THE FORTH FIGHTER GROUP IS ORGANIZED
August 22, 1942 - The 4th Fighter Group is constituted by the U.S. Army Air Force. It encompasses the three RAF Eagle Squadrons made of American pilots. No. 71 Eagle Squadron becomes the 334th Fighter Squadron, No. 121 Eagle Squadron becomes the 335th Fighter Squadron and No. 133 Eagle Squadron becomes the 336th Fighter Squadron. Operational command will remain with the British until the end of the year and Wing Commander Raymond Miles B. Duke-Woolley would serve as Group (Wing) Commanding Officer.
CASUALTY NUMBER 1
September 21, 1942 - The 4th has its first casualty. While flying a shipping reconaissance mission from Flushing to Haamstede, Netherlands, John T. Slater was killed while crossing Overflakkee.
FIRST 4TH FG VICTORY
September 26, 1942 - On the mission to Morlaix, Captain Marion Jackson (one of those taken as a POW) scored the 4th Fighter Group's first kill; he shot down a FW-190 in the air over Brest, France.
FIRST MULTIPLE KILL MISSION
October 2, 1942 - Several FW-190s were engaged over Calais on a diversionary fighter sweep. Four of the FW-190s were destroyed with the loss of no Spitfires. Since WC Duke-Woolley shared a kill with James Clark, the group was credited with 3-1/2 kills.
ENTER THE "JUG"
January 17, 1943 - The Fourth begins training on the P-47 Thunderbolt.
HURRAY FOR "C" RATIONS?
February 1, 1943 - A sigh of relief from the men of the Fourth. The Officer's Mess changed from British to American rations-farewell to sprouts, cabbage, kipper and imitation sausage. The enlisted men would follow on February 15.
VISIT FROM A MOSSIE
February 18, 1943 - A lost RAF Mosquito with no radio and one engine feathered attempted to land at Debden. As it was about to touch down, the pilot gunned his left engine and swerved off the runway, crashing into the 334th's dispersal hut after going through two P-47s. The two crew members were OK. The four 500 pound bombs that were aboard were not found until the next day in the totally disintegrated Mosquito. P-47 41-6002 was repairable but 41-6247 went to the salvage heap.
February 20, 1943 - Even though the P-47 had not entered combat, it had been mistaken for an FW-190. The Fourth was ordered to paint a white cowl band on the front of the nose and white stripes on the tail surfaces in addition to placing national insignia on both bottom wings and encircling the fuselage roundel in yellow.
THE LUFTWAFFE IS WELCOMED TO DEBDEN
February 24, 1943 - The RAF brought a captured He-111 and Bf-110 to Debden as a part of their Flying Circus. The P-47s and Spits went up to fly against them and rides were given in them from Debden to one of their satellite fields five miles to the northeast, Castle Camps.
February 27, 1943 - After flying a mission against ports and shipping, Lee Gover's P-47, 41-6256, threw its engine oil and caught fire. Putting the P-47 into a dive, he put out the fire, landing at Debden after considering bailing out three times. During the period the P-47 was not trusted for dead-stick landings.
FIRST JUG MISSION
March 10, 1943 - Lieutenant Colonel Peterson led 14 334th P-47s on the first combat mission for the Thunderbolt. It was a fighter sweep that was uneventful other than the engine electrical system caused the radios to go berserk. Drinks that night were on Pratt and Whitney (the engine manufacturers) and Republic (the aircraft manufacturer).
FAREWELL TO SPIT
March 16, 1943 - The Fourth's Spitfires were officially taken off operations and stored at 336 dispersal although most of them continued to fly as 336 aircraft until April 1.
NEW CALL LETTERS
New call letters were put on the airplanes to replace the two-digit serial number codes. QP was used by the 334th, WD by the 335th and VF by the 336th.
LAST FLIGHT OF THE SPIT
April 10, 1943 - Two 335th pilots flew the Group's last Spitfire mission, a convoy patrol. One last remaining Spitfire Vb was kept as a momento of the Group's early days.
FIRST P-47 VICTORY
April 15, 1943 - The P-47 finally gets a kill as Lt. Col. Peterson led a fighter sweep from Furnes, Belgium to Cassel, France. The group encountered some FW-190s and dispatched 5 of them. Don Blakeslee got 2, one after staying with it down to 500 feet, Peterson 1, Lt. Robert Boock of the 335th got 1 and Lee Gover of the 336th got the other. Captain Stanley Anderson of the 334th was killed in the engagement and Lt. Col. Peterson developed engine trouble over the Channel and was forced to bail out 30 miles from the English coast. He was picked up by air-sea rescue 45 minutes later. In talking with visiting Generals and Colonels the next day who were anxious to know about the P-47's first combat, and after being congratulated at catching his quarry in a dive, Blakeslee offered those immortal words to describe the P-47:"it ought to dive-it certainly won't climb".
MOCK DOGFIGHT NOTHING!
April 27, 1943 - During a mock dogfight over Castle Camps, Archie Chatterly sliced off the tail of James Wilkinson's P-47. Chatterly dead-sticked in near New Market. Wilkinson managed to bail out with injuries to his back that kept him in the hospital for months.
May 3, 1943 - The Union Jack was lowered and the Stars and Stripes run up as Debden was officially handed over to the AAF. Steve Pisanos became a U.S. citizen. The next day a sign over the bar read,"Free Beer on Steve Pisanos - American."
