Like something you would see in the movies: 371st Fighter Group Air-Drops for the “Lost Battalion”

Down came the rain. And it rained and it rained and it poured. It was miserable weather for flying for man and fowl alike – in fact, there wasn’t much of any flying going on.

So it was at Dole/Tavaux Airfield (also known as Advanced Landing Ground Y-7) in France in late October, 1944, where elements of the 371st Fighter Group hunkered down and withstood the deluge. A month before, after working with Patton’s Third Army in the dramatic advance across France, the group had been ordered south in France to support the US-French 6th Army Group as it approached the Franco-German frontier from southern France. This army group landed in the second amphibious invasion of France in World War II in August, 1944, and made good progress all the way up to the Belfort Gap and the approaches to the Vosges Mountains.

But in October poor flying weather became a real problem. The 371st Fighter Group was grounded for most of the month, and only flew on 13 days, including seven days of limited operations.

The location of the "Lost Battalion" of World War II is noted in this view of the Domaniale DeChamp Forest (the High Vosges are in the background)  Source:  Clarke, Jeffrey J. and Smith Robert R., “United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations, Riviera to the Rhine,” page 330.

The location of the “Lost Battalion” of World War II is noted in this view of the Domaniale DeChamp Forest (the High Vosges are in the background) Source: Clarke, Jeffrey J. and Smith Robert R., “United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations, Riviera to the Rhine,” page 330.

In the miserable weather, however, the fighting on the ground continued. In late October the bulk of the understrength 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment of the US 36th Infantry Division, was cut off and surrounded on a hilltop in the Vosges Mountains southwest of St. Die, France, by German forces. Try as they might they could not breakout, and the rest of the 141st Infantry and other units in US Seventh Army were ordered to break through to them, including the famous Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT).

A squad leader with the 442nd RCT keeps watch on a German position (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

A squad leader with the 442nd RCT keeps watch on a German position (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

But the enemy, the terrain and the weather combined to make any relief a difficult proposition. The isolated unit soon became known as the “Lost Battalion,” but not for any navigation reason. Soon the Lost Battalion’s ammunition ran low, rations ran out, as did medical supplies as well as the life of the batteries for the radios they had to communicate with the outside world. It was a grim situation.

Major John W. Leonard, Commanding Officer of the 405th Fighter Squadron, pictured here in 1944, was a well-regarded combat leader in the 371st Fighter Group and led missions to help the Lost Battalion.  Unfortunately, he was fatally wounded in a dogfight with German fighters near Worms, Germany, in January, 1945.  His older brother William was a distinguished Navy fighter pilot and ace in the Pacific. Source:  (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

Major John W. Leonard, Commanding Officer of the 405th Fighter Squadron, pictured here in 1944, was a well-regarded combat leader in the 371st Fighter Group and led missions to help the Lost Battalion. Unfortunately, he was fatally wounded in a dogfight with German fighters near Worms, Germany, in January, 1945. His older brother William was a distinguished Navy fighter pilot and ace in the Pacific.  (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

With the battalion cut off, aerial resupply was a natural way to seek help, but the lousy weather grounded everything. Everything, that is, except for the pilots and P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers of the 371st Fighter Group’s 405th Fighter Squadron. The group was essentially grounded since October 23 by fog, thick clouds and constant, near-freezing rain. But pilots in the 405th, commanded by Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) John W. Leonard, knowing the desperate situation on the ground, volunteered to risk flying in the poor weather to help the men of the Lost Battalion. Sergeant Louis Cellitti, an armorer with the 405th Squadron who rigged aircraft with ammunition for the mission recalled: “Trucks were brought in and the supplies were stuffed into the belly tanks and affixed to the planes to be dropped.”

Armorers of the 405th Fighter Squadron such as Sergeant Louis P. Cellitti, third from the left atop the wing of this P-47, loaded relief supplies instead of bombs on the squadron’s P-47 Thunderbolts in order to help the Lost Battalion.  The other men seen in this view are, on wing left to right, Ras Rogers and Earl M. Berkley.  Standing are Benjamin H. Deller, Dan M. Nall, Irving J. Gnehm and Earnest P. Toma.  Kneeling are Rudolph D. Jennings and Albert Martinez.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., page 126)

Armorers of the 405th Fighter Squadron such as Sergeant Louis P. Cellitti, third from the left atop the wing of this P-47, loaded relief supplies instead of bombs on the squadron’s P-47 Thunderbolts in order to help the Lost Battalion. The other men seen in this view are, on wing left to right, Ras Rogers and Earl M. Berkley. Standing are Benjamin H. Deller, Dan M. Nall, Irving J. Gnehm and Earnest P. Toma. Kneeling are Rudolph D. Jennings and Albert Martinez. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., page 126)

The first aerial relief effort was made on October 27, in terrible weather. All of Ninth Air Force and the XII Tactical Air Command were grounded except for the 405FS. Eight aircraft, each carrying two-150 gallon wing tanks filled with ammunition, food, medical supplies and radio batteries, made their way at low level, trying to reach the Lost Battalion by flying under the clouds hugging the surface. When lack of visibility forced the airmen above the clouds, 1Lt Robert A. Booth crashed on the ascent through the weather and was killed. In the poor visibility on the way back Major Leonard accidentally smacked a wing tip into a tree and lost a portion of it but was able to land his damaged aircraft safely.

Foul weather during the first supply drop mission led to the loss of 405th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt pilot 1st Lt. Robert A. Booth and his aircraft on October 27, 1944.   (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., page 120)

Foul weather during the first supply drop mission led to the loss of 405th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt pilot 1st Lt. Robert A. Booth and his aircraft on October 27, 1944. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., page 120)

On October 28 the 405th flew four air drop missions. The first “show,” a flight of four P-47 aircraft, took off at 0750 and was over the “Lost Battalion” drop zone at 0830, greeted by German flak that was reported as “intense, accurate, and heavy.” The four successfully made their drop and returned to Dole. Down came the much-needed supplies suspended beneath yellow, orange, and red parachutes. Though some of the supplies landed outside the American perimeter, the soldiers fought to secure them.

The second show was also led by Major Leonard. With ten Thunderbolts, he decided to try two ships at a time in hitting the drop zone. But by the time Leonard reached the drop zone it was totally obscured and he had to return to base. His wingman Milton Seale remembered what happened on their return to Y-7: “We were going along fine just under the clouds that gave us 200-300 feet above the ground. All of a sudden, we passed over a small valley, a stream of tracers were directed straight into John’s plane. I was too low to get my nose down to fire back at the source, but I did see that it was our own people with a half-track vehicle mounted with quad .50 caliber machine guns. As I looked over at my partner, I said ‘John, you’d better get out of that thing…It’s on fire.’ John, in his southern accent, said, ‘Yeah, it’s getting a little warm in here. I think I’ll bail out.’”

.  Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bomber of the 405th Fighter Squadron, flown by 1st Lt. Robert L. Griffith, at left, with an unidentified NCO, likely the crew chief of the aircraft.  The effort to help the Lost Battalion was one of Lt Griffith’s early missions, and he was concerned more about the nasty weather than he was about the enemy. Source:  (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

. Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bomber of the 405th Fighter Squadron, flown by 1st Lt. Robert L. Griffith, at left, with an unidentified NCO, likely the crew chief of the aircraft. The effort to help the Lost Battalion was one of Lt Griffith’s early missions, and he was concerned more about the nasty weather than he was about the enemy.  (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

Leonard rolled his aircraft over on its back, bailed out and quickly landed in a tree, with his feet about six inches off the ground, not far from the command post of an Army general. A jeep was dispatched to pick him up. One of the 405th’s armorers, Robert Lindsay, remembered what happened then: “The general dispatched a jeep to pick-up Major Leonard from where he landed in the trees. The major found the soldier who commanded the quad-50 gun crew and had a heated “discussion” with him – most likely about Allied aircraft identification.”

Corporal Robert H. Lindsay, 405th Fighter Squadron Armorer seen here standing, fourth man from the left, witnessed the lucky return of Major John Leonard, who was shot down by “friendly fire” during a supply drop mission for the Lost Battalion.  He told of the Major’s encounter with the anti-aircraft gunners who shot him down.  Other men pictured are, from left to right, standing, Charles D. Stebbins, Harold J. Baker, Jack P. Starr and at far right, Louis Lopez.  Kneeling are Clyde C. Arthurs, John M. Mann, Gerald E. Kinter, Francis J. Flinn and Ezra W. O’Connor.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., page 126)

Corporal Robert H. Lindsay, 405th Fighter Squadron Armorer seen here standing, fourth man from the left, witnessed the lucky return of Major John Leonard, who was shot down by “friendly fire” during a supply drop mission for the Lost Battalion. He told of the Major’s encounter with the anti-aircraft gunners who shot him down. Other men pictured are, from left to right, standing, Charles D. Stebbins, Harold J. Baker, Jack P. Starr and at far right, Louis Lopez. Kneeling are Clyde C. Arthurs, John M. Mann, Gerald E. Kinter, Francis J. Flinn and Ezra W. O’Connor. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., page 126)

In Major Leonard’s absence, 1st Lt. Edward J. Hayes led the third show of 28 October, with four P-47s. The flight was over the drop zone by 1245 and was greeted by German flak described as “intense, accurate, and heavy.” Unfortunately the supplies landed south of the drop zone.

The fourth and final mission of the day used ten P-47D aircraft. The flights of this mission were over the target by 1630. All supplies landed in a wooded area near the top of the hill.

With the weather creating uncertainty about getting enough supplies to the beleaguered battalion by aircraft, ground commanders ordered an alternate resupply plan put into effect. This new plan called for one hundred 105mm and 155mm artillery shells filled with chocolate “D” ration bars, sulfadiazine wound tablets and halazone water purification tablets. The special shells were fired just after the last air delivery, starting at 1640. Said the acting commander of the Lost Battalion, 1st Lt. Martin J. Higgins, Jr., “Those shells may have had chocolate in them but if they hit you, they’d kill you. We decided to take a chance. We figured, if you don’t get hit – you eat.”

