for safety, picking off another Fw 190. “He flipped over and went straight into the ground. The pilot was definitely killed. Then I pulled up behind another Fw 190 and went through the same procedure, starting to fire from 800 yards and closing to 150 yards, observing strikes on his cockpit. The plane dove straight forward, went into the ground and exploded.”

“Capt. England finally called me and said that he only had three guns left and instructed me to shoot them,” said Sublett. “I pulled up on the tail of one Fw 190 and fired a short burst from about 800 yards and missed. Another Fw 190 cut across between us and I tacked on to him because he was closer. I fired from about a 10-degree angle from about 400 yards, observing strikes all over the ship. Pieces started coming off and the pilot jettisoned his canopy, pulled up and went over the side.

“I pulled over to dead astern (on) another Fw 190 and fired from about 600 yards, closing to about 500 yards, observing strikes at the wing roots and fuselage. Many pieces started flying off and the canopy went under my right wing. The pilot pulled up and sailed over the side.

“I broke to the right, just in case anyone was on my tail, and fell in behind another Fw 190. I pulled up to approximately 500 yards and fired a long burst which went under him. I raised my sights and fired another long burst. The enemy plane just disintegrated. I had to pull up to avoid the flying debris.”

“This was one of the best shows I have ever seen,” England gushed. Carson downed five, England four, Sublett three, Capt. Alva Murphy and Lt. Chuck Weaver two, and Lts. Clifford Anderson, Herman Delager and William Gilbert one apiece.

Lt. Robert Schimanski was leading the 364th; flak diverted the group slightly, resulting in their somewhat late arrival to the fight. Even so, Schimanski soon “dove into five enemy aircraft circling around 15,000 feet, losing my own flight,” he said. “I pulled in sharply on a Bf 109, spanned him, and gave him a short burst, hitting at the wing root. On the second burst I cut the left wing off and the enemy aircraft snapped over on its back as I overshot.”

Capt. Charles Yeager heard another group call the bandits and the 363rd turned left and spotted two “gangs of enemy aircraft,” Yeager said, “one (with) 50 plus and the other (of) approximately 150 plus. I passed in front of the little gang and climbed over the back end of the large bunch to 32,000 feet. I jumped the last enemy aircraft, which was an Fw 190. He went into a rolling dive to the right. I shot a deflection shot from his right and got hits from around 200 yards. He snapped and the tail flew off and I saw no chute. I pulled back up into the bottom of the gang and another Fw 190 jumped me. I broke into him and got a deflection shot from 90 degrees at around 100 yards. I got many strikes on the fuselage and the enemy aircraft started smoking and went into a dive. I followed it down to about 15,000 feet and the enemy aircraft flew apart. I climbed back up to the tail end of the gang and jumped another gaggle. The enemy aircraft started a circling turn with me and I turned inside and closed up to within 100 yards at around 40 degrees of deflection. I fired a short burst concentrated on the cockpit; a sheet of flame came out of the cockpit and the enemy aircraft nosed down in a dive on fire. There was no chute.”

In the same melee, Lt. Frank Gailer of the 363rd was lost. He had downed two Fw 190s, making him an ace, when two planes made a head-on pass at him. He thought they were Mustangs, but in any event they opened fire, knocking off his canopy, cutting his oil lines and wounding him in the shoulder. “I heard Lt. Gailer say that he was shot up and oil was coming over his windshield,” reported Yeager. Gailer was last seen about 15 miles southwest of Magdeburg; he was captured and spect the rest of the war as a POW. “Bud” Anderson also scored two, while Lts. Ray Wolf and James Sloan each shot down one. In all, 31 German fighters fell to the group this day.

