Remembering George R. Simmons

Many regular readers of this web log are probably aware that the World War II-era 371st Fighter Group was redesignated as the 142nd Fighter Group in May of 1946, and allotted to the State of Oregon as part of the buildup of America’s air reserve forces after World War II.  Though renumbered, the lineage and honors established and earned by the 371st Fighter Group were bestowed upon the 142nd Fighter Group – in essence it is the same outfit with a different number.  Many Air National Guard units have such a World War II heritage, though it is not always easy to make the connection given the postwar numerical redesignations.

Since that time the 142nd Fighter Group itself was redesignated and is now the 142nd Fighter Wing, flying the F-15 Eagle fighter jet and based at Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon.   It too has the lineage and honors, and thus the 371st Fighter Group’s existence is perpetuated in the 142nd Fighter Wing.

Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagles from the 142nd Fighter Wing, Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., diligently maintain their watchful Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) vigil; ready to respond any day or night in defense of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. (U.S. Air Force Stock Photograph by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagles from the 142nd Fighter Wing, Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., diligently maintain their watchful Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) vigil; ready to respond any day or night in defense of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. (U.S. Air Force Stock Photograph by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

The 142nd Fighter Wing takes pride in its heritage, and has an active history program which regularly produces historical products which include the 371st Fighter Group on the wing’s website, which you can find at:   http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/

The 142nd Fighter Wing also has a Facebook page where 371st Fighter Group history is also posted.  The wing’s Public Affairs team made a post this week to commemorate the annual April 9th National Former Prisoner of War (POW) Recognition Day, and 371st Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolt pilot Lt. George R. Simmons was featured in a photo and caption to remember former prisoners of war on this day.  See the photo and read the caption about him at:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/142nd-Fighter-Wing/177417548948632?sk=wall

A Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bomber of the 405th Fighter Squadron of the 371st Fighter Group, heads for the runway and a combat mission from Tantonville Airfield, France circa early 1945.  It was this very aircraft, P-47D-25-RE serial number 42-26664 (8N-P, named “Snuffy II”) that 2 nd Lt. Geworge R. Simmons flew on his last combat mission on 26 December 1944.  (Courtesy 142FW)

A Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bomber of the 405th Fighter Squadron of the 371st Fighter Group, heads for the runway and a combat mission from Tantonville Airfield, France circa early 1945. It was this very aircraft, P-47D-25-RE serial number 42-26664 (8N-P, named “Snuffy II”) that 2nd Lt. George R. Simmons flew on his last combat mission on 26 December 1944. (Courtesy 142FW)

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Frisky Remembers National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day 2015

Today, April 9, is National Former Prisoner of War Day in the United States, by presidential proclamation:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/08/presidential-proclamation-national-former-prisoner-war-recognition-day-2

This day is purposely commemorated on the anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, 9 April 1942, which was the largest surrender in American military history. More on that subject at the Bataan Campaign web log, at: https://bataancampaign.wordpress.com/

And truth be told, the 371st Fighter Group lost a number of pilots in combat during the war, with at least 19 counted by this web log writer as falling into German hands after surviving their shoot-downs during the war, and two of these successfully escaped from the initial phase of captivity. One of these two, 1st Lt. Edward R. Kirkland, was featured in last month’s post about the 371st’s Distinguished Unit Citation. Another pilot was briefly “captured” and detained by “other than German forces” (described further below).

The Prisoner of War Medal honors those who continued to serve our country though in enemy captivity, and was authorized during the Reagan Administration on 8 November 1985.  Former POW's must apply to receive the award retroactively.  (Courtesy American Ex-Prisoners of War)

The Prisoner of War Medal honors those who continued to serve our country though in enemy captivity, and was authorized during the Reagan Administration on 8 November 1985. Former POW’s must apply to receive the award retroactively. (Courtesy American Ex-Prisoners of War)

So on this day, Frisky remembers the P-47 Thunderbolt pilots of the 371st Fighter Group who became prisoners of war in the European Theater of Operations during World War II:

Augarten, Rudolph, Capt., 404FS. Shot down by flak on 10 June 1944 near Monteille, France, while flying P-47D-20-RE serial number 42-76365. Bailed out four miles east of Lisieux, France, last seen running to farmhouse and waving to P-47’s above. Captured, POW briefly. Escaped, evaded, and returned to unit on 14 August 1944. (MACR 5686)

Canup, Luther P., Capt., 405FS. Shot down by flak on 8 July 1944 near Vire, France, (or Cambernon, France) on armed recce mission, while flying P-47D-20-RE serial number 42-76454. Reported as POW on 14 February 1945, returned to military control after end of war in Europe. (MACR 6646)

