Guest blogger: Robert Jackson of the 379th FS, 362nd FS

Robert Jackson’s widow Joan shared this story with me a few years ago. The military is a big thing, and also a small place! Here’s Jackson’s story, which he dictated many years ago:

 

During WWII we had an old UC-78 in the 362ndFG that we used for little things. If we ran out of bomb fuses we would have to go someplace and borrow some fuses from another outfit and we could do that in a UC-78, which could carry 100 bomb fuses. We couldn’t carry those a P-47, so it was a good little utility aircraft. I learned to fly it because it was a good Cessna product from home.

 

One morning, about 4 a.m., two guys, including Jim Ashford, whose home was Honolulu, Hawaii, came in and woke me up and said, “Come on, we got the UC-78 all loaded up with our stuff. We’re going home. But we have to have someone to fly it back from Paris.” They couldn’t fly it – they weren’t checked out in it. I had just my underwear on, so I pulled on my flying suit and went out and got in the airplane.

 

“Hey, we can’t fly this thing,” I said. “You’ve got it too loaded down with your stuff.”

 

“Dammit, new man, don’t worry about the load on it, just get in and fly it” was the response. So we flew it to Paris, landed at Villacoublay – a good landing – taxied in, and had to get it turned around to park it. We broke the tail wheel while turning around.

 

What did these guys do? Unload all their stuff. “Well, so long Jackson, have a good tour.  See you.” And they took off.

 

I waited around about till 8 o’clock and went into operations. The ops officer in there was a major navigator. I had never heard of a navigator ops officer before. So, I asked him if they had any parts for a UC-78 and he said no, since they did not have any assigned there.

 

“Do you know where they might have any parts?” I asked. He said that the UC-78 depot was at Cambrai, up in Belgium.

 

“Have you got any P-47s here?”

 

“Yeah, we have some war-weary ones.”

 

“What’s my chance of flying one up to Cambrai to get a tail wheel assembly for the UC-78, fly back here and fix the plane?” Well, he didn’t know about that. This navigator didn’t know anything about flying and didn’t know if he could loan me a P-47 or not. I was getting irritated at him. It was getting late and I had not had anything to eat. I didn’t have any identification, didn’t have any money – I was just supposed to fly Ashford and the other pilot there and fly right back. I went to the billeting office and they said they would fix me up with a razor, bar of soap etc. and allow me to spend the night at the billet.

 

There was an Officers’ Mess down at the billet.  “Do you have any clothes?” the clerk asked.

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, General Lee runs the place and he is a real stickler, and you have to have on a green blouse and pinks to get in the place.” Hell, I was hungry so I went anyway. I went into the mess and they wanted ID etc. There was a whole line of people behind me. The maître d’ asked if there was anyone who could identify me. No one from our group was there. The 362nd never got to places like this. The lt. colonel behind me said, “I’ll take care of this. You from the 362nd?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“I’m from the 9th. Who is your CO?”

 

“It’s Col. – uh – uh…” Hell! I couldn’t remember his name to save my neck. “Oh yeah-it’s Col. Laughlin.”

 

“What, Laughlin? Well, this young man is a member of the 362nd, let this man in.” The maître d’ said “Oh yes sir. Take that table way back there in the corner, lieutenant.” Which I did. The lt. colonel said he would pay for my dinner and see me when I got home.

 

The first course was soup and I had just started eating when I noticed a girl way over on the other side of the room sitting with about five other officers. She looked just like my cousin Maxine Patterson from Wisconsin in a nurses uniform. It couldn’t be! Well, I thought, I’ll finish the soup first before I go over there in case it isn’t Maxine and I get thrown out of this place. Well, it was Maxine and she was there with her boyfriend Bob Rouse, whom she later married. They took me back to St. Clue, 99th General Hospital and fixed me up with a uniform and found some lieutenant’s bars. Then I went back out to Villacoublay to try and get the airplane thing straightened out.

 

Finally the major navigator said, “you be sure and bring that airplane back here.” Hell, I had to get my airplane fixed in order to go home. This dumb navigator didn’t think I would come back. I checked the forms and it was okay except it was on a Red X – one time flight to the depot. The aircraft was to be dismantled. What the heck – I signed it off, jumped in and flew up to Cambrai.