But some of the aerial supplies dropped by the 405th did indeed reach the Lost Battalion on this day, and feedback on the mission for the successful flyers came swiftly. On the afternoon of October 28, Major General Ralph D. Royce (of the famous Royce mission to the Philippines in April, 1942), commanding general of the First Tactical Air Force (Provisional), passed along a message received from walkie-talkies of the Lost Battalion using batteries the 405th dropped: “Thank our pals in the Air Corps. We eat for the first time in three days!”

Brigadier General Gordon B. Saville (the “father” of American air defense), commander of XII Tactical Air Command, added his endorsement to this commendation as he passed it down to the group, “It is with great pleasure that I forward the above commendation; the timely execution of this mission, in spite of adverse conditions, reflect great credit on all concerned.”

But the Lost Battalion was not out of the woods yet. October 29th, the sixth day of being surrounded, was the hardest day for the Lost Battalion. The unit was down to three rounds of ammunition per man by the morning, and the enemy kept up attacks throughout the day. Fortunately, the 405th was right on-target with ammo to help them fight.

The squadron flew two supply missions on this day, with the first “show” over the drop zone at 1045. Fifteen planes dropped external tanks loaded with ammunition and medical supplies including blood plasma. Major Leonard reported 22 landed inside the drop zone. The final supply mission of four aircraft arrived over the drop zone in the late afternoon and delivered seven supply bundles in the drop zone. The supplies dropped by the 405th arrived in the nick of time.

First Lieutenant Higgins recalled the air-drop scene: “It was like something you would see in the movies, shells falling with food, planes zooming and dropping parachutes, and belly tanks loaded with supplies — it was really something. Most of the men cried like kids. You just can’t put into words how we felt. I ordered all the food brought to one point for a breakdown and equal distribution. And not one man stopped to eat anything. They brought the food, piled it up, and looked at it. It was the strongest discipline I ever saw. Some of the men had to shoot their way to the rations as they landed near the Jerries who tried to grab them first. We had the same sort of trouble at the water hole. Jerry placed snipers there.”

Men from the “Lost Battalion” of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, 36th Division rejoin their unit after the battle).  Source:  Clarke, Jeffrey J. and Smith Robert R., “United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations, Riviera to the Rhine,” page 332.

Men from the “Lost Battalion” of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, 36th Division rejoin their unit after the battle). Source: Clarke, Jeffrey J. and Smith Robert R., “United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations, Riviera to the Rhine,” page 332.

In the mid-afternoon of the next day, Monday, October 30, 1944 the Nisei soldiers of the 442nd RCT broke through the German lines and reached the Lost Battalion. Of the 270 men of the “Lost Battalion” at the start of the battle, 211 answered muster that morning.

Grave marker for 1Lt Robert A. Booth in Plot B, Row 12, Grave 23, of the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial, Epinal, France. For his service 1Lt Booth was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart. Source: (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

Grave marker for 1Lt Robert A. Booth in Plot B, Row 12, Grave 23, of the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial, Epinal, France. For his service 1Lt Booth was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.  (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

The bravery and persistence of the pilots of the 405th Fighter Squadron in conducting these daunting aerial resupply missions proved vital to the ability of the Lost Battalion to hold out. The squadron dropped enough supplies to enable the battalion to continue effective resistance against repeated enemy attacks until they were relieved.

After the battle.  A 150-gallon drop tank delivered by a 405th Fighter Squadron P-47 is seen still on the World War II battlefield of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Mountains of France. (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

After the battle. A 150-gallon drop tank delivered by a 405th Fighter Squadron P-47 is seen still on the World War II battlefield of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Mountains of France.
(Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

Echoes of the 405th’s contribution to this epic battle continue to today. The famous “Sgt Rock” comic book series told the tale of the Lost Battalion in a special multi-issue story in 2008-2009, with notable artwork by William Tucci. The 405th Fighter Squadron was given due credit and illustration in this special.

The stone memorial to 1st Lt. Robert A. Booth, located outside the town of Le Val d’Ajol, France, was dedicated by grateful French citizens and American diplomatic and military personnel on July 15, 2012. (US Consulate General, Strasbourg, France, US State Department)

The stone memorial to 1st Lt. Robert A. Booth, located outside the town of Le Val d’Ajol, France, was dedicated by grateful French citizens and American diplomatic and military personnel on July 15, 2012.
(US Consulate General, Strasbourg, France, US State Department)

More recently, an important event occurred in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France, at the small town of Le Val d’Ajol. On July 15, 2012, the people of the town gathered with nearly 50 military personnel to dedicate a stele, a stone memorial, to 1st Lt. Robert A. Booth, near the site where he crashed on October 27, 1944. He is buried on a plateau 100 feet above the Moselle River, in the American Cemetery and Memorial in Epinal, France. Let us also remember him, and the other Airmen who came to the aid of the Lost Battalion of World War II.

References:

Clarke, Jeffrey J. and Smith Robert R., “United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations, Riviera to the Rhine,” Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1993, accessed on 29 October 2014 at:

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Riviera/index.html#index

Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial webpage on the American Battle Monuments Commission website, accessed 29 October 2014 at:

http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/epinal-american-cemetery

Herzig, Jürg, “The Battle of Bruyeres and the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in October 1944,” posted on Mr. Herzig’s “Stand Where They Fought” website, accessed on 29 October 2014 at:

http://standwheretheyfought.jimdo.com/the-vosges-2009-battle-of-bruy%C3%A8res-and-the-relief-of-the-lost-battalion-by-the-442nd-rct/

“Like something you would see in the movies,” on the 142nd Fighter Wing website, Oregon Air National Guard, accessed 29 October 2014 at:

http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123429876

“Not Forgotten,” posted in the Cyberambassador, the blog of the U.S. Consulate General in Strasbourg, France, accessed on 29 October 2014 at:

http://cyberambassadorsblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/not-forgotten/

“The Story of the 371t Fighter Group in the E.T.O.,” Army & Navy Publishing Company, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

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National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2014: Caged Thunderbolt

On the occasion of the 2014 observation of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, “Caged Thunderbolt: The POW experience of 371st Fighter Group/405th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt Pilot William V. Schleppegrell” can be viewed at the 142nd Fighter Wing (Oregon ANG) website, at:    http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123425504

We should also remember those members of the 371 st Fighter Group who are still missing all these years since World War II:

Pfc. Herbert Feit, 371st Fighter Group, 406th Fighter Squadron, from New York, New York, went missing on Apr. 1st, 1945, near Metz, France; he went on pass in Metz and just never showed up again. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

Flight Officer William Gorman, 371st Fighter Group, 405th Fighter Squadron, from Brooklyn, New York, went MIA on Aug. 7th, 1944, over St. Nazaire, France; he failed to return from a dive-bombing mission. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at Brittany American Cemetery, St. James, France. He was awarded the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters.

Flight Officer Edwin S. Humphreys, Jr., 371st Fighter Group, 404th Fighter Squadron, from Chicago, Illinois, went MIA on June 8th, 1944, over France; he was separated from his flight during an engagement with ME-109’s and did not return to base. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England. He was awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

Capt. George D. Pieck, 371st Fighter Group, 404th Fighter Squadron Operations Officer, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, went MIA on Aug. 10th, 1944, over France; his plane was shot up by flak, he bailed out four miles east of Mayenne, France, and landed safely about 15 miles inside enemy lines, but was not heard from again. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at Brittany American Cemetery, St. James, France. He was awarded the Air Medal with 13 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.

Capt. Uno A. Salmi, 371st Fighter Group, 406th Fighter Squadron, from Lake Charles, Louisiana, went MIA on June 16th, 1944, near St. Lo, France; he led his flight away from a flak concentration and disappeared into the clouds flying downward through overcast. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England. He was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.

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Frisky’s First Purple Heart

On August 7, 1782, General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, established the original Purple Heart, then called the Badge of Military Merit. August 7 is now known as Purple Heart Day.

General George Washington taking Control of the Continental Army, 1775.  (Wikipedia)

General George Washington taking control of the Continental Army, 1775.  (Wikipedia)

The Badge of Military Merit was never abolished after the Revolutionary War, nor was it used again. Interest grew over time to revive the Badge of Military Merit, and after general Douglas MacArthur became the Army Chief of Staff in 1930, he directed an effort be made to do so. Army heraldic specialist Elizabeth Will was tasked to redesign the newly revived award, and created the design sketch used for the present medal.

Elizabeth Will, former illustrator at TIOH, receives an award for her work on the design of the Purple Heart Medal.  (U.S. Army)

Elizabeth Will, former illustrator at The Institute Of Heraldry, receives an award for her work on the design of the Purple Heart Medal. (U.S. Army)

The new Purple Heart Medal was first awarded February 22, 1932, on the bicentennial of Washington’s birth. It was a fitting tribute to Washington’s memory and military achievements.

The Purple Heart, a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed, while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military.  (Wikipedia)

The Purple Heart, a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed, while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military. (Wikipedia)

On June 5, 1944, Major Edmond A. “Buster” Goolsbee, Operations Officer of the 406th Fighter Squadron, became the first member of the 371st Fighter Group to be honored with the Purple Heart. He was the first pilot in the group be wounded in action against the enemy, which occurred on May 21, 1944, during a “train-busting” mission at Rennes, France.

The whole 371st Fighter Group flew out on a train hunt in France on that day, led by the commander of the 405th Fighter Squadron, Major Harvey L. Case, Jr. Two trains were destroyed and another badly damaged, but it wasn’t without a price.

