The Snow Man Cometh

January, 1945 was a rough month for the 371st Fighter Group, weather-wise. Only 15 days permitted combat missions to be flown because of the snow and ice which constantly beset the group at Tantonville Airfield (Y-1).

(Source:  The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

(Source: The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

“For several days all line and office personnel of the squadrons and Group Headquarters were awakened about midnight and called out with brooms to sweep the still falling snow so the runway would be clear and operational by takeoff time the next morning,” read the Group’s history for January, 1945.

Somewhere, somehow, things got messed up, and Frisky was not equipped with any snowplows to aid in combating the snowfall.

So Yankee ingenuity in improvisation again went into play. The men broke the snow loose with their simple implements, followed by P-47’s which then blew the snow off to the side.
Although this was used as an emergency method, the men could not sustain snow-clearing operations as well as perform their day jobs effectively.

Personnel of the 371st Fighter Group turn to the manual method to help keep the airfield clear of snow at Tantonville (Y-1) during the cold winter.   Given the urgency of the battle situation during the Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, even with limited or no snow clearing equipment the men had to do their best to keep the field operational and the aircraft flying.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Personnel of the 371st Fighter Group turn to the manual method to help keep the airfield clear of snow at Tantonville (Y-1) during the cold winter. Given the urgency of the battle situation during the Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, even with limited or no snow clearing equipment the men had to do their best to keep the field operational and the aircraft flying. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Despite this, the snow still fell and finally a snowplow was acquired by Captain Glenn “Bull” Menter of Group Headquarters, whose job it was to keep the runway clear.

From left to right,   (Source:  The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

From left to right, T/Sgt Edward E. Tanner, Jr., Capt. Glenn O.  “Snow Man” Menter, S/Sgt William C. Black, Capt. Albert A. Durepo.  (Source: The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

Called the “Snow Man,” his efforts with the snow plow and with help from the broom-sweeps improvised and attached to BST’s, and Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp aircraft engines kept the field clear enough to permit operations on days when the flying weather permitted.

(Source:  The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

(Source: The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

But there was still danger due to the winter weather, and the men in Flying Control, Detachment V of Ninth Air Force, were challenged with “…sudden closings of the field, ships skidding off the runway, French pilots in addition to our own calling in for homings, aircraft from other closed-in fields converging on our open field all at once-some low on gas, some would wounded aboard, all anxious to get down before the weather changed- the problem of where to park the transient aircraft.”

Flying Control's mobile control tower.  (Source:  The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

Flying Control’s mobile control tower. (Source: The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

On 5 January, towards the end of the day, Flying Control and Frisky Communications had their hands full, with all of the above conditions in effect involving aircraft from four different groups, including a French one. Things worked out with the hard work of many, and four men were awarded a Bronze Star medal for their efforts that day: S/Sgt Fred Cadena of the 405th Fighter Squadron, S/Sgt Howard B. Peterson of the 404th, and Sgt’s Ralph Bailey and Elmer Price from Flying Control.

But still, other things could happen. Snow could be plowed, but ice could still form and that was a big problem for aircraft landing.

“26 January – Two close support missions today and the weather was bad. Out of 32 ships that landed we had three crack up and one run off the runway. Too much ice and snow.

(Source:  The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

(Source: The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

29 January – Good weather and a lot of flying today. 11 missions flown and 111 sorties. The 405th Squadron was airborne on their last show 39 minutes after landing from their third mission. Mighty fast re-arming and bombing-up. Had 5 landing accidents in our fast operations today.”

Nonetheless, Frisky managed to launch 950 sorties in the month, accrued 1,874 operational flying hours, dropped over 410 tons of bombs and fired 196,171 rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition. Ten pilots were lost, unfortunately, and many more aircraft lost or damaged.

For all this effort amidst the difficult weather, Frisky was credited with 11 enemy aircraft destroyed, with three probable and 12 more damaged. Ground targets struck were numerous, with destruction of 22 military transports, 8 armored fighting vehicles, 9 locomotives and 111 rail cars achieved, and many more than that damaged. The Thunderbolts cut roads 16 times, rail lines 36 times, and hit railroad marshaling yards 13 times.

(Source:  The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

(Source: The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.)

And so it was, 70 years ago, during the difficult wintertime of the campaign in Northwest Europe.  Despite adverse conditions, Frisky was still able to lay the hurt on the enemy, with only the weather to stop him.
References
371st Fighter Group Narrative History, January, 1945

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

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Remembering the Lion: John W. Leonard of the 405th Fighter Squadron

John Wallis Leonard was one of the top combat leaders in the 371st Fighter Group and the 405th Fighter Squadron, and flew and fought with the group from the early days of formation in the US all the way across Northwestern Europe from England, France and to Germany.  However, it was in a dogfight with enemy fighters near Worms, Germany, on 5 January 1944, that this Lion of the skies met his fate.