 

Upon arrival, I asked the operations officer, “Hey, I’m looking for some parts to a UC-78.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“One of your airplanes.”

 

“Don’t have any, all we have are P-51s and a few other planes. UC-78? Let me look this thing up in the log. Yeah, they have those things up in Holland at this place.”  I’ve forgotten now where in Holland this place was, but I went out to get in my P-47 and the crew chief said “Lieutenant, you’re not going to fly this airplane are you? This is on Red X for one-time flight to the depot in Burtonwood in England where they are going to tear it up. This is one of those war-weary ones that is about to fall apart.”

 

“Well, if I just take it this far…”

 

“Can’t let you do that, lieutenant!”

 

“Well, son of a gun, what type of airplanes do you have here?”

 

“Mostly P-51s.”

 

I go back in and talk to the operations officer in Cambrai and ask him if I can borrow one of his P-51s, go up to Holland and get a part for my airplane. “Sure!”

 

I took the P-51, flew up to Holland and they said “What’s a UC-78?” This is about 3 days now that have gone by. I asked them for their field phone so I could call Etain and the 362nd Fighter Group. I got Col. Laughlin on the line: “It’s a long story sir, I’ll explain when I get back.”

 

“You get back now.”

 

“But sir, I have this P-51 that I have to get back to Cambrai.”

 

“ Don’t worry about that Jackson, just fly it back here. You have missed about 2 missions!” I fly back to Etain, land and park the P-51 where they tell me to and about three days later the thing disappears. I don’t know where it went.

 

Now fast-forward 23 years to 1969. I get out to Hickham (Honolulu) and I run all the time out there. For some reason, this brigadier general named Favor saw me running one time and came up to me one day and said, “Jackson, you run about as slow as I do, do you mind if I run along with you?”

 

“Oh no sir, general. Go ahead.”

 

Everyday for about three months we ran together. Nothing was planned – if he wasn’t there I would go ahead and vice versa. He would never say a word except, “Ready to go, Jackson?’  “Yes sir!” and we would run, go to the scan room and take a steam bath and the general would say “Well, see you tomorrow Jackson.” That’s all the contact we ever had.

 

We were out there one day –the general and I – and I look up in front of me and I see this guy running. It’s Jim Ashford – the guy I took to Paris in the UC-78! I caught up with him, stuck out my foot and tripped him a little. Ashford looks around to say a few words and I asked him if he was Jim Ashford. He answered “Yes.”

 

“You son of a gun you left me at Villacoublay 25 years ago.”

 

“You’re Jackson, aren’t you?” Ashford was now the head of the Air National Guard in Hawaii, and he would come out there about once a week to run.  So, we all ran together and I introduced him to Gen. Favor, and then go back to the scan room for our steam bath. We were still talking when Jim says, “what in the hell ever happened anyway?”

 

“Well,” I said, “I was there at Villacoublay to get an airplane and this operations officer was a dumb navigator. Can you imagine a navigator being an ops officer?  He loaned me a P-47 to take up to Cambrai and this thing was on a one-time flight, so I borrowed a P-51 and went on up to Antwrep. Then I called Uncle Joe on the telephone and he said ‘get your ass home. Forget about your damned airplanes, we’ll take care of that later.’ So, I went on home.”

 

Jim said “Son of a gun, isn’t that something. I’ve got to get back to the office. I’ll see you later, Jackson.”  The general is still sitting there in the Scan room. And you know, everyone sat with a little distance between them. Finally, he comes over and sits right next to me. “What’s this?” I think. And he says “Jackson, that’s one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. Can you imagine meeting that guy 25 years later, 8000 miles from where he left you. By the way, do you remember me in the story?”

 

“Do you mean, about me and Ashford?”

 

“Yes, do you remember the dumb navigator Jackson?  WHERE IS MY P-47?”

 

 

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This Day in 1944: the 362nd FG’s Housing Situation Takes a Turn for the Better

On September 23, 1944, the entire 362nd Fighter Group moved to A-79 near Prosnes, 11 miles east-southeast of Reims, traveling by convoy and, for some personnel, by C-47, one of which circled the Eiffel Tower as a treat for its passengers. The pilots also received a treat; thanks to Joe Laughlin’s personal intervention, all of the group pilots were allowed to live in the comfortable chateau near the field, “with a wine cellar, pheasants, rose garden and the works,” said Capt. Joe Hunter. Many of the pilots remembered those accommodations as the best they had during the war. Lt. John Hill referred to it as “the Park Avenue of all quarters.”

