Frisky’s New Year’s Blues

Now all together at the new field, quite literally, a field, at Tantonville (Y-1), Frisky was feeling the blues as the New Year approached. A variety of factors induced this condition among members of the 371st Fighter Group as morale seemed to hit an all-time low in the last week of 1944.

There was the “gnawing worry” over what the enemy was going to do next, with real or imagined counterattacks against Allied forces in the wake of the Ardennes offensive and resultant Battle of the Bulge.

Due to the desperate battle situation, Frisky was ordered to operate in marginal weather conditions: “Take off if you can see from one end of the runway to the other.”

And returning to base was no guarantee of safety in the weather either. On the 27th alone three ships cracked up at the field, with two running off the end of the runway due to ice on the pierced steel plank (PSP) metal surface while a 404th ship came in on a dead-stick landing and also overshot the runway.

This flying in rotten weather was a demanding proposition in itself, perhaps made more so by the deferred aircraft inspections and maintenance, which resulted from the length of the transition from Dole to Tantonville, and the skeleton crew left at Dole (Y-7) to keep the aircraft flying missions. Now it was a challenge to provide enough flyable ships for missions when the pressure was on to fly in the difficult weather conditions.

Personnel of the 371st Fighter Group turn to the manual method to help keep the airfield clear of snow at Tantonville (Y-1) during the cold winter.   Given the urgency of the battle situation during the Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, even with limited or no snow clearing equipment the men had to do their best to keep the field operational and the aircraft flying.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Personnel of the 371st Fighter Group turn to the manual method to help keep the airfield clear of snow at Tantonville (Y-1) during the cold winter. Given the urgency of the battle situation during the Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, even with limited or no snow clearing equipment the men had to do their best to keep the field operational and the aircraft flying. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO)

Then there was the cold, for which there was no escape in the ”comme ci, comme ca” living conditions most of the men lived in. “It penetrated layers of clothing and chilled to the bone. It paralyzed hands trying to work ungloved with steel tools and metal guns. At night, icy fingers of wind would creep under ones blankets and prod one awake,” as described in “The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.”

With the move and getting regular lines of supply re-established, Frisky had little choice but to have his fill of “C” rations and even captured German canned beef, “…until it came out our ears.”

The enemy added to the “ambiance” of Tantonville’s holiday blues, with “Red Alerts,” two or three a night which interrupted sleep. And the 0430 reveille found Frisky “…drooping and shivering with fatigue.”

As if all of the above were not enough, only a little bit of mail reached the unit, and the Christmas packages many looked forward to receiving so far from home did not appear. All in all, “Our spirits were “on (the) deck.”

All considered though, the 371st Fighter Group was still a combat effective outfit, as evidenced by some of the group’s results for December, 1944:

288 rail cars destroyed, with 592 damaged
17 locomotives destroyed, with 145 more damaged
31 factories and buildings destroyed, with 50 damaged
20 military transports destroyed and 89 damaged
3 enemy aircraft destroyed and 7 damaged.

Of the 92 missions flown in December 1944 28 were dive-bomb, 8 were escort and 56 were armed recce. These missions generated a total of 1,158 sorties and 2,771 hours of flight. A total of 1,215 aircraft were dispatched, though there were 160 aborts from that number (42 mechanical, 118 other).

Frisky dropped 473.4 tons of bombs and expended 322,084 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition during the month.

Three pilots were lost during the month on combat missions: 2nd Lt. Charles E. Hess of the 405th Fighter Squadron on 22 December (MIA); 2nd Lt. Bradley B. Clark, 406th Fighter Squadron on 23 December (KIA); and 2nd Lt. George R. Simmons, 405th Fighter Squadron on 26 December (POW).

It was in the last week of the month that the group’s most outstanding mission of the month occurred. It was flown under the leadership of the 405th Fighter Squadron commander, Major John W. Leonard, on 28 December 1944. The group history for December, 1944, relates: “With 12 P-47s on close support the squadron dropped 23X500 lb bombs on a factory building assigned by “Kosher Charlie”, a ground controller, and then went on an armed recce for rolling stock. At eleven different locations targets were found and the 1 remaining 500 lb. bomb, 11×100 lb. bombs, and 14,713 rounds of 50 cal. Ammunition used on them. Claims resulting from this 12 ship “show” were: 3 locomotives destroyed and 24 damaged, 2 box cars destroyed and 31 damaged, 2 buildings and 1 M/Y damaged. One of our A/c was damaged, “Cat 2”, by flak.”

And it never let up. As the 371FG War Diary recorded for 31 December 1944: “Despite a sky that was overcast from 6/10 to 10/10, we flew five missions against rail movements and damaged a number of trains. Three planes received flak damage. Tomorrow is a New Year and everyone is determined to go all out to end the European war before the end of the year!!!!!”

So even though Frisky was “singing the blues” as 1944 wrapped up, he still accomplished his assigned missions and was more intent than ever to finish the job begun in the E.T.O.

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