As Major Goolsbee passed over the first train, German light flak found the range. A piece of it pierced his canopy and hit him in the shoulder from behind, wounding him; his instrument panel and gas and hydraulic lines in the cockpit area were smashed or damaged. “Ground crews and officers, gathered around the loudspeaker to listen to the progress of the mission, chilled to the sound of his voice, high with excitement, whining through the air. “Someone lead me in; I’m a cinch for the Purple Heart!!””

Hit and bleeding, “Ma” or perhaps better known as “Buster” Goolsbee returned to Bisterne Airfield in England, landed his flak-ridden P-47 safely and received prompt medical attention. Perhaps a bit too prompt as this quote from the 406 Fighter Squadron’s history for May 1944 suggests: “In spite of this (wound and damage) he was able to make his way across the channel OK and land at home base in good enough shape to bitch loudly at the Medical Corps for not feeding him before hacking the shell fragments out of his shoulder.”

Major Goolsbee left the hospital a few days later of his own volition and returned to duty with the usual well-chewed cigar in his mouth.

The second train cost Frisky something too, when 406FS P-47 pilot Lt. Robert R. Meyer lost two cylinders on his engine during his pass from a well-placed 20mm shell. He sweated his return back across France and the channel, oil pressure dropping along the way, until there was no pressure left. Fortunately he was able to recover at Warmwell Airfield and a safe landing.

Lt. robert Meyer is pictured inthe center of this group of "Yearling (406th Fighter Squadron) pilots (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Lt. Robert Meyer is pictured in the center of this group of “Yearling” (406th Fighter Squadron) pilots (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

The third train was no different from the first two, insofar as cost was concerned, as Lt. Francis E. “Francisco” Madore found out. Making a minimum altitude approach to reduce his exposure to enemy fire, he took evasive action against the light flak as he neared the target. But a tree suddenly interposed itself between him and the train. His mighty Thunderbolt clipped the top of the tree with a wing, chopping off a portion of both tree and wing, and bringing some of the tree back with him to England in the wing and fuselage. “He (Madore) claimed that the wing would stall out at IAS.” Fortunately he was able to get his beaten aircraft back across the channel for a safe landing.

406th Fighter Squadron damaged by collision with tree(s).  This may be the ship flown by Lt. Francis E. Madore on his 21 May 1944 "train-busting" mission. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

406th Fighter Squadron damaged by collision with tree(s). This may be the ship flown by Lt. Francis E. Madore on his 21 May 1944 “train-busting” mission over France. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Two weeks after the “train-busting” mission over France that fairly busted Frisky’s chops, pilots assembled under a “mottled-gray sky” in the field behind headquarters used for a baseball diamond. Those slated to receive an award were “slicked up in Pinks, and wearing blouses.” On June 5, 1944, Brig. Gen. Alvan C. “Ack-Ack” Kincaid, Chief of Staff, IX Tactical Air Command, presided over the ceremony, and presented 371FG members with awards earned during the group’s early operations in the ETO. Gen. Kincaid, himself a recipient of the Purple Heart, presented Maj. Goolsbee with the Purple Heart. And so it was, on this day before D-Day, Frisky received his first Purple Heart, the first of many more.

Major Edmond A. "Buster" Goolsbee, 406FS Operations Officer, receives the Purple Heart from Brig. Gen. Alvan C. Kincaid, IX TAC Chief of Staff on June 5, 1944 at Bisterne Airfield, England.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Major Edmond A. “Buster” Goolsbee, 406FS Operations Officer, receives the Purple Heart from Brig. Gen. Alvan C. Kincaid, IX TAC Chief of Staff on June 5, 1944 at Bisterne Airfield, England. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

References
“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.,” Army & Navy Publishing Company, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

371st Fighter Group and 406th Fighter Squadron histories for May and June, 1944.

 

“Purple Heart,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_Heart

Image of Elizabeth Will receiving award in “The Institute of Heraldry celebrates 50th anniversary,” at: http://www.army.mil/article/47234/the-institute-of-heraldry-celebrates-50th-anniversary/

“General Alvan Cleveland Kincaid,” at: http://signaturesofwar.com/id38.html

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First Birthday Shindig in Normandy

Saturday, 15 July 1944, marked the first anniversary of the 371st Fighter Group’s 15 July 1943 activation at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia. In the period immediately preceding this birthday anniversary, Frisky was quite active, flying numerous missions from dawn to dusk out of A-6 airfield near Ste Mère Eglise.

As the 15th started, the group was in action again. Twenty-six dive-bombing P-47’s, covered by another 13 P-47’s as escorts, a total of 39 Thunderbolts, took off at 0926, in a show led by Major Goolsbee of the 406th Fighter Squadron. This was also the 404th Fighter Squadron’s 100th combat mission of the war.

Due to the overcast weather, 8/10 stratus from 1,500 to 4,000 feet which forced the show to fly in at low altitude, Frisky was unable to find the primary target, didn’t have the gas to reach the secondary target, but improvised successfully and hit an alternate target at 1017. In at low altitude and into a lot of light flak which damaged two Jugs, they managed to hit a marshaling yard at Dreux on the river and cut the rails in several places and damaged 25 box cars and an engine. Fifty 500-lb bombs rained down on the target – two did not release due to stiffness in the manual bomb release mechanism during the dive. Frisky then made it through the weather back to A-6 by 1100 hours.

One reason why Hitler's armies were not fed or supplied with ammunition. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

One reason why Hitler’s armies were not fed or supplied with ammunition. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

A release from further operations for the day came through in the morning. And so Frisky made plans for a celebration of the day, taking advantage of what local resources were available.

Behind the group’s chateau headquarters, the enlisted troops gathered in a green field to participate in sport contests. There were baseball games, relay races, and a tug of war, among the events.

Race at Frisky's First Birthday Party in Normandy.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Race at Frisky’s First Birthday Party in Normandy. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

At the far end of the field, the cooks in the group were busy preparing huge sections of beef “slowly barbecuing over deep pit fires.”

BBQ, Advanced Landing Ground style - not strictly according to Emily Post, but practicable.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

BBQ, Advanced Landing Ground style – not strictly according to Emily Post, but practicable. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Special Service provided some entertainment, including a reported first-rate show by comedian Eddie Hill.

Eddie Hill's troupe and the 371st Fighter Group's own, the Jive Bombers, entertained on Frisky's first anniversary.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.) anniversary

Eddie Hill’s troupe and the 371st Fighter Group’s own, the “Jive Bombers,” entertained on Frisky’s first anniversary. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Even Normandy gave something to the party, with Calvados (an apple brandy specialty of the region) and apple cider to accompany the delicious BBQ.

CPL Andrew Jost, New Milford, CT - an enlisted member the 371st FG, has a hard time concentrating on his mess kit full of American barbecue.  Mademoiselle Charmagne cheerfully  listens as Cpl Jost tries a snow job, with a French accent, yet.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

CPL Andrew Jost, New Milford, CT – an enlisted member the 371st FG, has a hard time concentrating on his mess kit full of American barbecue. Mademoiselle Charmagne cheerfully
listens as Cpl Jost tries a snow job, with a French accent, yet. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

There were also some news correspondents and newsreel men on hand to watch the festivities. The festivities continued until nearly midnight.

It was at this party that Frisky’s Commander, Col. Bingham T. Kleine, announced that Frisky had become a father. That is by way of an “adoption” if you will, of a young French farmgirl named Yvette Hamel. Yvette had been grievously wounded by German artillery while milking cows at the family farm near La Haye du Puits. An Army medic administered life-saving first aid, and an Army field hospital near Ste Mère Eglise had saved her life and stabilized her condition, but then the hospital had to move on. Col Kleine agreed to take over care of Yvette to help her in the early stages of recovery – he realized there really wasn’t anywhere else she could go to get the medical care she desperately needed.

Young Yvette Hamel receives a show of friendly Frisky visitors in her convalescence tent during her stay with the 371st Fighter group in the summer of 1944.  Courtesy "Sunward I've Climbed," by Annie Laurie Morgan)

Young Yvette Hamel receives a show of friendly Frisky visitors in her convalescence tent during her stay with the 371st Fighter group in the summer of 1944. Courtesy “Sunward I’ve Climbed,” by Annie Laurie Morgan)

Col Kleine asked the members of the group to donate money to be used to help Yvette’s recuperation. The 405th Fighter Squadron history records this response: “As a result of his plea, the squadron raised more than $1000.00 (over 50% of the group total) as a gift for the girl.” Yvette was in good hands with the 371st Fighter Group, and would spend several months with the group before she went to Paris for rehabilitation. For more on Yvette’s story, see “The French Farm Girl of the Flying Field,” on the 142nd Fighter Wing website at:

http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123361404

Frisky’s respite was brief – by the afternoon on 16 July, the shows were launched again, and totaled six missions for that day. But at least the members of the group could feel that they suitably celebrated the 371st Fighter group’s first birthday.

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Improving Frisky’s Chow Situation

With all the group’s personnel together once again at Ste Mère Eglise, the unit regained an ability to better feed its members. As the 405th Fighter Squadron History for July, 1944, noted, “We “had joy” with the beginning of Class B rations on the 9th of the month as we put away K and 10-in-1’s.”

To be included in a unit history, a fact such as this must have been deemed significant. As an air force flies on its stomach, to paraphrase Napoleon (or was it Frederick the Great), improvements in chow could probably be correlated to improved morale and sustained levels of performance.

With regard to what Frisky had been eating since arriving at A-6 Advanced Landing Ground, let us briefly examine K-rations and the 10-in-1 Ration that Frisky started out with in France, as compared to the B ration he received beginning on 9 July 1944.

The Field Ration, Type K, or the K-ration was designed as a short duration, pocket-sized, individual “assault” ration for paratroopers and other specialized light infantry forces. It was fielded in three separately boxed meal units: breakfast, dinner (lunch) and supper. It saw first use in 1942 and was improved as the war went along, and many other units also used it, including the 371st Fighter Group.