THE ABBEVILLE BOYS
May 14, 1943 - The Group encountered numerous, yellow nosed, FW-190s near Hulst. The 334th remained high cover while the 335th and 336th engaged. In a battle that lasted for 18 minutes and ran all the way back to the coast, the Group claimed 2-FW190s with no losses.
BEESON'S FIRST KILL
May 18, 1943 - 12 Bf-109s come in astern of the Group and they turned into them. Two of the 109s were downed. One was the first for Duane Beeson. Robert Boock was shot down into the North Sea and killed.
EYE FOR AN EYE
May 21, 1943 - Several groups of enemy aircraft were sighted going west just inland of Bruges. The 335th stayed high as top cover while the 334th bounced and the 336th blocked the enemy from running back to France. In the huge dogfight that ensued, Brewster Morgan shot down a 109 then promptly was shot down in a new P-47D, ditched in the sea, was wounded in the face and foot and was made a POW. Leland MacFarlane and Gordon Whitlow were killed in the action.
PLEASE SIR, I WANT SOME MORE
June 6, 1943 - The pilots wanted more high explosive ammunition after seeing what it could do to an aircraft, thinking it would give them more kills and less damaged claims.
DEACON TAKES A BATH
June 15, 1943 - Howard "Deacon" Hively was forced to bail out of QP-J due to battle damage and went into the Channel. He as picked up an hour later, cold but otherwise fine.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
July 2, 1943 - Bob Hope, Francis Langford, Tony Romano, and Jack Pepper gave a USO show on the parade ground at Debden.
THAT'S THE RED AND WHITE OF IT
July 12, 1943 - Red-bordered white rectangles were ordered added to all national markings painted on the Group's Thunderbolts. They were on by the 19th.
July 16, 1943 - New 200 gallon unpressurized belly tanks arrived to be installed in the Group's P-47s. This supplemented the 305 gallon internal tanks to help add mission length as the Pratt and Whitney R-2800 gulped 100 gallons per hour. Also, General Hunter showed up over the base in a P-51 for a few mock dogfights.
ESCAPE AND EVADE
July 20, 1943 - In a practice escape exercise, 21 pilots were dumped six miles away from the field. Only seven made it back without being captured. They managed to capture a machine gun post, several rifles and a staff car. The rest got caught due to their impatience.
ON TO GERMANY!
July 28, 1943 - For the first time the 4th had a mission that took them into Germany. Even though the 200 gallon tanks were only filled half way due to technical problems, the Germans were caught by surprise when the Thunderbolts appeared. As the Group arrived over Emmerich to rendezvous with the bomb group, the sky was empty. Passing Leerdam, they spotted a different group of B-17s being attacked. The 335th passed over and in front of the bombers while the 336th went to port and the 334th to starboard to engage the 45 - 60 Germans. The dogfight lasted for 25 minutes and went from Germany into the Netherlands. The Group downed 3 Me 109s and 6 FW-190s with the loss of only 1 plane; Henry Ayers bailed out and became a POW.
WELCOME CAPTAIN EDDIE
July 29, 1943 - General Hunter accompanied Eddie Rickenbacker to the base where he gave a popular speech on the various war fronts.
OUT OF EVERYWHERE
July 30, 1943 - The Group was assigned an escort withdrawal mission to Emmerich, Germany. Two groups of bombers were spotted to the north as the Group passed Groesbeck. The 335th, under Roy Evans, was dispatched to cover them. Out of everywhere 150 to 200 enemy aricraft attacked as the squadron pulled in. Those from the 335th who were credited with a kill were Donald Young, Pierce McKennon, Frank Boyles, Aubrey Stanhope and Kenneth Smith. Each got 1 FW-190. The 335th lost 1 pilot, Frederick Merritt who was killed when either he was hit by fire from a B-17 or followed a FW-190 into the ground, which his leader, Don Young, had just shot down.
THE BIGGEST DAY SO FAR
August 16, 1943 - The Group had a close escort mission to Paris. They rendezvoused with the B-17s, flying at 28,000 feet, and orbited to port, coming in behind the bombers which were being attacked head-on. Lt. Col. Blakeslee took the Group up and over the the bombers and the 334th made the bounce. All the sections soon entered the fray. The battle lasted to and from the target for 40 minutes. Out of the fight 18 enemy planes were destroyed to the loss of one, Joe Matthews of the 336th, who was not seen to go down but evaded his captures and returned to England late in the year; with a confirmation of the FW-190 he had shot down.
August 20, 1943 - Lt. Colonel Chesley Peterson replaced Colonel Anderson a Group CO. Anderson went to the 67th Fighter Wing to become a Brigidier General.
HAVE A HAP, HAP, HAPPY DAY
September 4, 1943 - All the pilots were taken by transport to Duxford to hear the Chief of the AAF, General Hap Arnold, speak.
September 30, 1943 - The month came to an end with only 2 victories (1 each by Roy Evans and Willard Millikan) and 1 loss (Dale Leaf was shot down and killed). The Group was falling behind the 56th FG and were unhappy about the results, feeling that they had done a better job of escorting the bombers. The weather in August and September had been another factor that had kept the Group away from the Jerries. All in all, the 4th was a very unhappy bunch.