“It wasn’t as good as it sounds because we had our cots in halls and everywhere, but there was a good roof overhead,” said Tom Peyton. “What’s more, we had a single steel-matt runway.”

The 362nd’s Chateau at Reims

Col. Joe Laughlin (center) and other personnel at the chateau at Reims in late 1944.

70 years ago: Col. Joe sinks a Battleship

Four squadron-sized missions were flown against Brest on August 25 by the 362nd Fighter Group, two by the 377th Fighter Squadron. The principle target was the harbor, which could be used to evacuate troops to Crozon. Col Laughlin scored two hits on what was identified at the time as a German light cruiser during the 378th’s mission. The 378th’s 12 planes also hit another large ship in spite of intense flak. The 379th’s 16 planes in the morning mission bombed a collection of small boats in the harbor and managed to miss all of them, although they scored several near-misses. Later, as Laughlin led the 377th’s evening mission, he peeled off to bomb the cruiser again when it suddenly exploded with such force that Laughlin felt it at 8000 feet.

“As the flight dove down, I could see a blanket of white puffballs below and a blanket of black puffballs above,” said John Baloga. “They were exploding shells and sparks were flying from each burst. Those darn shells are programmed to explode at a specific height. The Germans were making us fly through them. Hot sharp steel was flying all over the sky. It was hellish.”

“As I came in line to dive, I saw the cruiser starting to smoke badly. Someone was calling over the radio that the cruiser was sinking. Thank You Lord! I immediately veered off from my dive. I saw that the other planes were forming up. This particular attack was written up in the papers and was noted on the BBC. Sinking a cruiser with a fighter-bomber was a big deal. Colonel Laughlin had given that cruiser its deathblow. I will always be grateful for that. I truly believe he saved my life. If he hadn’t sunk it, I would have been sunk because as Green 4, the last plane in the flight, I truly believe the enemy would have shot me down.”

The 377th went on to score two hits on another ship and near misses on other shipping in the harbor. In reality, the vessel that exploded and sank was the incomplete French battleship Clemenceau, which the Germans were planning to use to block the harbor.

Laughlin and Chodor

Laughlin added the “cruiser” to his scoreboard – it’s right next to John Chodor’s knee in the above photograph – and it was officially recorded as a cruiser for many years. The reasons seem obvious – as the allies were liberating France, it would have seemed a bit unseemly to celebrate the destruction of one of their battleships. But that was indeed what it was; no German cruisers were in Brest at the time, and there were few of them anyway. The Clemenceau had been damaged recently by a Lancaster raid (the RAF still claims its destruction), and would certainly never be useful to the Germans as anything but a hulk to prevent the allies from using Brest.

 

 

69 years ago: the 378th FS loses Lt. Daniel Sipe

On May 12, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group escorted three groups of A-20s  to three different airfield targets in the morning mission, striking Merville, Achiet and Menchy. Later, the 362nd was supposed to escort three groups of B-26s to three different coastal targets, but the fighters were unable to make the rendezvous. Lt. Donald Gipple of the 377th crashed on takeoff in P-47D 42-75240 and died of his injuries a few days later. The 379th pressed all the way to Bremen in the face of heavy flak, which to date was the longest dive-bombing mission in the ETO. The 378th, with Lt. Col. Joe Laughlin leading, took the opportunity to conduct a fighter sweep around LeHavre but found no business. Another sweep on May 13 in the Doummer Lake area found no activity, so the Thunderbolts headed north to the Bremen Municipal Airport, where they dropped their loads of 250-pound bombs. They encountered almost no flak as they strafed the hangars and buildings, but on the way in Lt. Daniel Sipe of the 378th, flying P-47D-15-RE 42-75619, suffered a sudden drop in oil pressure. “Lt. Sipe called to see if anyone knew what to do in such an emergency,” said Lt. Kevin Gough. “He received no answer.”  Before the flight could reach the Dutch coast, Sipe radioed that his oil pressure was continuing to drop. Eventually, said Gough, his plane began issuing heavy black smoke and the prop could be seen windmilling. Shortly thereafter he stalled the ship and made a clear jump. This was at about 9500 feet.”