Gamble, Robert M., 1st. Lt., 405FS. Shot down in aerial combat on 2 January 1945 while flying P-47D-28-RA, serial number 42-28858. (MACR 11617)

Hooper, Leon L., 1st. Lt., 405FS. Experienced mechanical difficulty over enemy territory in P-47D-25-RE serial number 42-26551. (MACR 14107)

Jack, William A., Capt., 406FS. Flying P-47D-30-RA serial number 44-33036 (4W-O, named “Virg”) on 20 April 1945 when aircraft was damaged by trees while strafing. He came down in the vicinity of Greding, Germany and was taken prisoner. He was probably the last POW of the 371st Fighter Group. (MACR 14092)

Johnson, Glenn H., 1st. Lt., 404FS. On 14 February 1945 while flying P-47D-21-RA serial number 43-25551 collided in mid-air with P-47D flown by 1st Lt. Darrel G. Shumard. He came down in the vicinity of Kirkel, Germany and was captured. (MACR 12389)

Kirkland, Edward R., 1st Lt., 405FS. Shot down while flying P-47D-30-RA serial number 44-32961 on 18 March 1945 near Birkenfeld, Germany. Captured, escaped, captured, escaped and evaded back to advancing Allied Forces, joining up with the 4th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army before returning to his unit on 27 March 1945. (MACR 13132)

LaRochelle, Joseph E., 2nd. Lt., 404FS. Shot down by flak and seen to bail out on D-Day, 6 June 1944, just off the coast of Normandy near St. Pair-sur-Mer while flying P-47D-20-RA serial number 43-25278. First POW of the group. (MACR 5540)

Marks, Robert L., F/O, 405FS. Shot down in aerial combat on 5 January 1945 near Herschberg, Germany, while flying P-47D-28-RA serial number 42-28964. (MACR 11598)

Martin, Russell M., 1st. Lt., 405FS. Shot down in aerial combat on 2 January 1945 near Brenschelbach, Germany while flying P-47D-28-RA serial number 42-28617. (MACR 11600)

McCoy, Jefferson M., 2nd. Lt., 404FS. Shot down by flak on 25 February 1945 near Kohlhof, Germany while flying P-47D-11-RE serial number 42-75462. (MACR 12729)

McDowell, Gildas D., 2nd Lt., 405FS. Shot down by flak on 14 October 1944 while flying P-47D-15-RE serial number 42-76219. Seen by 371FG Capt. Emott in London late May 1945. Had returned to military control 29 Apr 45. (MACR 9647)

McDuff, Lee E., 2nd. Lt., 405FS. Shot down in P-47D-22-RE serial number 42-26341 by flak on 20 September 1944 about two miles east of Cobern, Germany, bailed out behind enemy lines, formally reported POW as of 14 January 45. (MACR 9175)

Schleppegrell, William, 2nd. Lt., 405FS. Shot down by flak on 1 January 1945 in the vicinity of Völklingen, Germany, while flying P-47D-28-RE serial number 44-20122. (MACR 11615)

Shumard, Darrel G., 1st. Lt., 404FS. On 14 February 1945 while flying P-47D-27-RE serial number 42-27262 (9Q-V) collided over enemy territory with a P-47D flown by 1st Lt. Glen H.
Johnson and ended up as a POW. (MACR 12388)

Simmons, George R., 2nd. Lt., 405FS. Shot down by flak on 26 December 1944 near Haslach, Germany, while flying P-47D-25-RE serial number 42-26664 (8N-P, named “Snuffy II”). (MACR 11610)

Sullivan, John B., 1st Lt., 405FS. Shot down by flak on 14 October 1944 near Ersingen, Germany, while flying P-47D-15-RE serial number 42-76230 (named “Peggy Woo”). Initially carried as MIA, status changed to POW in April 1945. Seen by 371FG Capt. Emott in London late May 45. (MACR 9648)

Tait, Harry H., Jr., Capt., 406FS. Shot down in an aerial engagement 20 October 1944 near Fribourg-en-Brisgau in P-47D-27-RE serial number 42-27343. (MACR 9787)

Wolcott, Robert S., Maj., 404FS. His aircraft P-47D-28-RA serial number 42-28629 damaged by flak on 8 October 1944, he bellied in east of Stuttgart, Germany and became a POW; he returned to military control 29 April 1945 as Allied forces advanced into Germany. (MACR 9824)

In another interesting 371FG prisoner experience, Capt. Harry W. Hohl, Jr., 404FS, was shot down in aerial combat on 8 June 1944 near Cormeilles, France, while flying P-47D-21-RA 43-25567 and “captured” by French guerillas of dubious loyalty. These guerillas apparently debated to whom they might sell Hohl and some other American, British and German “captives” for the highest price, either the Germans or Americans! Left unguarded momentarily, Hohl and an American P-51 pilot took off, bringing the two Germans in the group with them, and found their way to friendly lines. (MACR 5872)