October 8, 1943 - On a bomber escort mission, the 334th, at the rear of the bombers, saw 30+ enemy aircraft above and upsun. The squadron orbited to gain altitude but was continually bounced by sections of four to eight enemy fighters. This broke up the squadron and drew it away from the bombers. However, no enemy aircraft attacked the bombers. In the fight, Ralph Hofer chased a 109 400 feet above the Zuider Zee, trying to get it off of another P-47. The '47 went in but Hofer got the 109. Duane Beeson got two 109s, bringing his score to six and Roy Evans got a 190, bringing his score to five. They thus shared the distinction of becoming the Group's first aces. In the fight, Clyde Smith of the 334th and Robert Patterson of the 335th were shot down and taken prisoner. Patterson managed to keep ahead of the Germans for two months before being captured.
October 14, 1943 - The 4th was recalled from a bomber escort mission to supply withdrawal support because of fog. The bombers were coming back from Schweinfurt and lost 60 of their own that day.
October 22, 1943 - At age 23, Chesley Peterson was promoted to full colonel making him the youngest bird colonel in the U.S. Army.
STICK TO THE MISSION BOYS
November 5, 1943 - On a bomber escort mission to Dortmund Germany, the Group broke up with the 335th covering the lead box of bombers, the 336th the second and the 334th the third. Twelve FW-190s attacked head-on, line abreast. The 335th diverted them and eight more came in head-on into the lead box before Roy Evans could turn the Group into them. When the relief escort failed to show, the Group stayed with the bombers up to the P-47s maximum endurance limit. Fonzo "Snuffy" Smith got a FW-190 to no losses.
IMAGE FROM A SPITFIRE
November 15, 1943 - 600 Spitfire mirrors arrived at VIII Fighter Command to equip all 8th Air Force fighters. The 4th had found the mirrors mounted on its P-47s sadly lacking and hoped the new mirrors would remedy the problem.
P-47s, 6 O'CLOCK!
November 26, 1943 - Lt. Col. Blakeslee lead a bomber escort withdrawal support to Edenwalt-Bremen, Germany. The B-17 boxes were well formed but the B-24s in the group were strung out as much as a mile between aircraft. This made covering them difficult. A lone 109 attacking a B-24 was destroyed. East of Pappenburg, three 109s started to attack the rear of the lead box. Blakeslee diverted the Germans which then lined up on the second box. The 336th covered and the 109s veered away. The Group withdrew after another P-47 group came in. Seven 109s came in to attack, 500 feet above the 334th, which was the lead squad, but the Germans dived away as Blakeslee turned to engage. During this time, a P-47 from the 56th FG, coded LM-F, attacked one the the 4th's P-47s without doing any damage. The Group scored 1 destroyed to no losses. The 56th shot down 26 enemy aircraft this day and established itself as the unquestioned leaders in the ETO.
JOHN GODFREY'S FIRST KILL
December 1, 1943 - John Godfrey got his first kill, a Me-109, in a fairly uneventful bomber escort mission to Solingen, Germany.
BLAKESLEE'S FIRST RIDE ON A PONY
December 1, 1943 - Don Blakeslee went to Boxsted to lead the 354th Fighter Group on its first mission, a fighter sweep of Holland and the French coast. The 354th was the first group to get the P-51 Mustang. Blakeslee lead the group on six missions coming back with a Me-110 kill and unbounded enthusiasm for the P-51.
December 13, 1943 - After an uneventful bomber escort mission to Bremen, Germany, the Group practiced dive bombing with the P-47 to prepare for the future when it would be ordered. There was a general lack of enthusiasm for the proposed bombing missions.
December 16, 1943 - The Group experimented with new tactics while on withdrawal support for a bomber group. The new tactic was to spread the squadrons over a 30 mile front with each squadron being 2,000 feet apart. Also, a fifth section (purple) was added to each squadron bringing their total to 20 fighters each. The three new sections flew 500 feet above each of their respective squadrons to report and attack approaching enemy aircraft. This kept the remainder of the squads from being broken up on the way to the target. The Group saw the bombers as they approached the rendezvous point but lost them in a cloud layer near the RV point. Fifteen minutes later the escort was broken with Don Gentile, Louis Norley and Vermont Garrison teaming up to down a Ju-88 on the way out.
THINGS ARE A LITTLE HAZY
December 20, 1943 - On a bomber escort mission, Ralph Hofer turned back at the enemy coast because of engine trouble only to be bounced by 109s from 30,000 feet. They chased him to mid-Channel where he was able to lose them in the haze.
ALL THE THUNDERBOLTS WE CAN HANDLE
December 28, 1943 - The 4th was finally up to its full strength of 75 Thunderbolts. The 56th FG was operating with 108 and the 78th had been at that strength since November 5th. On December 26th, the 56th had also received 21 of the new paddle-bladed props which vastly improved the P-47's performance.
These factors had much to do with the 56th's lead in the scoring race. The situation left the fourth that much more discouraged and disgruntled. Among those most disappointed was Don Blakeslee. He felt convinced that he could make the 4th the highest scoring unit in the AAF if given command. When Chesley Peterson came back from VIII AF Fighter Command in August to take command of the Group there was strong sentiment that the honor should have gone to Blakeslee even though Peterson was well liked.
December 31, 1943 - Things were changing but everyone was impatient to get on with it. December had netted only 5 kills and the 100 destroyed mark had yet to be reached in over a year of operation.
January 1, 1944 - Lieutenant Colonel Donald J.M. Blakeslee took command of the Group after Chesley Peterson left to serve as Combat Operations Officer with the 9th Air Force Headquarters.