Gough called search and rescue, but reception was poor and he could not hear the return messages clearly. Sipe released his parachute and plunged into the English Channel 15 miles west of Danhelder, Holland. Gough watched him inflate his dinghy and climb into it, and was able to circle him for two hours before being forced back to base, but the weather worsened. Before leaving, Gough buzzed Sipe, who waved back. Despite Gough’s efforts, radio transmissions to rescue forces had gone unheard, and by the time he was able to report Sipe’s situation after landing at the forward base at Southend, it was too late. Sipe was never recovered.

 

68 years ago: Snag gets his B-26

On October 19, the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group launched an escort mission, but when the medium bombers were recalled because of weather, the fighters went on a strafing mission, destroying five locomotives and damaging a barracks area. The 378th Fighter Squadron bombed the village of Vehe; the pilots spotted seven or eight tanks in the town, and the spotter said their bombing was very accurate. One of the 378th’s planes was hit by flak but it returned safely.

The same could not be said for “the Plastered Bastard,” the group’s B-26 Marauder. The Marauder had replaced a Cessna UC-78 as the group hack; it had been left behind by a bomber unit when it moved, and Col. Laughlin was told by Gen. Otto Weyland that it was his if the group’s mechanics could get it working. That they did, and for several months the B-26 (less guns and armor) was a reliable transport, hauling parts from Britain and taking personnel to and from leaves in London, Paris and elsewhere. This speedy air taxi made the group the envy of other Ninth Air Force fighter groups, especially the 406thFighter Group, whose commander, Col. Anthony V. Grosetta, made a point of how he needed a B-26 “like Joe has” at every Tactical Air Command staff meeting.

Grosetta, known by his nickname “Snag,” contended that the 406th should get its turn with the B-26, or that the 362nd should at least share.

In late October, with Maj. Tom Beeson at the controls, the B-26 made another run to England and back, but on his return, Beeson found the continent socked in. Controllers gave him a steer to Reims, but it was completely covered in cloud; they then helpfully suggested that he head for Mourmelon le Grand, where a C-47 had felt its way out of the murk and made a landing 20 minutes earlier. Mourmelon just happened to be the base of the 406th.

Beeson headed for Mourmelon, still in the thick of zero-visibility conditions. When he finally spotted the runway, he was over the very end, and he’d have to go around again, but fuel would permit only one more pass. He radioed that he’d try one more time and, if that failed, all aboard would be bailing out. He lined up and descended through the clouds, and touched down on the PSP field – but again, well down the runway. With only a few hundred feet of runway left, the B-26’s crew pulled the emergency brake handle, and the three wheels locked and dug into the PSP, resulting in several hundred feet of steel planks dragging behind the skidding bomber. The fuselage was bent, PSP planks had fouled the propellers thanks to the violence of the landing, and the engines’ planetary gears were now shot thanks to the props’ sudden stops. Beeson sheepishly walked to the 406th’s control building which was nearly empty thanks to the weather’s adverse effects on operations; he found a phone and called Col. Laughlin, asking if he should travel into town to find someone from the 406th.

“Tom, find a jeep and get the hell back here as fast as you can,” said Laughlin. When Beeson was safely back at Reims, Laughlin called Grosetta. “Snag, this is Joe,” he said. “You know, we’re grounded today too, and I’ve been thinking about how well our groups have done by cooperating and backing each other up. You know that B-26 you’ve been asking me about for so long? Well… Maybe I’ve been unfair to you, so I’ve decided to let you have it.”

“Joe, that’s a fine gesture on your part,” said Grosetta. “I might even let you use it sometime if you need it. When can we get it?”

“Well, Snag, as a matter of fact we’ve already delivered it. That B-26 is sitting on your field right now.” Grosetta was effusive in his thanks and went to see his gift; Laughlin told his staff to wait 15 minutes and be prepared to see “smoke curl out of the receiver.” Sure enough, the phone rang. “Joe, you lousy sonofabitch! Don’t you realize my airstrip is destroyed? How the hell am I going to explain to General Weyland why we can’t fly any combat missions?”

