Walter Sommer has flown West

The writer of this web log received word today from Germany of the passing earlier this year of Mr. Walter Sommer, due to complications following a surgery.  In World War II Herr Sommer was a Luftwaffe Me-109 fighter pilot, assigned to the 10. Staffel, III./JG 76 in the summer of 1944.  And a former opponent of the 371st Fighter Group.

Unteroffizier Walter Sommer in the summer of 1944 with an Me-109G-6 at his training unit, JG 103 at Stolp an der Ostsee. From here he was transferred to JG 76 in July, 1944. (Courtesy Herr Wolfgang Sommer)

A season later, on October 20, 1944, he and his unit found themselves in aerial combat with P-47 Thunderbolts of the 406th Fighter Squadron, 371st Fighter Group, over the Black Forest, on the German side of the tri-border area between southwestern Germany, France and Switzerland.  

In the fighting, Sommer’s Messerschmitt Me-109G-14, Black 2, werknummer 461963, was hit by a 406th Fighter Squadron P-47, his engine damaged and he had to bail out.  In the process he was injured, striking the tail of the aircraft.  He survived his descent in parachute, but due to his injuries there was no more flying, a development he credited with saving his life.

Fast forward 70 years to 2014, and Walter Sommer, with help from his son Wolfgang, sought to find any of the American pilots he fought with that day.  Having survived the war, having then led a full life having a family, working, etc., he looked back upon his wartime experience and thought he was fortunate to be shot down and survive, even if injured.  In a way, being shot down on October 20, 1944, saved his life – odds were ever greater against the heavily outnumbered Luftwaffe pilots surviving in the desperate air battles late in the war. 

USAAF Gun Camera Footage of attacks against Luftwaffe FW 190/Me 109 fighter planes:

Contact efforts eventually yielded father and son with information indicating one of the American pilots, Francis E. “Gene” Madore, resided in Vancouver, Washington.  The author of this web log was able to play a role as an intermediary to help connect the two former adversaries.

Lt Francis E. “Gene” Madore, high scorer of the 406th Fighter Squadron, 371st Fighter Group with four aerial victories, and an opponent of Walter Sommer in the October 20, 1944 dogfight over the Black Forest. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

We were never able to sort out exactly which American pilot shot down Walter Sommer in the dogfight.  The encounter reports foiled by the American pilots after the mission didn’t line up with Walter Sommer’s description, or Gene Madore’s recollection.  The Americans claimed six victories in that battle and the Germans four.  Actual numbers appear to be four Me 109s and one P-47 lost.  But they had both been in the fight that day – Madore claimed one victory that day, and was credited with a total of four during the war, the high scorer of the 406th Fighter Squadron. Sommer had shot down one enemy fighter a few weeks earlier before the Black Forest battle, though official credit was given to another pilot.

It’s maybe an awkward thing, how former combatants are to regard a former deadly enemy after a war ends.  For some the traumatic stress and ferocity of combat make it problematic.  For example, I had a Great Uncle Pete who was a Marine in World War II.  He served in China before the Pearl Harbor attack, and fought at Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima – he dreaded the prospective invasion of Japan.  Years after the war his unit visited Guam for a reunion, and Uncle Pete went.  But he could not go back to Iwo Jima for a similar opportunity later on.  It’s different for each individual.  In this case, Walter Sommer just wished to find his former opponents, thank them in his way and wish them well.

Of note a description of Walter Sommer’s flying career was a feature article titled “Into the Cauldron” in an issue of Aeroplane Magazine in March, 2021 – information at:   https://www.key.aero/article/cauldron-0

Gene Madore, the last known American pilot in the Black Forest dogfight of October 20, 1944 passed away in December, 2019 after a brief illness, at age 98.  And now the last known German participant, Walter Sommer, flew west in January, 2021 at age 97.  Maybe they’re looking down on us now, and among other things recreating that dogfight to find out just who did what to whom on that fall day.

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A Flying Memorial and Tribute to William Gorman, 405th Fighter Squadron

As we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States on this May 31, 2021, just one week ago, on Monday, May 24, 2021, the Idaho Air National; Guard celebrated its 75th anniversary in an event held at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho.  As part of the celebration, a “Heritage Hog” was unveiled, an A-10C of the 190th Fighter Squadron painted in the colors and markings of a 405th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt circa 1944.

Idaho ANG 190th Fighter Squadron’s A-10C Thunderbolt II Heritage Hog at Gowen Field, Idaho, May 24, 2021 (Author’s collection)

Seventy-five years ago, on May 24, 1946, the 405th Squadron, which was part of the 371st Fighter Group during World War II, was renumbered as the 190th Fighter Squadron and allotted to Idaho.  This was part of a postwar buildup of the air component of the National Guard in a bid to create a more robust ready air reserve.