January 7, 1944 - Lt. Col. Blakeslee led a withdrawal support from Ludwigshafen, Germany. The Group rendezvoused with the bombers over Lens at 23,000 feet. Near Hesdin, France, twelve FW-190s attacked from up-sun some straggling B-17s in the lowest box. Blakeslee lead the bounce engaging the FW-190s in combat from 24,000 to 3,000 feet. He ended up with three Focke-Wulfs on his tail and pumping his Thunderbolt full of holes. He was rescued by James Goodson and Robert Wehrman who got two of the FWs. After a forced landing at Manston, 71 holes were counted in Blakeslee's WD-C.
HELP, HELP, I'M BEING CLOBBERED
January 14, 1944 - On a free lance mission to Magny-Soissons, France, the group encountered 15 FW-190s east of the formation, 3,000 feet below. The 336th made the bounce, engaging the enemy from 18,000 feet down to the deck. Don Gentile made a head-on run with two of them. They broke, which allowed Gentile to chase and shoot them both down, making him an ace. With two 190s still on his tail, he heard numerous strikes all over his aircraft. He turned into them and ran out of ammunition. One of the Focke Wulfs stuck right with him, obviously flown by an old pro. Fifty feet over the forest of Compiegne Gentile radioed "Help! Help! I'm being clobbered!" Other 4th pilots radioed back but he was too rattled to answer. All he could do was keep turning into the other aircraft. After 15 minutes of reversing turns and head-on attacks, the German ran out of ammunition and both fighters turned for home. Gentile remembered the encounter as his most critical, since he felt he could honestly beat anyone from that point on, having met and survived the best.
January 19, 1944 - Colonel Hubert "Hub" Zemke of the 56th Fighter Group stopped off at Debden to give a talk after returning from the U.S.. Respect for him by the 4th rivaled that given to Don Blakeslee.
January 26, 1944 - The first U.S. trained pilots arrived at Debden. They would fly operations three days later. Would there be changes? Not according to Blakeslee who proved it when later in the day he gave Robert Hills, a veteran Fourthman, a week's duty on the control car as punishment for damaging the tail of his airplane on a trailer-water tank while parking in the bay after dive-bombing practice.
KILL NUMBER 100
January 29, 1944 - On a penetration support mission, the Group encountered 16 plus Me-109s. As the Group engaged, four FW-190s joined the fray. Before it was over, the Group had destroyed six 109s and two 190s, bringing their total to 107 destroyed.
FIRST "JABO" MISSION
January 31, 1944 - Raymond Care lead the Group's first dive-bombing mission to the Gilze-Rijen Airdrome, Netherlands. Half the Thunderbolts flew as bombers and the rest were top cover. Commencing a 70 degree dive from 20,000 feet, each pilot released at 8-9,000 feet, pulling out at 5-6,000 feet. Seventeen 500 pound all-purpose bombs were dropped with numerous hits on the fuel dump and three hits on the west end of the runway. Meanwhile, the fighters had been bounced by 15-20 Me-109s as they were inbound to the target. Six more 109s joined the fight by the time the target was reached. All three squadrons were involved and each downed two enemy planes while doing their job of keeping them away from the bombers. Totals: 6 destroyed, 0 lost.
KILL NUMBER 50 FOR THE 334TH
February 10, 1944 - The Group was on a Penetration Support mission to Nienburg, Germany. The P-47s became separated in mid-Channel due to high clouds but contact was made with the bombers. The Germans made a determined effort to stop the bombers and engaged the formation from Holland to Hannover, from 28,000 feet to the deck. Twenty-five to thirty Me-109s and FW-190s hit the bombers head-on. H.T. Biel and a 78th FG P-47 formed up to chase several enemy aircraft. Vic France joined his Pectin (334th) Red Section to Shirtblue (336th) Squadron. Gerald Montgomery spun out after bouncing five 109s east of Zwolle and finally joined four 78th FG Thunderbolts to come home. The total for the day was 8 destroyed for 0 lost.
After landing at Debden, the 334th pilots gathered for a ceremony to pay £30 to the pilot who got the 50th kill for the Squadron. All 30 pilots contributed £1 for the winner. Since France, Montgomery and Biel each claimed one, the prize was split three ways.
February 14, 1944 - The first three P-51B Mustangs arrived that were assigned to the Group; one for each squadron. They put them on the grass for all to see and they generated a lot of excitement from the pilots. Colonel Blakeslee made it clear that he expected the pilots to check out in them between missions. If they couldn't hack it, maybe another group would suit them.
February 19, 1944 - The Luftwaffe paid a visit to Debden in the form of 30-40 aircraft dropping 1,100 two-pound incendiary bombs and 8 high-explosive bombs. Fortunately, they landed in the woods a half mile south of the field.
THE BIG WEEK
February 20-25, 1944 - The 4th was up in support of the 8th Air Force's maximum effort. Totals for the week: Destroyed 16, Lost 2.
FIRST P-51 MISSION
February 26, 1944 - Weather scrubbed the 4th's Mustang debut. Mike Sobanski was up in a new P-51 QP-F, for a weather reconnaisance. Coming back in, he put his wheels down and entered the landing pattern. Thinking his wheels were still up, he flipped the undercarriage lever up, lowered flaps and belly landed the machine. Blakeslee, who went ballistic when anyone "pranged" an airplane, was doubly angry over the damage to a brand new Mustang. He lamented, "why couldn't it have been one of those 7-ton monsters?"
February 27, 1944 - A technical representative from Rolls-Royce held a briefing on the P-51. The problems with the new Mustangs were disappointingly numerous and diminished the pilots' enthusiasm for the new plane. Jim Goodson, Willard Millikan and George Carpenter had bounced some of the new paddle-bladed P-47s from the 56th FG and reported that those Thunderbolts were a match for the Mustang upstairs and downstairs.
