66 years ago: a costly day for the 362nd FG – and the Wehrmacht

On January 22, 1945, as the Battle of the Bulge was winding down, Captain Wilfred Crutchfield of the 378th Fighter Squadron discovered 1500 German vehicles of all types concentrated in a small area around Prum, Germany, part of the Sixth SS Panzer Armee embarking for the Eastern Front to try to stanch the Russian advance. The 362nd Fighter Group went on a rampage, destroying 315 trucks, seven tanks, 15 horse-drawn vehicles, numerous heavy gun positions and seven half-tracks. A further 108 trucks were damaged.

A StuG III, one of the 362nd Fighter Group's victims

During the morning mission, when this concentration was discovered, the 378th’s first attack destroyed 90 trucks, seven tanks, five horse-drawn vehicles and seven half-tracks. Lt. Richard Law was hit and was able to belly-land his Thunderbolt within friendly lines, and Lt. Edward Eshbaugh brought his damaged plane back to Etain, landing on one wheel. Reloading, Lt. Donald Stoddard led the next mission in which 24 gun positions were destroyed and 40 trucks moving east from Dasburg were caught on the roads and demolished. Capt. Crutchfield led the days’ last mission for the 378th; they bombed the town of Wettledorf and eliminated 52 trucks and 10 gun positions in the process.

Wilfred Crutchfield "paints" victory markings on his plane in a staged photo.

The day’s score came at a heavy cost. Capt. Carroll A. Peterson’s blue section found a large group of tanks, cars and trucks clogging the roads near Hosingen. Luxembourg. “There were tanks, armored cars and trucks lined up on the roads for miles, bumper to bumper,” said Joe Mullen.

Also part of the convoy was a large amount of mobile flak. “We crossed in and Blue Leader (Peterson) identified several convoys of enemy vehicles below,” Lt. Brandon Nuttall reported. After two strafing passes on the vehicles, the Thunderbolts wheeled and came back for a third attack on several tanks. Peterson’s P-47D-30-RE, 44-20728, made one evasive turn to the right, then pulled up to the left to go in again. “At the top of his pull up, around 1500 feet, I saw his plane jerk violently,” said Nuttall. “It continued its arc and caught fire almost immediately, burning fiercely from the cockpit back. Flame covered the rear fuselage and tail surfaces. I continued high speed evasive action and watched the plane go down. At around 1000 feet, I saw the canopy jettison and maps blow out of the cockpit. At this point the ship went into a slow spin and crashed into the lower side of a small valley. The plane did not explode when it hit. Fire belched from under the wings and engine as it hit but did not seem to burn too fiercely. My attention was distracted by close flak for a moment but I looked back and could see no open parachute or anyone running from the crash. I then called the crash into Green Leader and joined Blue 3 for the rest of the mission.” Peterson, one of the group’s original pilots, was killed in the crash.

Seeing Peterson go down, Lt. Ron Hamby assumed command of the squadron. About five minutes later, while hunting for more targets, Lt. Louis A. Bauer in P-47D 42-28941 was hit in the engine. “He headed for the lines and I advised him to bail out because the area was very mountainous and there was a 500-foot ceiling over the front lines, but he chose to ride it down,” said Hamby. Bauer was killed when his Thunderbolt crashed. At about the same time, Lt. Howard Sloan led Red Section down to strafe and, “as we pulled off the target, I heard Red Three (Lt. Chester B. Kusi) say that he was on fire and was going to bail out,” Sloan said. Kusi escaped the cockpit but he was killed during his attempt to jump from P-47D-28 42-29240. Shortly, flak smashed into Lt. John K. McMahon’s P-47D 44-27177 and it too crashed, killing the pilot.

Meanwhile Lt. Rodney Percy, Lt. Frederick Bly and Lt. Mullen attacked the enemy vehicles, dive bombing from 8000 feet. “The flak was the worst concentration I ever flew through,” said Mullen. “They had everything there – light caliber machine guns, 20mm and 40mm multiples, and the bastards were even lobbing 88’s at us with ground artillery! My bombs got about four trucks and when we pulled up, Bly and I were alone.”  Percy had been hit at low altitude and his plane went down as well.  “We went back down to strafe and on this pass Bly got hit with everything, about 15 direct hits all over his aircraft. However, the engine kept churning for about five minutes, just long enough to get back over our lines. He bellied in and I stayed around there until some doughboys came up in a jeep.”