Luckily, the runway damage was less severe than originally thought and the engineers had the field repaired before the weather cleared enough for flying. The B-26 was hauled to the scrapyard; the next 362ndutility plane was a more sedate C-47A.

67 Years Ago: The 362nd Fighter Group Loses its B-26 and Hits a Snag

On October 19, the 379th launched another escort attempt, but when the medium bombers were recalled because of weather, the fighters went on a strafing mission, destroying five locomotives and damaging a barracks area. The 378th bombed the village of Vehe; the pilots spotted seven or eight tanks in the town, and the spotter said their bombing was very accurate. One of the 378th’s planes was hit by flak but it returned safely.

The same could not be said for “the Plastered Bastard,” the group’s B-26 Marauder. The Marauder had replaced a Cessna UC-78 as the group hack; it had been left behind by a bomber unit when it moved, and Col. Joe Laughlin was told by Gen. Otto Weyland that it was his if the group’s mechanics could get it working. That they did, and for several months the B-26 (less guns and armor) was a reliable transport, hauling parts from Britain and taking personnel to and from leaves in London, Paris and elsewhere. This speedy air taxi made the group the envy of other Ninth Air Force fighter groups, especially the 406thFighter Group, whose commander, Col. Anthony V. Grosetta, made a point of how he needed a B-26 “like Joe has” at every Tactical Air Command staff meeting.

Grosetta, known by his nickname “Snag,” contended that the 406th should get its turn with the B-26, or that the 362ndshould at least share.

In late October, with Maj. Tom Beeson at the controls, the B-26 made another run to England and back, but on his return, Beeson found the continent socked in. Controllers gave him a steer to Reims, but it was completely covered in cloud; they then helpfully suggested that he head for Mourmelon le Grand, where a C-47 had felt its way out of the murk and made a landing 20 minutes earlier. Mourmelon just happened to be the base of the 406th.

Beeson headed for Mourmelon, still in the thick of zero-visibility conditions. When he finally spotted the runway, he was over the very end, and he’d have to go around again, but fuel would permit only one more pass. He radioed that he’d try one more time and, if that failed, all aboard would be bailing out. He lined up and descended through the clouds, and touched down on the PSP field – but again, well down the runway. With only a few hundred feet of runway left, the B-26’s crew pulled the emergency brake handle, and the three wheels locked and dug into the PSP, resulting in several hundred feet of steel planks dragging behind the skidding bomber. The fuselage was bent, PSP planks had fouled the propellers thanks to the violence of the landing, and the engines’ planetary gears were now shot thanks to the props’ sudden stops. Beeson sheepishly walked to the 406th’s control building which was nearly empty thanks to the weather’s adverse effects on operations; he found a phone and called Col. Laughlin, asking if he should travel into town to find someone from the 406th.

“Tom, find a jeep and get the hell back here as fast as you can,” said Laughlin. When Beeson was safely back at Reims, Laughlin called Grosetta. “Snag, this is Joe,” he said. “You know, we’re grounded today too, and I’ve been thinking about how well our groups have done by cooperating and backing each other up. You know that B-26 you’ve been asking me about for so long? Well… Maybe I’ve been unfair to you, so I’ve decided to let you have it.”

“Joe, that’s a fine gesture on your part,” said Grosetta. “I might even let you use it sometime if you need it. When can we get it?”

“Well, Snag, as a matter of fact we’ve already delivered it. That B-26 is sitting on your field right now.” Grosetta was effusive in his thanks and went to see his gift; Laughlin told his staff to wait 15 minutes and be prepared to see “smoke curl out of the receiver.” Sure enough, the phone rang. “Joe, you lousy sonofabitch! Don’t you realize my airstrip is destroyed? How the hell am I going to explain to General Weyland why we can’t fly any combat missions?”

Luckily, the runway damage was less severe than originally thought and the engineers had the field repaired before the weather cleared enough for flying. The B-26 was hauled to the scrapyard; the next 362ndutility plane was a more sedate C-47A.