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.
Source: (Courtesy Mr. Jürg Herzig, Stand Where They Fought website, used with permission)

The US Military Academy at West Point has a great tribute page to John W. Leonard, so this web log will endeavor not repeat most of the import and interesting information available there.

http://apps.westpointaog.org/Memorials/Article/12717/

He was an original member of the 405th Fighter Squadron and initially served as a flight commander.  On the voyage from the US to Europe in early 1944, Captain Leonard (Regular Army) was the Flight Commander for Flight “A” and responsible for 60 enlisted men of the squadron on the transoceanic journey.

After many combat missions in the spring and summer of 1944, Capt. Leonard succeeded Major Harvey L. Case, the first commander of the 405th Fighter Squadron, as squadron commander on 12 September 1944. From the 405FS History of September 1944, the change was described as thus: “His loss (Case’s move to 371FG Deputy Group Commander) was greatly softened by the assignment of Captain John Leonard, “B” Flight commander as our new C.O. He spent very little time in the Operations tent as “Ops” officer, and hardly knew what the interior of it looked like. A fine officer, and everybody felt a better choice could not have been made.”

The 405FS S-2 War Diary also noted the change in command and echoed a similar sentiment in the 12 Sept 44 entry: “…”Captain John” was Operations Officer for one mission. He went by the operations step so fast he hardly (k)new what the tent looked like before he was CO. A fine officer who every one is glad to serve under.”

Captain Leonard was promoted to Major in early October 1944 when the squadron was in the process of moving from Perthes Airfield to Dole Airfield – the 405FS S-2 War Diary indicates that on 8 October 1944 “New received that Capt Leonard, CO, is now Major Leonard.”

Major Leonard played a key role in the relief of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Mountains, as described in earlier postings.

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

His leadership was consistent, superb, from the front, and often led to outstanding mission accomplishment. Such was the case in a morning mission flown on 2 January 1945, when he “…led a flight of 12 Thunderbolts on a close support mission in the Waldfischbach area and front-line reconnaissance in the Zweibrucken area.

All bombs were dropped and numerous strafing passes on rolling stock were made both in M/Y’s and upon trains attempting concealment from Allied aircraft by hiding in R.R. tunnels. Results of bombing and strafing are as follows:

1 Tunnel Damaged
1 Locomotive Destroyed
1 Locomotive Damaged
5 R.R. Cars Destroyed
15 R.R. Cars Damaged
2 R.R. Cuts”

But even the skilled and brave are at risk to time and chance in war. Sadly, Major Leonard fell in battle on 5 January 1945, as recorded in the 371FG War Diary entry for that day: “Weather bad early and we were held up making repairs to the runway but flew 4 missions. Got into a bunch of enemy aircraft again destroying four and damaging 3 FW 190s, but we lost Major Leonard, 405th Squadron Commander, and F/O Marks. Three squadrons that could not land at their bases due to weather, landed here and we have a field full of aircraft.”

His loss was recorded in the squadron’s history for January 1945 as follows: “At 1415 hrs on 5 Jan 1945, Major Leonard, leading a flight of 12 P-47 type aircraft, took off on a fighter sweep to the Worms area.

The squadron bounced 15 plus FW-190’s going SW at 13000 feet approximately 15 miles NW of Worms. The enemy aircraft started climbing upon being attacked. The 404th Fighter Sqdn stayed up as top cover, while a “hairy” dog-fight ensued. Approximately 12 more FW-190’s joined the fight as Major Leonard called in the location of the aerial battle to the “Baggage” controller.

A Schwardm of FW-190's in the skies ofover Europe during World War II.  (Courtesy imgkid.com)

A Schwarm of FW-190’s in the skies over Europe during World War II. (Courtesy imgkid.com)

Major Leonard’s ship was seen to crash in the vicinity of M-3010, but not before he had destroyed one FW-190 and shared another FW190 with Lt. McGonigle.

Further claims were one FW-190 destroyed by Capt. Tait, one FW-190 damaged by Lt. Meyer, making a total of 3 FW-190’s destroyed and 2 damaged.

Also MIA after the encounter was F/O Marks.

The encounter lasted 5-10 minutes, and the flight landed at 1600 without further loss.”

The squadron history provided additional context for the daunting period of Leonard’s loss in January 1945: “The first week in January was the hardest week for the 405th, in its history. The resurgence of the Luftwaffe and its willingness to do battle exacted a high toll from us in the loss of pilots, All MIA. On the 1st we lost Lt. Schleppegrell, followed on the 2nd by the loss of Lts Martin, Gamble, and Holm. Our heaviest loss came on the 5th when the 1st mission of the day returned without our CO, Major Leonard and without his wing man, F/O Marks. In the short time that he was CO, Major Leonard set a high operational record. It was sincerely regretted that he was not present to receive the Oak Leaf Cluster to his DFC or to receive his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.”

