Frisky makes some “Big Friends”

Although Frisky was assigned to the Ninth Air Force, considered to be a tactical air force, he did have occasion to help the Mighty Eighth Air Force, the strategic air force based in England, a few times. The first time appears to have been on May 23, 1944, when the 371 FG was tasked to provide escort for B-17 Flying Fortresses of the First Bombardment Division as they flew a mission in preparation for D-Day.

The order, Field Order 283 came down from IX Fighter Command, when the 371st was tasked with ”…penetration support to the limit of endurance,” supporting the rear portion of the 1st Air Task Force. This task force of heavy bombers, some 580 strong, included eight Combat Wings of B-17s, with about 40 bombers each, were tasked to hit six different targets in France, including railroad transportation targets ranging as far as Metz, Epinal and Chaumont.

Group commander Lt Col Kleine led Frisky on this mission, and all three fighter squadrons participated. Fifty five P-47s were slated for the mission, including two that served as radio relay aircraft and five spares.

A dozen P-47 Thunderbolts pass by a B-17 of the 305th Bomb Group (Courtesy Together We Served)

A dozen P-47 Thunderbolts pass by a B-17 of the 305th Bomb Group (Courtesy Together We Served)

The fighters rendezvoused with the “Big Friends” as American fighters referred to the heavy bombers, over the English Channel near Dieppe at 0805 in the morning, and escorted about 11 combat boxes of B-17s with about 18 aircraft per box. Good bomber-fighter intercom was reported. Weather enroute was up to 8/10 cloud at about 8,000 feet. They covered a distance of about 150 miles, safely protecting the bombers at an altitude of 25,000 feet on their penetration into German-defended air space. There was no opposition except for some flak noted around Laon, described as “heavy, accurate, moderate intensity.” After some 31 minutes of escort, a P-51 Mustang group relieved Frisky of duty at about 0835 in the area of Verdun, France. Frisky then returned to base, landing from 0930 into the 1000 hour.

B-17G's of the 381st Bomb Group make their way in the skies over Europe (Courtesy USAF)

B-17G’s of the 381st Bomb Group make their way in the skies over Europe (Courtesy USAF)

The bombers successfully reached their target areas, but the weather grew worse and some were unable to bomb their primary targets or targets of opportunity. Still, some 34 bombers hit Metz, 36 hit Epinal and another 54 hit Chaumont. Others in smaller numbers hit targets of opportunity.

As things turned out, Frisky accomplished the mission, though there were some hiccups in generating the aircraft for the mission. Two P-47s had a late takeoff after a delay in fueling of the aircraft. There were also a couple of mechanical aborts due to leaking external fuel tanks, required for the long distance of the mission. But other than that, the mission was successfully accomplished, and it could be said that Frisky made some Big Friends that day in May, 1944.

A P-47 Thunderbolt guards a formation of B-17 Flying Fortresses in Europe during World War II (USAAF photo)

A P-47 Thunderbolt guards a formation of B-17 Flying Fortresses in Europe during World War II (USAAF photo)

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