The wreck of Rodney Percy's B8*U.

At that point, said Ron Hamby, “My wingman and I, being the only ones in the area that hadn’t been hit, left immediately for base.”

The 379th’s ordeal wasn’t quite over. Lt. Ray Murphy’s plane “Chief Seattle” (P-47D 44-19965) had been hit by two 40mm and one 20mm round which blew out a tire, fractured the hydraulic system and knocked two cylinders out of the engine. “I managed to keep my crippled plane in the air for the 75-mile flight home,” he wrote. “The airstrip was covered with ice and as I touched down, seven tons of Thunderbolt on a blown tire veered off the runway, plowing into a snow-covered field. I cut the switch to prevent fire and climbed out without a scratch!”

The day’s events left Ralph Sallee alone with no roommates in his four-man tent left to go to dinner with. Bob Doty saw the shaken Sallee and asked him why he seemed down, and Sallee told the veteran pilot. “I am a teary kind of guy, and he smiled at the situation and said, ‘Sallee, my heart bleeds for you.’  It sure broke the atmosphere,” Sallee said. “Then Percy, my best buddy, walked in carrying his chute. Percy had been hit hard and had to bail out at 500 feet, which is just about minimum. It was in No Man’s Land and he had to see a G.I. truck to know which way to run. Kinda shows how close we worked with our troops.”

On January 23, the group squeezed in five missions before weather closed in, hitting the same area as the day before. “(There were) thousands of motor transports on the roads – the Germans seem to be withdrawing everything,” Lt. John Goodrich of the 378th noted in his diary, adding, “Beaucoup fat.” This day, 264 trucks were destroyed or damaged, along with four tanks, four bridges and several anti-aircraft positions. The 378th flew two missions, one led by Maj. Boehle that destroyed 70 trucks near Hupperdigen and Dhanen, and a second led by Lt. Stoddard to Habscheid, Oblascheid and Bergreuland that wiped out 26 trucks. The 379th sent six planes up, each armed with two 500-pounders and an M-76, and they dropped their weapons on a concentration of 50 trucks, destroying 30 outright and finishing off 10 more through strafing. An official message from Gen. Otto P. Weyland, commander of the XIX Tactical Air Command, commended the group and facetiously described the carnage of the 22nd and 23rd as “an excellent solution to the German transport fuel problem.”

66 years ago: The 362nd FG in combat over Celle

On March 8, 1944, while providing penetration escort for B-24s to Brunswick, the 378th Fighter Squadron of the 362nd Fighter Group claimed four destroyed: one in the air and three on the ground at the aerodrome at Celle. Just after handing off escort to another group, Capt. Vernon Boehle saw firing from some of the bombers and took his squadron over to take a look. A box of bombers that had just completed the bomb run was under attack by about 30 Bf 109s. A half a mile from the bombers, Boehle saw a single P-51 being chased by eight Bf 109s about 4000 feet above him.

“As I turned toward them the P-51 came down in a dive and leveled off and headed straight for us,” Boehle said. “As he passed under my nose I fired a very short burst at the nearest Bf 109 chasing him. The other enemy planes that were following passed underneath us. I had no opportunity to observe whether I hit him or not, but I doubt whether I did as it was only a split-second burst. I did a turn with my flight following, but the enemy aircraft were too far away. I again headed for the bombers but saw two 109s endeavoring to bounce us, but when we turned toward them they hit the road.”

The Mustang group by now was present in full force, and on three occasions when Boehle tried to line up a German fighter, Mustangs would get into position first. Meanwhile, Maj. Charles Teschner and Lt. George Askew spotted an airfield with about 30 planes on it. At 14,000 feet, they spotted a lone Ju 88 flying at 2000 feet. “We started down on it and closed fast on its stern,” said Askew. “I was 50 yards astern and to the left of Red Leader.” “I immediately dived down and opened fire slightly out of range,” reported Teschner, “then gave two more bursts in closer. There were many hits on the fuselage and the Ju 88 gave a jerk to the left as I pulled up and called my wingman to fire.” Askew opened fire at 200 yards, closing in to 50 yards. “There were strikes all over the plane as I fired,” he said. The Ju 88’s pilot was apparently hit, as the Ju 88 made a sudden diving turn and hit the ground and exploded. No one bailed out.

