70 years ago: Magoffin scores, Sunter shot down and escapes

The 378th Fighter Squadron flew two missions in the vicinity of Vire on July 31, bombing one Tiger tank and setting a second ablaze through strafing. Flak was vicious, however. Lt. Andrew Sunter recalled that he followed his wingman, Lt. Charles Naerhood, to strafe a truck. “On pulling off the target, I felt three distinct flak hits on my plane, my right foot was knocked off the rudder pedal and either pieces of flak or floor (started) rattling around the cockpit. I recovered control and thought I was all right until flames started spewing up around my legs and it got unbearably hot. I rolled my trim tab back, pulled the plane up to approximately 1000 feet, opened the canopy and dove out the right side. I cleared the plane and pulled the ripcord. I glanced at my watch, it was 2015. Then I heard popping noises and glanced down over my right shoulder. I could see German soldiers firing at me with rifles. All I could do was swing my chute as much as possible and swear at the Germans. I was too angry to be afraid. After what seemed like minutes to me, but no doubt was only a few seconds, my chute drifted into a tree while I hung two feet off the ground. I could hear the Germans yelling at one another behind a hedgerow and knew they were after me so I quickly unhooked myself.”

Sunter ducked the Germans by hiding in a haystack; the farmer in whose field the stack was gave him some civilian clothes and took him to his house to dress his leg wounds, walking him right past the German patrol. Hiding with the farmer’s family, Sunter endured American shelling of some nearby Panzers by taking shelter in the farmer’s cellar, where he was joined several times by German soldiers. Eventually, a German officer tried to question Sunter, but the farmer explained that Sunter was a deaf mute. Finally, the officer ordered the family out of the house in order to set up a machine gun position in the upper floors. The next morning Sunter stumbled across some American infantrymen advancing toward his former hiding place. They had orders and couldn’t stop to cater to the pilot, so they gave Sunter some grenades and he brought along a captured German Schmeisser machine-pistol and went with them. Only after several hours of combat was Sunter returned to regimental headquarters and eventually back to the 362nd.

Lt. Naerhood, in P-47D-22 42-26244, was also hit by flak. “Flame and smoke were trailing from his engine,” said Ken Placek, another member of Naerhood’s Blue Flight. After Naerhood radioed that he had been hit and was on fire, he tried to make a crash landing. His P-47 hit the ground and skidded for a long distance before coming to a stop north northwest of Percy, but, sadly, Naerhood was killed.

The second mission for the 378th was equally eventful. Col. Morton Magoffin was flying with the squadron on an armed reconnaissance, and near Beaumont-sur-Sarthe he “sent Yellow Flight into a patch of woods to scare something out,” reported Lt. Donald Stoddard. At about that time, Magoffin spotted an Fw 190A-8 “blue 20” flying north on the deck, piloted by Fw. Rudolph Rauhaus of Stab.I./JG1. “We were at about 10,000 feet,” Stoddard said. “The flight got into a string formation and went down on the Fw 190. I made one pass at the Fw 190 and overshot.” Stoddard chandelled to the left to get on the German fighter’s tail, but by this time Magoffin had the Fw 190 in his sights. “The Colonel, from about 200 to 300 yards to the rear, fired one long burst, giving it some deflection,” said Lt. Arthur Staples, Magoffin’s wingman. “He secured strikes all over the cockpit and the engine, The plane broke into flames, rolled on its back and went down.” Rauhaus was killed in his plane’s crash.

Stoddard, meanwhile, had spotted a second Fw 190. “I made two turns with him to the left, giving him a couple of bursts, but observed no strikes. I pulled in a little more and gave one good burst from about 250 yards and saw strikes all over the fuselage. He straightened out and was rocking. About this time the canopy came off and the Hun bailed out. The Fw 190 crashed and was burning when I left. The Colonel took pictures of the Hun pilot in his chute and the burning plane.” This was probably Ofhr. Karl-Heinz Schaper of 2./JG6; despite bailing out, Schaper later died of his wounds.

