Saved by a Shagbat

On 2 July 1944, the 371st Fighter Group was off operations. Lousy weather, fit for fighting but not for flying, kept the group out of action. Taking advantage of the break in operations, 406th Fighter Squadron Commander Maj. Taylor decided to take four of the new pilots in the squadron on a cross-country flight from A-6 Airfield across the English Channel to England. It seemed just a routine hop as Maj. Taylor took off for Great Britain with Lts. Miller, Landrum, Flory and Pippes.

406th Fighter Squadron Commander and leader on both D-Day missions was Major Edwin D. Taylor.  He led the squadron from July, 1943, to September, 1944.  (Courtesy “The 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” via 406FS P-47 Pilot Francis E. Madore)

406th Fighter Squadron Commander, Major Edwin D. Taylor. He led the squadron from July, 1943, to September, 1944. (Courtesy “The 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” via 406FS P-47 Pilot Francis E. Madore)

But as life goes, what seemed normal did not turn out that way. Airborne over the Channel and halfway across, Lt. James N. Landrum in P-47D-20-RE serial number 42-76523 reported the oil pressure on his powerful Pratt& Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine beginning to drop away fast. Maj. Taylor told him to climb, and he reached about 1,500 feet before the engine cut out completely, just before Landrum bailed out. The flight contacted Air-Sea Rescue for help and shortly thereafter an RAF Supermarine Walrus seaplane headed out to fetch Lt. Landrum from the sea off the southwest tip of the Isle of Wight.

Supermarine Walrus airacft as used by the RAF in the Air-Sea Rescue role during World War II.  (Courtesy Wallpaperhere.com)

British Supermarine Walrus aircraft as used by the RAF in the Air-Sea Rescue role during World War II. (Courtesy Wallpaperhere.com)

The RAF’s No. 276 Squadron, an Air-Sea Rescue unit based in the southwest of England, may have been the unit which recovered Lt. Landrum from the sea. The Supermarine Walrus, nicknamed the “Shagbat” among other things, was designed by the same designer of the famous Supermarine Spitfire fighter, R.J. Mitchell. Although it was an ungainly looking aircraft compared to the sexy Spitfire, but it did its job very well, and was a mainstay in RAF ASR during World War II. Of note, British ASR squadrons also used the Spitfire fighter in a spotting role to look for downed aircrews at sea. No. 276 Squadron had the Spitfire Mk VB variant for this role at this time of the war.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB, serial BL591, code BA-U, of RAF No. 277 Sqn ASR, circa Mid 1944.  (Courtesy Axis and Allies Paintworks.com)

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB, serial BL591, code BA-U, of RAF No. 277 Sqn ASR, circa Mid 1944. (Courtesy Axis and Allies Paintworks.com)

For the unfortunate fliers, the weather was lousy in England too, but through dint of persistence, the flight was able to locate Christchurch Airfield, on the English coast in Dorset, some seven miles south of Frisky’s first home in the E.T.O. at Bisterne Airfield. The icing on the cake was yet to play out, however, and as the aircraft landed at Christchurch Airfield, Lt. Robert J. Miller in P-47D-11-RE serial number 42-75265 overran the end of the runway and then his aircraft overturned, being completely demolished in the process. Fortunately, the spine of the Razorback version of the Jug keep him from being crushed, and he came out of it unscathed.

View of a nosed-over P-47 Razorback from another unit, the 375FS of the 361FG, 8th Air Force.  The Razorback spine offered a chance of pilot survival from such a mishap.  (Courtesy  website)

View of a nosed-over P-47 Razorback from another unit, the 375FS of the 361FG, 8th Air Force. The Razorback spine offered a chance of pilot survival from such a mishap. (Courtesy Asisbiz.com)

Operational losses of aircraft and personnel were frequent during the war, and for all kinds of reasons. They added to the attrition affecting a combat unit. In the case of the 406FS, these losses gave valuable experience in airmanship and survival, if somewhat traumatically administered by circumstance, to a pair of young pilots flying and fighting for our country in a time of war. Fortunately, replacement P-47 aircraft could be made readily available – , and the 406FS continued combat operations without missing a step.

At The Liverpool docks, a huge 60-ton cranes gently lifts a 6-ton Republic P-47 Thunderbolt from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.  Note aircaft i foreground seemingly precariopusly perched atop a truck that will bring ti through Liverpool's streets and out of town to an airfield.  (Courtesy Warbird Information Exchange)

At The Liverpool docks, a huge 60-ton crane gently lifts a 6-ton Republic P-47 Thunderbolt from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Note aircaft i foreground seemingly precariopusly perched atop a truck that will bring ti through Liverpool’s streets and out of town to an airfield. (Courtesy Warbird Information Exchange)

References

371FG and 406FS histories for July, 1944

July 1944 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports, at: http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/AARmonthly/Jul1944O.htm

Joe Baugher’s USAF serial numbers, at: http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1942_4.html
RAF – 276 Squadron History, at: http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/276squadron.cfm and also at http://www.rafweb.org/Sqn276-280.htm

Galdorisi, George and Phillips, Thomas, “Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue”

Supermarine Walrus painting from Wallpaper Here website, at: http://www.wallpaperhere.com/Supermarine_Walrus_61960/download_1152x864

Spitfire painting from Axis and Allies Paintworks.com website, at:  http://www.axis-and-allies-paintworks.com/download.php?view.443

P-47 image from Warbird Information Exchange website, at: http://www.warbirdinformationexchange.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=51576

P-47 nose-over image from Asisbiz.com website, at: http://www.asisbiz.com/il2/P-47D/Republic-P-47-Thunderbolt.html

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