Meanwhile, other members of the 378th worked over the airfield. Lt. Joe Matte flew directly over the wreckage of Teschner and Askew’s Ju 88, then made a left turn to go back to the field. Captain Tom Chloupek led this flight back to the field; Matte realized that Chloupek, Wilton Crutchfield and Floyd Mills were lined up on the left side of the field, leaving the right side all to him. “Lining up on two planes I saw there (both Me 210s), I fired a long burst into the first from about 350 yards to 50 yards, observing many hits all over the plane,” Matte said. “I pulled up just in time to avoid hitting the parked plane and turned to shoot the second aircraft. I was traveling so fast I hardly had time to fire, but I did manage to get in a very short burst before being forced to pull up. At this moment I observed a truck coming toward me on a road to the right of the airfield. Again I tried to pull around into position to fire, but this attempt was futile. I did see several soldiers leave the truck, though, and they seemed to be in a very great hurry.”

Crutchfield and his two fellow pilots attacked the other side of the field. Crutchfield lined up two Me 210s “and opened fire on the first as soon as possible and continued to fire,” he said, “observing a multitude of hits until I was forced to pull up to keep from hitting it. I pulled up slightly and pressed a short attack on the second plane, but was also forced to pull up to keep from hitting it. I stayed down among the trees and fields as closely as possible until I was away from the field for about two miles, then pulled up to join Capt. Chloupek. I looked back and observed the first ship I fired at burning and the fire seemed to be growing. This one I claim destroyed.” Chloupek and Mills damaged three more Me 210s. “We came across them from east to west and observed many hits on the first three,”

Chloupek said. Mills was right behind Chloupek, so “I skidded to the right to line up three 210s as one target and to keep from shooting Capt. Chloupek. I observed hits on the enemy aircraft, but wouldn’t swear that I hit all three.”

Also during the mission, Lt. George Kelly of the 377th bagged an Fw 190.

At the afternoon briefing, the pilots were informed that 70 trains were moving from Arras to Rouen. The found only seven, but shot them up just the same. The 379th made repeated passes, with Capt. Thurman Morrison, Lt. Kent Geyer and Lt. Vernon Ligon knocking out one locomotive and Lt. Clough Gee and Lt. Jim Ashford destroying a second. Attacking a train required a bit of technique, said Ashford. “Ideally, you want to be fairly low so that your angle of dive on the train is quite low,” he said. “You don’t want to be coming down at a 45-degree angle because that means you have to start pulling out earlier so that you don’t smash on into the train, and if you’re coming down at a 45-degree angle it takes you more airspace to get that beast turned around,” so you had less time to shoot, he said. “We inevitably took more of them from the side rather than going right down the track.”

Unfortunately, flak hit Lt. Ken Kitts’ Thunderbolt “Loko,” P-47D-15 42-75624, at 1500 feet. Kitts’ flight leader, Col. Morton Magoffin, radioed a warning to Kitts, who called back that his oil pressure was dropping, and he asked his wingman, Gordon Larsen, to accompany him home. “We flew toward the French coast for about five minutes when Lt. Kitts called me and said he would not be able to make it,” said Larsen. “We were flying at 5000 feet and just below a cloud layer. In about a minute, I observed that his engine had cut out. He immediately started to get ready to bail out. He left the ship at about 2500 feet. As he bailed out, he hit the horizontal stabilizer. I followed him down until he hit the ground.” Kitts was probably knocked unconscious, because his never made any attempt to open his parachute. He fell to his death in the St. Saens area.

P-47D-30/40 Master: success, then failure, then a bail-out

I’m pleased to say that the P-47D-30/40 floor is finished, and it came out the way I wanted it to. However, it almost came to grief thanks to my stupidity. But I am ahead of myself.

First off, I copied Tamiya’s engineering. Their keyed four-part cockpit structure is genius, and I am always happy to have a great place to start. My thinking is this: the set will include a floor, sidewalls and wing modifications (re-positioned light panels, anti-compressability flaps). The rear bulkhead from the kit, the kit stick and the kit instrument panel can still be used. Part one was the cockpit. The base of the part was made by laminating several pieces of sheet styrene together, then I cut out the slots where he other parts would fit. That allowed my to use them to locate the various features of the floor.