The Missing Air Crew Report (MACR #11603) reported the time of loss on 5 Jan 45 as 1545 hours, with Leonard flying P-47D 44-20078, a Block 28 Republic (RE)-built ship. The report included a statement from 1st Lt. Curtis L. McGonigle, who witnessed the following: “I, Lt. C. L. McGonigle, was flying on Discharge Leader’s wing when a large number of FW 190’s were sighted south-east of Worms at about 15,000) feet. Major Leonard attacked the last flight of FW 190’s in a shallow dive from about seven o’clock to the enemy. The Major shot down the last plane in the enemy’s flight. This FW- 190 exploded in a mass of flames. I was flying on the Major’s left wing at this time and stayed there while we closed on the next plane in the enemy flight. The Major got hits on this one then the 190 broke left, giving me a shot. The 190’s belly tank flew off and the airplane almost fell into me. I had to cut my throttle and dive to keep from running into the 190.

The 190 pilot bailed out. In the meantime, the Major got about half a mile away from me. Before I could catch him, two FW 190’s made a pass at the Major and broke off. The Major said he was hit and asked if I was with him, over the RT. I replied, “Roger”, and stayed with him; his engine was dead but he did not say so, he glided down to about five thousand (5,000) feet and said he was going to bail out. I saw him jettison his canopy and then turned into two 190’s coming in at six o’clock. The 190’s broke off immediately and I looked for the Major’s ‘chute, but couldn’t find it. I did see his airplane glide into an open field and burst into flames on contact with the ground. I circled looking for the ‘chute on the ground, but did not find one. I then returned to base alone.”

According to a German civilian witness of the dogfight, Major Leonard did bail out of his stricken aircraft, but his parachute failed to open and he was killed. German citizens of the nearby village of Hertlinghausen, SW of Worms, buried him respectfully with a soldier’s burial in their cemetery.

But John Leonard’s status was not immediately known in the 371FG. The wheels of administration churned on in the Group on 5 January 1945, when Col Kleine endorsed a letter of appreciation received from the French Army’s 3eme Division d’Infanterie Algérienne, 3e DIA (3rd Division D’Infanterie Algerienne = 3rd Algerian Infantry Division)dated 25 December 1944 for a close support mission performed by the 405th Fighter Squadron.

Insignia of the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division of World War II.  Division Commander General Guillaume commended the 371FG, and the 405FS, for close support missions performed for his division in December 1944.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Insignia of the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division of World War II. Division Commander General Guillaume commended the 371FG, and the 405FS, for close support missions performed for his division in December 1944. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The letter, received at XII TAC HQ was recognized with some laudatory comments by the Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Gordon P. Saville (the father of postwar American air defense), then in turn endorsed by Brig. Gen Glen O. Barcus, CG of the 64th Fighter Wing (and later commander of Fifth Air Force in the Korean War) and lastly endorsed by Col. Bingham T. Kleine, who wrote to Major Leonard the following:

“1. Commendations extended to this group are always a result of squadron efforts. In this instance, it is your squadron that performed the mission so outstandingly.
2. Please accept my sincere thanks and heartiest congratulations for an outstanding performance of duties.
3. This commendation and the indorsements thereto will be made a part of your 201 file.”

For a period after Major Leonard was shot down the Group carried him as MIA. The 405FS S-2 War Diary entry for 24 Jan 45 stated “Orders received promoting Maj Leonard (MIA) to Lt Col. Order also received awarding him the OLC to his DFC.”

But his status was eventually determined, initially from the International Red Cross which indicated he had died of wounds on 15 January 1945. This was eventually corrected to Killed in Action on 5 January 1945. US Army Graves Registration personnel located his body in the cemetery at Hertlinghausen, and in the spring of 1946, his remains were transferred to the American Cemetery at St. Avold, France.

Major Leonard’s remains were ultimately returned to the US and interred in Arlington National Cemetery on 4 August 1948. The location is in Section 1, at Grave 304-C-D-E, where he was joined in the 1950’s by his mother and father.

Lt. Col. John W. Leonard is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.  There he rests with his parents in Section 1, at Grave 304-C-D-E (Courtesy Arlington National Cemetery)

Lt. Col. John W. Leonard is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. There he rests with his parents in Section 1, at Grave 304-C-D-E (Courtesy Arlington National Cemetery)

Lt. Col. John W. Leonard was a lion in the skies of Europe, and his loss was keenly felt by family, squadron and group. For his service and sacrifice in the Second World War, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with 21 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart. The French Government awarded him with the Croix de Guerre avec Etoile de Vermeil. On this 70th anniversary of his untimely loss in the skies over war-torn Europe, we remember and salute him.

