68 years ago: the 357th FG downs 22 over Berlin

On 5 December 1944, during the 357th Fighter Group’s mission to Berlin, “Bud” Anderson’s flight flew ahead to break up any attacks forming there. “We intercepted about 20 Fw 190s,” he reported. “They broke around and I picked one out, firing a burst and getting good hits all over. He rolled over and I did not follow as there were too many enemy aircraft around.” Anderson’s wingman, Lt. James Sloan said, “I do not believe the enemy aircraft ever recovered from this spin as the pilot was either killed or the controls shot away.”

Clarence "Bud" Anderson recounts a mission to his crewmen.

Clarence “Bud” Anderson recounts a mission to his crewmen.

The other element, made up of Lt. James Crump and Lt. George Rice, broke after an Fw 190. “I saw another Fw 190 following us,” said Rice. “Lt. Crump’s Jerry appeared to be pretty well clobbered. He rolled over and started for the deck, apparently out of control, just as I called for Lt. Crump to break. I turned into the Fw 190 following us and came around behind him; he started making tight diving and climbing turns as I closed the distance. I pulled up to about 1000 yards but was pulling so many G’s I couldn’t see the sight. I fired a short burst anyhow and broke out of the turn a bit, then got on him again. I closed to about 50 yards and fired a good burst and saw many strikes in the fuselage and cockpit area. As I pulled up beside him he jettisoned the canopy and bailed out.”

Soon, Anderson spotted four more Fw 190s darting in and out of some haze. “I fired and they all broke left and I latched on to the No. 4 man, firing a long burst at close range. The canopy blew off and fire belched from the cockpit as it spun straight down into a broken overcast. I then closed on the No. 3 man, fired at good range and more good hits occurred in the cockpit region. This ship spun down, smoking, out of control.”

Lt. James Browning spotted two Bf 109s ahead of him; “I was coming practically head-on when they saw me and dropped their belly tanks,” Browning said. “I made a turn to the left to get on their tails and they broke into us. I took the second and with the K-14 made quite a deflection shot. I observed hits on the engine and cockpit. He went into a spin and the pilot bailed out.”

Jim Browning

Jim Browning

As the bombers reached the target, a new gaggle of fighters rose to challenge them. The 362nd was in position to intercept. “Two ships at the very front of their formation were the first to break,” said Capt. “Kit” Carson. “I broke with them and fired on the leader, getting several strikes on his fuselage. He made a dive for the clouds; I chased him but inside of the clouds I couldn’t see him. I broke out into the open and a few seconds later tracers were breaking around my ship. I broke to the right as hard as I could. The Jerry was right behind me, but quite a distance back. I managed to get into a scissoring turn, making several head-on passes. He finally reversed his turn and I tagged onto him, firing another burst at about 200 yards, closing fast and getting strikes on the fuselage. Then in a tight spiral, the Bf 109 went down through the overcast. I went beneath the overcast and saw the burning wreckage.”

Major Joseph Broadhead was leading the group this day; he spotted 10 to 15 enemy planes below a thin layer of cirrus and led the jump, hitting an Fw 190 from very close range. Broadhead lost sight of his victim, but his wingman, Lt. Myron Becraft, saw the Fw 190 go straight into the ground and explode.

K4 Broadhead_takeoff

Joe Broadhead (at right) takes off to start a mission in 1944.

Lt. John Kirla picked out one enemy craft, opening fire at about 700 yards, “getting strikes at his wing roots and on his fuselage,” Kirla said. “The plane began streaming smoke and pieces flew off as I closed to 50 yards, getting more strikes. I believe the pilot was killed, for the Bf 109 went straight down in a dive at terrific speed and hit the ground and exploded.