 

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69 years ago: the 362nd flies an escort – and hits the Luftwaffe in the air and on the ground

On March 27, 1944, orders were issued calling for the 362nd Fighter Group to use belly tanks to escort heavy bombers to an airfield near Tours. Col. Morton Magoffin, the group CO, received permission to use wing tanks on half the planes; these flew under command of Maj. Charles Teschner, while Magoffin led the belly tank-equipped section. Magoffin’s section had to break off escort about halfway back to the coast on the return trip, but Teschner’s section took the bombers all the way to Tours. “We had been with the bombers for some time, giving close escort at 210,000 feet,” reported Maj. Teschner’s wingman, Lt. Robert W. Kennedy. “As the bombers were on the bombing run, just south of the target, I called in a single bogie at 11 o’clock. The bogie made his pass through the bombers and chandelled up toward our flight. As he did so, we started a gentle dive and his wing became silhouetted and I called him in as an Fw 190. Maj. Teschner released his wing tanks and peeled off after him. The Fw 190 went straight down with Maj. Teschner behind him closing fast.”

“The Fw 190 went down for about 15,000 feet before leveling out,” Teschner said. “I gave it a short burst from dead astern at a distance of 300 yards and a height of 4000 feet. I saw many strikes on the fuselage. Parts of the plane fell off and the pilot bailed out at 2000 feet” while traveling at almost 550 mph, which may have been his undoing. The German pilot “opened his chute almost immediately,” Kennedy reported, and the “chute streamed behind, but (I) cannot be sure it billowed out.” The Fw 190 crashed and exploded below them. “We were either in compressability or on the edge of it when the major fired, and speed was over 500 mph. We recovered at below 1000 feet and came out after climbing to 12,000 feet.”

Col. Magoffin and his wingman Lt. Joe Lane spotted an airfield, this one at Marderwijk, and dropped down to strafe. Each destroyed a Do 217 during their single pass. Lane’s was the 377th  Fighter Squadron’s first aircraft destroyed on the ground.

Joe Lane

Joe Lane

 

 

68 years ago: Ed Fisher of the 362nd FG becomes an ace

A dive-bombing mission by the 362nd Fighter Group on July 13, 1944 to the marshalling yards at Montargis destroyed 12 boxcars and a railroad bridge, plus 20 to 30 boxcars damaged by strafing. On the way home, the group ran across four Fw 190s; Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed two and the 377th’s Capt. Edwin Fisher got the other two, making him an ace. The victims were Ogfr. Helmut Merten and Uffz. Hermann Grad of 4./JG26, Ofhr. Ruthart von Richtofen of 10./JG2, and an unidentified member of II./JG1. Only Grad survived his downing.

 

 

68 years ago: The 362nd Fighter Group works on the railroads

On April 22, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group was assigned a set of rail-busting missions around the rail yards at Malines. The 378th Fighter Squadron used a variety of approaches and altitudes to throw off the flak gunners, scoring seven direct hits on the western-most engine shed. The 379th dived from 10,000 feet and pressed their releases to 2,500 feet, scoring six hits on an engine shed. “After the bomb run, I broke left for reform and saw a P-47 to my left and at about 6500 feet, throwing flame from the supercharger bucket,” reported Capt. Bill Flavin, the leader of Blue Flight. It was Lt. Vernon P. Ligon, who was flying as a spare the flight, but had followed the squadron in; light flak damaged his P-47D-10-RE 42-75041 as he was pulling off of the target. “The ship was evidently under control and the pilot tried to extinguish the fire by violent dives and zooms. Finally, the ship turned over and the pilot bailed out approximately three to five miles from the target.”  Ligon was seen running on the ground northeast of Brussels, but he soon became a prisoner of war. Ligon, who was flying his 26thmission, was sent to a camp but later escaped for a short period before being recaptured and interned in Moosburg. Ligon had the dubious distinction of also being held as a POW for five years during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon, the group flew a sweep of the area around Lingen as part of a diversion for a larger raid on Germany, shooting up rail traffic. Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed a locomotive, and Lt. Robert McKee claimed another one in Gutersloh. Lt. George Rarey’s plane, “Archy and Mehatibel,” was damaged by flak during the attack. Red Flight of the 377th has a guest, Major Gene Arth of the 406thFighter Group, flying a familiarization mission. “I saw a train running south on the track from Meppen to Lingen and took Red Flight down to strafe,” said Capt. Tom Beeson, who had Arth on his wing. “We made one attack from west to east and encountered no ground fire whatsoever. The train stopped and we turned back and strafed again, this time from east to west, and destroyed the locomotive. I encountered no ground fire on this second attack, but as I pulled up to the left I saw bursts of 20mm flak over the target area. At the same time, I saw a ship dive, crash into the yard of a farmhouse and explode. Then my Number Three man (Lt. Edwin Fisher) called that my number two man, Maj. Arth, had crashed. Nobody in the flight saw a parachute, and Number Three noted Maj. Arth’s closed canopy as he went down. I do not believe there is any possibility of his having lived through the crash.” Arth was indeed killed in the crash of P-47D-11-RE 42-75596.