FIRST OPERATIONAL MUSTANG MISSION
February 28, 1944 - A total of 35 P-51s took off from Debden on the Mustang's operational debut for the 4th. Several pilots had to abort. In an otherwise uneventful mission, Bill Smith, Nicholas Megura, Duane Beeson, and Vermont Garrison teamed up on a Ju-88 attempting to take off and blew it to pieces.
THOUGHTS ON THE PONY
February 29, 1944 - Mechanical problems plagued the new Mustangs again. The P-51's ugly side reared its head. Mills' prop began to throw oil and his wing tanks wouldn't feed, Biel's cooling system and radio went out, Rafalovich couldn't get enough manifold pressure and his radio also quit, France, Chatterley and Smith couldn't catch up to the Group. All six had to abort. After finishing the uneventful mission, a bunch of disgruntled pilots met in the briefing room to hear a 354th FG pilot talk about the P-51's mechanical problems.
These first two Mustang missions were flown with some pilots having less than an hour in the aircraft. After itching for a fast, sleek fighter to replace the bulky P-47, the pilots were becoming wary of the P-51. However, the feeling was not universal. In Duane Beeson's logbook entry of February 28th, he wrote: "First show on Mustangs. VERY SWEET AIRCRAFT!"
The range for the Group effectively doubled with the Mustang. Don Gentile later recalled that the Group now had a fighter that "could go in the front door of the enemy's home and blow down the back door and beat up all the furniture in between." Don Blakeslee was determined to see these teething problems through. His vision would open the way for the Group to have the two greatest months of its career: March and April 1944.
March 3, 1944 - The Group was on a target support to Berlin. They rendezvoused with a ragged formation of B-17s and B-24s near Neumunster at 28,000 feet. Aborts due to weather of several formations were reported. The 4th left the bombers near Terschelling Island on the way back. The 336th got into a tremendous fight with 60 plus Germans apparently sent up to deal with bombers that had already turned back. There were only 9 of the 336th to deal with them. In the ensuing battle in which none of the 9 thought they'd survive, three of the 4th pilots went down. The first was Glenn Herter who was killed when he went after a low decoy and was shot down right at the beginning of the fight. The second was Vermont Garrison who, despite having five of his six .50 caliber machine guns jammed and his supercharger not working, managed to down two and get out of the area alive only to be hit by flak near the French coast and taken prisoner. Willard Millikan and Kendall Carlson, who were with him, avoided the flak by flying down two streets that lead to the harbor and then out to the Channel. The last was Phillip "Pappy" Dunn. He got lost and was low on fuel. Also his radio didn't work and didn't want to chance going down in the Channel with no radio so he headed for Spain. Almost to the border he spotted a He-111 and shot it down. He circled to watch it crash below and promptly ran out of gas. He was forced to bail out...eight miles from the border.
ESCORT TO BERLIN
March 4, 1944 - Don Blakeslee lead the first full escort mission to Berlin. The Group rendezvoused with 60 B-17s north of Kassel, Germany. Prior to joining with the bombers, twenty FW-190s and Me-109s were encountered. Eight attacked head on in fours then dispersed as the rest remained top cover. The last 12 bounced the Group but the attacks seemed half-hearted. During the combat, several pilots were hampered by windscreen frost and jammed guns. Hugh Ward went after a German only to be pursued by a 109. Megura latched on to help as the four went straight down. At 18,000 feet and 550 mph Ward's canopy, wing and tail came off, hitting Megura's plane. Ward got out in time and became a POW. The 109 pilot jumped at 3,000 feet. Paul Ellington had engine trouble and was forced to bail out over the Dutch coast also becoming a POW. Bob Richards was killed when he went in near Framlingham returning from the mission. Don Blakeslee came home fuming; his guns wouldn't fire at all.
March 5, 1944 - Don Blakeslee led a target support mission to Limoges Airdrome, France. He had to abort due to a rough engine and left Duane Beeson in charge. South of Bordeaux two FW-190s and four Me-109s made head on attacks against the bombers. Steve Pisanos got two and damaged two more. Beeson got a 109 but got his tail plane shot up. Pisanos was hit and forced to bail. He was too low however and was half in and half out when his plane hit the ground. He survived to become an evader and fought with the French Maquis until the liberation of Paris when he returned to Debden.
March 6, 1944 - The Group was led by Lieutenant Colonel Blakeslee on a target support mission back to Berlin. The Germans launched a mass attack. Thirty single engine fighters made head-on attacks from 27,000 feet while 40 to 50 twin engine fighters attacked abeam and astern. The Group quickly separated into individual sections and flights in what became a mass free-for-all. Pierce McKennon later commented about the fight: "Huns? Millions, pal, millions!" Archie Chatterley and Henry Mills along with two others were chasing a FW-190. When asked by Mills if they were going to take turns, Chatterley responded: "Hell, no. First one there gets him." Mills got him. Bernard McGratten got a Ju-88 but got holes shot in each prop blade. This caused a tremendous vibration. He fought the 300 pound pressure on the stick all the way home by bracing it with his knees. He landed without brakes or trim. The Group was credited with 13 destroyed this day with 4 lost.
March 7, 1944 - New spark plugs were put in all the Mustangs to see if this might improve the engine problems they were having.