K-Rations: “Food for Fighters” is a short, ten-minute, US Office of War Information film circa 1943. It gives some background on rations in general and at about 6:24 gets into the K ration. View it at:

Although three kinds of K-ration meals were made, the standard issue to the troops was only intended to be one K-ration per man per day. Calorie content of a single K-ration was ultimately improved to 2,830 calories, which was probably adequate for some personnel, but inadequate for highly active men. And during the Normandy campaign of 1944, Frisky was VERY active. This was noted in the combat zones around the world, and a 1943 field report did not recommend the use of the K-ration in excess of 10 days given its nutritional limitations.

K-ration Breakfast Unit: canned entrée Veal (early version), canned chopped ham and eggs (all subsequent versions), biscuits, Dextrose or Malted milk tablets (early version), dried fruit bar, pre-mixed Oatmeal Cereal (late version), Halazone water purification tablets, a four-pack of cigarettes, Dentyne or Wrigley chewing gum, instant coffee, and sugar (granulated, cubed, or compressed).  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

K-ration Breakfast Unit: canned entrée Veal (early version), canned chopped ham and eggs (all subsequent versions), biscuits, Dextrose or Malted milk tablets (early version), dried fruit bar, pre-mixed Oatmeal Cereal (late version), Halazone water purification tablets, a four-pack of cigarettes, Dentyne or Wrigley chewing gum, instant coffee, and sugar (granulated, cubed, or compressed). (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Fortunately, Frisky apparently had access to another ration in the early days at A-6, designated as the Ration, 10-in-1, usually called the “10-in-1” ration. This ration was intended to provide one meal for ten men. Development began in 1943, inspired by early experience with various other rations that were discontinued in mid-war, such as the Mountain ration, Jungle ration and the 5-in-1 ration, as well as the British “compo” or 14-in-1 ration.

Te Ration, 10-in-1, was introduced in service after experience gained with other field rations for troops engaged in combat operations around the world.  (Courtesy  X )

Te Ration, 10-in-1, was introduced in service after experience gained with other field rations for troops engaged in combat operations around the world. (Courtesy US Army Quartermaster History)

Essentially superseding the 5-in-1, used successfully by US forces in the North African campaign, the 10-in-1 was built as two 5-in-1s, which allowed for a greater variety in the contents. The number of menus was increased to five as compared to the three of the 5-in-1. A complete group breakfast and supper was provided in the 10-in-1, with a partial dinner (lunch) unit.

Contents of the 5-in-1 ration, an early war ration adapted for use in the 10-in-1 ration.  (Courtesy Y)

Contents of the 5-in-1 ration, an early war ration adapted for use in the 10-in-1 ration. (Courtesy US Army Quartermaster History)

A typical menu included such canned items as meat units, vegetables, biscuits, cereal, butter-substitute spread, jam, beverages, soluble coffee, evaporated milk, , pudding, candy, salt, and sugar.

Accessory items were cigarettes, matches, can opener, toilet paper, soap, towels, and water-purification (Halazone) tablets.

The partial dinner (lunch) unit was enclosed in a cellophane bag-in-carton for easy distribution to the individual soldier for his noontime meal. Within the unit were biscuits, a confection, beverage powder, sugar, gum, and a can opener. These items were provided on the theory that an individual “snack” was sufficient for midday meals, when there would be neither time nor opportunity to prepare the ration for group feeding.

Although at first report it was a welcome shift from the K ration and 10-in-1 to the Ration, Class B, or Type B ration, there was apparently some similarity between them, in that the B was prepared using canned or preserved ingredients, and did not use any fresh, frozen or refrigerated ingredients as found in the Class A ration. The big distinguishing feature seems to be that the Class B ration was prepared in a field kitchen, where it could be hot, better prepared, better seasoned and with a full dinner (lunch) meal made available.

"Speaking of firsts - here's the first mess hall in Normandy and naturally - the first chow hound.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

“Speaking of firsts – here’s the first mess hall in Normandy and naturally – the first chow hound. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

But any improvement in the field is welcome, and Frisky was better fed at Ste Mère Eglise for the change. The Class B rations would suffice until perhaps some fresh, frozen or refrigerated ingredients of the Class A ration variety could be found or supplied, giving the unit yet another way to improve the fare that kept Frisky flying, fighting and winning.

371st Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolt two-ship takeoff.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

371st Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolt two-ship takeoff. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

References

The 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O., Army & Navy Pictorial Publishing, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

405th Fighter Squadron History for July, 1944

Army Operational Rations – Historical Background, US Army Quartermaster History, at: http://www.qmfound.com/army_rations_historical_background.htm

K-ration, entry on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-ration

10-in-1 ration, entry on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10-in-1_food_parcel

5-in-1 ration, entry on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5-in-1_ration

B-ration, entry on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-ration

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Lost and Found

As the campaign for Normandy continued, the 371st Fighter Group settled into its new home at A-6 Airfield near Ste Mère Eglise. By the 8th of August, it had really become a mystery as to where the ground echelon of the group was at.

The last members and equipment of the group had rolled out of Bisterne on 30 June, and should have arrived at A-6 already. The group’s “attached” units found their way to A-6 in the first week of July.  But not the remainder of the group itself.  One had to wonder if they got lost looking for A-6, or was it known as Ste Mère Eglise? Or should it be called Beuzzeville, or perhaps La Londe? Having several names from which to choose, the new airfield could be a bit elusive to those unfamiliar with Normandy.

A Navy LST disgorges a jeep on the shores of Normandy, 1944 (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

A Navy LST disgorges a tiny jeep on the shores of Normandy, 1944 (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Members of the 405th Fighter Squadron also speculated on this matter, and expressed such thoughts as “They’ve gone back to the States, why didn’t I stay with them?” or “They’ve all been sunk in the channel. I’m glad I didn’t stay with them.” But as the war continued on anyway, they all seemed to agree that Frisky was “…doing right well without them anyhow.” This impression was, in part, due to the fact of the arrival of increased numbers of replacement pilots and the type of mission being flown.  As a result the flying time for the veteran pilots was cut back a bit.

But the missing ground echelon and change in individual pilot tempo did not allow for missed missions, and whenever the weather was good, Frisky flew. Such was the case on July 8, 1944. The 405th Fighter Squadron flew a morning mission of armed reconnaissance on that day, which is described in an operational report generated afterwards by the 371st Fighter Group which read:

John W. Leonard led the 405th Fighter Squadron morning mission on 8 July 1944.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Capt. John W. Leonard led the 405th Fighter Squadron morning mission on 8 July 1944. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

“The 405th Sq. led by Capt. Leonard, took off at 1045 to perform armed recce south to T-673508. Sq. arrived over target 1115-1200. Results of bombing good. 6 hits on or near bridge at T-2352, 1220 B, 1 miss S of bridge, bridge still standing when left. 2 hits on flak position T-2521; 2 on flak position T-5050; 2 jettisoned in woods T-4851. 1 bomb ret. 7 A/C with bombs, 4 as top cover. 1 staff car, one half track destroyed, one truck damaged. One staff car stopped at T-7026. Half track going NE, both were strafed and left burning. Truck damaged at T-7026 while stopped. Gun positions and troops at T-2449. 2 plus gun positions silenced by Capt. Leonard. Flak intense and accurate at T-4015. 10/10 stralics (sic) with base at 4,500, vis. Under 3.4 mile except in rain. T. D. 1250.”

German Wehrmacht halftrack destroyed by 9th Air Force fighter-bombers on 29 July 1944 in France.  (Courtesy Air Force Museum)

German Wehrmacht halftrack destroyed by 9th Air Force fighter-bombers on 29 July 1944 in France. (Courtesy Air Force Museum)

During the mission, Captain Luther P. “Luke” Canup was hit by flak near Vire, some 24 miles south-southeast of St. Lo, while leading his flight in P-47D-20 serial number 42-76454.  Forced to bail out, he did so just before his stricken aircraft exploded. The 371st report on the mission succinctly noted the event: “Capt. Luther P. Canup hit by flak and was seen to bail out and floating down in open parachute at T-4015,” no doubt a victim of the “intense and accurate” flak reported above. For the rest of the month squadron members hoped he would be able to evade capture and turn up at A-6 but as things turned out, this veteran of 41 combat missions was captured and became a “guest” of the Third Reich.  He was placed in care of the Luftwaffe, at a “Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager,” a POW camp known as Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Silesia, in eastern Germany.

Luther P. Canup of the 405th Fighter Squadron completed 41 combat missions before he was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire on 8 July 1944 over France.  He was taken prisoner and spend the rest of the war in various POW camps.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Photo of Lt. (later Capt.) Luther P. Canup of the 405th Fighter Squadron, who completed 41 combat missions before he was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire on 8 July 1944 over France. He was taken prisoner and spend the rest of the war in various POW camps. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Stalag Luft III is well-known as the place of the “The Great Escape,” which occurred in March, 1944 – although there were no Americans involved in this epic prison break, unlike depicted by Steve McQueen in the movie. Less well known is the smaller-scale escape by three men, involving a sort of Trojan Horse, which occurred in October, 1943.