“After I had destroyed the Bf 109, Lt. (John) Sublett and I stooged around the deck, looking for more enemy planes. We spotted a lone Fw 190 on the deck and gave chase, catching him in two or three minutes. I got on his tail and fired a long burst from 700 yards, getting strikes on the fuselage and tail. Suddenly, the pilot rolled his ship over and bailed out.” Lt. Matthew Martin spotted fluids coming from Kirla’s Mustang. He moved over to inspect the problem and was sprayed by fuel – Kirla had a leaking tank. As he radioed Kirla to switch tanks, Martin’s plane caught fire; he dove to try to extinguish the blaze, to no avail, then climbed to bail out altitude. When he tried to escape the cockpit, the plane snap-rolled and trapped him half-in, half-out of the canopy. Pushing with both hands, Martin propelled himself away from the cockpit but hit the horizontal stabilizer with his thigh; he chute opened and he tried to evade, but in his hobbled condition he was easily captured by the Germans. Kirla’s plane kept flying, and he made it back to celebrate a 22-victory mission.

In addition to the victories by Anderson, Rice, Browning, Carson, Broadhead and Kirla, Capt. Don Bochkay and Lts. Dale Karger and Frederick C. McCall downed two and Lts. Thomas Adams, Morris Gallant, Paul Hatala, Edmund Juszczyk, Robert Schimanski, John Stern, Johnnie Carter and Capt. Herman Zetterquist each downed one. Zetterquist failed to return home and became a POW.

Advertisements

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.

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.”

 

 

The 357th FG cleans house over Berlin

On December 5, 1944, Berlin was the Eighth Air Force’s target, and the 357th Fighter Group was in on the escort. “Bud” Anderson was leading Green Flight of the 363rd Fighter Squadron, and his flight headed north to break up any attacks forming there. “We intercepted about 20 Fw 190s,” he reported. “We crossed over them and dropped tanks. They broke around and I picked one out and closed the K-14 sight around him, firing a burst and getting good hits all over. He rolled over and I did not follow as there were too many enemy aircraft around.” Anderson’s wingman, Lt. James Sloan, said he saw Anderson score hits on the fuselage between the cockpit and the vertical stabilizer, and when last seen “the aircraft went into a spin, appearing completely out of control and emitting light gray smoke,” Sloan said. “I do not believe the enemy aircraft ever recovered from this spin as the pilot was either killed or the controls shot away.”

The other element, made up of Lt. James Crump and Lt. George Rice, broke after another Fw 190. “I was covering his tail when I saw another Fw 190 following us. Lt. Crump’s Jerry appeared to be pretty well clobbered. He rolled over and started for the deck, apparently out of control just as I called for Lt. Crump to break. I turned into the Fw 190 following us and came around behind him; he started making tight diving and climbing turns as I closed the distance between us. I pulled up to about 1000 yards but was pulling so many G’s I couldn’t see the sight. I fired a short burst anyhow and broke out of the turn a bit, then got on him again. I closed to about 50 yards and fired a good burst, saw many strikes in the fuselage and cockpit area. I started overshooting and as I pulled up beside him he jettisoned the canopy and bailed out.”

Anderson began stalking another Fw 190, but his cockpit frosted over and he had to break off the pursuit until it cleared. When it did, he spotted four more Fw 190s which kept darting in and out of some haze. “I kept track of them and closed on one,” he said. “I fired and they all broke left and I latched on to the No. 4 man, firing a ling burst at close range and getting good hits all over the cockpit. The canopy blew off, among various pieces, and fire belched from the cockpit as it spun straight down into a broken overcast. I then closed on the No. 3 man, fired at good range and more good hits occurred in the cockpit region. This ship spun down, smoking, out of control, and went through a broken overcast at about 1000 feet, going straight down. We went under a haze layer and Bf 109s started coming through singly, and I picked one who had his wheels down. He made a right climbing turn and pulled inside, and I fired about 10 rounds and my guns quit. I broke my attack and my wingman and I climbed back to the bombers and continued the escort.”

Lt. James Browning spotted two Bf 109s ahead of him; “I was coming practically head-on when they saw me and dropped their belly tanks,” Browning said. “I made a turn to the left to get on their tails and they broke into us. I took the second and with the K-14 made quite a deflection shot. I observed hits on the engine and cockpit. He went into a spin and the pilot bailed out.”

