January, 1945 was a rough month for the 371st Fighter Group, weather-wise. Only 15 days permitted combat missions to be flown because of the snow and ice which constantly beset the group at Tantonville Airfield (Y-1).
“For several days all line and office personnel of the squadrons and Group Headquarters were awakened about midnight and called out with brooms to sweep the still falling snow so the runway would be clear and operational by takeoff time the next morning,” read the Group’s history for January, 1945.
Somewhere, somehow, things got messed up, and Frisky was not equipped with any snowplows to aid in combating the snowfall.
So Yankee ingenuity in improvisation again went into play. The men broke the snow loose with their simple implements, followed by P-47’s which then blew the snow off to the side.
Although this was used as an emergency method, the men could not sustain snow-clearing operations as well as perform their day jobs effectively.
Despite this, the snow still fell and finally a snowplow was acquired by Captain Glenn “Bull” Menter of Group Headquarters, whose job it was to keep the runway clear.
Called the “Snow Man,” his efforts with the snow plow and with help from the broom-sweeps improvised and attached to BST’s, and Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp aircraft engines kept the field clear enough to permit operations on days when the flying weather permitted.
But there was still danger due to the winter weather, and the men in Flying Control, Detachment V of Ninth Air Force, were challenged with “…sudden closings of the field, ships skidding off the runway, French pilots in addition to our own calling in for homings, aircraft from other closed-in fields converging on our open field all at once-some low on gas, some would wounded aboard, all anxious to get down before the weather changed- the problem of where to park the transient aircraft.”
On 5 January, towards the end of the day, Flying Control and Frisky Communications had their hands full, with all of the above conditions in effect involving aircraft from four different groups, including a French one. Things worked out with the hard work of many, and four men were awarded a Bronze Star medal for their efforts that day: S/Sgt Fred Cadena of the 405th Fighter Squadron, S/Sgt Howard B. Peterson of the 404th, and Sgt’s Ralph Bailey and Elmer Price from Flying Control.
But still, other things could happen. Snow could be plowed, but ice could still form and that was a big problem for aircraft landing.
“26 January – Two close support missions today and the weather was bad. Out of 32 ships that landed we had three crack up and one run off the runway. Too much ice and snow.
29 January – Good weather and a lot of flying today. 11 missions flown and 111 sorties. The 405th Squadron was airborne on their last show 39 minutes after landing from their third mission. Mighty fast re-arming and bombing-up. Had 5 landing accidents in our fast operations today.”
Nonetheless, Frisky managed to launch 950 sorties in the month, accrued 1,874 operational flying hours, dropped over 410 tons of bombs and fired 196,171 rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition. Ten pilots were lost, unfortunately, and many more aircraft lost or damaged.
For all this effort amidst the difficult weather, Frisky was credited with 11 enemy aircraft destroyed, with three probable and 12 more damaged. Ground targets struck were numerous, with destruction of 22 military transports, 8 armored fighting vehicles, 9 locomotives and 111 rail cars achieved, and many more than that damaged. The Thunderbolts cut roads 16 times, rail lines 36 times, and hit railroad marshaling yards 13 times.
And so it was, 70 years ago, during the difficult wintertime of the campaign in Northwest Europe. Despite adverse conditions, Frisky was still able to lay the hurt on the enemy, with only the weather to stop him.
371st Fighter Group Narrative History, January, 1945
“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO,” Army & Navy Publishers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946