Let us always remember the brave warriors of the 371st Fighter Group who fought against fascism in World War II. May we always honor those who serve and sacrifice for our country, because freedom isn’t free. And if we who have some connection to these men and women who serve don’t remember these Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, who else will?
References

Republic P-47 Database, at: http://p-47.database.pagesperso-orange.fr/

Aircraft serial numbers and Missing Aircrew Report (MACR) numbers for Gamble, Hooper, Marks, Martin, McDuff, Shumard, Simmons, Tait, Wolcott at: http://p-47.database.pagesperso-orange.fr/Database/42-2xxxx.htm

Aircraft serial numbers and Missing Aircrew Report (MACR) numbers for Augarten, Canup, McCoy, McDowell, Sullivan at: http://p-47.database.pagesperso-orange.fr/Database/42-7xxxx.htm

Aircraft serial numbers and Missing Aircrew Report (MACR) numbers for Hohl, Johnson, LaRochelle, at: http://p-47.database.pagesperso-orange.fr/Database/43-xxxxx.htm

Aircraft serial numbers and Missing Aircrew Report (MACR) numbers for Jack, Kirkland, Schleppegrell, at: http://p-47.database.pagesperso-orange.fr/Database/44-xxxxx.htm

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The 371st Fighter Group’s Distinguished Unit Citation

The 371st Fighter Group’s lineage and honors reflect the Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC), awarded for combat actions during World War II when the unit was assigned to the XIX Tactical Air Command. Since 1957, the Air Force has designated this award as the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC).

The DUC is awarded to a numbered unit which must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.  (Wikipedia)

The DUC is awarded to a numbered unit which must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. (Wikipedia)

The criteria for the DUC/PUC are as follows:

“It is conferred on units of the armed forces of the United States and of cobelligerent nations, for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after Dec. 7, 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. The degree of heroism required is the same that which would warrant award of the Distinguished Service Cross to an individual. An individual assigned or permanently attached to, and also present for duty with, a unit in the action for which the Presidential Unit Citation is awarded may wear the emblem as a permanent part of their uniform.”

To set the stage for this award, in March, 1945, as Allied armies in Germany pursued the remaining Nazi forces west of the Rhine River, the Metz Airfield (Y-34), France-based 371st Fighter Group continued its job in the XIX Tactical Air Command, which supported General George S. Patton, Jr.’s Third Army. Frisky’s actions in support of Third Army between 15 and 21 March 1945 resulted in the award of the DUC to the group.

Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. commanded Third Army in the breakout from Normandy, across France and into Germany in 1944-1945.  (US Army)

Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. commanded Third Army in the breakout from Normandy, across France and into Germany in 1944-1945. (US Army)

In this one-week period of March, 1945, the 371st supported the breakthrough advances of Patton’s “Ghost Corps,” the XX Corps, in its drive to the Rhine River. Under pressure from US Third and Seventh Armies, German forces west of the Rhine were hemmed in, and with orders not to retreat over the Rhine they were duly hammered from air and land. The 371st’s contribution greatly aided XX Corps in reaching the Rhine, and was a direct prelude to Third Army’s successful crossing of the river which began on 22 March 1945.

The 371st received its DUC award on 10 July 1945, when it was stationed as part of Allied occupation forces at Fürth/Industriehafen Airfield (R-30), near Nürnberg (aka Nuremberg), Germany.

The citation for the 371st Fighter Group’s DUC was contained in Headquarters Ninth Air Force General Orders No. 117, and reads as follows:

“The 371st Fighter Group is cited for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy from 15 March to 21 March 1945. During this period the 371st Fighter Group inflicted tremendous destruction on the hostile forces fleeing before the Allied units closing to the banks of the Rhine River. Demonstrating steadfast determination to destroy the enemy, the gallant pilots launched a series of brilliant air attacks closely coordinated with the advances of the Third Army. Striking vigorously ahead of the advancing tank columns, they smashed the enemy’s desperate attempts to organize a holding defense. Although frequently engulfed by intense concentrations of fire from mobile artillery and small arms, they descended to treetop level to attack the motor transports, troop concentrations, and strong points of the retreating enemy. During this 6-day period the airmen of the 371st Fighter Group destroyed a total of 1702 transport vehicles, 180 factories and buildings, 57 railroad cars, 20 tanks and 7 gun emplacements. 1,407 transports, 70 railroad cars, and 59 tanks were damaged. The brilliantly successful attacks of the 371st Fighter Group constituted a material contribution to the defeat of the hostile forces in southern Germany. The courage and determination of the airmen, combined with the technical skill and devotion to duty of the ground personnel, mark the 371st Fighter Group as an organization of unusual esprit de corps, and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the Army Air Forces.”

