The 371st Fighter Group and the “Lost Battalion”

After the group moved south in France in late September, 1944, Dole/Tavaux Airfield (Advanced Landing Ground Y-7) to help the Franco-American 6th Army Group on its approach through the Vosges Mountains to the German border, a unique battle developed into which the group’s 405th Fighter Squadron became involved.

In the last week of October, 1944, an American infantry battalion of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division was cut off from its regiment by German forces, and surrounded for a week.  After several days, the unit ran low on food, ammunition, medical supplies, even batteries for radios, and help became critical.

Other units, including the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team (442nd RCT), attacked to relieve the surrounded unit, but the Germans stubbornly resisted, and also launched repeated attacks of their own against the “Lost Battalion.”

With the situation increasingly desperate, and the flying weather lousy, the 371st Fighter Group and particularly the 405th Fighter Squadron, commanded by Major John Leonard, provided vital aerial resupply for the surrounded soldiers of the Lost Battalion.  Vital food rations, ammunition, medical supplies, batteries, even water were loaded into 150-gallon  drop tanks and flown by 405th pilots to a drop zone near the Lost Battalion.

The squadron flew a number of aerial resupply missions between October 27 and 29, often in terrible weather, successfully delivering enough supplies to help enable the Lost Battalion to hold out against the Germans until the 442nd RCT broke through to them on the afternoon of October 30. (The 442nd’s part in this battle was depicted in the 1951 movie “Go for Broke”)

However, the success of the aerial missions to help the Lost Battalion was not cost-free for the 405th.  1Lt Robert A. Booth crashed in the foul weather on October 27 and was killed, and Maj Leonard accidentally hit a treetop and lost part of a wingtip while flying low under the miserable weather.  On October 28 Maj Leonard was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, by a U.S. Army unit which mistook his low-flying, quickly approaching Thunderbolt for a German fighter!  He bailed out and survived.  1Lt Booth was thoughtfully remembered in a special memorial ceremony held last summer, described at: http://cyberambassadorsblog.wordpress.com/page/2/

So on this day after the epic 1944 battle ended, we remember and we render a hand salute to the men of the 405th Fighter Squadron for their outstanding work to help rescue the Lost Battalion of World War II!

For more on this incredible story, see Jürg Herzig’s superb article “The Battle of Bruyeres and the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in October 1944,” posted on his great website at:

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

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1 Response to The 371st Fighter Group and the “Lost Battalion”

  1. Michael HIggins says:

    The saga of the Lost Battalion is an inspiring one to be sure. Often overlooked are the travails and triumphs of the 405th Fighter Squadron. My father, 1st Lt Martin J. Higgins assumed command of the 275 men of the 1st Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Infantry Division: ABLE, BAKER, CHARLIE, and the weapons platoon of DOG Company. This unit was combat-hardened and a storied unit tracing its heritage back to Col Wm B. Travis, Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie at the epic engagement fought at the Alamo. Dad and his men had not eaten for five days. Ammo which had been issued for one day, was husbanded to last until re-supplied. He requested a supply drop from Battalion. The 405th got the call. Despite abysmal flight conditions, German AAA batteries, the loss of one pilot (2nd Lt Robert A. Booth) and two aircraft, the mission was successfully completed. The 1/141, despite losses, again became an “effective fighting force” It was my honor to meet the pilots and ground crew of Frisky at their final reunion in St Louis in 2008 – thank them on behalf of my father.

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