 

67 Years Ago: the 362nd Fighter Group Catches the Luftwaffe on the Ground

The 362nd Fighter Group was sent to strafe three supposedly crowded airfields in the morning of October 8, 1944, but one appeared empty and the other two were socked in by weather. However, the 378th’s Lt. Howard Kelgard shot down a Do 217 he encountered flying south from Mainz. “The Do 217 camouflage was brown with green patches and streaks of black,” he recalled. As his flight crossed the Rhine, Kelgard spotted the enemy plane and dove on it, but “on the way down I lost him momentarily. I picked him up again going southeast, down the middle of the river. I closed to 100 yards and he went into some ground fog over the river. I opened up dead astern, observing strikes all over the Do 217. One engine started smoking.” All the while, the gunner in the Do 217 fired back at Kelgard, who stayed on his target. “He made a sharp turn to the right and I broke off the attack to the right also, then made a sharp left turn and got a 70-degree deflection shot into the fuselage. The Dornier, with smoke pouring from one engine, fell off to the right and exploded against the river bank.”

In the afternoon, the three fields were visited again after the weather had lifted. At Gelchsheim, the 379th strafed and destroyed three Do 217s, one Me 410 and two Me 210s, claimed as probables three He 177s, a Ju 88, a Bf 110, two Me 410s and a Bf 109, and damaged a Ju 88. Crailsheim, the 378th’s target, was crowded with 40 Bf 109s and six Ju 88s. “Upon reaching the target, the visibility was very poor and the target was hard to spot,” reported Lt. Alfred Flater. “After finding the target we circled to the east and started our dive. We went to the south of the field on the first pass and Red Leader (Lt. Col. Joe Laughlin) blew up a locomotive. Using the fire as a marker, we started our second dive. I was the last man to go down. When I reached the field there were numerous fires of enemy aircraft burning. I was to the right of the main group of planes, but spotted three Bf 109s sitting wingtip to wingtip and opened fire on them. As I passed over there was a flash from under me that appeared to be No. 3 catching on fire. Lt. Col. Laughlin observed my pass and said that I got all three.”

Red Flight had initially missed the target, but Laughlin’s pass cleared the way for them. Lt. Kenneth Placek, flying as Red Three, put a long burst into a Bf 109 and it exploded. Laughlin ordered Yellow Flight down 30 seconds after Red Flight, and Lt. Herbert Kramer led his four Thunderbolts into the haze. “I was on the deck a mile away from the field before I saw it,” said Kramer. “I observed 12 to 15 aircraft parked on the south side of the field. Both Ju 88s and Bf 109s were dispersed there. I opened fire on a Ju 88 at 300 yards and closed to about 100 yards and saw strikes on the fuselage and right wing root. I encountered light arms and 20mm fire all the time I was over the field and received hits in my flaps and horizontal stabilizer.”

Tucked in close on Kramer was Lt. Victor Moore. “We came across the field and I fired on a Bf 109 which was in front of me,” he said. “I saw many strikes and just as I pulled up I saw a red flash like an explosion. I was hit several times by flak and didn’t make a second pass.”

While Yellow Leader and Yellow Two drew flak, Yellow Three and Four, Lts. Harry Baer and Paul Carlisle, made an east to west pass on two planes in the middle of the field, a Ju 88 and a Bf 109. Baer started firing; “I saw strikes on both planes and a small fire started in one of them,” he said. “My wingman saw them burst into flames.”

The two Thunderbolts pulled up to 6000 feet, then came back for a second pass, firing on a Bf 109 on the south side of the field. “I saw strikes on it and a small fire starting,” reported Baer. “My wingman started firing as soon as I pulled up. As soon as he stopped, the Bf 109 blew up.”

Carlisle also sprayed a Ju 88 with machine gun fire, but “after my pass I was hit several times by flak and was unable to see the results of my fire.”

Blue Flight was down to three planes because of an abort, but it found the target through the haze on its second attempt. “There were six Bf 109s lined up wingtip to wingtip,” reported Lt. Keith Nichols. “I concentrated my fire on this group of planes. I saw good hits on the first three and scattered hits on the others.” The official records indicate that the 378th destroyed eight Bf 109s and a Ju 88 and damaged four Bf 109s and a Ju 88 in the attack.

The 377th responded to reports of heavy barge traffic between Strasbourg and Saarebourg by bombing six locks along the stretch just east of Saarebourg.

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