Results of a fighter-bomber attack on a German convoy on a road between Kaiserslautern and Dad Durkheim circa March, 1945.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Results of a fighter-bomber attack on a German convoy on a road between Kaiserslautern and Dad Durkheim circa March, 1945. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

The 371st Fighter group’s 405th Fighter Squadron’s History for March 1945 vividly describes the action as seen at the fighter squadron-level in this period:

“On the 17th, 18th & 19th the Squadron enjoyed its most successful operational days since Falaise Gap-Mortain days of last summer. Taking advantage of the perfect weather, the Squadron flew 8 eight ship missions. Perhaps the most exciting and tense days of the war were experienced by all personnel. As the first few missions came back, excited keyed up pilots unfolded the story of German rout!

Word got around quickly that one of the biggest of all field days was in the making, and by noon the Operations and Intelligence Office was a bee hive of activity. Capt. “Wilbur” Jackson, Lt. “Vince” Trainer, already harried and tired from trying to interrogate the excited sometimes almost incoherent pilots, were further confused by the stream of ground crews and Officers trying to keep up with the situation maps.

The days totals mounted by the hour as the bombline changed by the hour, until, when the last mission landed at 2000 hours, the Squadron had destroyed or damaged more than 400 German vehicles for over 50% of the entire groups total! Saddened by the death of Lt. Spicer on the last mission, all personnel went home tired but hopeful for the next day, and praying that the weather would hold. (Note: First Lieutenant Harold Spicer was actually lost on 18 March 1945)

With the clear dawning of the 18th the tension again became acute. As mission after mission came back with stories of long columns of German vehicles bombed and strafed, the situation map again became the center of interest. Hourly the bomb line seemed to make phenominal (sic) leaps, until late in the afternoon it was necessary to change the entire map for the second time during the day. At the end of the day the picture of utter destruction that was taking place became clear, as, again racking up more than 50% of the group totals, the 405th destroyed or damaged 371 enemy vehicles, and “weather” promised clear skies for the morrow.

The 19th was but a repetition of the previous two days. The Wehrmacht, openly fleeing, was being rapidly destroyed as it tried to cross the Rhine. As the end of the day approached someone suddenly realized that the last mission up was the 500th combat mission flown by the squadron. A fitting end to this days occasion was the total of more than 350 enemy vehicles destroyed or damaged, thus, in 3 days, the Squadron accounted for more than 1000 enemy motor transport vehicles; almost as many as in the entire preceding 11 months of operations.”

Higher headquarters noted the incredible results the 371st was getting and sent the group a message: “My heartiest congratulations to the air and ground personnel of your organization whose teamwork, Courage, and devotion to duty have made possible the devastating blow today. XIX TAC. ——WEYLAND——“

General Otto P. Weyland commanded the XIX Tactical Air Command which supported General Patton's Third Army in the campaigns across northwestern Europe in 1944-1945.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

General Otto P. Weyland commanded the XIX Tactical Air Command which supported General Patton’s Third Army in the campaigns across northwestern Europe in 1944-1945. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

In this weeklong period, the 371st Fighter Group generated more than 1,000 sorties and flew over 2,000 combat hours. The P-47 pilots expended 589 x 500-lb bombs and some 932,463 rounds of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, not counting the 9,540 rounds lost on four aircraft that were lost.

Armorers have loaded the ammunition bays for this 371st Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolt, possibly at Metz Airfield in early 1945.  The staggered position of the four machine guns in the wing allowed for the direct feed of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition from the corresponding tray.  Muddy conditions were a bother but did not prevent the mission from getting done.   The P-47 could carry up to 425 rounds per gun, but there was a tradeoff with the weight in performance and range, and often fewer rounds were carried, closer to 300 rounds.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Armorers have loaded the ammunition bays for this 371st Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolt, possibly at Metz Airfield in early 1945. The staggered position of the four machine guns in the wing allowed for the direct feed of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition from the corresponding tray. Muddy conditions were a bother but did not prevent the mission from getting done. The P-47 could carry up to 425 rounds per gun, but there was a tradeoff with the weight in performance and range, and often fewer rounds were carried, closer to 300 rounds. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

The four P-47’s lost were a sort of the tip of the iceberg for aircraft impacted by all these missions, with 49 other Thunderbolts damaged in various categories of damage. Flak was responsible for a lot of this damage, but there was also some received due to the low-altitude nature of much of the work. At least three aircraft were damaged from wires or cables, a couple more from exploding vehicles, and one from the fragments of its own bombs.