Next, I drilled out a hole for the control column. This allowed me to then position the structure ahead of the stick and build it from sections of .020 styrene, which I sanded back to about .015 or .013. The left side had to be cut out a bit to leave clearance for the big radio box on the left sidewall.

Next, I fashioned the control column cable run from a bit of wire and a shot length of hypodermic tubing. The other features on the floor were carefully cut from a Tamiya cockpit, sanded down, and added to the floor. I also added two small panels to either side of the control column with .005 styrene.

With all the major structural parts in place, it was time to have some fun. I bought some N-gauge rivets from Archer Fine Transfers and used them to apply the small but very visible rivets on the floor. The resin rivets are presented on decal film which needs to be trimmed, which I did with very sharp scissors. After a brief dip in water, they came right off the backing paper; the next step is to get them on straight. A total of 13 runs of rivets were used to detail the floor.

Once they were dried and secure, I was vey pleased by the result. The only step left was to graft the Tamiya cockpit front bulkhead to the floor. I was so geeked up about it that I took it to the weekly modeler’s dinner to show off to my friends. Masters look pretty atrocious, to be honest, but they gave me approving nods. Once it’s cast, it’ll look much better than this somewhat blurry photo:

And then came the dumb part. I left at my usual time for the 35-mile ride home, and about the time I turned into the Webster Tube I realized I had left the part at the restaurant. I called the restaurant the next morning and ascertained only that the morning shift there is not very sharp. I had visions of the part being swept into a bus tub, smeared with mashed potatoes and then doused in clam chowder before being tossed into a trash bag and then hurled into a dumpster. In a dumpster, no one cares if your rivets are straight!

Before I had a panic attack, I e-mailed Mike Burton and Greg Plummer, the only two guys who out-lasted me at the restaurant. Luckily, Greg grabbed the part, knowing it was something for a model of some sort. I’ll get it back later next week and I can get this project back on track. Crisis averted by good friends!

1:72 floor show

This week, I went back to work on the 1:72 P-47D-30/40 cockpit master for Obscureco. Why make this into a product, you ask? Isn’t Tamiya’s cockpit good enough? No, because the floor’s not accurate – Tamiya has the earlier corrugated floor, while the late D-models had a flat, riveted floor. There are some other cosmetic differences to the sidewalls, too, and the control panel’s a little different but it’s mostly the floor. And, also, I may want to build several P-47D-30s or D-40s, so like any good Obscureco product, its being made for my own use. ‘

For the rivets, I plan on using Archer Fine Transfers’ resin rivets – neat little resin bumps on decal film. I’m using a sheet intended for N-gauge railroads; I may also use these to add rivet detail to the heavily-riveted seats of the A-3 (a by-product of getting too close to reference materials). I’ve seen another resin producer use these rivets – badly. He had them adjacent to a panel line, but not completely parallel. They sort of wandered about in the neighborhood of the panel line. They looked just awful. I have shorter runs of rivets to add, but I will be exceptionally careful about their straightness – nothing ruins detail sets worse than a lack of precision and straight lines.

I have to fight the urge to get too anxious to finish these parts; I can’t wait to build my next Jug, but I don’t want to hurry and mess up the cockpit parts. I’ll also have to make new wing inserts to relocate the landing light, so a full-on build is a little ways off. I’m just hoping to have my P-47D-30 parts ready before Tamiya does a P-47D-30 kit – although, when that comes out, you can thank me for creating the modeling karma that led to it.

Master plans: A-3 and P-47D-30

The last few weeks, I’ve focused my modeling attention on the A-3 Skywarrior in 1:72. I have long said I want to make a cockpit interior for this plane, and possibly folded wings. The wings will be tough – as will the dropped leading-edge slats – because the wing is so big. I don’t want to create a casting crisis with my partner in Obscureco. But the cockpit is do-able!

The tricky part is that the plane was around for so long that the cockpit changed radically. The major changes were in the right side of the control panel and the rear of the cockpit. So, for the A-3, there was a tail gunner’s remote control panel; for the KA-3B there was a shelf with a table; and the EKA-3B had a shelf with four “black boxes.” On the right side of the rear cockpit were an assortment of boxes and wiring on set of shelves, which differed from plane to plane.