Aerial view of Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany, during World War II.  The camp was the site of “The Great Escape” in March, 1944, and was later evacuated as Russian forces approached, the POWs being force marched west in winter weather. (Courtesy XYZ)

Aerial view of Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany, during World War II. The camp was the site of “The Great Escape” in March, 1944, and was later evacuated as Russian forces approached, the POWs being force marched west in winter weather. (Courtesy Pegasusarchive.org)

Luke Canup did not stay at Stalag Luft III, however, for as the Russians advanced later in the war, the Germans force marched 80,000 POWs from various POW camps to other stalags farther west. He eventually ended up in Bavaria, at Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg Langwasser 49 11, according to POW information at the ww2pow.info website. (Note: there were other Stalag XIII camps, e.g. Stalag XIII-A, XIII-B and XIII-C) Stalag XIII was a real stalag, not the Stalag 13 of “Hogan’s Heroes” comedy fame, unfortunately. A number of POWs did not survive this wintry trek, though Luke did, and he survived the war. (Luther Canup passed away in 2010)

In fact, it appears that Canup survived another POW evacuation by the Germans, based upon a move of POWs from Stalag XIII-D on 12 April 1945 and the presence of his hand writing on a Nazi flag that once flew over the city hall in Moosburg, Germany, located some 94 miles southeast of Nuremberg and 35 miles northeast of Munich, Germany.

The Moosburg POW flag, which flew over the city hall in Moosburg, Germany, before it was replaced by General Patton’s troops with the American flag in Late April, 1945.  It was signed by more than 100 former POWs, including Luther Canup.  (Courtesy 303rd Bomb Group Association)

The Moosburg POW flag, which flew over the city hall in Moosburg, Germany, before it was replaced by General Patton’s troops with the American flag in late April, 1945. It was signed by more than 100 former POWs, including Luther Canup. (Courtesy 303rd Bomb Group Association)

Moosburg was the site of Stalag VII-A, and was the largest POW camp in Germany, with over 80,000 men by the end of the war in a camp designed for holding 10,000.  Even as German forces retreated before the Allied onslaught they tried to retain control of POWs.

Aerial view of Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, Germany, site of the largest German POW camp in World War II.  (Courtesy XYZ)

Aerial view of Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, Germany, site of the largest German POW camp in World War II. (Courtesy Moosburg.org)

When he was liberated by the soldiers of General Patton’s 14th Armored Division on 29 April 1945, Luke Canup became one of over 100 former POWs who signed the Nazi flag that was removed from the top of the city hall in Moosburg when that flag was replaced by the American flag. The POW flag was returned to the US by a member of the 303rd Bomb Group, and was eventually donated to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia.

Closeup view of the Moosburg POW flag, showing the rank, name and hometown of 405th Fighter Squadron pilot Luther P. Canup.  (Courtesy 303rd Bomb Group Association)

Closeup view of the Moosburg POW flag, showing the rank, name and hometown of 405th Fighter Squadron pilot Luther P. Canup. (Courtesy 303rd Bomb Group Association)

Meanwhile, back at A-6, the loss of an experienced pilot such as Luke Canup had several implications. One was on morale of the unit, as it was a telling event to young and bold fighter pilots to see an experienced comrade suddenly vanish from their midst. They were not so invincible.

Another effect was on the combat efficiency of the unit, as an experienced leader would have to be replaced. Fortunately, experience was being accrued all the time, and a unit never ceased operations because of such individual losses. Depending on the level of loss, say for a flight commander, operations officer, etc., the ripple effect could be greater, and several people might be given new responsibilities as they stepped up in echelon to replace the vacancy resulting from the missing man.

But any way they looked at it, loss or not, the show still went on, and so it did in the 405th Fighter Squadron and the 371st Fighter Group, with a war yet to be won.

Aerial view of A-6 Advanced Landing Ground, outside Ste Mère Eglise, France, in 1944.  The 371st Fighter Group flew from A-6 from June to September, 1944.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Aerial view of A-6 Advanced Landing Ground, outside Ste Mère Eglise, France, in 1944. The 371st Fighter Group flew from A-6 from June to September, 1944. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

However, as Saturday, 8 July transpired, there was a small joy to be had at Ste Mère Eglise when the remainder of the ground echelon finally showed up. They were greeted “…with the usual “horror” and “hero” stories of the veterans who had been here (at A-6) since “practically D-Day.” Finally, the full 371st Fighter Group team was together again, on the continent, in action against the enemy. The new arrivals would soon be put to work helping the rest of the team continue to batter the Wehrmacht in Normandy and beyond.

References
405th Fighter Squadron history, July, 1944

POW Database information for Luther P. Canup, at: http://www.ww2pow.info/index.php?page=directory&rec=50797

Biographical information on Luther Paul Canup, at: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~lbpage/page-frick/ps33/ps33_116.html

Stalag Luft III, entry in Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_Luft_III

Stalag Luft III aerial view, at: http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/SL3/PicSL_3_Aerial.htm

Stalag XIII-D, Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_XIII-D

History of the Real Stalag 13, at: http://www.uncommon-travel-germany.com/stalag_13.html

The March (1945), Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_March_%281945%29

Moosburg POW Flag, at: http://www.303rdbga.com/pow-moosburg-flag.html

Stalag VII A: The Liberation, at: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/14theng.html

Stalag VII A: Aerial views, at: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/luftbilder.html

 

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Saved by a Shagbat

On 2 July 1944, the 371st Fighter Group was off operations. Lousy weather, fit for fighting but not for flying, kept the group out of action. Taking advantage of the break in operations, 406th Fighter Squadron Commander Maj. Taylor decided to take four of the new pilots in the squadron on a cross-country flight from A-6 Airfield across the English Channel to England. It seemed just a routine hop as Maj. Taylor took off for Great Britain with Lts. Miller, Landrum, Flory and Pippes.

406th Fighter Squadron Commander and leader on both D-Day missions was Major Edwin D. Taylor.  He led the squadron from July, 1943, to September, 1944.  (Courtesy “The 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” via 406FS P-47 Pilot Francis E. Madore)

406th Fighter Squadron Commander, Major Edwin D. Taylor. He led the squadron from July, 1943, to September, 1944. (Courtesy “The 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” via 406FS P-47 Pilot Francis E. Madore)

But as life goes, what seemed normal did not turn out that way. Airborne over the Channel and halfway across, Lt. James N. Landrum in P-47D-20-RE serial number 42-76523 reported the oil pressure on his powerful Pratt& Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine beginning to drop away fast. Maj. Taylor told him to climb, and he reached about 1,500 feet before the engine cut out completely, just before Landrum bailed out. The flight contacted Air-Sea Rescue for help and shortly thereafter an RAF Supermarine Walrus seaplane headed out to fetch Lt. Landrum from the sea off the southwest tip of the Isle of Wight.

Supermarine Walrus airacft as used by the RAF in the Air-Sea Rescue role during World War II.  (Courtesy Wallpaperhere.com)

British Supermarine Walrus aircraft as used by the RAF in the Air-Sea Rescue role during World War II. (Courtesy Wallpaperhere.com)

The RAF’s No. 276 Squadron, an Air-Sea Rescue unit based in the southwest of England, may have been the unit which recovered Lt. Landrum from the sea. The Supermarine Walrus, nicknamed the “Shagbat” among other things, was designed by the same designer of the famous Supermarine Spitfire fighter, R.J. Mitchell. Although it was an ungainly looking aircraft compared to the sexy Spitfire, but it did its job very well, and was a mainstay in RAF ASR during World War II. Of note, British ASR squadrons also used the Spitfire fighter in a spotting role to look for downed aircrews at sea. No. 276 Squadron had the Spitfire Mk VB variant for this role at this time of the war.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB, serial BL591, code BA-U, of RAF No. 277 Sqn ASR, circa Mid 1944.  (Courtesy Axis and Allies Paintworks.com)

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB, serial BL591, code BA-U, of RAF No. 277 Sqn ASR, circa Mid 1944. (Courtesy Axis and Allies Paintworks.com)

For the unfortunate fliers, the weather was lousy in England too, but through dint of persistence, the flight was able to locate Christchurch Airfield, on the English coast in Dorset, some seven miles south of Frisky’s first home in the E.T.O. at Bisterne Airfield. The icing on the cake was yet to play out, however, and as the aircraft landed at Christchurch Airfield, Lt. Robert J. Miller in P-47D-11-RE serial number 42-75265 overran the end of the runway and then his aircraft overturned, being completely demolished in the process. Fortunately, the spine of the Razorback version of the Jug keep him from being crushed, and he came out of it unscathed.

View of a nosed-over P-47 Razorback from another unit, the 375FS of the 361FG, 8th Air Force.  The Razorback spine offered a chance of pilot survival from such a mishap.  (Courtesy  website)

View of a nosed-over P-47 Razorback from another unit, the 375FS of the 361FG, 8th Air Force. The Razorback spine offered a chance of pilot survival from such a mishap. (Courtesy Asisbiz.com)

Operational losses of aircraft and personnel were frequent during the war, and for all kinds of reasons. They added to the attrition affecting a combat unit. In the case of the 406FS, these losses gave valuable experience in airmanship and survival, if somewhat traumatically administered by circumstance, to a pair of young pilots flying and fighting for our country in a time of war. Fortunately, replacement P-47 aircraft could be made readily available – , and the 406FS continued combat operations without missing a step.

At The Liverpool docks, a huge 60-ton cranes gently lifts a 6-ton Republic P-47 Thunderbolt from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.  Note aircaft i foreground seemingly precariopusly perched atop a truck that will bring ti through Liverpool's streets and out of town to an airfield.  (Courtesy Warbird Information Exchange)

At The Liverpool docks, a huge 60-ton crane gently lifts a 6-ton Republic P-47 Thunderbolt from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Note aircaft i foreground seemingly precariopusly perched atop a truck that will bring ti through Liverpool’s streets and out of town to an airfield. (Courtesy Warbird Information Exchange)

References

371FG and 406FS histories for July, 1944

July 1944 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports, at: http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/AARmonthly/Jul1944O.htm

Joe Baugher’s USAF serial numbers, at: http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1942_4.html
RAF – 276 Squadron History, at: http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/276squadron.cfm and also at http://www.rafweb.org/Sqn276-280.htm

Galdorisi, George and Phillips, Thomas, “Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue”

Supermarine Walrus painting from Wallpaper Here website, at: http://www.wallpaperhere.com/Supermarine_Walrus_61960/download_1152x864

Spitfire painting from Axis and Allies Paintworks.com website, at:  http://www.axis-and-allies-paintworks.com/download.php?view.443

P-47 image from Warbird Information Exchange website, at: http://www.warbirdinformationexchange.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=51576

P-47 nose-over image from Asisbiz.com website, at: http://www.asisbiz.com/il2/P-47D/Republic-P-47-Thunderbolt.html

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A Summer of Sacrifice Begins: Remembering Harry W. “Pop” Strahlendorf

On this day in 1944, June 24, P-47 Thunderbolt pilot 2nd Lt. Harry Strahlendorf of the 404th Fighter Squadron took off in his aircraft, named “Eddie Nor II” after his wife Edna Lenore, from A-6 Airfield near Ste. Mère-Église on a combat mission. The squadron’s planes and pilots had flown over to A-6 from Bisterne Airfield in England only the day before, 23 June, but with the weather suitable for flying the group continued combat missions without letup.