References:
West Point memorial page for John W. Leonard, Class of 1942, at: http://apps.westpointaog.org/Memorials/Article/12717/

FW-190 artwork from:  http://imgkid.com/fw-190-art.shtml

Hertlinghausen, at: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hertlingshausen

Arlington National Cemetery, at: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/

3rd Algerian Infantry Division, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3rd_Algerian_Infantry_Division

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Frisky’s New Year’s Blues

Now all together at the new field, quite literally, a field, at Tantonville (Y-1), Frisky was feeling the blues as the New Year approached. A variety of factors induced this condition among members of the 371st Fighter Group as morale seemed to hit an all-time low in the last week of 1944.

There was the “gnawing worry” over what the enemy was going to do next, with real or imagined counterattacks against Allied forces in the wake of the Ardennes offensive and resultant Battle of the Bulge.

Due to the desperate battle situation, Frisky was ordered to operate in marginal weather conditions: “Take off if you can see from one end of the runway to the other.”

And returning to base was no guarantee of safety in the weather either. On the 27th alone three ships cracked up at the field, with two running off the end of the runway due to ice on the pierced steel plank (PSP) metal surface while a 404th ship came in on a dead-stick landing and also overshot the runway.

This flying in rotten weather was a demanding proposition in itself, perhaps made more so by the deferred aircraft inspections and maintenance, which resulted from the length of the transition from Dole to Tantonville, and the skeleton crew left at Dole (Y-7) to keep the aircraft flying missions. Now it was a challenge to provide enough flyable ships for missions when the pressure was on to fly in the difficult weather conditions.

Personnel of the 371st Fighter Group turn to the manual method to help keep the airfield clear of snow at Tantonville (Y-1) during the cold winter.   Given the urgency of the battle situation during the Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, even with limited or no snow clearing equipment the men had to do their best to keep the field operational and the aircraft flying.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Personnel of the 371st Fighter Group turn to the manual method to help keep the airfield clear of snow at Tantonville (Y-1) during the cold winter. Given the urgency of the battle situation during the Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, even with limited or no snow clearing equipment the men had to do their best to keep the field operational and the aircraft flying. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Then there was the cold, for which there was no escape in the ”comme ci, comme ca” living conditions most of the men lived in. “It penetrated layers of clothing and chilled to the bone. It paralyzed hands trying to work ungloved with steel tools and metal guns. At night, icy fingers of wind would creep under ones blankets and prod one awake,” as described in “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”

With the move and getting regular lines of supply re-established, Frisky had little choice but to have his fill of “C” rations and even captured German canned beef, “…until it came out our ears.”

The enemy added to the “ambiance” of Tantonville’s holiday blues, with “Red Alerts,” two or three a night which interrupted sleep. And the 0430 reveille found Frisky “…drooping and shivering with fatigue.”

As if all of the above were not enough, only a little bit of mail reached the unit, and the Christmas packages many looked forward to receiving so far from home did not appear. All in all, “Our spirits were “on (the) deck.”

All considered though, the 371st Fighter Group was still a combat effective outfit, as evidenced by some of the group’s results for December, 1944:

288 rail cars destroyed, with 592 damaged
17 locomotives destroyed, with 145 more damaged
31 factories and buildings destroyed, with 50 damaged
20 military transports destroyed and 89 damaged
3 enemy aircraft destroyed and 7 damaged.

Of the 92 missions flown in December 1944 28 were dive-bomb, 8 were escort and 56 were armed recce. These missions generated a total of 1,158 sorties and 2,771 hours of flight. A total of 1,215 aircraft were dispatched, though there were 160 aborts from that number (42 mechanical, 118 other).

Frisky dropped 473.4 tons of bombs and expended 322,084 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition during the month.

Three pilots were lost during the month on combat missions: 2nd Lt. Charles E. Hess of the 405th Fighter Squadron on 22 December (MIA); 2nd Lt. Bradley B. Clark, 406th Fighter Squadron on 23 December (KIA); and 2nd Lt. George R. Simmons, 405th Fighter Squadron on 26 December (POW).

It was in the last week of the month that the group’s most outstanding mission of the month occurred. It was flown under the leadership of the 405th Fighter Squadron commander, Major John W. Leonard, on 28 December 1944. The group history for December, 1944, relates: “With 12 P-47s on close support the squadron dropped 23X500 lb bombs on a factory building assigned by “Kosher Charlie”, a ground controller, and then went on an armed recce for rolling stock. At eleven different locations targets were found and the 1 remaining 500 lb. bomb, 11×100 lb. bombs, and 14,713 rounds of 50 cal. Ammunition used on them. Claims resulting from this 12 ship “show” were: 3 locomotives destroyed and 24 damaged, 2 box cars destroyed and 31 damaged, 2 buildings and 1 M/Y damaged. One of our A/c was damaged, “Cat 2”, by flak.”