It was a similar situation on the control panel. Flight controls stayed the same, but the right side varied from variant to variant.

So, here’s the strategy: the set will have three different control panels, and three different rear panels with different black boxes. And probably the most in-depth instructions I’ve had to write!

I used the kit parts for a structural base, and several parts from the Eduard set. Eduard gives you good extra details but leaves others out, and there was not much variance between versions. On top of this, I added switches, button and panels Eduard missed, improved on some messed-up details in the Eduard set, and built the panel essentially from scratch using styrene, wire and Reheat photoetched bezels.

I also made new seats, using the kit seats as a starting point and adding oxygen hoses, belts, blower equipment and other details.

It’s not finished; as it stands now, the control panel and rear bulkhead are awaiting casting (I’ll modify them for different versions) so they’re not totally complete. The rear bulkhead needs the jump seat belts, and the right side box is the EKA-3B arrangement, which will be removed or modified for the A-3 and KA-3 rear bulkhead masters. The cockpit lacks detail for the right side except for the oxygen regulator, which was common to all versions. I also have to make all the black boxes for the shelf on the right side and sidewall pieces, which will include the floodlights, hood for the navigator and canteens. Yes, canteens! At least I don’t have to scratch build those – I’ll just relieve some 1:72 figures of their spare gear.

Here are a couple of photos, with the parts just placed together:

Now, I’m switching gears and doing a cockpit master for the P-47D-30 for the 1:72 Tamiya kit. Yeah, I know, the Tamiya kit doesn’t need a new interior. Well, it does for the later Thunderbolts, which did away with the corrugated floor and had several interior equipment improvements. I’m using Tamiya’s ingenious jigsaw-puzzle-like engineering approach, which will allow modelers to use the rear bulkhead from the kit, keeping the price down and helping ensure a good fit. I’ll also include a panel for the lower wing with the landing light in the right place and some compressability flaps. I want to build Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5” and do it well; sadly, I know more about P-47s than I did when I built a 1:48 Hasegawa Jug for Joe’s 85th birthday, so mine will be more accurate than his. This modeling is a real learning experience…

Back to the Blog! And with a finished P-47, too!

Enough of the blog hiatus! Stuff actually happened in the workshop and in the research arena in the last couple of months, I got a new job, and life has been generally eventful. Instead of just dumping all of that on you at once, I’ll focus on one thing: my Tamiya P-47D.

I finally finished “Chief Seattle,” Ray Murphy’s airplane, but not without trying to find new ways to frustrate myself and undo previously well-done work. If I’d been younger, I imagine the model would have gone flying; many years ago I flight-tested an uncooperative F9F-5, which hit a closet door and exploded – but not without leaving a Panther nose-shaped hole in the door! Grumman makes ’em tough, even in 1:72. That cured me of that impulse.

But as for the P-47… The model had been sitting ready for paint for a long time, and finally I decided to paint it. I use Model Master metallizers shot through my Paasche VL airbrush; others find it troublesome, but it works very well for me. The aluminum buffing plate went on first, followed by various shades made by adding drops of different metal colors to the paint cup. I masked the panels with Post-It notes; these give you a nice straight line without lifting the paint already laid down.

I find that there are a few rules to metal finishes. First, keep things symmetrical on the wings, unless the panels vary. Second, less is more; the wings only had three different shades applied, but the shape of the wing can cause adjacent panels painted the same color to look different anyway because of light reflection. Third, less is more. For the fuselage, masking and painting small panels is often more effective than masking large sections. Fourth, less is more. Did I mention that less is more?

Anyway, the metal finish went on with no problems whatsoever. Next, I added the decals, which also worked like a dream. The EagleCals markings are printed by Microscale, so MicroSet and MicroSol caused them to settle down nicely. I trimmed the carrier film close to the art; that minimizes visible carrier against the metal finish. I shot the model with Model Master sealer to protect the decals and knock the shine down a bit; too shiny a model, and it looks like a hood ornament. These planes were not chromed!

I’d already masked the anti-glare panel and windscreen with Tamiya tape way back in 2008, so I figured that now I’d peel the tape and be just about done. Not so fast – the tape had lifted a bit, so there was significant overspray on the olive drab. Worse, it was also on the windscreen, which had been painted yellow and then masked separately. A lot of careful masking ensued, taking care not to screw up the decals in the process. Somehow, this all worked.