2nd Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf poses next to his P-47D Thunderbolt "Eddie Nor II,in the spring of 1944.  He was killed in action on 24 June 1944 near Cherbourg, France (Courtesy Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

2nd Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf poses next to his P-47D Thunderbolt “Eddie Nor II,” in the spring of 1944. He was killed in action on 24 June 1944 near Cherbourg, France (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

June had been a rough month for the squadron. On D-Day Lt. Joseph E. LaRochelle was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and captured. On June 8 Lt. Harry W. Hohl, Jr., and F/O’s Edwin S. Humphreys and Wesley R. Izzard went missing in action from aerial attack by the German Luftwaffe. Lt Willis R. Brown was wounded in action. On June 17, Lt. Glen L. Banks bailed out over France after his engine failed. These losses were from just one of the three fighter squadrons in the group, and indicated the painful cost of doing business in the big leagues of air combat with the enemy in Europe.  Though these men were missed, the missions continued.

The 371st Fighter Group generated an Oprep A, No. 7, for the 24 hours ending Sunset on 24 June 1944. It was the operational report from the group to higher headquarters on their accomplishment of 371FG missions under Mission/Order No. M1U-14, from IX TAC.

Lt. Strahlendorf took off on the first mission of the day, described in this Oprep as follows:

“Major Gunther leading, took off at 0756 with 8 D/B and 4 escorts. Squadron arrived over target area at 0820 (Strong point at front lines Cherbourg). 7 planes attacked area designated by smoke from 4,000 ft. at angle of 45 degrees with release at 1,000. Results were excellent. (Grids were 0153202). 2 miles W. of Target, moderate, accurate heavy flak was encountered. 6 gun emplacements were observed at 0149194. 2/10 clouds at 2,000 ft. with visibility 5 miles prevailed. Time down was at 0905…2nd Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf…A/C was hit by flak and crashed in vicinity of Les Ingoufs. No one saw him bail out.”

P-47 Thunderbolt flown by Lt. Harry W. "Pop" Strahlendorf in combat during 1944.  (Courtesy Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

404th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt “9Q-S” flown by Lt. Harry W. “Pop” Strahlendorf in combat during 1944. (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

The sad fact of the matter was that Lt. Strahlendorf did not bail out. He was on his 48th combat mission, attacking enemy gun emplacements at Fort du Roule at Cherbourg when his P-47D-15 Thunderbolt, serial number 42-76345, was apparently struck by German 88mm anti-aircraft fire from that very site, which scored a direct hit on his P-47, completely shearing off the tail. Without its tail, the aircraft plummeted to the ground and crashed in nearby Octeville, killing him instantly. He was 29 years old, older than most of the other pilots in their early 20s, who called him “Pop.” They were devastated by his loss.

Fort du Roule located at Cherbourg's inner harbor showing damage from Allied bombardment, 8 July 1944.  Several ganti-aircraft gun emplacements, circular concrete revetments, appear on top of the fort's surface.   (U.S. National Archives)

Fort du Roule located at Cherbourg’s inner harbor showing damage from Allied bombardment, 8 July 1944. Several anti-aircraft gun emplacements, circular concrete revetments, appear on top of the fort’s surface. (U.S. National Archives)

Octeville citizens quickly buried his body, next to his aircraft. The area was liberated two days later and Lt. Strahlendorf’s body was later re-interred at the temporary American cemetery called Ste. Mere Eglise #2. This was only about a mile from A-6 Airfield from which he had taken off on that fateful day. In 1948, his body came home to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Final resting place for a valiant air warrior, 2d Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf, in the Greenmount Cemetery, Philadelphia,  Pennsylvania (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

Final resting place for a valiant air warrior, 2d Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf, in the Greenmount Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

But before Lt. Strahlendorf’s broken body was taken from Octeville, grateful French citizens were already making efforts to remember him and his brave sacrifice.

Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr., Lt. Strahlendorf’s son whom he never met, the son who never met his father, is proud of his father’s service for the United States and for freedom. On Veteran’s Day in 2001, he shared a story of the French response to his fallen father with some elementary school children at a school assembly. He told them about a ten-year old French girl named Janine Letulle, whose father had taken her to the countryside away from the militarily important Cherbourg area as the battle for Normandy erupted. He told them:

“One day, several months later, Janine’s daddy came for her. He told her that Octeville was now free, liberated by the American soldiers. He said that he wanted her to remember these men who had come from over 3000 miles away to save France from the German invaders.

When they arrived in Octeville, it was raining. Janine’s father did not take her directly home. Instead he took her to a street across the valley from where they lived. He told her that he wanted to show her a place that was very special, where one hero had given his life for her.

As they rounded a street corner, Janine saw wreckage from an airplane. The airplane had a white star on it. Beside the wreckage, a wooden cross rose out of a mound of earth. Hanging from the cross was a military hat. Janine wondered what this was all about. ‘Papa,’ she asked, ‘why have you brought me here?’

Her father replied, ‘Janine, this is the place where a brave American pilot died only two weeks ago, and I wanted to show you this place so that you will never forget what this man, and men like him, have done for France. This man is our Liberator. I never want you to forget that he came here, so far from his home, to save us. He gave his life for France, for Europe and the world. You must never forget!’

Janine was deeply touched, for she realized that this mound of earth was the grave of the pilot, this unknown man, her Liberator.”

The citizens of Octeville haven’t forgotten. In 1994, they dedicated “Square Strahelendorf” in their town. Lt. Strahlendorf’s son Harry and his wife Ann made if to France to attend the dedication and remembered: “Fifty years to the day of my father’s sacrifice, I stood on his crash site with my wife, Ann. It was June 24, 1994. We had been invited by the French people to attend what they called ‘a memorial ceremony.’ They had a surprise for us that day. Little did I know that they had created a beautiful park on my dad’s crash site and named it for their Liberator, my father.”

“It’s a beautiful little park in the center of town,” Strahlendorf said. It has wooden benches, maple trees, gravel walkways and a collection of white stones arranged in the shape of the state of Pennsylvania.”

The moving ceremony that followed was a sincere expression of the appreciation conveyed on the monument marking the crash site, which is inscribed as follows:
The monument marking the crash spot contains this inscription:

“TO THE MEMORY OF THE AMERICAN
LT. HARRY W. STRAHLENDORF
PILOT OF THE 371 FG – 404 SQUADRON
9TH U.S. AIR FORCE
WHO GAVE HIS LIFE ON THIS SPOT
DURING THE AERIAL ASSAULT IN
THE COURSE OF THE LIBERATION OF
CHERBOURG
JUNE 24, 1944″

Monument dedicated to 2nd Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf, at "Square Strahelendorf" in Cherbourg-Octeville, France.  (Courtesy Harry W. Strahlendorf)

Monument dedicated to 2nd Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf, at “Square Strahlendorf” in Cherbourg-Octeville, France. (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

Following the commemoration, Strahlendorf met a man, Monsieur Launey, then in his late 70s, who for the past 50 years had placed a rose on the spot where his father made his supreme sacrifice.

Indeed, the residents of Octeville still remember. On 21 June 2014, grateful citizens of France held a ceremony commemorating the 70th Anniversary of Lt. Strahlendorf’s sacrifice at his crash site on the Rue du Poitou in Cherbourg-Octeville, at the Square Strahlendorf.

French citizens of Octeville gather to remember Harry W. "Pop" Strahelendorf at "Square Strahelendorf, 21 June 2014.  (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

French citizens of Octeville gather to remember 2nd Lt. Harry W. “Pop” Strahelendorf at “Square Strahelendorf, 21 June 2014. (Courtesy Mr. Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr.)

So on this day, 24 June 24 2014, we salute the service and sacrifice of Lt. Harry W. “Pop” Strahlendorf! It was only by efforts like his, engaging the enemy in mortal combat, that the oppressed were freed from fascism in World War II. Freedom is never free, not then, and not now, a lesson we should all remember and heed.

We salute Harry W. Strahlendorf, Jr., who honors his father and his memory, searching for information on his loss, making the journey to Normandy to commemorate him with grateful French citizens, and creating tributes to Lt. Strahlendorf in the news media and the internet.

We also salute the French citizens, the Normans of Octeville, who faithfully remember Lt. Strahlendorf of the 371st Fighter Group. May God bless their loyalty to his remembrance, and preserve for our people on each shore the liberty and freedom that makes this life a wonderful journey.