MESSERS GENTILE AND GODFREY AND COLONEL BLAKESLEE
March 8, 1944 - The Group was again back to Berlin. They found the B-17s near Gardelegen, Germany and relieved the escorting P-47s. The first German attack was by Me-109s and was intercepted with 3 enemy aircraft destroyed. Then 60 plus approached and attacked in pairs and groups of four. Combat raged all over. Several B-17s went down and parachutes dotted the sky. Most of the Group got trapped east of Berlin and forced the pilots to fly onto Russia. This was the first time that Don Gentile and John Godfrey teamed up. They knocked down six between them, making Godfrey an ace. This also tied Gentile with Duane Beeson at 14 and began their famous scoring race. "Cowboy" Megura entered a landing pattern west of Berlin with 109s and 190s and blasted one of each out of the sky, making him an ace as well. Regardless of the problems, the P-51 was taking the Group out into the action; and it could fight! The Group came home with 16 kills this day. Don Blakeslee was also promoted to the rank of full Colonel.
OVERHAUL AND RED NOSES
March 13-15, 1944 - In spite of the success that the P-51 had obviously brought the Group, they were still a nightmare mechanically and were grounded. The problems included props throwing oil, glycol leaks, and auxiliary tank feed (or lack thereof). These had caused aborts on every mission. The ground crews replaced all the wing bolts and the engine mount bolts were magnifluxed. These efforts were ineffective however. On the 17th Burtonwood manufactured new motor mount bolts but these too were inadequate and so North American had to rush 250 sets to 8th AF Fighter Command which came in April.
New prop kits arrived in February and March, stripped and useless. This caused propellers to be in short supply until July. V-1650 engines were also in short supply through March and April. All this added up to low mission strengths for quite a while. Many times a squadron was able to get only 10 aircraft up for a mission. To get 20 was a minor miracle.
All was not doom and gloom however. Burtonwood provided new oxygen kits for the P-51 that allowed pilots to stay at higher altitudes longer. One of the problems that had cropped up was that the P-51 could fly higher and farther than there was oxygen for the pilot to go along with it.
On the 15th, on verbal orders from Group Materiel, the 4th painted red noses on their Mustangs. This covered up the white ETO recognition paint that had been on the noses and made all the groups look the same.
Still, there was enough to gripe about with the P-51. The losses due to glycol and engine failures had accounted for the loss of five pilots that were confirmed. Several pilots had gone down due to unknown causes and some of these may have been caused by the same problems. The gunnery and electrical systems failed regularly, resulting in lost kills. The installation of a 65-gallon upright tank behind the pilot's seat without baffle plates to prevent violent shifts in the center of gravity was also a sticking point by several pilots. It had accounted for one death when Peter Lehman's P-51 flicked over and spun in during a low level mock dogfight on the 31st.
There was much mixed emotion during these times. The Mustang had brought the Group much success and was robbing it of more success and personnel at the same time. Don Blakeslee's crew chief, Harry East, had his own problems. He could never get the right bank of the P-51's Merlin engine to quit smoking and missing on Blakeslee's plane. Blakeslee kept the plane though because it had the better-vision Malcolm hood. It wasn't replaced until a hydraulic line got perforated; much to the relief of East.
FIRST 20 KILL DAY
March 21, 1944 - The 8th Air Force had no bombing missions scheduled this day but the Group was up anyway looking for a fight. They had to go on the deck to find it however. They got 20 kills total; almost all on the ground. The price was high - two killed, four POWs and one evader.
March 23, 1944 - This was the first time that the 4th had no aborts for a mission since flying the Mustang. They got into a fight with 25+ Me-109s and FW-190s while escorting some bombers. Duane Beeson got 2 and was in his prime. He noted in his log on the 22nd when no enemy planes were encountered: "No Huns up today! What's wrong with them?" On this day his log entry was: "I got 2 109s + dam, a train. Had a hell of a fight with one of them. Lot's of fun!" Obviously, Blakeslee's fighting spirit was catching and the success that the P-51 was increasing confidence. The Group was credited with 12 kills to no losses.
AN EVEN BETTER DAY
March 27, 1944 - The Group again went down on the deck to mix it up. They attacked Pau-Pont Long Airdrome, France and raked it to pieces, destroying 23 on the ground and one in the air. The 335th got two more in the air near Bordeaux. Archie Chatterley was the only loss for the day when he was hit by flak and taken prisoner.
ANOTHER 20+ DAY AND A NEW RECORD
March 29, 1944 - The Group was lead by newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel James Clark on a target withdrawal support mission. They approached the bombers just as 15 enemy fighters made a rear attack on the first wing to the south. The Group bounced both formations which resulted in engagements from 24,000 feet all the way to the deck. H.T. Biel chased several FW-190s. He got several hits on one, chasing it around a small town. He closed to 200 yards, severely damaged it and started a fire after the belly tank blew up. The 190 flew into a snow storm and when the two planes emerged, Biel was alongside looking the German in the face. Biel then slid back and did more damage to the cockpit area then pulled alongside, wing tip to wing tip, to see if the German was still alive. The pilot looked right at Biel much to the latter's amazement. He fired again on the German until he was on fire from nose to tail. The canopy flew off but he was too low to bail. Biel pulled up alongside again and flew wing right down to the German's perfect belly landing in a snow covered field. Biel didn't see if the German got out or not, he was under fire from flak. Kenneth Peterson and William Newell both became POWs - Peterson after attacking 12 enemy aircraft alone to rescue a B-17. He got two 190s before having his rudder shot away. Gentile got three more. The totals were 24 destroyed, 2 lost. It also ended March's operations with a new ETO record for kills, 156 in one month. Blakeslee stated that this was only the beginning. He wanted 200 in April and told everyone that they had better start getting ready to celebrate.