The final step to the finish was the crew block, which was half-on the flat anti-glare panel and half on natural metal. I made a mask the exact size of the decal, sprayed some gloss, applied the decal, and once it was dry sprayed flat over it. It worked great – except that the mask lifted the “A” and “T” in “SEATTLE.” Truly a rookie mistake! I had to order another decal sheet, and I pondered how to apply the new decal so it would blend with the old one. As it turned out, I simply cut the needed letters from the new sheet and dropped them on the model – a perfect fit, and they were opaque enough no sign of the previous screw-up could be seen!

The yellow cowling was given a wash to pop out the panel detail, and the Aires engine was installed. This entire unit was cemented to the front of the plane, followed by the landing gear, gear doors, canopy, propeller, and finally the pylons and bombs. The final touch to the model was a pair of small brass slivers used as fuze propellers on the bombs.

So there it is! This plane features prominently in an article I have coming up in Flight Journal early next year on the 362nd in the Battle of the Bulge – and I’m holding it in my author’s photo. The Tamiya kit is great; I’m now debating which markings to put my next one in. The current favorite is Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5,” which will give me a chance to convert the kit to a P-47D-30, with repositioned taxi light, re-arranged cockpit and compressability flaps.

Next time, the story of how I finished ANOTHER model within 30 days of this one…!

This day, 65 Years Ago…

D-Day was the “day of days” for those who landed on the beaches, but the next several weeks were very difficult for allied tactical aircraft over Normandy. The 362nd Fighter Group provides an excellent example of this. Here’s what happened to the group on July 10, 1944:

After two days grounded by poor weather, the group’s three squadrons – the 377th, 378th and 379th – conducted an armed reconnaissance in the area between Cherbourg and Avranches. 12 planes in each squadron carried 500-pounders while four flew top cover, seeking to avoid the losses of June 7, when four Thunderbolts and three pilots had been lost in an all-out bombing effort. The group bombed and strafed railroad and ground transport to good effect, but they faced a withering hail of 20mm and 40mm flak and nine pilots were recorded as missing at the end of the day. Most landed at advance fields or bailed out over friendly territory, but some did not make it home.

Blue flight of the 377th set up a pattern to strafe a small convoy, reported Lt. Harry Kraft. Just as Lt. Emory Riggs completed a pass, he pulled up and left the target at an odd angle. “After the pass, unable to contact him by radio, I set up a search, but there was no sign of him in the air or on the ground,” said Kraft. “We made one more pass at the target, received hits from ground fire, and left the area.” Riggs was hit by flak and died when P-47D-22-RE 42-25989 crashed to earth at Monthuchon, France.

Meanwhile, flak damage started to hamper two more P-47s in Blue Flight. “(Lt. Charles H.) Freeman, Lt. (Richard C.) Petrie and I were on set course for home when Blue 2 (Freeman) and Blue 4 (Petrie) called ‘failing oil pressure,’” reported Kraft. Red Flight, which was providing high cover for the bomb-carrying Thunderbolts, now assumed an escort for the struggling Blue flight. “We turned toward the beachhead on a course of 30 to 40 degrees, but we had to leave (Freeman), whose engine was cutting in and out, in order to get (Petrie) to the beachhead. No. 2 called that he had no oil pressure at all, so I told him to crash land.” P-47D-16-RE 42-76154, flown by Freeman, went down at Belval, where his plane dug a neat furrow in a small field before hitting a hedgerown and breaking up. The uninjured Freeman was hidden by a French family until the end of July and returned to the squadron in August. His P-47 was cannibalized by the locals for souvenirs.

Soon thereafter, near St. Sever Calvados, Petrie in P-47D-10-RE 42-75181 was hit by ground fire. “From what I could see, his engine was a mass of flames,” reported Lt. Francis Connor, who was leading the cover flight. “The plane made a half-circle, then crashed into the ground. I saw a parachute open at about 1000 feet and float down into a field directly adjacent to a heavily wooded area.” Petrie also received assistance from the underground and returned to the group later. Lt. Gerald Major of the 379th was hit by flak as well but was able to land safely inside allied lines.