And it never let up. As the 371FG War Diary recorded for 31 December 1944: “Despite a sky that was overcast from 6/10 to 10/10, we flew five missions against rail movements and damaged a number of trains. Three planes received flak damage. Tomorrow is a New Year and everyone is determined to go all out to end the European war before the end of the year!!!!!”

So even though Frisky was “singing the blues” as 1944 wrapped up, he still accomplished his assigned missions and was more intent than ever to finish the job begun in the E.T.O.

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Merry Christmas, 1944

With the epic Battle of the Bulge raging to the north of the sector the 371s t was assigned to, primarily supporting the Army Group of US Seventh Army and, Frisky still played a part in interdicting the movement of troops and supplies. In the broader picture of the battlespace, Allied Airpower played a key role in the places beyond the immediate combat actions around Bastogne, St. Vith, Elseborn Ridge and other locations immediately in the Bulge area.

After an initial period of miserable weather covering the Nazi offensive in the Ardennes, good weather came, as if a Christmas blessing, and Allied airpower took to the skies for a maximum effort against Nazi forces.  For more on the role of airpower in the Battle of the Bulge, see the article, Remembering at Perle: The Air Force in the Battle over the Bulge.”

Remembering at Perle

Frisky’s War Diary for Christmas Day, 1944, shows how the group made the most of the day, and reads as follows:

“CHRISTMAS!! We celebrated today by flying more missions than any day recently – seven dive-bomb shows and one escort. We had a busy day and were happy to have the good weather. Everyone enjoyed a real Christmas turkey dinner. One 404th ship lost engine on take off and bellied in at the end of the runway – pilot safe.”

The summary of 371FG accomplishments for 25 December was as follows:

8 Missions
7 Armed Recce – 78 Sorties
1 Escort – 23 Sorties
101 Total

Destroyed
1 loco
1 bridge
2 oil storage tanks
1 building
1 road block

Damaged
52 box cars
5 locos
4 buildings

LOSSES
2 P-47 Cat “A” (Flak).

The summary however, probably does not convey the disruptive impact of dozens of armed reconnaissance sorties fanning out across the Third Reich. Take one of the seven armed recce missions that flew that day, Mission No. 13, a dozen P-47’s of the 405th Fighter Squadron, led by Major Robertson. Their time up was at 0845, with a time over target from 0915 to 1030, and time down at 1110.

TYPE MISSION: Armed Recce in Area IV

ROUTE: Colmar, Molheim, Offenburg, Base

FLAK:
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at W-3265.
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at V-7142.
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at V-7560.
Moderate at W-3265.
Moderate, accurate, heavy at V-8535.
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at W-0934

OBSERVATIONS:
In all M/Y from Mulheim (V-9212) to Offenburg (W-1587) there were 20 to 25 freight cars and flat cars. Approximately 150 box cars in M/Y at Gengenbach (W-2179). Fire and large explosions at W-238670, at 1030 hours, alt. 4,000’. 100 box cars at Offenburg (W-155858). All M/Y’s in the vicinity of Haslach (W-2565) contained 50 box cars each.

CLAIMS:
“Kosher C” assigned roadbridge at V-776540. 24 x 500 dropped. No hits observed. Damaged 15 box cars at W-050660. Damaged 1 loco and 5 box cars headed south at 1000 from M/Y at Offenburg. Damaged 25 box cars at W-025590. Damaged 1 loco (part of train with 25 box cars headed NW) and destroyed 1 oil storage tank at W-2179. Destroyed 1 loco facing east not moving (part of train with ten box cars) at W-120315. Damaged 1 loco (part of 20 box car train headed west at 1005) at W-3265. Damaged 1 loco in M/Y at W-3265 not moving facing west. Straffed (sic) 70 box cars and flat cars in M/Y at W-022562 damaging 7 box cars.
LOSSES: 2 P-47, Cat A, Flak.

ENEMY A/C: Nil.

WEATHER: Ceiling unlimited, visibility 5 miles.

Looking at the results of this one mission, one can see the squadron hit a number of targets on its mission, including a bridge, seven trains, and an oil storage tank at seven different given coordinate locations. The German transportation network was under heavy assault at this point in the war, critical to starving the flow of reinforcements, replacements and supplies to the Bulge and other frontline sectors.

Consider the cumulative effect of these numbers of missions. Any locomotive destroyed or damaged could lead to a stalled train subjected to further attack later in the day. Measuring the disruption and paralysis in the transportation network created by repeated attacks at many points is not indicated in this summary; indeed, who can expect that Frisky could perceive the impact of all these missions and all these sorties.