Holes like this were not unusual, as 1st Lt. Robert L. Griffith of the 405th Fighter Squadron demonstrates in early 1945.  It took expert piloting to bring these ships in.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Holes like this were not unusual, as 1st Lt. Robert L. Griffith of the 405th Fighter Squadron demonstrates in early 1945. It took expert piloting to bring these ships in. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

In addition to the air-to-ground work, on 21 March the group’s 405th Fighter Squadron had an aerial engagement with a group of over 15 Me-109 fighters about seven miles west of Ludwigshafen, Germany. First Lieutenant Ray H. Sanders described the encounter as follows:

“I was flying “Discharge Yellow” Three, on an armed recce in Kaiserslautern and Rhine River area when 15 bogeys were called in at 10 o’clock at 8,000 feet. The aircraft were identified as Me-109’s and we jettisoned our bombs and my wingman “Discharge Yellow” Four and I dived down on the last Me-109 in the enemy formation from 9,000 feet. The e/a saw us and broke east. I opened fire with a 10 degree deflection shot at range of 1,000 feet and observed strikes on the side of the fuselage. I then sighted at his tail and observed strikes while closing to 500 feet.

All this time the Me-109 was diving, and we were now on the deck. A ball of fire was seen and the Me-109 started smoking. I was hit by flak and broke off, and my wingman started firing at him. My wingman fired a few bursts and observed strikes on the Me-109. After I broke off I looked back and saw a large cloud of dust move across a field, a road, and then another field, in the very direction the Me-109 was flying. The flak was intense so we pulled up and left.

I claim one Me-109 destroyed (shared with 2nd Lt. C. E. Lindley, Air Corps).”

The reports and summary above recap the chief accomplishments of the unit, but do not tell of the human cost to the 371st Fighter Group, even though it pales compared to enemy losses. In this week of intense operations, four pilots went Missing in Action (MIA) between 16-19 March 1945:

16 March 1945, 2nd Lt. Christo G. Harris, 404FS, flying P-47D-30-RA serial number 44-32975, as Yellow Two in a formation of eight aircraft, dropped his 500-lb bomb on a troop concentration at Neunkirchen, then proceeded north to hunt for enemy vehicles. While strafing four enemy vehicles near Hecken, Germany, someone called out light flak. Harris was apparently hit by this flak and his plane was observed going down at a 45 degree angle from 1,000 feet (at grid coordinate L-755460 in the Modified British System). Though it did not appear to be smoking or damaged in any way the aircraft crashed and exploded in some woods at 1330 hours (at grid coordinate L-755460 in the Modified British System, to the southeast of the former Hahn AB). His crash site was later found and he is buried at Plot D, Row 5, Grave 9, in the Luxembourg American Cemetery at Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Lieutenant Harris received the Purple Heart and the Air Medal, with five Oak Leaf Clusters, for his service and sacrifice in World War II.

18 March 1945, 1st Lieutenant Harold H. Spicer, 405FS, was in a formation of eight P-47’s that bombed motor transport and rail traffic; they then strafed military road traffic. A few miles south of Birkenfeld, Germany (at grid coordinate L575115 in the Modified British System) they encountered accurate small arms fire. Lt. Spicer was apparently hit, but was able to fly his aircraft back toward the home field at Metz. Unfortunately he crashed near the airfield and was killed. He is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, at Plot H, Row 14, Grave 67, Lieutenant Spicer was awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal, with an Oak Leaf Cluster, for his service and sacrifice in World War II.

18 March 1945, 1st Lt. Edward R. Kirkland, 406FS, flying P-47D-30-RA 44-32961, was the leader for the squadron’s fourth mission of the day (his second) with an assigned target at Birkenfeld. While strafing some military transports on a road leading out of the town Kirkland was hit by anti-aircraft fire; his plane badly damaged he was forced to bail out (at grid coordinate L-5917 in the Modified British System). As he was floating down in his parachute, civilians shot at him slightly wounding him in the neck. When he hit the earth, the civilians attempted to hang him but he was recused by some German soldiers, taken to a German aid station, where he was treated for one day, and then taken to a POW camp. During the confusion of an air raid, he managed to escape but was soon recaptured by a German patrol. Then another opportunity presented itself. “Utilizing the everlasting lure of the American cigarette, Kirkland knocked two guards’ heads together as they were lighting them and made his second escape.” He managed to avoid capture and soon joined up with one of General Patton’s advancing spearheads, the 4th Armored Division. He returned to duty with the unit on 27 March 1945.