A pilot with the 190th Fighter Squadron, 124th Fighter Wing, Boise, Idaho, flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II with a newly painted World War II heritage paint scheme from the Air National Guard’s paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa to its new home at the Idaho Air National Guard, Gowen Field, Idaho, May 12, 2021. The heritage A-10 aircraft was painted to commemorate the 190FS’s 75th Anniversary and made to mimic the 1944 version of the P-47 Thunderbolt flown in WWII by the 405th Fighter Squadron, which was later re-designated as the 190FS. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt Mercedee Wilds)

The colors reflect the olive drab over neutral gray camouflage paint scheme.  The 8N represents the 405th Fighter Squadron’s assigned squadron code.  The white nose and white stripes on the vertical/horizontal tail the USAAF’s ETO fighter aircraft recognition markings of the time. Also added are the D-Day black/white Allied aircraft recognition stripes underwings and fuselage as used on D-Day and afterwards in the campaign to liberate Europe.

 On the tail is a serial number in yellow, a blend of both numbers the squadron has used.

The tail of the 190th Fighter Squadron Heritage Hog wears a blended faux serial number in insignia yellow to commemorate the 405/190th lineage and help people understand the connection between the two – it’s actually the same squadron, just a different number. (Author’s collection)

On the engine nacelles is the unofficial emblem of the 405th Fighter Squadron. It was added after the aircraft returned to Idaho from the ANG paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa.

The slightly modified WWII unofficial emblem of the 405th Fighter Squadron is proudly worn on the engine nacelles of the 190th Fighter Squadron’s Heritage Hog (Author’s collection)

The Discharge squadron’s unofficial emblem of World War II featured a number of heraldic elements on a shield, including a stylized pilot helmet to represent a “knight of the air.”

The unofficial emblem of the 405th Fighter Squadron, the Discharge Squadron, in World War II (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

As part of the 75th anniversary commemoration, a special cake bearing the squadron’s emblem was presented. It was successfully attacked at the proper time over target! Kudos to the baker for getting this right!

The Idaho Air National Guard’s 75th Anniversary Cake (Author’s calorie collection)

On a related note, the 190th Fighter Squadron found a creative and apropos way to incorporate their “Skullbanger” logo into the 405th’s pilot helmet element of the 405th’s WWII emblem in a special morale patch worn by squadron pilots.

The 190th Fighter Squadron “Skullbanger” wears the 405th Fighter Squadron helmet in this blended emblem morale patch worn by squadron pilots. (Author’s collection, courtesy of Major Tom Silkowski,190th Fighter Squadron)

It’s on the nose, however, where the pilot’s name is listed that thoughtful design continued on this paint scheme, where one can find a memorial to the squadron’s only pilot still Missing In Action (MIA) from World War II, Flight Officer (F/O) William Gorman, who went MIA off the coast of France on August 7, 1944.

Closeup of the pilot and crew chief placard on the 190th Fighter Squadron Heritage Hog, May 2021 (Courtesy Maj Tom Silkowski)

William Gorman hailed from Brooklyn, New York, and was one of the founding members of the squadron and the group, part of the original cadre at Richmond Army Air Base in Virginia in the summer of 1943.

Flight Officer (F/O) William (NMI) Gorman, T-223063, poses for a picture in the cockpit of a P-47D Razorback Thunderbolt. Note his right hand atop the rear view mirror on the windscreen. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Late in the day on August 7, 1944, Gorman flew an armed reconnaissance mission with Discharge Squadron in P-47D-20-RE Thunderbolt 42-76478. The 405th Fighter Squadron had been running frequent armed recce missions that day, every two hours. He took off as Yellow 4 in a flight of the squadron from Advanced Landing Ground A-6, and set a course of 180 degrees for the St. Nazaire area along the coast of France.  As Gorman and the other ships on the mission reached the area they found visibility to be about three or four miles, a bit hazy.

“MUMBLIN JOE,” a Republic P-47D-20-RE Thunderbolt, serial number 42-76452, was assigned to the 371st Fighter Group’s 405th Fighter Squadron (squadron code 8N). The aircraft bore the name of pilot Lt. Arthur W. “Bud” Holderness Jr., with the individual aircraft letter of “H” aft of the national insignia on the fuselage. It is pictured here with 41 mission symbols, bombed up and headed out for another combat mission, probably from A-6 airfield in France in the summer of 1944, probably with Lt. Holderness as the pilot. Holderness, a 1943 USMA graduate, flew 142 combat missions with the 371st during the war, received the Distinguished Flying Cross, 19 Air Medals, the French Croix de Guerre, and was one of two pilots in his squadron to earn the Lead Crew Combat Pilot patch. He went on to have a long and successful postwar career in the USAF, retiring in 1971 as a brigadier general. (Via Maj Tom Silkowski, 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho ANG)

First Lieutenant Francis T. Evans, Jr., his element leader (Yellow 3 in Yellow Flight), described what happened in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 7646:

“At approximately 1940 we were flying south straight and level at 7,500 feet over the bay, south of St. Nazaire, when heavy flak burst to our right and on level.