German rolling stock was often caught in marshalling yards (M/Y's) or on the move, especially after the locomotive was disabled.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

German rolling stock was often caught in marshalling yards (M/Y’s) or on the move, especially after the locomotive was disabled. (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

Not does this daily summary convey the impact of the escort mission. Mission No. 18 from Y-1 was composed of 12 P-47’s from the 404th Fighter Squadron, Lt. Penne in lead, and another 11 P-47’s of the 406th under Lt. Col. Bacon. Time up was 1445, and the fighters rendezvoused with 36 B-26 Marauder medium bombers at Verdun at 1530 at 10,000 feet. Time over target was 1545, no results observed, possibly due to the haze noted at 3,000 feet, though air visibility was unlimited. Nil flak and enemy aircraft observed. The fighters escorted the bombers to the target and returned without incident, down at 1657.

Although from another combat theater, this image of a B-26 Marauder of the USAAF’s 320th Bomb Group and an escorting P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter on a mission over Northern Italy, as viewed by another B-26 from the same unit, gives an idea of what a B-26 Marauder medium bomber was like compared to a P-47.  (Courtesy, Franz Reisdorf, 320th BG Association via Victor Sierra on WWII in Color website.)

Although from another combat theater, this image of a B-26 Marauder of the USAAF’s 320th Bomb Group and an escorting P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter on a mission over Northern Italy, as viewed by another B-26 from the same unit, gives an idea of what a B-26 Marauder medium bomber was like compared to a P-47. (Courtesy, Franz Reisdorf, 320th BG Association via Victor Sierra on WWII in Color website.)

But those bombs carried by the B-26’s landed somewhere, likely some target of importance, yet this of course is not credited to the 371st, though the group’s role in escort was important. Just two days before, an unescorted formation of 391st BG (M) B-26’s was savaged by 60 Luftwaffe fighters over Ahrweiler, Germany; 16 of 32 B-26’s were lost along with 99 aircrew.

In any event. Frisky’s efforts that day were multiplied by dozens with all the other Allied air units in action on that day, giving no respite to the foe. It was then a well-earned Christmas dinner for the personnel of the 371st Fighter Group when the day was done.

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The First and the Last

The 371st Fighter Group flew its first mission from Y-1, Tantonville Airfield, on 23 December 1944. Preparation for moving from Dole (Y-7) had been underway for a while, but it was only on 23 December that Frisky’s first missions were flown from the new strip.

Unfortunately, on this day 2nd Lt. Bradley Clark of the 406th Fighter Squadron, older brother of famous entertainment personality Dick Clark, flew his last mission, as the Group’s War Diary for 23 December 1944 recounts:

“…Four Missions today from our new strip and our other planes were flown down from Y-7. Lt. Clark spun in in the traffic pattern upon return from a mission and was killed…”

The 406th Fighter Squadron’s War Diary for the same day has more details:

“The ground is frozen hard this morning. Mud has ceased to be a problem. Our only mission was a nine ship show, armed reconnaissance in the area of Homburg, Landau, Neustadt, and Kaiserslautern, led by Major Delaney. The squadron was airborne at 0930. Squadron leader had just been given the “Egg Basket” by controller when the ships were bounced by eight ME 109’s near Mannheim. Lt. Clark, reported as hit by enemy aircraft fire, was last seen in the Mannheim area. During the encounter Lt. Miller shot down one ME 109. The mission returned to base without Lt. Clark. At approximately 1135 Lt. Clark approached the airdrome but crashed bear Olmemont, being killed instantly. At 1500 USO Camp Shows gave a stage show in the club theatre, “Junior Miss”. There was a large amount of mail tonight.

Lt. Clark’s loss and subsequent memorialization is discussed in an earlier posting on this web log titled “Echoes of War,” at:

http://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/echoes-of-war-remembering-2d-lt-bradley-b-clark/

Lt Clark flew with the 371st Fighter Group, in the 406th Fighter Squadron.

Lt Clark flew with the 371st Fighter Group, in the 406th Fighter Squadron.

As for the dogfight which led to Lt. Clark’s battle damage and subsequent loss, the Encounter Report for Lt. Miller, compiled by the Office of the Intelligence Officer on 25 December 1944, gives some idea of what it was like that day near Mannheim:

A. Type of Mission: Combat
B. Date: 23 December 1944
C. Unit: 406 Fighter Squadron
D. Time of Attack: 1045 hours
E. Geographical location: Southwest of Mannheim at R-4396
F. Weather: 10/10 – 7000′ visibility 3-5 miles
G. Type of E/A: Me-109s
H. Enemy Casualties: Pilot seen to bail out and parachute open.

