Merry Christmas, 1944

With the epic Battle of the Bulge raging to the north of the sector the 371s t was assigned to, primarily supporting the Army Group of US Seventh Army and, Frisky still played a part in interdicting the movement of troops and supplies. In the broader picture of the battlespace, Allied Airpower played a key role in the places beyond the immediate combat actions around Bastogne, St. Vith, Elseborn Ridge and other locations immediately in the Bulge area.

After an initial period of miserable weather covering the Nazi offensive in the Ardennes, good weather came, as if a Christmas blessing, and Allied airpower took to the skies for a maximum effort against Nazi forces.  For more on the role of airpower in the Battle of the Bulge, see the article, Remembering at Perle: The Air Force in the Battle over the Bulge.”

Remembering at Perle

Frisky’s War Diary for Christmas Day, 1944, shows how the group made the most of the day, and reads as follows:

“CHRISTMAS!! We celebrated today by flying more missions than any day recently – seven dive-bomb shows and one escort. We had a busy day and were happy to have the good weather. Everyone enjoyed a real Christmas turkey dinner. One 404th ship lost engine on take off and bellied in at the end of the runway – pilot safe.”

The summary of 371FG accomplishments for 25 December was as follows:

8 Missions
7 Armed Recce – 78 Sorties
1 Escort – 23 Sorties
101 Total

Destroyed
1 loco
1 bridge
2 oil storage tanks
1 building
1 road block

Damaged
52 box cars
5 locos
4 buildings

LOSSES
2 P-47 Cat “A” (Flak).

The summary however, probably does not convey the disruptive impact of dozens of armed reconnaissance sorties fanning out across the Third Reich. Take one of the seven armed recce missions that flew that day, Mission No. 13, a dozen P-47’s of the 405th Fighter Squadron, led by Major Robertson. Their time up was at 0845, with a time over target from 0915 to 1030, and time down at 1110.

TYPE MISSION: Armed Recce in Area IV

ROUTE: Colmar, Molheim, Offenburg, Base

FLAK:
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at W-3265.
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at V-7142.
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at V-7560.
Moderate at W-3265.
Moderate, accurate, heavy at V-8535.
Moderate, inaccurate, heavy at W-0934

OBSERVATIONS:
In all M/Y from Mulheim (V-9212) to Offenburg (W-1587) there were 20 to 25 freight cars and flat cars. Approximately 150 box cars in M/Y at Gengenbach (W-2179). Fire and large explosions at W-238670, at 1030 hours, alt. 4,000’. 100 box cars at Offenburg (W-155858). All M/Y’s in the vicinity of Haslach (W-2565) contained 50 box cars each.

CLAIMS:
“Kosher C” assigned roadbridge at V-776540. 24 x 500 dropped. No hits observed. Damaged 15 box cars at W-050660. Damaged 1 loco and 5 box cars headed south at 1000 from M/Y at Offenburg. Damaged 25 box cars at W-025590. Damaged 1 loco (part of train with 25 box cars headed NW) and destroyed 1 oil storage tank at W-2179. Destroyed 1 loco facing east not moving (part of train with ten box cars) at W-120315. Damaged 1 loco (part of 20 box car train headed west at 1005) at W-3265. Damaged 1 loco in M/Y at W-3265 not moving facing west. Straffed (sic) 70 box cars and flat cars in M/Y at W-022562 damaging 7 box cars.
LOSSES: 2 P-47, Cat A, Flak.

ENEMY A/C: Nil.

WEATHER: Ceiling unlimited, visibility 5 miles.

Looking at the results of this one mission, one can see the squadron hit a number of targets on its mission, including a bridge, seven trains, and an oil storage tank at seven different given coordinate locations. The German transportation network was under heavy assault at this point in the war, critical to starving the flow of reinforcements, replacements and supplies to the Bulge and other frontline sectors.

Consider the cumulative effect of these numbers of missions. Any locomotive destroyed or damaged could lead to a stalled train subjected to further attack later in the day. Measuring the disruption and paralysis in the transportation network created by repeated attacks at many points is not indicated in this summary; indeed, who can expect that Frisky could perceive the impact of all these missions and all these sorties.

German rolling stock was often caught in marshalling yards (M/Y's) or on the move, especially after the locomotive was disabled.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

German rolling stock was often caught in marshalling yards (M/Y’s) or on the move, especially after the locomotive was disabled. (The Story of the 371st Fighter group in the E.T.O.)

Not does this daily summary convey the impact of the escort mission. Mission No. 18 from Y-1 was composed of 12 P-47’s from the 404th Fighter Squadron, Lt. Penne in lead, and another 11 P-47’s of the 406th under Lt. Col. Bacon. Time up was 1445, and the fighters rendezvoused with 36 B-26 Marauder medium bombers at Verdun at 1530 at 10,000 feet. Time over target was 1545, no results observed, possibly due to the haze noted at 3,000 feet, though air visibility was unlimited. Nil flak and enemy aircraft observed. The fighters escorted the bombers to the target and returned without incident, down at 1657.

Although from another combat theater, this image of a B-26 Marauder of the USAAF’s 320th Bomb Group and an escorting P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter on a mission over Northern Italy, as viewed by another B-26 from the same unit, gives an idea of what a B-26 Marauder medium bomber was like compared to a P-47.  (Courtesy, Franz Reisdorf, 320th BG Association via Victor Sierra on WWII in Color website.)

Although from another combat theater, this image of a B-26 Marauder of the USAAF’s 320th Bomb Group and an escorting P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter on a mission over Northern Italy, as viewed by another B-26 from the same unit, gives an idea of what a B-26 Marauder medium bomber was like compared to a P-47. (Courtesy, Franz Reisdorf, 320th BG Association via Victor Sierra on WWII in Color website.)

But those bombs carried by the B-26’s landed somewhere, likely some target of importance, yet this of course is not credited to the 371st, though the group’s role in escort was important. Just two days before, an unescorted formation of 391st BG (M) B-26’s was savaged by 60 Luftwaffe fighters over Ahrweiler, Germany; 16 of 32 B-26’s were lost along with 99 aircrew.

In any event. Frisky’s efforts that day were multiplied by dozens with all the other Allied air units in action on that day, giving no respite to the foe. It was then a well-earned Christmas dinner for the personnel of the 371st Fighter Group when the day was done.

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