On this day in 1945…

On January 22, 1945, Captain Wilfred Crutchfield of the 378th Fighter Squadron discovered 1500 German vehicles of all types concentrated in a small area around Prum, Germany, part of the Sixth SS Panzer Armee embarking for the Eastern Front to try to stanch the Russian advance. The 362nd Fighter Group used this information to go on a rampage, claiming 315 trucks, seven tanks, 15 horse-drawn vehicles, numerous heavy gun positions and seven half-tracks. A further 108 trucks were claimed as damaged. During the morning mission, when this concentration was discovered, the 378th’s first attack destroyed 90 trucks, seven tanks, five horse-drawn vehicles and seven half-tracks. Reloading, Lt. Stoddard led the next mission in which 24 gun positions were destroyed and 40 trucks moving east from Dasburg were caught on the roads and demolished. Capt. Crutchfield led the days’ last mission for the 378th; they bombed the town of Wettledorf and eliminated 52 trucks and 10 gun positions in the process.

The day’s score came at a heavy cost. Capt. Carroll A. Peterson’s Blue Flight if the 379th Fighter Squadron found a large group of tanks, cars and trucks clogging the roads near Hosingen, Luxembourg. Also part of the convoy was a large amount of mobile flak. “We crossed in and Blue Leader (Peterson) identified several convoys of enemy vehicles below,” Lt. Brandon Nuttall reported. After two strafing passes on the vehicles, the Thunderbolts wheeled and came back for a third attack on several tanks. Peterson’s P-47, 44-20728, made one evasive turn to the right, then pulled up to the left to go in again. “At the top of his pull up, around 1500 feet, I saw his plane jerk violently,” said Nuttall. “It continued its arc and caught fire almost immediately, burning fiercely from the cockpit back. Flame covered the rear fuselage and tail surfaces. I continued high speed evasive action and watched the plane go down. At around 1000 feet, I saw the canopy jettison and maps blow out of the cockpit. At this point the ship went into a slow spin and crashed into the lower side of a small valley. The plane did not explode when it hit. Fire belched from under the wings and engine as it hit but did not seem to burn too fiercely. My attention was distracted by close flak for a moment but I looked back and could see no open parachute or anyone running from the crash. I then called the crash into Green Leader and joined Blue 3 for the rest of the mission.” Peterson, one of the group’s original pilots, was killed in the crash.

Seeing Peterson go down, Lt. Ron Hamby assumed command of the squadron. About five minutes later, while hunting for more targets, Lt. Louis A. Bauer in P-47D 42-28941 was hit in the engine. “He headed for the lines and I advised him to bail out because the area was very mountainous and there was a 500-foot ceiling over the front lines, but he chose to ride it down,” said Hamby. Bauer was killed when his Thunderbolt crashed. At about the same time, Lt. Howard Sloan led Red Section down to strafe and, “as we pulled off the target, I heard Red Three (Lt. Chester B. Kusi) say that he was on fire and was going to bail out,” Sloan said. Kusi escaped the cockpit but he was killed during his attempt to jump from P-47D-28 42-29240. Shortly, flak smashed into Lt. John K. McMahon’s P-47D 44-27177 and it too crashed, killing the pilot. “My wingman and I, being the only ones in the area that hadn’t been hit, left immediately for base,” said Hamby.

The 379th’s ordeal wasn’t quite over. Lt. Ray Murphy’s plane “Chief Seattle” had been hit by two 40mm and one 20mm round which blew out a tire, fractured the hydraulic system and knocked two cylinders out of the engine. “I managed to keep my crippled plane in the air for the 75-mile flight home,” he wrote. “The airstrip was covered with ice and as I touched down, seven tons of Thunderbolt on a blown tire veered off the runway, plowing into a snow-covered field. I cut the switch to prevent fire and climbed out without a scratch!”

This was a particularly rough day for the group, but my work on a book on the 362nd is making it clear that, in general, P-47s had short, violent lives in the 9th Air Force and that only became worse as V-E Day approached. Flak took its toll, but so did accidents and general wear. I’m currently building a model of “Chief Seattle,” by the way – it was a great looking ship! Ray Murphy scored two kills during the war, the second not confirmed until 1991.