References

American World War II Orphans Network (AWON) memorial page for 1Lt Harry William Strahlendorf, at: http://www.awon.org/awstrahl.html

A Veterans’ Day, 2001 Talk to an Elementary School Assembly, Made by Harry Strahlendorf, at: http://www.awon.org/p47harry.html

Square Strahlendorf page on Facebook, at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Square-Strahlendorf/182717048470834

“Uncovering A Valorous Dad Delco Man Finds ‘Pop’ Is A Hero To French Town,” 1 August 1994, posted at: http://articles.philly.com/1994-08-01/news/25841077_1_french-town-war-letters-national-archives

Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) website, MACR entry on Strahlendorf, Harry W., at: http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbmpilot.asp?Pilot=strahlendorf&Submit7=Go

Fort du Roule photo at:  http://ww2db.com/image.php?image_id=3456

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Bragging Rights: First USAAF Combat Unit Based in France

One of the “claims to fame” of the 371st Fighter Group is that of being the first USAAF combat unit to be based on the European Continent soon after D-Day.

By the 11th of June, word went around at Frisky’s home ‘drome at Bisterne Airfield that an advanced echelon (advon) was to be assembled and to be sent off to France in order to set up flying operations at a yet to be determined advanced landing ground (ALG), at a destination perhaps not even yet taken from the enemy. The ALG would be similar to that which Frisky used at Bisterne. So preparations were made in the unit to identify the men and equipment that would be first in France.

On 13 June 1944, the 1220th MP Company, Det “A” departed Bisterne for the marshaling area. They were joined by elements from the group HQ which left early the next day, at 0500 and 0900. The flying squadrons also contributed to this “advon” with personnel and vehicles rolling out on June 14. The 406FS history identified the marshaling area as being near Weymouth, England. The 404FS history records they were loaded aboard U.S. Navy LST numbers 50 and 502. The 405FS history records waterproofing its vehicles after arrival at the marshaling area, boarding transport at 2100 hours on 15 June, and finding out that they would be headed to an airfield near Ste. Mère-Église, a contested area near the active front. So much for the conventional wisdom of the Air Corps going to cushy bases, but Frisky was up to the challenge.

USS LST-502 at anchor in the left background off Omaha Beach, circa 10 June 1944. In the foreground "Rhino" ferry RHF-19 lands vehicles on Omaha Beach. In the right center distance is the sunken hulk of the old British battleship Centurion, which had been scuttled as part of the Omaha Beach Gooseberry artificial breakwater. (Courtesy US Navy , via Navsource)

USS LST-502 at anchor in the left background off Omaha Beach, circa 10 June 1944. In the foreground “Rhino” ferry RHF-19 lands vehicles on Omaha Beach. This LST is one of a pair which brought the advanced echelon of the 404FS to land at Utah Beach on 17 June 1944.  (Courtesy US Navy , via Navsource)

It appears that weather caused a delay in the arrival and disembarking of the 371FG in Normandy. The 406FS history mentions having to remain aboard LST another night due to stormy weather and rough conditions at sea. But the next day, 17 June, all elements landed at Utah Beach. The 404FS records landing at Utah, Sugar, Red Beach on the morning of the 17th. The 405th disembarked at 1200, proceeded to a de-waterproofing station, stripped the vehicles of that gear and headed out, to arrive at A-6 by 1500. Wrote the 405FS squadron historian “On the convoy ride we all got our first view of the stupidity and destruction of war.” The 406FS history merely records their advon arrived the same day.

The 371FG Warbook remarks that for thiose traveling on vehicles, “…the trip from the beach to the bivouac area was not at all unpleasant. They exchanged friendly insults with the infantry as they passed, going in the same direction. The Footsloggers were amazed that the Air Corps Groundlings should be venturing so close to where the bullets were flying; Frisky’s cohorts yelled something about being there to keep the thick Infantry skulls from being cracked by the Boche. The verbal exchanges smacked of mutual admiration.”

Not everyone was fortunate to ride in a convoy to the new field. Some had to make a seven mile march to get there, as the Warbook recorded, with “…the heavy packs, the hot sun above, and the “Achtung! Minen!” signs on either side. Identifying organizational code markers, Jayhawk, Bluebell, Jawbone, hastily tacked up to every possible post of fence – like Burma Shave ads – struck a peculiarly comforting American note.”

The 405th fortuitously arrived and quickly claimed a bivouac area near the perimeter track of the field which already had fox holes dug into it, saving the men hours of digging. Scant days before these positions shielded combat troops battling the enemy and combat engineers building the field.

Beuzeville Airfield (A-6) (Beuzeville-au-Plain) under construction near Holy Mother Church. The 819th EAB installation of wire mesh on the square SMT Work began on June 7, fifty men were at work on the airfield when a firefight between U.S. paratroopers and German soldiers killed seven. The photo lists a date of 17 June, the date the image was taken, but also the date the 371st FG began flying into the airfield. To the left two CG-4 Waco gliders are parked.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Beuzeville Airfield (A-6) (Beuzeville-au-Plain) under construction near Holy Mother Church. The 819th EAB installation of wire mesh on the square SMT Work began on June 7, fifty men were at work on the airfield when a firefight between U.S. paratroopers and German soldiers killed seven. The photo lists a date of 17 June, the date the image was taken, but also the date the 371st FG began flying into the airfield. To the left two CG-4 Waco gliders are parked. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

It should be mentioned that in this transition period, 371FG fighters were active from the homefield, and also began using advanced landing grounds which began to open up as places to land and refuel, or recover a battle damaged aircraft. June 15 saw the 406FS escort a C-47 into A-1, St. Pierre du Mont. On 17 June, the 406FS flew a morning mission from Bisterne, then landed at A-2, Cricqueville-en-Bessin, at 0745 in order to refuel, departed at 1040 to conduct a second mission, and then returned to Bisterne. The next day, 18 June, Lt. Thiede of the 406FS landed his battle-damaged ship at A-6, Beuzzeville, and later the same day Lt. Unruh brought his damaged ship down at A-2.

Although the 371FG claims to be the first AAF unit based in France, there is at least one other known competing claim to being the first AAF unit to be based in France. That being the 366th Fighter Group, another P-47 outfit of 9th Air Force which established its advanced echelon at A-1 Airfield, St. Pierre du Mont, near Omaha Beach. It’s of note that these groups today are both based in the greater Pacific Northwest, with the 371FG, now the 142d Fighter Wing, at Portland ANG base in Oregon,

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15C Eagle takes off from the Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., on October 2nd, 2010.  (U.S. Air Force Photograph by SSgt John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15C Eagle takes off from the Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., on October 2nd, 2010. (U.S. Air Force Photograph by Staff Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

and the 366FG, now the 366th Fighter Wing, at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho.

F-15E Strike Eagles of the 366th Fighter Wing perform a low-level training mission over the Sawtooth Mountain Range in Idaho   (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Debbie Hernandez)

F-15E Strike Eagles of the 366th Fighter Wing perform a low-level training mission over the Sawtooth Mountain Range in Idaho (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Debbie Hernandez)

Given that the movement of the entire fighter group would take many days more beyond the arrival of the advanced echelon on 17 June, it seems the bragging rights are centered on which unit got its advanced echelon into place the earliest. Two standard references for USAAF unit history to evaluate this issue are “Air Force Combat Units of World War II” and “Combat Squadrons of the Air Force World War II.”

The first reference, “Air Force Combat Units,” includes the combat group histories, and shows the 371FG at Beuzzeville (A-6) as on June 1944, with no specific date of arrival in the month. The 366FG is shown as being at St. Pierre du Mont (A-1) as of 17 June 1944.

So we turn to the “Combat Squadrons” reference and look at the dates of arrival in France for the pertinent individual fighter squadrons. In the 371FG, the 404FS date for Beuzzeville is shown as circa 23 June, which is when the squadron’s aircraft arrived from Bisterne to be permanently based at A-6. The 405FS arrival date is shown as 17 June, which is when the advanced echelon arrived. The 406FS arrival date is circa 17 June. As for the 366FG, its 389FS arrival date at A-1 is 17 June; the 390FS on 20 June; the 391FS on 17 June. It looks like a tie for at least two of the squadrons to be in France as of 17 June, though the 404FS official history cleary shows the squadron’s advon arrival on 17 June, which makes for all three of Frisky’s flying squadrons making it to A-6 on 17 June.

But without more definition of the specific times of arrivals of the advanced echelons of the two groups, it is hard to make a definitive judgment about which one was technically the “first” to base itself in France. And how does one define that, even if only looking at the advon? Is it based on just one squadron’s arrival time? Or is it based on the arrival and closure of the entire advon for the group, including the group HQ and the flying squadrons?

But for the purpose of this web log, it will assume that Frisky’s advon with all constituent parts made it all to A-6 first. And thus the 371st Fighter Group claims being the first USAAF combat unit to be based in France, shortly after D-Day, with a complete advanced echelon in place at A-6 Airfield on 17 June 1944.

 
References
Maurer, Maurer, Editor, “Air Force Combat Units of World War II,” AF Historical Research Agency website, accessed at: http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-090529-055.pdf

Maurer, Maurer, Editor, “Combat Squadrons of the USAF World War II,” AF Historical Research Agency website, accessed at: http://www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-101202-002.pdf

LST-502 entry at NavSource, accessed at: http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/160502.htm

“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” Army & Navy Pictorial Publishers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

Beuzeville Airfield, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beuzeville_Airfield

Saint-Pierre-du-Mont Airfield, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Pierre-du-Mont_Airfield

142FW F-15C image at: http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/101002-F-8260H-150.jpg

366FW F-15E image at: http://www.12af.acc.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/030624-F-8833H-054.jpg

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First Blood in the Air

One of these significant events to recall in 371st Fighter Group history is the first time the unit engaged in aerial combat with the enemy. It was on June 8, 1944, when Frisky first battled with the German Luftwaffe in air-to-air combat in the skies of Europe. The several engagements the group had that day showed the enemy was present, could strike with deadly speed, but could also be defeated.

On that day, the group flew three missions over Normandy, all patrols over the beach head at Normandy. The three fighter squadrons of the group covered the area northeast of Le Havre, France, between Isigny and Caen, and also the area NW of the beach head. The area northeast of Le Havre would prove to be the prime area of contact.