BEESON AND GENTILE
April 1, 1944 - The Group was up for a fighter sweep and withdrawal support mission. They came home with four destroyed bringing their total to 300. Duane Beeson and Don Gentile each got one bringing their totals to 21 and 22 respectively. The 56th FG at this point had 400 kills.
GENTILE ON FIRE, BEESON TOO
April 5, 1944 - The Group was up for a strafing mission to several airdromes in Germany. They came back with an unbelievable 2 air and 43 ground targets destroyed. The 336th set a record of 26 destroyed. Don Gentile got 5 bringing his score to 27. The biggest disappointment was the loss of Duane Beeson who was shot down by flak and taken prisoner. The scoring race between he and Don Gentile had become big news and this was like a cold splash of water in the face.
April 7, 1944 - Malcolm Ltd. delivered three blister canopies for 8th Fighter Command to test on P-51Bs. Don Blakeslee had long since gotten one for his WD-C and he pushed to get them for all the Group. By late September all 8th Fighter Command P-51Bs had them but by then the 4th was getting as many D models as they could get their hands on.
BIG DAY IN THE AIR
April 8, 1944 - The Group was on a free lance/general support mission into Germany. Southwest of Bremen they heard bombers calling for help. They turned and rendezvoused with four wings of B-24s. Another group of P-51s was present so the Group broke escort by pulling ahead of the bombers. After 20 minutes they spotted 75-100 FW-190s and Me-109s coming for the bomber group. The 4th attacked and got into a fight that ranged over a 30 mile area from 23,000 feet to the deck. 33 enemy aircraft were confirmed killed with an additional 9 damaged. Gentile, Norley and Millikan got 3 each. Four to six of the bombers were lost as well as four 4th men. Two were killed and two taken prisoner. Parachutes were seen all over the sky.
WE'RE NUMBER 1!
April 10, 1944 - The Group was assigned to hit several airdromes in France. They destroyed 28 aircraft that day to bring their score to 405-1/2. This put them ahead of the 56th FG! Slowly, the term "Blakesleewaffe" was beginning to emerge as the 4th was becoming a force to be reckoned with.
I LIKE IKE
April 11, 1944 - General Dwight Eisenhower visited Debden along with Generals Doolittle, Spaatz, Auton and Kepner. Colonel Blakeslee staged a mock briefing then narrated some combat film. Both he and Don Gentile were awarded Distinguished Service Crosses. General Eisenhower was then taken for a ride in a 55th Fighter Group P-38J, "Droopsnoot", CL-X.
BYE, BYE DONNIE
April 13, 1944 - The Group was on a target withdrawal support mission to Schweinfurt, Germany. On the way in, cries were heard from the bombers under attack. Blakeslee sped up to the rendezvous point and found 20 plus FW-190s approaching from the northeast and engaged. The Mustangs broke up the enemy group and claimed 5 destroyed.
As the Group returned, Don Gentile came in low for the press cameras...a little too low and caught his radiator scoop on the ground, totaling his airplane. Don Blakeslee was livid. His law was that anyone damaging an aircraft by showboating was immediately kicked out of the group. That included his star perfomer. Since he had almost enough rotation points to go home, he was sent stateside to help the war effort back there.
April 22, 1944 - Colonel Blakeslee lead a Fighter Sweep to Kassel-Hamm, Germany. As they passed Kassel at 18,000 feet, 20 plus Messerschmitts were spotted 12,000 feet below. The Group bounced the Germans after orbiting to lose altitude. Several of the Me-109s attempted to shake the Mustangs by doing aerobatics right on the deck but the Group picked off one after another. Robert Nelson's engine failed in the middle of a fight and had to bail. He ended up in a tree and managed to elude the Germans for four days. In 25 minutes Willard Millikan managed to shoot down four 109s...with only 666 rounds. John Godfrey got three. Don Blakeslee got two of the seventeen destroyed. Prior to the mission, Blakeslee called in his squadron commanders and flight leaders to tell them they'd be flying from dawn to dusk, especially the newer pilots.
A STERN REMINDER
April 23, 1944 - In keeping with his stern message the day before, Blakeslee wrote a letter to what he considered his increasingly lax men. They were to wear proper uniform, eat at specified times, show up for duty on time, control dogs, salute, participate in athletics, have no unauthorized use of Group vehicles..."I want to say that we are just beginning to work - the busy season is at hand. We have been living under very easy conditions for a long time and some of us still want to 'be babied.' Already I hear complaints of overwork, references to rotation, promotions and petty problems. For these I have no sympathy. The next few months will test the 'guts' of a lot of people. I hope you stand the test. Let's get to work and keep the finger out - way out! (signed) Donald J.M. Blakeslee, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding." That night the Group flew practice until after midnight.
April 30, 1944 - The Group was on a free lance/general support mission to Lyon, France. They swept Lyon-Valence and downed a Me-110. Later, a section from the 334th strafed Lyon/Bron Airdrome and got a few on the ground. Fred Glover was hit by flak and bailed. He was picked up by the French Resistance and eventually got back to England.