First Lieutenant Edward R. Kirkland, from Coral Gables, Florida, flew in the 406FS and had an exciting story to tell after returning to the unit following his shoot down, capture and escape.  As seen here, some things are better explained by hands.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

First Lieutenant Edward R. Kirkland, from Coral Gables, Florida, gesturing with hand to unidentified personnel, flew in the 406FS and had an exciting story to tell after returning to the unit following his shoot down, captures and escapes. As seen here, some things are better explained by hands. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

19 March 1945, 2nd Lt. Frederick W. Nerney, 406FS, flying P-47D-28-RA Serial number 42-28620 in a formation of eight Thunderbolts went MIA on the squadron’s third mission of the day. He was conducting an identification pass on motor transport near Meisenheim (at grid coordinate L-9424 in the Modified British System), southwest of Bad Kreuznach, at 1030 when his flight was taken under fire by 20MM and 37MM flak. He called out that he was hit, turned up a small valley and over a hill lost to sight. Another squadron member up at 5,000 feet spotted a downed aircraft and descended to investigate, finding a yellow-nosed P-47 (the 406th squadron color) with a wing afire and smoke obscuring the cockpit area. On 19 April the unit received a teletype from Third Army reporting Lt. Nerney had been killed in action and his body and pistol found in a recently captured area. He is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France, at Plot A, Row 29 Grave 22. Lieutenant Nerney was awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal, with Oak Leaf Cluster, for his service and sacrifice in World War II.

Second Lieutenant Frederick W. Nerney, from Attleboro, Massachusetts,   joined the 371st Fighter Group as a replacement pilot when the unit was at Tantonville Airfield, France.  He was assigned to the 406th Fighter Squadron but killed in action later, after the unit moved to Metz Airfield, France, during a combat mission over Germany on 19 March 1945.  (Courtesy Mr. Paul Nerney, nephew of Lt. Nerney)

Second Lieutenant Frederick W. Nerney, from Attleboro, Massachusetts, joined the 371st Fighter Group as a replacement pilot when the unit was at Tantonville Airfield, France. He was assigned to the 406th Fighter Squadron but killed in action later, after the unit moved to Metz Airfield, France, during a combat mission over Germany on 19 March 1945. (Courtesy Mr. Paul Nerney, nephew of Lt. Nerney)

On this 70th anniversary of the actions for which the 371st Fighter group was awarded the DUC, we salute the men of the 371st Fighter Group who served in World War II. The group’s actions in the culminating phase of the Rhineland Campaign of World War II helped destroy the Nazi Wehrmacht in the West between the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River. Their efforts Helped set the conditions for Third Army’s approach to and crossing of the Rhine River in March, 1945, to begin the final campaign in the war in European Theater of Operations, a notable achievement.

Battle of the Rhineland, 8 February - 21 March 1945  (US Army)

Battle of the Rhineland, 8 February – 21 March 1945 (US Army)

Of note, the 371st Fighter Group’s DUC belongs to the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard, which inherited the lineage and honors of the 371st Fighter Group when it was redesignated as the 142nd Fighter group and allotted to Oregon in May, 1946. The 371st Fighter group exists today as the 142nd Fighter Wing, Today’s men and women assigned to the 142nd Fighter Wing can take pride in Frisky’s DUC as well as all of the World War II accomplishments of the 371st Fighter Group.

Col. Richard W. Wedan, 142nd Fighter Wing commander, takes off on his 'Fini Flight' from the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., in his F-15 Eagle, Feb. 7, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Released)

Col. Richard W. Wedan, 142nd Fighter Wing commander, takes off on his ‘Fini Flight’ from the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., in his F-15 Eagle, Feb. 7, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Released)

References:

“Redhawk Battle Honors: Distinguished Unit Citation,” 142nd Fighter Wing website, at: http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123442500\

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

371st Fighter Group and 405th Fighter Squadron histories for 1945

General Otto P. Weyland picture, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_P._Weyland

Rhineland Campaign map, from: Rhineland, US Army Campaigns of World War II, at: http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/rhineland/rhineland.htm

142nd Fighter Wing F-15 picture, from 142FW website, at:  http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123438811

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Frisky’s Battle Honors

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the outstanding combat missions flown by the 371st Fighter Group over Nazi Germany which were recognized several months later by the award of the Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC). (Note: In the Air Force, the DUC became the Presidential Unit Citation from 1957)

The DUC is awarded to a numbered unit which must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.  (Wikipedia)

The DUC is awarded to a numbered unit which must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. (Wikipedia)

The citation for the 371st Fighter Group’s DUC was initially contained in Headquarters Ninth Air Force General Orders No. 117 (27 June 1945), and repeated in War Department General Orders No. 84 (5 October 1945). It reads as follows:

