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.