We immediately began taking evasive action.  I started a climbing turn to the left but made the climb straight ahead when I found that I was getting too close to Yellow leader.  Gorman was close to my wing when flak burst between us.  He started to turn towards  me and then then roll away doing a diving turn to the right.  I followed him and he was soon going straight down.  I yelled for him to pull up but he (his) plane continued on in its dive hitting the water vertically.  I saw no sign of his attempting to bail out.”

The location Gorman went down at was listed as grid coordinate N-4263 off the French coast just south of St. Nazaire.  The graphic from the MACR 7646 shows about where that was.

Map of loss location for F/O William Gorman, 405th Fighter Squadron, 7 August 1944 near St. Nazaire, France. (Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 7646, via Fold3)

No search was subsequently made, given the eyewitness report of the circumstances of his loss.  William Gorman and his aircraft apparently remain missing, but not forgotten, with his name painted on the 190th Fighter Squadron Heritage Hog, just in time for Memorial Day 2021, nearly 77 years after he went missing.

William Gorman is also 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.

F/O William Gorman’s name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery near St. James, France (Find-A-Grave)

The 371st Fighter Group lost 56 men killed in combat and in non-combat operations during World War II and the immediate aftermath.   In combat operations the group lost 44 P-47 pilots in 13 months of combat in Northwestern Europe.  Three P-47 pilots were killed in non-combat flying accidents and two more in flight ops ground accidents.  Another seven men were non-combat losses, including a case of someone in the ground echelon who just went missing and was later declared dead.  All of their names sans one are listed at:  https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/the-group-remembers-on-memorial-day/

And the one more name to add to the roll of honor, apparently the group’s last casualty of World War II, is 1st Lt. Roger P. Trevitt of group HQ, who died on 9 July 1945:  https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/a-frisky-mystery-the-loss-of-1st-lt-roger-p-trevitt/

On this Memorial Day, we remember F/O William Gorman and the other men of the 371st Fighter Group who gave their lives in World war II for our freedom and liberty. And hand salute to the Idaho Air National Guard, 124th Fighter Wing and 190th Fighter Squadron for knowing and honoring their history and heritage!

A pilot with the 190th Fighter Squadron, 124th Fighter Wing, Boise, Idaho, flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II with a newly painted World War II heritage paint scheme from the Air National Guard’s paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa to its new home at the Idaho Air National Guard, Gowen Field, Idaho, May 12, 2021. The heritage A-10 aircraft was painted to commemorate the 190FS’s 75th Anniversary and made to mimic the 1944 version of the P-47 Thunderbolt flown in WWII by the 405th Fighter Squadron, which was later re-designated as the 190FS. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt Mercedee Wilds)

References

MACR Listing for August 1944: https://aviationarchaeology.com/src/MACRmonthly/44AugMACR.htm

Find-A-Grave entry for William Gorman at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56352070/william-gorman

The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO, Army & Navy Publishing, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1946

405th Fighter Squadron official histories, 1943-1944

American Battle Monuments Commission entry on William Gorman at: https://www.abmc.gov/decedent-search/gorman%3Dwilliam-2

ANG paint facility paints P-47 scheme on Thunderbolt II, at: https://www.185arw.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2596660/ang-paint-facility-paints-p-47-scheme-on-thunderbolt-ii/

Personal images of Heritage Hog and images from Idaho ANG via Major Tom Silkowski.

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A Grateful Daughter – Remembering Lawrence “Dag” Damewood

It’s wonderful to discover family tributes to 371st Fighter Group personnel posted on the internet, as is the case for the 3 October anniversary of a 1944 dogfight in which 406th Fighter Squadron P-47 pilot 1st Lt. Lawrence D. “Dag” Damewood was shot down, and thankfully survived. His daughter Diane Damewood posted a thoughtful remembrance in Facebook, as you can see here, shared with her kind permission.

Portrait of Lawrence Damewood as an aviation cadet prior to earning his pilot wings and commission (Courtesy Diane Damewood)

“On this day, 76 years ago during WWII, our Dad was involved in a aerial dogfight against a German fighter pilot, flying his favorite plane, the P-47 “Jug”, he scored a victory. Hit by ground enemy fire Dad’s plane sustained enough damage that he had to bail out.