I. On 23 December 1944, I was flying Red Three in Yearling Squadron. We were at 14000 feet above an overcast, on an Egg Basket Mission when Yellow Flight was bounced by 4 ME-109s. Red One and Two broke down and I and my wingman turned into the 109s. We passed them without firing, out of range. Then I saw 4 more 109s at about 19000 feet. I had lost my wingman when we broke and I climbed alone watching the 109s above. They climbed into the sun and I lost them when I was at about 18000 feet. I headed back to base and saw a lone 109 at about 15000 feet in a diving turn east. I dived after him and caught him still in his turn. I fired two short bursts, from about 300 yards and saw strikes. His left wheel fell and his engine began to smoke. I saw him jettison his canopy and bail out before I turned away. I saw his chute open at about 6000 feet. I turned home, joined Red One, and we came back to base together.

I claim one ME – 109 destroyed.

ROBERT J MILLER
2nd. Lt., A.C.

2nd Lt. Robert J. Miller, 406th Fighter Squadron, claimed an aerial victory over a Luftwaffe Me-109 in a dogfight near Mannheim, Germany on 22 December 1944.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

2nd Lt. Robert J. Miller, 406th Fighter Squadron, claimed an aerial victory over a Luftwaffe Me-109 in a dogfight near Mannheim, Germany on 22 December 1944. (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

Yearling’s Commander, Major Delaney, submitted a Confirmation of Claim on behalf of Lt. Miller, stating the following:

“On 23 December 1944 I was flying Red One, leading Yearling Squadron. We were attacked by 8 or more Me-109s. During the ensuing combat the squadron separated. After searching the area for enemy aircraft, I called the squadron together and told them to set course for home. I made a 360 degree turn in the area at 12000 feet and spotted two planes at approximately 16000 feet and five miles away. One of the planes was spinning down apparently out of control and trailing smoke. I turned toward the other plane and as we approached, recognized it as a P-47. I called him and told him to join me and we returned to base together. The plane which joined me was piloted by Lt. Miller. In my opinion the plane which I saw falling in his vicinity was definitely out of control and should be considered destroyed.

SANDERS E. DELANEY
Major, A.C.

Lt. Col. Delaney commanded the 406th Fighter Squadron from October, 1944 to June, 1945.

Lt. Col. Delaney commanded the 406th Fighter Squadron from October, 1944 to June, 1945.

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Frisky’s Transfer Travails, Three Years after the Day of Infamy

December 7, 1944, found Frisky caught up in a prolonged move from Dole Airfield (Y-7) to Tantonville Airfield (Y-1). In the first week of December, an advanced echelon of the 371st Fighter Group under the command of Lt. Col. Philip E. Bacon, Jr. was sent from Dole to the new field.

In the case of the 405th Fighter Squadron, as an example, the advance echelon was alerted to move on 5 December, the aircraft on the 7th, and the rear echelon the next day, 8 December. By now seasoned to thus transient life in the ETO, the squadron historian recorded: “So, here we go again! The same old cry is heard “Keep only a minimum here to service the last mission before the planes leave!” (Each time this happens and then doesn’t happen) the size of the minimum increases. Getting caught short that first time was enough to teach us all a lesson.”

In accordance with the plan, about 100 men from the 405th accompanied the non-essential/lower priority cargo of the unit and set out in a convoy on 5 December. In addition, the squadron’s heavy equipment, tentage and flooring filled up five boxcars destined for the new field.

The squadron’s aircraft were supposed to move on December 7th, but Mother Nature kiboshed that. The 405th history for December, 1944, conveys some of the frustration:

“December 7th – the day for the planes to move! Did they move? Nope! And so we begin the second phase of the squadron “movement” cycle, i.e., “When will they move?” To that, nobody knows the answer. We pick up routine life again, while those who left with the advance echelon become forgotten souls.”

The 406th Fighter Squadron historian recorded a similar experience going into 7 December:

“5 (December) (With the Advance Cadre) Approximately one hundred men left Dole for Tantonville at 0900 by motor convoy. The route followed was by way of Pesmes, Gray, Langres, Neufchateau, and Vezelise, a distance of about 135 miles. Men had coffee and pastry at the Red Cross in Langres. Most of the men arrived at the field after dark tonight, wet and hungry after the long ride. After the baggage was unloaded tents were erected in the area to cover the men for the night.

tents were set up in the mud and made snug with tar paper, box sides and flooring.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Tents were set up in the mud and made snug with tar paper, box sides and flooring. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

6 (With the Advance Cadre) Breakfast was served at a Group consolidated mess in the front yard of a chateau in Tantonville. During the morning and afternoon the men erected more tents and began construction of gravel walks as a part of the mud control program. Strangely enough there was a large amount of mail tonight.

7 (With the Advance Cadre) Last night was a very cold one for the men who had no stove in their tent. The truck carrying stoves broke down on the way and did not arrive when expected. The day was spent in building more walks. Men are using tar paper to cover the ground beneath the tents. It rained all day long.”