“The 371st Fighter Group is cited for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy from 15 March to 21 March 1945. During this period the 371st Fighter Group inflicted tremendous destruction on the hostile forces fleeing before the Allied units closing to the banks of the Rhine River. Demonstrating steadfast determination to destroy the enemy, the gallant pilots launched a series of brilliant air attacks closely coordinated with the advances of the Third Army. Striking vigorously ahead of the advancing tank columns, they smashed the enemy’s desperate attempts to organize a holding defense. Although frequently engulfed by intense concentrations of fire from mobile artillery and small arms, they descended to treetop level to attack the motor transports, troop concentrations, and strong points of the retreating enemy. During this 6-day period the airmen of the 371st Fighter Group destroyed a total of 1702 transport vehicles, 180 factories and buildings, 57 railroad cars, 20 tanks and 7 gun emplacements. 1,407 transports, 70 railroad cars, and 59 tanks were damaged. The brilliantly successful attacks of the 371st Fighter Group constituted a material contribution to the defeat of the hostile forces in southern Germany. The courage and determination of the airmen, combined with the technical skill and devotion to duty of the ground personnel, mark the 371st Fighter Group as an organization of unusual esprit de corps, and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the Army Air Forces.”

Frisky received his DUC award on 10 July 1945, when the group was stationed at Fürth/Industriehafen Airfield (R-30), near Nürnberg (aka Nuremberg), Germany, as part of the Allied occupation forces.

Frisky was justifiably proud of his outstanding performance in the Rhineland Campaign of World War II.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Frisky was justifiably proud of his outstanding performance in the Rhineland Campaign of World War II. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

A description of the background and conduct of these missions will soon be posted on this web log.
Reference

“Presidential Unit Citation (United States),” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Unit_Citation_%28United_States%29

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Une Nation Reconnaissante

Une nation reconnaissante – that’s French for “A Grateful Nation,” and France is that nation.

Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

In World War II, Frisky was too busy making history to pay much mind to it. It takes time for reflection and recollection to account for what happened. Battle honors and awards are often given out in a timely fashion, but sometimes they aren’t. Also, new awards or honors were created by various organizations, long after the sound of Frisky’s Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines had faded from the skies over Europe. When the war ended the focus of most members of the 371st Fighter Group was to get back home, and not to wait around to let history sort itself out.

But for any of the veterans of the 371st Fighter Group who served in the unit during the time it was in France, from Ste. Mere Eglise, to Perthes, to Dole, Tantonville and Metz, there is an opportunity to perhaps garner a little recognition and appreciation for that time in France from the government of France.

According to the website of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., “…most American veterans who served in France during World Wars I and II are inducted into the Légion d’honneur, or Legion of Honor.

Medal worn by a Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honor).  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Medal worn by a Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor). (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The French Legion of Honor is an order of distinction first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in May of 1802. It is the highest decoration bestowed in France and is divided into five categories: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross). The highest degree of the Order of the Legion of Honor is that of Grand Master, which is held by the sitting President of the Republic.”

The French Embassy website continues: “American veterans who risked their lives during World War II and who fought on French territory qualify to be decorated as Knights of the Legion of Honor. Veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.”

The 371st Fighter Group received credit for participation in the following campaigns during World War II: Air Offensive, Europe; Normandy; Northern France; Rhineland; Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. So Frisky was in three of the four Legion of Honor-qualifying campaigns.

Direction and guidance for how a 371st Fighter Group (and Attached Units) veterans can apply for this distinctive order are also found on the French Embassy website:

“To inquire about eligibility for the decoration of a U.S. veteran having served in France or with French forces, please contact coopcom.mmf@ambafrance-us.org.

For more information about applying to join the Legion of Honor, please contact your nearest French Consulate.” The locations for the ten (10) French consulates in the United States can be seen at:
http://ambafrance-us.org/spip.php?article330
References
“France Honors American World War Veterans in the United States,” at: http://ambafrance-us.org/spip.php?article3150

“Legion of Honour,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legion_of_Honour

“Marianne,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marianne

Maurer, Maurer, Editor, “Air Force Combat Units in World War II,” Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1983. 371st Fighter Group lineage and honors entry on pages 257-258

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Move to Metz

In February, 1945, Frisky moved yet again, to his fifth airfield since arriving on the Continent in June, 1944, the sixth if one recalls the water displacement to Dijon in the rainy autumn of 1944.

The move was from Tantonville (Y-1) to Metz (Y-34) began on 12 February when the 371st Fighter Group received word it would be moving again. The next day, Col. Kleine and Lt. Col. Bacon left for Metz along with an advanced echelon of the group. As Metz was an operational airfield already, the transition would be relatively smooth as compared to going into Tantonville.