Tribute graphic of the crash site of Lt. Damewood’s P-47, 3 October 1944 (Courtesy Stephane Muret, via Diane Damewood)

In the Missing Air Crew Report filed after the mission (MACR 9823), fellow pilot 2nd Lt. Harry L. Bailey made the following eyewitness statement of the loss of Damewood and his aircraft, P-47D-22-RE, serial number 42-26311, no known nickname, at about 1640 hours on 3 October 1944, about three miles southwest of Gerardmer, France. At the time the 371st Fighter Group was operating out of Dole Airfield under XII TAC control, and Damewood was on a dive bombing mission when enemy aircraft intercepted his formation.:

“When the ME-109’s attacked our flight, I shot one off Major Bacon’s tail. When I pulled up again I saw a silver ship with a thin stream of black smoke trailing behind it. I thought it was Major Bacon so I figured the plane I shot down had hit him. When I got close I saw it was 4W-F which Lt. Damewood was flying. I saw he had been hit somewhere around the engine because the smoke began to come out thicker and take on a blue color. He was in the middle of the fight flying straight and level so I figured I had better stay with him and keep enemy planes from finishing him off. He finally started away from the fight and flew for about 2 minutes. The smoke got worse and thin flames started coming out under his motor cowl. When I saw he was on fire I told him to bail out because the flames were in a position he couldn’t see them.

He then jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. He made a delayed jump from about 7 or 8 thousand feet. The plane hit the ground before his chute opened. He landed on a hill top which was wooded. I could not see him after he hit the ground because I didn’t want to go real low and give his position to the Germans. I don’t know if he was injured or not. He may have purposely made the delayed jump or he may have been hurt. The plane glided, flaming into the ground and exploded on contact.” (End of Bailey statement)

Diane Damewood continues: “As he parachuted down he looked at the surroundings, once he hit the ground he shed the parachute off and buried it. He took off for a barn that he had noticed before he touched down. Inside was a huge barrel, it was filled with straw and he was able to crawl into it, covered himself up and waited. He fell asleep and sometime later he awoke to hands going thru the straw, a French farmer motioned him to stand up. When Dad did, the farmer, seeing that Dad was an American fighter pilot, tried telling him to stay where he was. The farmer pointed all around to outside of the barn saying “bouche, bouche” (slang word I believe for German, correct me please Stephane Muret, if this wrong), Dad understood enough that the farmer was telling him to stay put as German troops were all around the area.

Post-war view of the bran that Damewood hid in as he evaded capture with the help of French citizens (Courtesy Diane Damewood)

For 17 days Dad stayed in that barn, food, milk, water was brought to him by the French farmer and his wife. On the 17th day, not hearing any troops or seeing the farmer, Dad left the barn, went to the house of that farmer, looked inside and saw no one was there. He found some clothes, a hat and a blanket. He wrapped his flight suit in the blanket and started walking towards a town he had seen on his map he had. He had grown a beard, practically, and walked 20 miles.

On the way he passed German troops, the way he was dressed they didn’t notice anything different. As he got to the end of that 20 mile walk, he passed a house and noticed a soldier on the front porch, they glanced at each other and Dad kept walking. The soldier called out to Dad and motioned him to come to him, Dad kept walking. The second sound Dad heard was the click of a gun, he turned and the soldier again motioned him to come to him, but this time with a gun pointed at him. In Dad’s words “my Momma didn’t raise no dummy”, he proceeded to walk over to the soldier.

As he got closer, Dad noticed the uniform and patches on the Soldier, he was a member of the Free French Forces. The soldier spoke enough English to get Dad inside where there were other soldiers. Dad told them his story, they fed him and later on they got into a truck with Dad and drove him to where American troops were.

For 17 days, Dad’s family and a beautiful young lady named Jean Haupt, only knew that Dad had been shot down and was listed as MIA (missing in action). That beautiful young lady was our Mom that Dad married 8 months later on June 29, 1945.

Miss Jean Haupt married Lawrence Damewood after V-E Day (Courtesy Diane Damewood)

WE REMEMBER DAD, WE HONOR YOU ALWAYS AND THANK GOD THAT YOU WERE KEPT SAFE BY THE FRENCH PEOPLE. STEPHANE MURET, THANK YOU FOR THIS PHOTO YOU CREATED HONORING DAD, WITH HIS NAME, HIS FACE AND HIS BELOVED P-47.

Tribute graphic for Lawrence D. “Dag” Damewood (Courtesy Diane Damewood)

ALWAYS AND FOREVER DAD🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

OVER AND OUT

P.S. Of note, Lawrence Damewood continued on in service after World War II, and later flew another Republic product, the F-105 Thunderchief, in combat again during the Vietnam War. A quick internet search shows a Lt Col Lawrence D. Damewood as the Operations Officer of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base as of 30 June 1965. The squadron history Fact Sheet for the 336th FS (4th FW, Seymour-Johnson AFB, NC) shows him as the Commander, 336th TFS, circa 1 July 1965.

https://www.afhra.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/433236/336-fighter-squadron-acc/

According to fellow F-105 pilot Ed “Moose” Skowron, “Dag’s” F-105 was hit during recovery from a dive bombing pass on a Rolling Thunder combat mission early on in the campaign, which started 2 March 1965. His aircraft was hit in Route Pack 1 or 2 by a 37mm anti-aircraft shell which exploded in the belly of the F-105, knocking out his comm and navigation gear (in vicinity of the “hell hole”).