This day in 1944: The 379th FS loses Hugh Houghton, and Bob McKee makes a narrow escape

The 362nd Fighter Group paid a visit to the rail yards at Valenciennes on the morning of May 10, 1944, bringing along an ample supply of 500-pound bombs. The 378thwas led by Capt. Sherwin Desens, but his plane was hit by flak over St. Omer at 11,000 feet and his engine quit. He jettisoned the canopy, “getting a face full of oil in the process,” and he bailed out 3000 feet over the English Channel. When he hit the water, he quickly located his CO2 bottle and dinghy and inflated it. Seeing Spitfires overhead, he fired his flare pistol and they started circling him. Soon, he was rescued by an RAF Walrus flying boat and brought back to England. Capt. Thurman Morrison’s plane was hit by flak over Dunkirk and he was forced to return to base.

After that rough morning, the group executed an afternoon attack on the Champagne airfield near Reims using its own tactics and dropping a combination of 500-pounders, fragmentation bombs, smoke bombs and phosphorus incendiaries. The phosphorus bombs were impressive but they made it impossible to asses the damage to the target. The 379th flew as top cover, and after the other squadrons had bombed it dropped down to  strafe the remaining planes; Lt. Gordon Larsen damaged a Ju 88 and Lt. Madison Putnam damaged a Do 217 during their attacks. Capt. Hugh Houghton and Lt. Ken McCleary went down to strafe; “we started a left turn after strafing a hangar when I noticed a glow in Capt. Houghton’s cockpit, which I realized was a fire,” McCleary said. “His aircraft rolled into a vertical bank and slipped into the ground.” Lt. Gerald Major saw Houghton’s P-47D-16 42-75867 “Curtain Call” (B8*5) hit the ground with “a big flash, and it continued burning on the ground.”

Robert McKee was also in Houghton’s flight. As the shaken McCleary joined up with McKee’s wingman, “I remained on the deck in an attempt to avoid the continuing intense flak as I slowly began a turn to the northwest,” McKee later wrote. “About three miles from the airfield, I flew over a small hill and discovered a long train of boxcars moving northward, almost perpendicular to my course. I still had some ammunition remaining for my eight .50 caliber machine guns. With my gun switches and gun sight still on, I waited until I was 1000 feet from the train before I commenced firing from about 200 feet of altitude.

“Simultaneous with my opening fire, all side panels on each side of this train dropped open with their 20mm and 40mm antiaircraft guns firing on our three aircraft. Their opening salvo hit the leading edge of my right wing root and another round hit the right lower side of my engine. I continued spraying my gunfire at these boxcars while inbound, hoping to quiet them down somewhat. After passing over the train, I quickly managed to hide behind another low hill, still being fired upon but not hit. I soon noticed that I had lost some engine power and after getting out of the range of this train’s guns, I began a slow climb to a safe bailout altitude, if that became necessary.

“I eventually managed to level off at 1500 feet but was only able to maintain 155 mph maximum airspeed,” McKee wrote. “The remaining aircraft rejoined squadron formation and continued on without me. I flew on towards England alone with my canopy open, climbing to 2000 feet in case I had to make a quick exit.

“The slower airspeed extended my flight time home for rest of my return flight to England and caused me concern about my fuel supply. It was going to be close. It seemed to take forever, but eventually I had our home base in sight. As I made plans for a long straight-in approach to the runway, I descended to 1000 feet.