Frisky's Advanced Echelon faced the challenge of establishing an airfield in a veritable sea of mud at Tantonville, France, in December, 1944.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Frisky’s Advanced Echelon faced the challenge of establishing an airfield in a veritable sea of mud at Tantonville, France, in December, 1944. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Most of December the weather proved flyable for the group, 24 days out of 31, but not on December 7th. Frisky’s War Diary recorded the day as follows:

“7 – Weather, which was good at briefing, soon socked in and no flying today.”

Tracking back in the Group’s War Diary, one can see Frisky’s movement madness unfold:

“4 – The railroad cars with our equipment, and left today enroute to Y-1 (Tantonville). With much of the equipment away and operations still going on a usual from Dole, we are short-handed and the 302nd Airdrome Squadron has been helping refuel and rearm our aircraft.

5 – Truck convoy of personnel and equipment left for Y-1 today. Flew three close support and one escort mission in spite of unfavorable weather conditions. The 4th French Group dropped a bomb just off the end of the west end of the runway and it exploded – – – then everyone got up off the floor and went back to work.

6 – Word from Y-1 is that our new field isn’t ready. We have learned to expect delays like that. We got five new planes yesterday and also have a B-25. Telephone communications complete with Y-1.”

That was the December 7th experience of the 371st Fighter Group in 1944, three years after the Japanese attack in the Pacific. The United States reeled from the shock of the Day of Infamy, but bounced back to project military forces worldwide, all the way to the doorstep of Germany and back to the Philippines, among other places.

Still, no one could know that by the fourth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Second World War would be over. But on Dec 7, Frisky was worried about making the move from one muddy field to the next in wartime France, and there were many more missions to be flown before that victory was achieved.

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Frisky’s Thanksgiving, 1944

Across the group, a sample of Frisky’s Thanksgiving Day, 1944 activities, Thursday, 23 November 1944, shortly after the group returned to Dole Airfield from Dijon Airfield, following the flooding at Dole earlier in the month:

371st Fighter Group Official History, November 1944
Nineteen replacement pilots arrived and were assigned squadrons. Everyone had plenty of turkey and other good things for Thanksgiving, but very little other celebrating took place.

371st Fighter Group hand-written War Diary, 23 November 1944
Nineteen replacement pilots arrived today and assigned as follows4 to 404th, 3 to 405th and 10 to 406th. Only 17 of the 19 pilots arrived and all squadrons enjoyed a good turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

404th Fighter Squadron
“…six more replacements arrived just in time to partake of the gala Thanksgiving fare. At the party, attended by such group dignitaries as Col. Kleine, Lt. Col. Bacon, Major Hughes, and Major Schill, the new replacements were solemnly assured that they were attending an unusual and not a usual event.

The new men, all 2nd Lts., are George E. Kaspar, Darrel G. Shumard, Daniel A. Maynik, Robert A. Latchin, William P. Swanton and Alfred Thalmann.

405th Fighter Squadron
No mention of Thanksgiving in the November, 1944 squadron history.

406th Fighter Squadron
1st Lt. Jack, 2nd Lt. Clausen, O’Brien, Comelli, Byrne, Myers, Clark, Kirkland and Neale asgd and jd 23 Nov.

No flying due to adverse weather conditions.

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The 371st Fighter Group on Armistice Day, 1944

Seventy years ago, according to the 371st Fighter Group War Diary for 11 November 1944, Frisky recorded the following:
“11 Nov. – ARMISTICE, but hardly the cause for elation as in 1918. We were informed we would conduct operations from Dijon and not be off ops until our return to Dole as previous orders had indicated. Weather too bad for flying. Birthday party and steak dinner held for Col Kleine at Group officers BOQ.”

The whole flooding episode was a little much for Frisky, as field conditions were already basic without becoming impossible.  Still, the Thunderbolts flew from Dijon whenever the miserable weather permitted… (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

The whole flooding episode was a little much for Frisky, as field conditions were already basic without becoming impossible. Still, the Thunderbolts flew from Dijon whenever the miserable weather permitted… (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

The 371st Fighter Group flew from Dijon for a period of 11 days before a B-26 group moved in and forced Frisky back to Dole, where the overflowing waters of the Doubs River had departed the airfield and returned to the river.

The River Doubs flooded Frisky’s flight ops out of Dole from 10 to 21 November, 1944, and the P-47s flew from Dijon instead, when there was flying weather…

The River Doubs flooded Frisky’s flight ops out of Dole from 10 to 21 November, 1944, and the P-47s flew from Dijon instead, when there was flying weather…

On this Veterans Day, 2014, we salute the men of the 371st Fighter Group, and the women who supported the group directly too, like the Red Cross ladies, as well as their families, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of our nation. May God bless them, one and all!

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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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