No one saw Damewood after the attack, and he couldn’t respond to any radio calls to effect a rejoin with the others. As he headed down the Vietnamese coast alone to land at the nearest friendly base, Da Nang Air Base, an RF-101 recon pilot, alone, unarmed and unafraid, spotted him as he heard radio calls looking for him and put two and two together. The RF-101 pilot replied he spotted a single F-105 headed south. So he formed up on Damewood and noted the battle damage beneath the aircraft with damaged panel latches that allowed various panels to open and close in flight. He radioed back to the other F-105 pilots that he was with Damewood and his radio was out. So the RF-101 pilot decided to accompany him back to Da Nang where Damewood landed safely.

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Local fighter pilot recounts being scrambled on 9/11

Portland’s KATU TV Channel 2 interviewed 142nd Fighter Wing, 123rd Fighter Squadron Redhawk pilot Lt Col Steve “B.C.” Beauchamp who scrambled from Portland ANG Base on 9/11 for a real-world intercept over the Pacific Ocean of an approaching airliner with comm problems. 

See their video report posted on the 10th anniversary of that chaotic day:  https://katu.com/news/local/local-fighter-pilot-recounts-being-scrambled-on-911

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The 142nd Fighter Wing Remembers 9/11

Remember!  The youngest members of the 142nd Wing, designated the 371st Fighter Group in World War II,  were born after 9/11/2001 and may know about it in general but not be familiar with how the organization responded on that day and in the period after. 

Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagles of the 142nd Fighter Wing prepare for take off. On September 11, 2001, it wasn’t long before the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) at McChord AFB, Wash., called on the Oregon Air National Guard to provide air defense for the Pacific Northwest. Lt. Col. Steve Beauchamp (pictured) and other Oregon Air National Guard pilots began to sit alert in the cockpit of their jets in anticipation of WADS tasking in a very dynamic and unpredictable threat environment. (U.S. Air Force Stock photograph by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs) (RELEASED)

Nor is the unit’s response on that day necessarily familiar to anyone with connection to the 371st Fighter Group. 

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) (RELEASED)

So if you wonder, see the story of how the unit responded that day at:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/438204/the-142nd-fighter-wing-remembers-911/

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Happy Birthday, 371st Fighter Group!

And today that’s translated as Happy Birthday 142nd Wing!   Activated on 15 July 1943 as the 371st Fighter Group, the group fought in the ETO with the P-47 Thunderbolt and was redesignated after World War II as the 142nd Fighter Group and allotted to the Oregon national Guard where it continues in service as the 142nd Wing.

But the unit’s first birthday anniversaries were held in Europe, as described in this article from the 142d Wing website, “The European Birthdays of the 142d Wing,” at:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2274632/the-european-birthdays-of-the-142d-wing/

 

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Working on the Fourth

Independence Day 1944 was the 371st Fighter Group’s first 4th of July, and it was no holiday in Normandy, although the group would give and receive fireworks in support of ground forces attacking southward from the Cherbourg Peninsula.

The group was ensconced at Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-6, a.k.a. Beuzzeville, La Londe and/or Sainte-Mère-Église, the latter a name made famous on D-Day with the tough battle fought there by the US 82nd Airborne Division.  Readers may remember the movie The Longest Day in which the parachute of American paratrooper John Steele (portrayed by actor Red Buttons) was caught on the steeple of the town church during the battle.

St._Mere_Eglise_1944

Ste. Mere Eglise, Normandy, in June 1944.  At the top of the picture is what appears to be Advanced Landing Ground A-6 under construction (US Army picture via Wikipedia)

As A-6 was an ALG and still being built up, the ground echelon was yet to arrive from England and the group’s personnel subsisted on K and 10-in-1 rations.

Chow at A6

Speaking of firsts — here’s the first mess hall in Normandy and naturally — the first chow hound. (Caption and image from The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

 

Weather the day before had precluded flight operations, but by mid-afternoon on the 4th of July, the group sent up its first mission of the day, with the 405th Fighter Squadron led by Maj. Philip E. Bacon with seven P-47s loaded with bombs and four more as top cover taking off at 1430 to perform armed reconnaissance along roads in Normandy.

Bacon

Major, later Lt Col Philip E. Bacon of the 405th Fighter Squadron led the group’s first mission on the 4th of July, 1944 (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

 

The bombers carried a total of 161 M-1A1 fragmentation bombs (a configuration of 2 x 2 x 6 for seven aircraft, per the group’s Operations Report, average load of 24 bombs each), small 20-lb bombs useful against light-skinned vehicles, light structures and troops in the open.