The morning mission covered the beach head from roughly 0615 to 0730. The 371FG was the third group that morning to cover the Normandy landing areas, so the enemy was well-aware that friendly fighters were about.

At 0645 a flight of the 404th Fighter Squadron, which was covering the Le Havre sector, was attacked from above by four German Me-109’s. Minutes later, another flight was jumped by four Me-109’s. 2nd Lt. Willis R. Brown’s aircraft was hit and he was wounded in the hand. Flight Officer Wesley R. Izzard was hit flying P-47D-15 serial number 42-76187 and bailed out 12 miles northeast of LeHavre, near Goderville. Izzard recounted the experience in his 1994 book, “Winged Boot” as follows: “There was a smashing explosion. I heard metal tearing metal. That is a sound you never forget. There was another blast and another. I turned my head around and an Me-109 was parked just off my tail, pumping bullet after bullet of 20mm cannon shells into my plane. That was the beginning of the end….I started to dive away from the Messerschmidt when he drilled a twenty through my canopy. It exploded in the cockpit just four inches from my head. Its explosion shattered my instrument panel into pieces of whipping wire, broken glass and shattered metal. That did it! Get out!”

F/O Wesley R. “Bob” Izzard of the 404FS fell victim to a Luftwaffe Me-109 on the morning of 8 June 1944.  He bailed out of his stricken P-47 and with the help of the French resistance was able to return to England by August, 1944.  He returned to flight duty and eventually completed 150 combat missions in the European Theater.  (Courtesy “Winged Boot”).

F/O Wesley R. “Bob” Izzard of the 404FS fell victim to a Luftwaffe Me-109 on the morning of 8 June 1944. He bailed out of his stricken P-47 and with the help of the French resistance was able to return to England by August, 1944. He returned to flight duty and eventually completed 150 combat missions in the European Theater. (Courtesy “Winged Boot”)

Izzard continued: “The last time I looked at my airspeed it was showing four hundred twenty-five miles an hour. You are not supposed to bail out of a P-47 over two hundred miles an hour I pushed my broken canopy back. I put both hands on my mirror, over the windscreen, and put my feet on the stick. This forced my plane into a vertical dive and threw me out of the plane tumbling into the ripping wind.” The Luftwaffe had drawn first blood. But the day was just beginning.

No other engagements occurred in the other sectors on the morning mission, and things were quiet in all sectors when the 371FG flew the midday mission. The third and last mission of the day saw several air engagements occur.

The 404th Fighter Squadron was patrolling the Isigny to Caen sector, and the overcast that day proved problematic to keeping the squadron together, and the flights got separated. One flight reached the Carentan area but the weather forces it to abort the patrol. The other flights of the squadron covered their sector from 1630 to 1715.

At 1650 hours, a 404th patrol flight encountered 12-15 Me-109s heading southwest in the Cormeilles area and engaged them. Capt George D. Pieck shot down one Me-109 in the fight, and described the engagement as follows:

Capt. George D. Pieck of the 404FS claimed a Luftwaffe Me-109 in the 371FG’s first day of air combat in Europe.  He went Missing in Action on 10 August 1944, over France. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery, St. James, France. (Courtesy “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”)

Capt. George D. Pieck of the 404FS claimed a Luftwaffe Me-109 in the 371FG’s first day of air combat in Europe. He went Missing in Action on 10 August 1944, over France. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery, St. James, France. (Courtesy “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”)

“I was leading Trademark Red Flight flying at 20,000 feet. I let down through a thin layer of clouds and breaking out at 19,000 feet saw about 15 ME 109’s at 12 O’clock level approaching us at 45 degrees. I called the flight to break left. At the same time the enemy aircraft broke in all directions. I singled one out and did one 360 degree turn with him, attempting to position myself. He broke off toward the deck and I followed him down giving him a four second burst with about 20 degrees of deflection. After following him down to 2,000 feet and realizing my altitude and angle of dive, I broke off. At this time the ME 109 was smoking and an unidentified piece flew off his ship. Considering the altitude, speed and angle of dive of the ME 109, I did not believe he could pull out. As I leveled off I looked back and saw an explosion on the ground. I claim one ME 109 destroyed.” His claim was verified by the flight’s element leader, Capt Harry P. Wagner.

But in the melee, 1st Lt. Harry W. Hohl in P-47D-22, s/n 42-25567, and F/O Edwin S. Humphreys, Jr., in P-47D-16, s/n 42-76081, went missing and did not return to base. A third flight from the squadron spotted four FW-190s west of Rouen at 6,000 feet, but did not pursue.

Meanwhile, the sector northeast of LeHavre covered by the 406th Fighter Squadron which arrived on station at 1615 heated up. At 1715, patrolling P-47s spotted enemy fighters firing rockets at Allied ships at Cabourg and went after them. 1st Lt. Charles E. Firestone described what happened: “While flying over Caen toward the coast at an altitude between 5 and 7,000 feet I called out seven bogies at three o’clock to Major Gray. They were firing rockets at shipping near Cabourg. They fired the rockets from about 5,000 feet and made left hand climbing turns 90 degrees away from their target.”

Lt. Firestone continued: “Major Gray turned after them. They continued their attack on the shipping unaware of our approach and I could see that they were FW-190s. Then they saw us and in a bank made a climbing turn toward the overcast. I started firing at one of the planes at 500 yards and (saw) strikes and flashes all over the plane before he was out of sight. I had followed into the overcast and when I turned out of it I could not find Major Gray, so I headed home. I claim one FW-190 damaged.” Major Gray also claimed one of the FW-190s as probably destroyed.

Zooming up and out of the clouds, some five minutes later another group of enemy fighters was spotted and engaged, and Maj. Rockford Gray from group staff, flying with the 406th, was able to shoot down two FW-190s. Then another FW-190 got onto his tail, but in Gray’s evasive maneuvers the German fighter crashed into the ground.

Maj. Rockford Gray, 371FG Staff, was flying with the 406FS on 8 June 1944.  He claimed three Luftwaffe FW-190s and another probable in the 371FG’s first day of air combat in Europe.  He was killed on 4 September 1944, at St. Mere Eglise, France, while returning from a combat mission.  (Courtesy “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”)

Maj. Rockford Gray, 371FG Staff, was flying with the 406FS on 8 June 1944. He claimed three Luftwaffe FW-190s and another probable in the 371FG’s first day of air combat in Europe. He was killed on 4 September 1944, at St. Mere Eglise, France, while returning from a combat mission. (Courtesy “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”)

Also at 1715, another flight of the 406th spotted a pair of FW-190s near Fecamp. Capt. Uno Salmi shot one down, and reported the engagement as follows:

“The squadron was patrolling the eastern flank of the assault area. I was leading Largo Blue Flight. We were flying at about 25,000 feet just south of Fecamp when Lt. Augarten, my wingman, called out two FW-190s behind and below us. I broke to the left, Lt. Chappas leading the second element, and Lt. Meade wingman, broke to the right. One FW-190 turned after Lt. Chappas’ element. One turned on my tail, but was driven off and pursued by Lt. Augarten.  I made a right turn after the first FW-190 closing in on the turn to about 300 yards before firing using a 30 degree deflection and observed a heavy concentration of strikes along the right wing. I closed in to 150 yards firing continuously and the right wing of the FW-190 came off. I could see hits along the fuselage and cockpit. It exploded in the air and crashed near Goderville. I did not see the pilot bail out. I claim one FW-190 destroyed.” His victory was witnessed and verified by Lt. Chappas.

Capt. Uno Salmi of the 406FS claimed a Luftwaffe FW-190 in the 371FG’s first day of air combat in Europe.  He went Missing in Action on 16 June 1944, near St. Lo, France.  He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.  (Courtesy “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”)

Capt. Uno Salmi of the 406FS claimed a Luftwaffe FW-190 in the 371FG’s first day of air combat in Europe. He went Missing in Action on 16 June 1944, near St. Lo, France. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England. (Courtesy “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”)

Meanwhile, Lt. Rudolph Augarten, joined by Lt. Robert R. Meade, pursued the other FW-190 which had attacked his flight leader. “He broke off his attack (on Capt Salmi) and headed for the deck flying about one hundred and fifty degrees and went straight out. I could see that his rudder was painted yellow and body green. I gave it full throttle and boost and went after him pursuing for forty miles, but I could never get closer than 700 yards. When I saw that I couldn’t catch him I fired even though he was out of range, firing about eight hundred rounds. I saw no strikes.”

Ever farther from the beachhead and consuming precious fuel, Augarten reluctantly gave up the pursuit, and he and Lt. Meade began their return for home at low level. But Meade had some kind of problem and could not complete the return of base; he bailed out 20 miles south of the Isle of Wight. Augarten noted a vessel approaching him and noted the location to report back at base.

And so concluded Frisky’s first day of air combat. The group claimed four FW-190s and one Me-109 destroyed, and four FW-190s probably destroyed, and achieved their purpose of defending the beachhead from enemy air attack.

It was a somewhat painful day with four pilot losses. But as things turned out, the group only lost one pilot permanently in the air battles of June 8, F/O Edwin S. Humphreys, Jr., who remains missing to this day. Two others, F/O Bob Izzard and 1st Lt. Harry Hohl were able to successfully evade with the help of the French Underground, and returned to England by August, while one, Lt. Meade, was picked up in the English Channel by a British destroyer and returned.

There were to be many more aerial engagements between the 371st Fighter Group and the German Luftwaffe in the days and months ahead. The group ultimately received credit for 71 aerial victories in World War II. No doubt the experience gained in this first air combat on 8 June 1944 helped them in those future battles, and made this day important in 371FG history, and is passed along with the group’s lineage and honors to the 142d Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard.

References

http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123413974

“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.,” Army & Navy Publishers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

371FG History for June, 1944, and related operational reports

 

 

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