The First and the Last

The 371st Fighter Group flew its first mission from Y-1, Tantonville Airfield, on 23 December 1944. Preparation for moving from Dole (Y-7) had been underway for a while, but it was only on 23 December that Frisky’s first missions were flown from the new strip.

Unfortunately, on this day 2nd Lt. Bradley Clark of the 406th Fighter Squadron, older brother of famous entertainment personality Dick Clark, flew his last mission, as the Group’s War Diary for 23 December 1944 recounts:

“…Four Missions today from our new strip and our other planes were flown down from Y-7. Lt. Clark spun in in the traffic pattern upon return from a mission and was killed…”

The 406th Fighter Squadron’s War Diary for the same day has more details:

“The ground is frozen hard this morning. Mud has ceased to be a problem. Our only mission was a nine ship show, armed reconnaissance in the area of Homburg, Landau, Neustadt, and Kaiserslautern, led by Major Delaney. The squadron was airborne at 0930. Squadron leader had just been given the “Egg Basket” by controller when the ships were bounced by eight ME 109’s near Mannheim. Lt. Clark, reported as hit by enemy aircraft fire, was last seen in the Mannheim area. During the encounter Lt. Miller shot down one ME 109. The mission returned to base without Lt. Clark. At approximately 1135 Lt. Clark approached the airdrome but crashed bear Olmemont, being killed instantly. At 1500 USO Camp Shows gave a stage show in the club theatre, “Junior Miss”. There was a large amount of mail tonight.

Lt. Clark’s loss and subsequent memorialization is discussed in an earlier posting on this web log titled “Echoes of War,” at:

https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/echoes-of-war-remembering-2d-lt-bradley-b-clark/

Lt Clark flew with the 371st Fighter Group, in the 406th Fighter Squadron.

Lt Clark flew with the 371st Fighter Group, in the 406th Fighter Squadron.

As for the dogfight which led to Lt. Clark’s battle damage and subsequent loss, the Encounter Report for Lt. Miller, compiled by the Office of the Intelligence Officer on 25 December 1944, gives some idea of what it was like that day near Mannheim:

A. Type of Mission: Combat
B. Date: 23 December 1944
C. Unit: 406 Fighter Squadron
D. Time of Attack: 1045 hours
E. Geographical location: Southwest of Mannheim at R-4396
F. Weather: 10/10 – 7000′ visibility 3-5 miles
G. Type of E/A: Me-109s
H. Enemy Casualties: Pilot seen to bail out and parachute open.

I. On 23 December 1944, I was flying Red Three in Yearling Squadron. We were at 14000 feet above an overcast, on an Egg Basket Mission when Yellow Flight was bounced by 4 ME-109s. Red One and Two broke down and I and my wingman turned into the 109s. We passed them without firing, out of range. Then I saw 4 more 109s at about 19000 feet. I had lost my wingman when we broke and I climbed alone watching the 109s above. They climbed into the sun and I lost them when I was at about 18000 feet. I headed back to base and saw a lone 109 at about 15000 feet in a diving turn east. I dived after him and caught him still in his turn. I fired two short bursts, from about 300 yards and saw strikes. His left wheel fell and his engine began to smoke. I saw him jettison his canopy and bail out before I turned away. I saw his chute open at about 6000 feet. I turned home, joined Red One, and we came back to base together.

I claim one ME – 109 destroyed.

ROBERT J MILLER
2nd. Lt., A.C.

2nd Lt. Robert J. Miller, 406th Fighter Squadron, claimed an aerial victory over a Luftwaffe Me-109 in a dogfight near Mannheim, Germany on 22 December 1944.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

2nd Lt. Robert J. Miller, 406th Fighter Squadron, claimed an aerial victory over a Luftwaffe Me-109 in a dogfight near Mannheim, Germany on 22 December 1944. (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

Yearling’s Commander, Major Delaney, submitted a Confirmation of Claim on behalf of Lt. Miller, stating the following:

“On 23 December 1944 I was flying Red One, leading Yearling Squadron. We were attacked by 8 or more Me-109s. During the ensuing combat the squadron separated. After searching the area for enemy aircraft, I called the squadron together and told them to set course for home. I made a 360 degree turn in the area at 12000 feet and spotted two planes at approximately 16000 feet and five miles away. One of the planes was spinning down apparently out of control and trailing smoke. I turned toward the other plane and as we approached, recognized it as a P-47. I called him and told him to join me and we returned to base together. The plane which joined me was piloted by Lt. Miller. In my opinion the plane which I saw falling in his vicinity was definitely out of control and should be considered destroyed.

SANDERS E. DELANEY
Major, A.C.

Lt. Col. Delaney commanded the 406th Fighter Squadron from October, 1944 to June, 1945.

Lt. Col. Delaney commanded the 406th Fighter Squadron from October, 1944 to June, 1945.

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