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Today in 1945: The 357th FG goes on a Schwalbe hunt

Recognizing the Me 262 threat, the Eighth Air Force tasked the 357th with covering the airfields near Prague an hour before the arrival of the bombers on April 18, 1945. Since the Me 262 had a limited endurance, the plan was to either knock them out as they took off or strafe them on the ground. Maj. Leonard Carson lead the mission; through some superb navigation, the group flew a zig-zag course to disguise its intentions, flying much of it a low level, and hit Prague Ruzyne Airdrome exactly at 1 p.m. Carson dispatched Maj. Don Bochkay to cover the two other fields nearby, then circled Ruzyne to wait to see what the German fighters would do. Flak pushed their orbit out from the field, and the Mustang pilots then saw the jets taxi out for take off. “As the first 262 started his takeoff roll we dropped our wing tanks and I started down with Red Flight from 13,000 with an easy wingover,” Carson later wrote. “The Mustang would accelerate like a banshee going downhill. The 262 had his gear up and was going past the field boundary when we plowed through this intense light flak. As I came astern of him and leveled off at 400-plus, I firewalled it to hold my speed and centered the bull’s eye of the optical sight on the fuselage and hit him with a two second burst.” Carson’s timing was slightly off; he scored strikes, but only claimed the jet as damaged. He turned back toward the field and found four more jets tangling with the Mustangs, trying to draw them across the flak. Carson cut one of them off in a diving turn and fired, but the jet accelerated and pulled away.

Capt. Chuck Weaver, however, caught an Me 262 trying to land and shot the plane down, the wreckage landing on the field. Bochkay was leading the 363rd’s Blue Flight when he heard White Flight call in a bogie at 11 o’clock low. “I recognized it as an Me 262,” said Bochkay. “I dropped my tanks and dove from 15,000 feet to 13,000 feet, pulling up behind the Me 262. I then let him have a burst from 400 yards, getting very good hits on his right jet unit and canopy; he then broke right in a very tight diving turn, pulling streamers from his wingtips. My ‘G’ meter read nine G’s. As he straightened out at 7000 feet I was 250 yards behind him going about 475 mph. I let him have another burst, getting very good hits on his right jet unit again. He then popped his canopy as I let him have another burst, large pieces came off his ship and it caught fire. I pulled off to miss the pieces and watched the Me 262 fall apart. His tail came off. It then rolled over and went in like a torch, crashing into some woods next to a river. The pilot never got out.”

Weaver and Lt. Oscar Ridley tacked onto an Me 262, but the jet dragged the Mustangs across the airfield, which threw up “considerable flak,” said Weaver. “Lt. Ridley called that he had been hit. I asked him where he was and he said over the Prague/Ruzyne Airdrome at 7000 feet. I returned to the field and told him to fly west as long as possible. I caught up with him at a point 20 miles west of Prague. His engine was smoking badly. He said the fire was bad and he was leaving the plane. He bailed out at 5000 feet. His chute opened successfully. He landed in a small wooded area.”

Other Mustangs roared in to strafe, and Lt. John Duncan and Lt. Anton Schoepke of the 362nd shot up two jets, leaving them burning. But flak was heavy, said Lt. Osborn Howes. “I was flying Greenhouse Red Three and Lt. (Irving) Snedecker was on my wing. He fell behind me as we approached the field so that he could get a better attack. He was still there half was across the field because I saw his bullets digging holes off my right wing. After the pass I pulled up in a right chandelle, looked behind but couldn’t see Lt. Snedecker nor contact him on the radio. This was the last anyone saw of him.” Snedecker’s plane was hit by a shell that tore away his propeller; the Mustang mushed in on the field and broke in two behind the cockpit. Snedecker scrambled from the wreck and sat down a few hundred feet away; he lit a cigarette and waited for the Germans to capture him. Also in the flight was Lt. Robert Muller; who was off to Howes’ right. “About three-quarters of the way across the field, I saw Lt. Muller pull up off the deck and start leveling off at about 30 feet, his plane streaming black smoke from underneath. This was the last anyone saw of Lt. Muller.” Lt. James Monahan also was knocked down by flak; all three pilots became POWs.