362nd decals in the blessed 1:72 scale

I had a comment on the blog from a family member of a 362nd FG pilot asking about where one could find profiles of the planes of the 378th FS. That’s a tough one – at least, until I convince someone to publish my book on the group. Profiles are closely related to model decals, since smart artists (like Tom Tullis) can maximize their efforts by using the graphics applications they’re using to make profiles to extract markings for decals. Anyway, I’m especially interested in decals for 362nd FG P-47s, and I plan on building as many as I can (thank you, Tamiya, for your kit, which makes my life much easier). Here are the 1:72 decals that I know of, synopsized briefly.

AeroMaster 1998 IPMS/USA Convention Special
P-47D-11 42-75465 “Damon’s Demon,” flown by Capt. George Rarey
P-47D “Wheelboy”/“Tennessee Cannonball,” flown by Lt. Ken McCleary
P-47D “Slo Joe,” flown by Lt. Joe Jensen
P-47D “Dudge,” flown by Lt. Robert Doty
P-47D-30 “5 By 5,” flown by Col. Joe Laughlin

Eagle Strike 72-055, 362nd FG Jugs Part 1
P-47D-22 “Carol Ann,” flown by Col. Morton Magoffin
P-47D-27 “Shirley Jane,” flown by Capt. Edwin O. Fisher
P-47D-28 “Bonnie,” flown by Lt. Gene Martin

Eagle Strike 72-058, 362nd FG Jugs Part 2
P-47D-30 “Gooch,” possibly flown by Lt. Kenneth Caldwell
P-47D-30 “Why Pick on Me?,” flown by Lieutenant Robert V. McCormick
P-47D-25 “Chuck’s Wagon”/“Victory First,” flown by Lt. Chuck Mann

SuperScale 72-598
P-47D-20 “My Gal Sal,” flown by Lt. Joe Hodges

EagleCals EC-104
P-47D-38 “Chief Seattle,” flown by Lt. Ray Murphy

I’ve already built “Damon’s Demon,” “Carol Ann” and “Chuck’s Wagon,” and “Chief Seattle” is coming along. I really need to shift my attention slightly – I’ve met or spoken on the phone with Bob Doty, Mort Magoffin, Joe Laughlin and Gene Martin, so I should hop on Gene’s plane next, since he’s the last of these gentlemen with us. As I blogged earlier this week, another 362nd FG Jug will be on the IPMS/USA Journal special sheet, making 14 of the group’s planes available in this scale.

I have a lot of other useful material that I plan to pass on to a decal manufacturer soon so that more of the George Rarey – painted planes will become available to razorback fans. Meanwhile, progress remains slow on the current P-47 project… I can’t wait to not do a natural metal subject for a change!

The most expensive decal sheet I ever bought

Well, I just bit the bullet and paid (well, Obscureco paid!) for a little present for all my friends in the IPMS, and my friends in the 362nd Fighter Group Association by extension. The gift: a decal sheet covering one P-47D in 1:72, 1:48 and 1:32 scales, which will be inserted into one of the next two issues of the IPMS/USA Journal (depending on logistics) following the delivery of the nationals issue (which is at the printers and headed out to the public as I type). The full story will be revealed at the time when the Journal arrives with the decal in it; let me just drop a few teasers about it:

1. The nose art was painted by George Rarey, but was not one of the items the late Damon Rarey had on his wonderful and now sadly defunct website tribute to his father. In fact, when I showed him the photo of the aircraft in question, Damon exclaimed, “My father never painted any girlie art!!!” But, says the pilot, indeed he did.

2. George did a study for this pilot – but the original idea was scrapped.

3. The pilot of this plane hadn’t seen a photo of his aircraft for 62 years until I sent him a scan of the photo after I interviewed him; I asked if, by chance, was “________” his airplane, and one thing led to another. A few months later, at the 362nd Fighter Group reunion in Portland, Oregon, I presented him with a set of profiles of his plane done by IPMS’s own Jack Morris, who did the decal artwork.

That’s all I’m going to say, beyond this: My goal is to demonstrate to other modeling companies the value of doing decals for the Journal. If twice or three times a year a nice sheet is included, it will add a lot of value to the publication and, for the sponsors, allow them to build their relationships with the 4500 most ardent scale modelers in the country. The beautiful thing is that several vendors I’ve spoken to informally have thought the idea was great. So, if you aren’t a member and like P-47s, it’s time to head over to the IPMS/USA website and get yourself current…

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