“Life is full of surprises and now I faced another one! The engine quit and I was still two miles from the runway. I tried switching fuel tanks with the help of the fuel booster, to no avail. Within a few seconds I was down to 500 feet and flying over many wooded sections of British countryside. I selected two small adjoining fields, about 45 degrees to my left. They were separated by a hedgerow that I hoped I would be able to plow through while making a belly landing into the first one. As I approached the field, I found that the approach side had a row of 70-foot trees that seemed to quickly loom up and above the nose of my aircraft.”

McKee recalled a conversation he had with a civilian instructor many years before involving a pilot intentionally cartwheeling a plane to avoid an obstacle like a fence, with the thinking being that the impact would be distributed around the pilot. Because the P-47 was just above stall speed, McKee knew that if he pulled to miss the fence he’d stall and crash. “Without hesitation, I moved my flight control stick to the left, dipping my left wing about 45 degrees. I then crossed both arms in front of my head and held tightly to the top of the instrument panel. I heard the crunching of tree branches as I felt the sudden deceleration of the aircraft. I sneaked a peek to my left and saw the left wing fold up and inwards as it impacted the ground. I felt the engine’s ground impact force, which threw my head against the right side of the canopy. At this point I closed my eyes and held on tight, feeling a lot of tumbling going on.”

The plane did not catch fire; when McKee opened his eyes, he saw no flames but instead “saw blood everywhere,” he wrote. “It seems that, when I hit my head against the canopy, I had received a long cut above the right eye that had spurted blood around as I turned my head to look about. I tried to slide the canopy open, but found it to be jammed by the fuselage’s twisted metal and would only open about six inches. I almost panicked at this point because I could also see that a lot of red hydraulic fluid had splashed throughout the cockpit and, being concerned that I was going to lose consciousness due to loss of blood, I was afraid of fire erupting before I could get out. I grabbed the control stick with both hands and, squeezing it hard, said aloud to myself, ‘now, hold onto yourself, Mac!’”

Five British antiaircraft gunners raced to the scene and extricated McKee from his smashed Thunderbolt. He suffered the gash on his eyebrow and a broken ankle, probably caused the by the rudder pedal when the tail of his plane was torn off.

Lt. Gerald Majors’ plane was also hit by flak, but he was able to nurse the plane home. On return to base, one of the 378th’s planes had a hung fragmentation bomb, which detonated on landing. The pilot escaped but the plane was a write-off, and it blocked the runway; only Col. Morton Magoffin was able to land. The rest of the squadron flew to Woodchurch, where Lt. John R. Lovett’s hung-up smoke bomb detonated, flipping the P-47D 42-75246 on its back and inflicting a broken back and cuts on Lovett’s face, under his arms and on his legs. Even so, once the fire-fighting crew jacked the plane enough to allow him out of the cockpit, his first request was for a cigar. Lovett was evacuated to the U.S. for recuperation from his injuries. Lt. Robert Kennedy was unhurt when his plane, P-47D 42-22773, crashed at Headcorn on his return from the continent; Lt. Joseph Lane of the 377thbanged up P-47D 42-76442 in a ground loop on his arrival.