 

Frag bomb

A cluster of six M1A1 20-lb fragmentation bombs (Aces High Bulletin Board)

For more on this ordnance, see reference at:  https://bulletpicker.com/cluster_-100-lb-frag_-an-m1a2.html

They also carried 22,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition, though the aircraft performed no strafing in this mission.  That works out to 2,000 rounds per aircraft and 250 rounds per gun for each of the eight .50-caliber machine guns on a P-47.

405FS at A6

P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers of Discharge Squadron (the 405th Fighter Squadron) taxi along at A-6 airfield in Normandy in the Summer of 1944 (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

The squadron reached the target area fifteen minutes later, but in the next hour of flying were in and out of 8/10 cumulous clouds from 1,500 feet up to 10,000 feet.  Finding no targets, the aircraft flew over the Channel and jettisoned their bombs before returning to A-6, landing at 1600.

Lt. Col. William J. Daley, the group’s Deputy Commander from May to September, 1944, led the second show of the day in a group-level effort (all three fighter squadrons) which hadn’t been done in a while.  For more on Lt Col Daley’s impressive but all too brief career, see an earlier posting at:  https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/371st-fighter-group-hall-of-honor-lt-col-william-j-daley-jr/

Daley

371st Fighter Group Deputy Commander Lt. Col. William J. Daley, a former RAF No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron member and former commander of the USAAF’s 335th Fighter Squadron, was well regarded in the group.  Unfortunately he was killed after the Normandy Campaign in a landing accident in September 1944 when his aircraft was struck by another P-47.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Thirty-two P-47s, all loaded with a pair of G.P. 500-lb bombs with M-103 nose and M-101A2 tail fuses, took off at 1828 to dive bomb various railroad crossings and road segments at multiple locations.  Thirty of the 32 aircraft actually completed the mission.

The aircraft carried with them a total of 65,440 rounds of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, though none was to be expended in the mission.

Weather was a problem though, 8/10 to 10/10 cumulous with significant vertical development in layers between 1,500 and 7,000 feet  removed the possibility of dive bombing the targets though visibility was excellent beneath the cloud deck.

Two aircraft attacked the railroad crossing and maybe got two hits on it.  Another railroad junction was attacked by three aircraft – five bombs released with two probable hits.  Ten aircraft attacked a road segment and released 19 bombs at 1,000 feet in level flight and obtaining five hits, fair results.  Ten Thunderbolts found a hole in the weather and dove from 5,000 feet at a 45-degree angle and released at 1,500 feet on a road segment obtaining 10 hits out of 20 bombs released, considered excellent results.  Five other aircraft attacked three other targets, including a road, a railroad and bridge with unobserved results.

M64-bomb-2

For more information about 500-lb general purpose bombs, see:  https://bulletpicker.com/bomb_-500-lb-gp_-an-m64a1.html

Two of the planes dropped a single 500-lb bomb each into the Channel before returning to base, presumably hung ordnance as the Oprep reported two bomb release mechanisms, broken shackles, needing to be replaced.  When machines work hard parts get worn.  And though people aren’t machines, they get worn too when worked hard.

Working below the weather didn’t really pan out well, as the 406th Fighter Squadron history noted in attempting to cut a road leading out of Periers – low-angle “skip bombing” was a no-go at low altitude given the fuzing on the 500-lb bombs carried.

In their various attacks the aircraft encountered meager but accurate flak; passing in the vicinity of St. Lo and Vire the flak was moderate and accurate.  Fortunately the Wehrmacht anti-aircraft gunners on the ground were unable to hit any of the group’s aircraft.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_164-12-6-09A_Frankreich_Vierlings-Flak_auf_Zugkraftwagen

A German self-propelled quadruple 20mm anti-aircraft gun mount (2 cm Flakvierling 38) pictured in June, 1944 (War history online.com)

So that was the experience of the 371st Fighter Group on Independence Day, 1944.  Holidays in the combat zone are surely remembered, but the press of operations allows little time to reflect on it.  Perhaps the members of the group did think of the effort they were making to liberate Europe from fascism.  But it took the group another ten months of combat to see that day in Europe, many more missions, sorties, bombs, bullets and blood.  Because freedom isn’t free, back then and today.

 

References

The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.