As the bombers reached the target and began to bomb, a new gaggle of fighters rose to challenge them from their 9 o’clock position. The 362nd was in position to intercept. “We turned into them and dropped our tanks,” said Capt. “Kit” Carson. “Two ships at the very front of their formation were the first to break. I broke with them and fired on the leader, getting several strikes on his fuselage. He made a dive for the clouds; I chased him but inside of the clouds I couldn’t see him. I broke out into the open and a few seconds later tracers were breaking around my ship. I broke to the right as hard as I could. The Jerry was right behind me, but quite a distance back. I managed to get into a scissoring turn, making several head-on passes. He finally reversed his turn and I tagged onto him, firing another burst at about 200 yards, closing fast and getting strikes on the fuselage. Then in a tight spiral, the Bf 109 went down through the overcast. I went beneath the overcast and saw the burning wreckage. The pilot did not get out.”

Major Joseph Broadhead was leading the group this day; he spotted 10 to 15 enemy planes below a thin layer of cirrus cloud and led the jump. “I attacked an  Fw 190, which went into a very steep dive,” said Broadhead. “I got within 100 yards of him when I started firing. I observed strikes on his left wing and fuselage. As soon as I started hitting hi, the 190 pushed his nose completely under and I was unable to follow him any longer. I pulled up and turned around just in time to see him go through the undercast.” Broadhead lost sight of his victim, but his wingman, Lt. Myron Becraft, saw the Fw 190 go straight into the ground and explode.

Blue Flight of the 362nd dove, and Lt. John Kirla picked out one enemy craft, opening fire at about 700 yards but closing in a hurry, “getting strikes at his wing roots and on his fuselage,” Kirla said. “The plane began streaming smoke and pieces flew off as I closed to 50 yards, getting more strikes. I believe the pilot was killed, for the Bf 109 went straight down in a dive at terrific speed and did not recover, but hit the ground and exploded.

“After I had destroyed the Bf 109, Lt. Sublett and I stooged around the deck, looking for more enemy planes. We spotted a lone Fw 190 on the deck and gave chase, catching him in two or three minutes. I got on his tail and fired a long burst from 700 yards, getting strikes on the fuselage and tail. Suddenly, the pilot rolled his ship over and bailed out. I watched the plane crash and then took pictured of the wreckage and the pilot in his chute.”

Unfortunately, Walter Perry of the 362nd did not return to celebrate the day’s haul. While flying “Toolin’ Fool’s Revenge,” P-51K 44-1689, his plane suffered a wing failure and Perry was killed when the plane crashed to earth.

 

66 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group’s Parisian Spree

On July 25, 1944, the 357th Fighter Group was assigned a fighter sweep, and near the western edge of Paris they spotted some P-38s attacking a marshalling yard. “We all looked down, and at that moment a gaggle of Fw 190s and Bf 109s appeared dead ahead of us,” said Lt. Raymond Conlin. “I do not think they could have seen us, because they rolled over and started and attack on the P-38s below. I was flying No. 2 on Capt. ‘Kit’ Carson’s wing; he rolled over and I followed him down as he tacked on to the rear of an Fw 190.”

Meanwhile, the No. 3 man in the flight, Capt. John Pugh, broke off and latched onto the tail of a Bf 109. “He broke to the right and we made a complete turn,” said Pugh. “I shot a long burst from 300 yards with about 40 degrees deflection, seeing no strikes. We continued to Lufberry down to 5000 feet and I fired several short bursts in a tight turn with no observed strikes. I continually out-turned him. At about 300 feet above Paris, I closed from 200 feet to about 50 feet, firing all the time. My speed was about 250 mph. I saw strikes on the canopy, then the pilot bailed out in a gray or brown parachute. This enemy aircraft was shot from very close range; it was impossible to miss.”

Meanwhile, Carson and Colin continued after the Fw 190. “At the time, it seemed that we were almost vertical chasing the 190,” said Colin. “The pilot was doing big barrel rolls downward trying to get us off his tail, but we were right with him. As Capt. Carson closed into range he started to get strikes on the other ship. This and the ground coming up rather rapidly caused the German plot to flare out and level off. We were now at approximately 300 feet and ‘Kit’ was getting hits all over the Fw 190 when the German’s engine failed. We were heading east just above the Grand Armee-Champs Elysses Boulevard. It looked like the Fw was going to crash into the Arc de Triuph, and the pilot must have been dead since he did not try to bail out.