67 years ago: MacLean and Magoffin score for the 362nd

While providing withdrawal support on April 24, 1944 for heavies returning from southern Germany in the area around Kaiserlauten, Red Flight of the 377th  Fighter Squadron spotted a pair of Bf 109Gs below them in a narrow valley at dived to attack. “(Col. Morton Magoffin) took the one on the right, but he gained too much speed and overshot,” said Lt. Ed MacLean. “I hadn’t accelerated as much and found myself in good position to fire at the other enemy aircraft. My first burst was wide, my second got hits on the left wing near the cockpit, and the third caught him directly in the tail and made pieces fly off. By this time we were on the deck and, since the country was very mountainous, there was a hill directly ahead. As my diving speed carried me past the 109 I noticed that his canopy was open and that it was rolling over to the right, nose down. I looked back when I got over the hill, but the enemy aircraft did not come over and I didn’t see him again. In front of me, the colonel was being chased by a 109, which was followed by another P-47. I think this was Lt. (John E.) Hayden, the flight’s No. 3, but it may have been Lt. George Kelly, the No. 4. As I flew after them, the colonel made a sharp turn and, at the same time, I am pretty sure I saw hits on the enemy aircraft made by the other P-47. After his climb, the colonel came down on the 109 and pursued it until it crashed into a hillside. Meanwhile, the other P-47 started toward the southeast after another 109, with the colonel after it and me after the colonel. He pursued the 109 up hills and down valleys when we finally caught up with him over a small town. (The 109 ) was in a tight Lufberry with the P-47. I tried to enter this but my speed carried me past. My second attempt was successful, although I couldn’t get enough lead to fire at the 109. This was the last time I saw the P-47, and I do not know what happened to him after this. I made two more turns with the 109 and, on the third turn, he came in at 90 degrees with his guns firing but I received no hits. The colonel told me that I was losing ground and ordered me to straighten out so that he could get on the 109. I obeyed him and almost immediately I got a hit in my left wing and elevator. The colonel succeeded in chasing it off and then, since we were low on gas and far into enemy territory, said that we should go home.”

Magoffin and McLean each received credit for a Bf 109, but Lts. Kelly, in P-47D-15-RE 42-76167, and Hayden, who’d been in Joe Laughlin’s former mount, P-47D-4-RA 42-22775, were shot down in exchange by Ofw. Herbert Kaiser of VII/JG.1 and Uffz. Fritz Rathofer of III/JG.1. Kelly was wounded and became a POW, but Hayden was seen to crash into the side of the valley and was killed.

67 years ago: losses as the 362nd FG works over the railroads

The rail tour continued  for the 362nd Fighter Group on April 22, 1944; this time, they attacked rail targets around the French town of Malines. The 378th Fighter Squadron used a variety of approaches and altitudes to throw off the flak gunners, scoring seven direct hits on the western-most engine shed. The 379th dived from 10,000 feet and pressed their releases to 2,500 feet, scoring six hits on an engine shed. “After the bomb run, I broke left for reform and saw a P-47 to my left and at about 6500 feet, throwing flame from the supercharger bucket,” reported Capt. Bill Flavin, the leader of Blue Flight. It was Lt. Vernon P. Ligon, who was flying as a spare the flight, but had followed the squadron in; light flak damaged his P-47D-10-RE 42-75041 as he was pulling off of the target. “The ship was evidently under control and the pilot tried to extinguish the fire by violent dives and zooms. Finally, the ship turned over and the pilot bailed out approximately three to five miles from the target.”  Ligon was seen running on the ground northeast of Brussels, but he soon became a prisoner of war. Ligon, who was flying his 26thmission, was sent to a camp but later escaped for a short period before being recaptured and interned in Moosburg. Ligon had the dubious distinction of also being held as a POW for five years during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon, the group flew a sweep of the area around Lingen as part of a diversion for a larger raid on Germany, shooting up rail traffic. Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed a locomotive, and Lt. Robert McKee claimed another one in Gutersloh. Lt. George Rarey’s plane, “Archie and Mehatibel,” was damaged by flak during the attack. Red Flight of the 377th has a guest, Major Gene Arth of the 406thFighter Group, flying a familiarization mission. “I saw a train running south on the track from Meppen to Lingen and took Red Flight down to strafe,” said Capt. Tom Beeson, who had Arth on his wing. “We made one attack from west to east and encountered no ground fire whatsoever. The train stopped and we turned back and strafed again, this time from east to west, and destroyed the locomotive. I encountered no ground fire on this second attack, but as I pulled up to the left I saw bursts of 20mm flak over the target area. At the same time, I saw a ship dive, crash into the yard of a farmhouse and explode. Then my Number Three man (Lt. Edwin Fisher) called that my number two man, Maj. Arth, had crashed. Nobody in the flight saw a parachute, and Number Three noted Maj. Arth’s closed canopy as he went down. I do not believe there is any possibility of his having lived through the crash.” Arth was indeed killed in the crash of P-47D-11-RE 42-75596.