In fact, Metz was also well-known to the Luftwaffe, which attacked the base on 1 January 1945 as part of Operation Bodenplatte, destroying a number of P-47’s on the ground which belonged to the 365th Fighter Group, the “Hell Hawks.”

By 15 February, the 371FG flew its last combat missions from Tantonville, with the aircraft landing at Metz after completing their missions. A C-47 was provided to help the move, running a shuttle back and forth between the two fields – about half of the group made the move aboard this shuttle. By the 18th the rear echelon departed Tantonville, closing out Frisky’s presence at that expeditionary airfield in France.

On 16 February, the group flew its first combat missions from Y-34, and by 18 February the Rear Echelon showed up from Tantonville, completing the group’s movement to Metz.

371st Fighter Group Headquarters at Metz Airfield (Y-34), France. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

371st Fighter Group Headquarters at Metz Airfield (Y-34), France. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Metz was a fairly robust facility, with the airstrip composed of sod, concrete and pierced steel plank. There were permanent wooden buildings for office use, and one building was large enough to serve as group headquarters with a main briefing room. The flying squadrons also had access to hangars for the maintenance and servicing of aircraft, which led to an improvement in operational aircraft availability.

Before and after, at the Metz Airfield aircraft hangars.  In the lower picture, under new roofing a 404th Fighter Squadron (9Q) P-47 is about to receive some needed battle damage repairs.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the ETO).

Before and after, at the Metz Airfield aircraft hangars. In the lower picture, under new roofing a 404th Fighter Squadron (9Q) P-47D-30-RA, serial number 44-33148, is about to receive some needed battle damage repairs to its empennage.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO).

Two P-47 groups operated from the field – the 371st shared it with the 368th Fighter Group. Frisky moved into the spaced vacated by the mauled 365th Fighter Group, which had been hit hard by the Luftwaffe on the 1 January 1945 Luftwaffe offensive against Allied airfields in Western Europe.

Some were to miss the proximity of Nancy, where members of the group could see a little civilization again. Noted were the Mirabelle Twins, Yvette and Yvonne, who ran the Hotel de la Gare and offered special dinners. But most probably looked forward to the move and improvement in conditions, as well as being near to another French city.

One of the big benefits of the move was that the officers and men were able to quarter in former German-occupied barracks and in apartment houses in Metz proper. All the group’s enlisted men were billeted in the Caserne Raymond, a huge three and four-story stone structure at the edge of Metz about a mile from the airfield. An Enlisted Men’s Club was set up in a building in the caserne, “…complete with bar, piano, lounge room with easy chairs, and South Tyrolean murals.” Special Services set up Foxhole Follies Number 5 (the unit movie theater) in an attic space above the Red Cross Aero Club.

The Enlisted Men of the 371st Fighter Group were quartered in the Caserne Raymond on the edge of Metz.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

The Enlisted Men of the 371st Fighter Group were quartered in the Caserne Raymond on the edge of Metz. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Group and squadron officers were housed in homes and apartments on the Boulevard Clemenceau, a tree-lined street in Metz itself.

It wasn’t long before the group received a visit from brass, as with the move to Metz, the unit returned to the XIX TAC and the 100th Fighter Wing, supporting General Patton’s Third Army. For most of the men it seems the change back to XIX TAC subordination was a welcome development after the difficult conditions and months to the south in XII TAC with the 1st Tactical Air Force (Provisional). General Homer L. Sanders, Commanding General of the 100th Fighter Wing, paid the group a visit on 20 February.

Reassignment back to XIX TAC was a tonic for Frisky, after over four months of work in XII TAC with three months under the 1st TAF. Both organizations operated in a different manner than XIX TAC did. Being part of XIX TAC again made Frisky feel like he was back on the first team, again supporting Patton’s Third Army, just as Patton was preparing to push into Germany after the German failure in the Battle of the Bulge. At Metz, Frisky felt like he was back in the big leagues after his southern sojourn.

Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. (USMA 1909) wears his war face in this picture taken in 1943 when he was Commanding General Seventh Army.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. (USMA 1909) wears his war face in this picture taken in 1943 when he was Commanding General Seventh Army. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

References

371st Fighter Group History, February, 1945

The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO

USAAF serial numbers for 1944, at Joe Baugher’s website:  http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1944_2.html

USAF Biography for Major General Homer L. Sanders, at: http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/105718/major-general-homer-l-sanders.aspx

General Patton picture, at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_S._Patton_slapping_incidents

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On ebay now: Rare 371st Fighter Group, 9th Air Force book. Original Print

Someone is selling on ebay online auction a copy of the original “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO.”  Up for bid for another three days or so, advertised at:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rare-371st-Fighter-Group-9th-Air-Force-Original-Print-/131420090626

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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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