371FG Monthly History for July, 1944

371FG Oprep for 4 July 1944

405th and 406th Fighter Squadron Monthly Histories for July 1944

20-lb bomb image from: https://bbs.hitechcreations.com/smf/index.php?topic=359095.0

500-lb bomb image from:  http://harringtonmuseum.org.uk/an-m64/

German flak image at:  https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/watch-this-german-propaganda-newsreel-about-battle-for-normandy-warsaw-uprising.html

 

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Eager and Ready:  Remembering the 371st Fighter Group on D-Day

Saturday, June 6th, 2020, marks the 76th anniversary of the 1944 Allied landings in Normandy, France on D-Day, and the 371st Fighter Group, designated now as the 142d Wing, was part of the operation.  The group’s 75 P-47 Thunderbolt fighters were part of an aerial armada of some 13,000 Allied aircraft which supported the air and surface landings involving over 160,000 troops on the beaches and in the interior of France.  The group’s efforts on that day helped the Western Allies to gain a foot-hold on the Continent to defeat the forces of the Third Reich and liberate millions of people in Western Europe.

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The 405th Fighter Squadron’s “Damn Yankee,” Republic P-47D-16-RE Thunderbolt serial number 42-76099, sports a hungry mouth (eye obscured by propeller blade) is pictured here awaiting fuses for 500-lb bombs beneath the wings, likely at Beuzeville (aka La Londe) (Advanced Landing Ground A-6), near Ste-Mère-Église, France sometime after D-Day in the summer of 1944.  The P-47 sports numerous missions symbols for bombing, fighter sweeps and top cover, and served on with the squadron until at least until 8 October 1944 when it was badly damaged in a taxiing accident at Dole/Tavaux Airfield (Y-7), France. (Image via both Tom Silkowski and Jon Berstein)

To give a flavor for what it was like for the unit that day, here is the pertinent entry in the 405th Fighter Squadron (today’s 190th Fighter Squadron of the Idaho ANG) monthly history for June, 1944:

“D-Day, 6 June 1944, found the pilots of the 405th eager and ready to get into the fight.  They were assembled in the Pilot’s tent on the line, listening to the late news, some standing, others playing cards.  This was the day everyone had waited for so long a time.  However, most of the day went by without the 405th participating in any mission.  Finally the order to get to the briefing room came through, and shortly after “Gremlin Joe”, “Geronimo”, “Ida No” and other planes of the squadron took off on a dive bombing mission and roared across the field to add their bit to the invasion battle raging across the channel.  Later that evening two ships returned riddled by gunfire and flak. Everyone got down safely.”

For some other previously published accounts of the 371st Fighter Group on D-Day and in the subsequent Normandy Campaign, please check out the following articles at the links below:

“The 371st Fighter Group in Operation Overlord: Remembering Normandy at 75,” published June 06, 2019, at:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1868126/the-371st-fighter-group-in-operation-overlord-remembering-normandy-at-75/

“First Blood in the Air” (8 June 1944), published June 10, 2014, at:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/864380/first-blood-in-the-air/

“D-Day, June 6, 1944, The Longest Day,” published June 06, 2014 (70th anniversary), at: https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/864382/d-day-june-6-1944-the-longest-day/

“The French Farm Girl of the Flying Field: Yvette Hamel and the 371st Fighter Group,” published August 28, 2013, at: https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/864399/the-french-farm-girl-of-the-flying-field-yvette-hamel-and-the-371st-fighter-gro/

“The 371st Fighter Group on D-Day, June 6, 1944,” published June 06, 2013, at:  The 371st Fighter Group on D-Day, June 6, 1944 > 142nd Wing > Display

 

References

D-Day:  June 6, 1944 information at:  https://www.army.mil/d-day/

405th Fighter Squadron monthly history for June, 1944

“Damn Yankee” serial number information found at:  http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1942_4.html

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371st Fighter Group – Memorial Day 2020

On this Monday, May 26, 2020 we remember those in uniform who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the people of the United States of America.  Not to be confused with Armed Forces Day (to honor those serving currently) or Veterans Day (to honor those who served), Memorial Day is a solemn occasion to remember those fallen in service to the nation.  “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

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Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where two P-47 pilots of the 371st Fighter Group (designated now as the 142nd Wing ) are buried.  (Wikipedia)

A presidential proclamation has been released as we honor our fallen, taking note that 2020 marks 75 years since the end of World War II and victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan that cost us more than 400,000 American service men and women to ensure: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-prayer-peace-memorial-day-2020/

It may be forgotten by some amidst long weekend barbecues and such, but there is ample reason because of our freedom to remember those who made it possible.  All one has to do is make an effort.  Some ways to remember on Memorial Day are:

  1. Remember a family member or friend who was lost in the service. Speak their name.  Share a memory about them.

 

  1. Look around you at your family, friends and community, and appreciate all of what they mean to you, that you are able to do that because someone else laid their life on the line to defend it.

 

  1. Visit a veteran’s cemetery and read the names, units and dates on the headstones. Find some for a unit you served in or a conflict you fought in.

 

  1. In the future, non-COVID-19 time, participate in a Memorial Day ceremony or event in your community, or create one of your own today.
  2. Pray for the fallen, their families and loved ones.