“Capt. Carson broke away and I was fascinated watching the prop windmilling as the Fw 190 headed toward its fatal end. All of a sudden I realized that Capt. Carson was gone and there I was at 300 feet and every soldier with a weapon was firing at me. The Germans also had anti-aircraft guns on the roofs of the buildings and in the parks and they were all concentrating on me. I sqaw the River Seine off to my right so I swung over and down into it as low as I could without becoming a boat, hugging the north bank, which is about 50 feet high. The guns could not lower down enough to get at me there, so I flew about two miles along the river until it looked safe for me to break out and head for home.”

20 enemy fighters made the mistake of flying directly in front of the 363rd, flying from left to right. “I broke to the right and pulled up to the rear box of enemy aircraft,” said Capt. Robert Foy. “I tried to pick out the tail-end Charlie, but I couldn’t distinguish which was which. I picked out what I thought was a 109 and started firing out of range, closing rapidly. He suddenly pulled into a sharp right turn and I put down 20 degrees of flaps and followed, giving several bursts with about a two radii lead. Smoke started pouring out of the right side of the enemy aircraft and he continued turning to the left. I pulled up to avoid colliding with a silver P-51 and then continued on the enemy aircraft’s tail. He was still turning at about 100 feet from the ground. He hit the ground in the middle of a small racetrack and I flew directly over top of him at about 100 feet. I started to circle to the left to come back and strafe the ship, but found an airfield directly in my path. The flak was very intense and fairly accurate. I turned right and hugged the deck to avoid the flak.” Lt. Donald Pasaka watched the Fw 190 go in; “by the way he hit the ground, I doubt very much if the pilot is telling about his experiences.”

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.

This week, in 1945: SAR, 357th FG style

It wasn’t often that USAAF forces were asked with flying SAR cover for an extended period, but this week in 1945 saw the 357th Fighter Group attempt to do just that. Lt. Daniel N. Myers of the 363rd Fighter Squadron suffered an engine failure over the Channel on April 1, when the coolant system on P-51D 44-72328 failed. Myers was forced to bail out four miles northwest of Schiermonnikogg Island in the West Frisian Islands. The USAAF Air Sea Rescue Service and the Germans both raced to recover the pilot, who had made it into his dinghy. An OA-10 Catalina piloted by Lt. John Lapenus landed near Myers, but then suffered an engine failure. A covering flight led by Capt. John Stern headed out from Lieston but was forced home by darkness and weather before they realized the flying boat was stuck.

The next morning, Maj. Leonard “Kit” Carson was alerted to scramble to cover the downed Catalina, with the intended purpose of keeping the Germans from getting to the plane. Wind and waves were pushing the Catalina toward shore, but the one good engine was allowing the plane to taxi north for brief periods and keep from coming ashore. After a low pass was met by waves from the side blisters of the Catalina, Carson sent one plane to higher altitude to report the situation and began to orbit with his three remaining planes. A few minutes later, a pair of Me 262s came racing toward the Catalina at just 1000 feet.

“Both the 262s were firing at the Catalina by the time I could get my sights on the lead ship,” said Carson, who fired a long-range shot anyway with hopes he could distract them. The Me 262s’ cannon shot a chunk of the Catalina’s tail off and punctured the hull; the flying boat began to list to port and the men aboard scrambled into three large dinghies. Luckily, the Me 262s, turned back and raced toward the shore and out of sight. An RAF Warwick arrived a little later and dropped a lifeboat, but the drop damaged it; five hours later, a B-17 dropped a second boat and the men in the water were able to climb aboard.

Eventually, after five days of effort, the Catalina crew was picked up by boats from the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, Myers was not with them; his dinghy had been blown ashore and he was captured. He was not the only pilot lost during this rescue attempt; on April 1, the 362nd Fighter Squadron lost David T. Perron, who went missing in bad weather while flying “Little Bitch,” P-51B 43-6792. At the same time, Lt. Elmer Rydberg disappeared in 43-6629; the two pilots may have collided. Two days later, while over the English Channel, Lt. Jacob Giel was hit by a drop tank from another Mustang, and he and P-51D “Winnie Gal,” 44-14682, went into the water. Giel was not rescued.