Most history-savvy folks know about the Battle of the Bulge, but few are aware of the second major German offensive that winter, Hitler’s last offensive in the west, Operation Nordwind (“Northwind”), which took place to the south of the Bulge in the Alsace region of France from December 31, 1944 to late January 1945. It was designed to hit the Franco-American 6th Army Group (including US Seventh Army), in order break through Allied lines and cause heavy losses in troops and equipment. If successful, another major attack, Operation Zahnartz (“Dentist”) would be launched through the area against the rear of Patton’s Third Army in order to relieve pressure on beleaguered German forces contained in the Bulge which had run out of offensive power by the end of December.
For Frisky, dive-bombing in close cooperation with ground troops was the main mission flown in this period. The other missions were largely against railroads and rolling stock as well as fortified towns with troop concentrations, motor transport and tanks.
With both the actions to the north pressuring German forces in the Bulge, and the new fight going on near and north of Strasbourg, France, Frisky was very busy whenever the winter skies allowed. The unpredictable weather wrought havoc on operations. Clear skies allowed takeoffs but five minutes later in came the snow. It could stop just as quick as it started too, making efficient management of flying operations a frequently frustrating enterprise.
The slick surfaces on the ground proved a challenge to returning ships also. In one landing period three planes cracked up and two more went off the end of the runway. The 98th Service Group’s C-2 (a 7.5 ton, 6×6 wrecker) and the squadron’s Cletracs (Cleveland Tractor Co.-built high speed tractors) were constantly ready to rescue pilots from broken aircraft and pull panes out of snowbanks.
As snowfall covered the runway and taxiways at Tantonville, all office and line personnel were turned out to shovel snow and get flying operations underway. This expedient method worked, but soon other jobs were being neglected as personnel could not operate 24 hours a day clearing snow at night and performing their normal duties during the day. Soon the unit obtained a regular snow plow, whilst ingenious linesmen engineered a broom-sweep device to attach to BSTs to help clear the white stuff. To top off the creativity effort, an airplane was also used to blow off loose snow. Frisky kept up the flying effort in all weather conditions.
January 2saw armed recce ops by a dozen Jugs from the 404FS in the Saabrucken-Newstadt-Pirmasens, Germany, area. As the squadron demolished German rail cars and tracks they were bounced by 30-plus enemy fighters, ME-109s and FW-190s. The squadron claimed three enemy fighters but lost Capt Hohl. The 405FS also tangled with German fighters near Neustadt, Germany, while out on an armed recce mission. The squadron claimed three -109s but lost Lts. Holm and Martin. These aerial encounters may surprise some who will recall that on the previous day the Luftwaffe had executed Operation Bodenplatte (“Base Plate”), a large-scale assault on Allied airfields on the western front in an effort to help German forces in the Battle of the Bulge as well as aid the kickoff of Nordwind. Although the Luftwaffe suffered crippling losses on that day, the air battles the 371FG fought on January 2 showed that the enemy could still muster a deadly threat in the skies over Europe.
Tantonville also became a busier place because of the varying weather. On January 5 it was pandemonium as Flying Control and Frisky Communications personnel met extensive and demanding homing and landing needs of four different fighter groups, including a French unit, at the same time. Between sudden openings and closings of the field, aircraft from other units looking for a place to land, short on gas, some with wounded aboard, aircraft skidding off the runway, parking of transients (where?) – it was a bit chaotic but the men handled the challenge well. S/Sgt Fred Cadena (405FS), S/Sgt Howard B. Peterson (404FS) and Sgts Ralph Bailey and Elmer Price (Detachment V, Ninth Flying Control Squadron), were all awarded the Bronze Star for their outstanding work.
The mid-afternoon of January 5 also saw another major air clash, as a dozen Thunderbolts of the 405FS on armed reccce spotted and engaged dozens of enemy fighters (estimated up to 40) near Worms, Germany. The Commanding Officer of the 405th, Major John Leonard, got an FW-190 and shared credit for another before he was hit and apparently wounded in the swirling melee. An eyewitness on the ground reported he bailed out of his stricken P-47 before it crashed, but his parachute did not open and he was killed. His wingman F/O Robert Marks also went down though he survived to become a POW. The squadron claimed a total three German fighters in this nasty dogfight against a much larger German force.
And to think, all of these things took place in just the first days of January! Frisky really earned his keep that cold winter.