 

  1. Fly Old Glory in their honor.

 

  1. Take an active role as a citizen of the country and in your community, and express yourself to your elected representatives – perhaps too many of these are not working for the best interest of people and country but for partisan and self-interest. They are elected and even re-elected all too often.  Citizens shouldn’t be silent or indolent lest they lose what freedom and liberty we enjoy.  For freedom isn’t free, as we all should remember, on Memorial Day.

 

In the case of the 371st Fighter Group, 56 men were killed in combat and in non-combat operations during World War II and the immediate aftermath.   In combat operations the group lost 44 P-47 pilots in 13 months of combat in Northwestern Europe.  Three P-47 pilots were killed in non-combat flying accidents and two more in ground accidents.  Another seven men were non-combat losses, including a case of someone in the ground echelon who just went missing and was later declared dead.  All of their names sans one are listed at:  https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/the-group-remembers-on-memorial-day/

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Wreck of a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter crashed near Argentan, France, around August 15, 1944. (Asisbiz.com/il2/P-47D/Republic-P-47-Thunderbolt/pages)

And the one more name to add to the roll of honor, the group’s last casualty of World War II, is 1st Lt. Roger P. Trevitt of group HQ, lost on 9 July 1945:  https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/a-frisky-mystery-the-loss-of-1st-lt-roger-p-trevitt/

But there are more names to remember.  If one adds the dead of the 142d Wing’s 123rd Fighter Squadron in World War II, then designated as the 123rd Observation Squadron and the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, there are another 11 men to remember: https://35prs.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/memorial-day-2014-and-the-35th-photo-recon-squadron/

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Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, where three F-5 Photo Lightning pilots of the 35th Photo Recon Squadron (designated as the 123rd Fighter Squadron today) are remembered on the Tablets of the Missing (Wikipedia)

…with one more to update the list, a charter member of the 123d Observation Squadron who transferred out to become an A-20 Havoc pilot killed in action in Europe, at:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/864337/remembering-thad-c-williams/

And there are yet more names, in peacetime since World War II ended and the 371st became the 142nd and based in Portland, Oregon in the Oregon Air National Guard, there are 18 losses from 1948 to 2007, from the P-51 Mustang era to the F-15 Eagle.  These postwar casualties are remembered by name on a tablet in the 142nd Wing’s Memorial Park on Portland ANG Base:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/864383/the-oregon-air-national-guard-memorial-park/

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The Oregon ANG Memorial Park featuring 18 names of Oregon Airmen. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Another category of loss to remember would be of personnel who served in the unit and were later lost while in service with another unit.  Such is the case for former 371st Fighter Group P-47 pilot Francis T. Evans Jr. of the 95th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, lost in an F-86D flying accident 16 Jan 1953 when the engine of his aircraft failed; he stayed with it to ensure it missed a nearby elementary school and paid the ultimate sacrifice:  https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/a-post-war-hero-the-last-flight-of-captain-francis-t-evans-jr/

And a former 35th Photo Recon Squadron (123rd Fighter Squadron today) F-5E pilot who survived his combat tour in WWII, Edward B. Burdett Jr., went on to command the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing during the Vietnam War.  He was shot down on a combat mission over North Vietnam in his F-105D Thunderchief, captured and died the same day, 18 August 1967:  http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=127

Of note, there are five fallen members of the 371st Fighter Group still missing in action (MIA) in Europe from World War II, as well as three men from the 35th Photo Recon Squadron missing in Asia, for a grand total of eight unit members still MIA.  May the lost yet be found:  https://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1963948/remembering-on-national-powmia-day-2019/

So, with all these numbers added up there are 88 men of the 371st Fighter Group/142nd Wing to remember who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and liberty.  They are buried or remembered far and wide across the world, overseas and in the United States, in national cemeteries and private plots.  We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice for our land and people.  Let’s remember them on this Memorial Day.

Headstones at Lorraine American Cemetery - ABMC-Warrick Page

Headstones at Lorraine American Cemetery, France, where six P-47 pilots of the 371st Fighter Group are buried and one of the group’s enlisted men is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing.   (©ABMC-Warrick Page)

 

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Armed Forces Day 2020

Today is Armed Forces Day here in the United States, an annual observance which honors the men and women currently serving in the six branches of the armed services.

A presidential proclamation for the day has been issued, which you can view at:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-armed-forces-day-2020/

To the men and women of today’s 142d Wing, designated as the 371st Fighter Group during World War II, Portland ANG Base, Oregon, and all those serving in our armed forces, a hand salute!

night flying training this Monday through Thursday, 16-19 March

A 142d Fighter Wing F-15C Eagle ambles up the ramp at Portland ANG Base, Oregon during night training in March, 2020 (USAF Photo by 142FW/PA)

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