Blakeslee returned home thinking that his promise of 500 destroyed by the end of April was not to be. 8th Fighter Command had promised an afternoon mission if needed and Blakeslee was ready to go. It turned out the the Group's total was 503-1/2. The Group was far ahead of the Wolf Pack. Final figures for the end of April were 207-4-111 and 503-1/2-39-232 since September 1942. The Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation on July 29 for destroying 323 enemy aircraft from March 5, 1944 - April 24, 1944, losing 44 pilots.
May 8, 1944 - Two 334th sergeants were assigned to Farnborough to learn maintenance of the new K-14 gyro gunsight. Two days previously Howard Hively had returned from Southend with favorable reports on testing the sight.
May 14, 1944 - All aircraft were grounded until the 18th in order to fit permanent lines for the new British Thermostat Co. 108-gallon paper drop tanks. These replaced the metal 75-gallon teardrop external tanks.
May 15, 1944 - Colonel Blakeslee announced that new tours of duty for pilots would be 300 hours rather than 200 hours, with the possibility of an unlimited tour.
A Station Defense plan went into effect. Four pilots were to be at continuous readiness from 15 minutes before dawn to 15 minutes after blackout at dispersals. The three squadrons would alternate. This meant that the mechanics assigned to the aircraft had to be up at 0300 to get them ready.
It was also the 3rd anniversary of Blakeslee's coming to England to fly with the 401st RCAF Squadron and he had not been off of operations since. Another of his nicknames, Old Man River, was taking on new meaning as the tour duration was upped. He was also miffed at unnecessary flying and taxiing accidents. If they continued, he said, more pilots would face fines or permanent grounding.
COWBOY VISITS SWEDEN
May 22, 1944 - The Group was on a free lance target support mission to Kiel. The 336th swept south to Lubeck while the 334th and 335th stayed with the bombers. Willard Millikan got a 109 in the sweep when 10 were encountered. The escort left the bombers 40 minutes later. Four pilots spotted over thirty FW-190s at 18,000 feet. The attack was blocked as P-38s joined in the fight. "Cowboy" Megura was attacking three 109s when one of the P-38s raked him with gunfire, puncturing his glycol system. His section escorted him to Laaland, Denmark then broke off for home. He headed to Sweden and belly landed at Kalmar to be interned for a few weeks. He was back in England by June 28 but did not reenter combat.
THE KIDD BEGINS A STREAK
May 28, 1944 - The Group was lead by Major Goodson on a penetration target withdrawal support mission to Germany. After joining up with the bombers, the pilots saw 20 plus 109s and 190s approaching. The 334th bounced, breaking up the attack and scoring 7-1/2 kills. Upon returning home, Ralph Hofer did a victory roll over Debden to celebrate getting 6 kills so far in May. This even though he had a large hole in the rudder of his Mustang. As it turns out, it was just a prelude to the next three days. He was to score 10-1/2 more kills in the next 3 days; all on the ground.
MILLI GOES DOWN
May 30, 1944 - Captain Howard Hively lead the Group on a free lance withdrawal support mission to Germany. In the Genthin area 30 to 40 Me-109s and FW-190s were seen at 25,000 feet, covered by another 20 to 25 at 30,000 feet. The 4th, at 26,000, engaged the fighters below and was promptly bounced by those covering. Two Germans were destroyed in the fight that went from 34,000 feet to the deck. Near Wittenburg, Willard Millikan and Sam Young collided as the latter was trying to avoid flak. Both bailed OK and were taken prisoner.
HOFER ON HIS OWN
May 31, 1944 - Major Goodson lead the Group on a free lance general support mission to France. Towering cumulus clouds broke the Group into squadrons. The bombers faced the same problem. The controller, "colgate", told the Group to abandon the briefed mission and remain with the bombers. The 334th was vectored to Charleroi to escort a small box of bombers out to the coast. Ralph Hofer continued on and joined up with the 357th Fighter Group escorting bombers to Luxeuil airdrome. After the bombing, Hofer went down with his newfound buddies and destroyed 3 Bu-131s. Later, the Group sent up four planes to look for Hofer who had not been heard from since 0950. He came gleefully home at 1430.
June 5, 1944 - After the days mission, the crews reported to hangars at 1750 hours to paint black and white stripes around the fuselages and wings of the Mustangs. They finished at midnight. The aircraft were then taken to the flight lines, were refueled, and 2 bombs were set aside for each plane. At 2000 hours Colonel Blakeslee announced the invasion of the continent and by 2300 all the pilots were briefed on the general invasion plan. Several missions were to be flown the next day utilizing one or two squadrons rather than the entire Group.
ONE GREAT DAY FOR THE ALLIES, ONE BAD DAY FOR THE 4TH
June 6, 1944 - The Group flew 6 missions on D-Day. They were up after only a couple of hours sleep. The first mission was launched at 0320 hours and was a sweep by the 334th and 335th to Rouen, France. It lasted until 0945. Dense cloud cover claimed Thomas Fraser who went down to become a POW. Ralph Hofer strafed a couple of trains after blurting out "Whoo, a train!"
The 336th came in behind the other two squads and found the same conditions with the same result; too much cloud cover and no results.
The third mission of the day was the only one in which the 4th scored any kills. The 334th was on a fighter bombing mission and attacked a 15 car troop train with poor results. Afterwards, they ran into 10 plus FW-190s preparing to land at Evreux Airdrome and knocked down four.
The next two missions were fighter bombing missions which claimed two pilots downed, Harold Fredericks was hit by flak, crash landed and evaded back to England. Oscar Lejeunesse was also hit by flak. He bailed and was taken prisoner.
The last mission of the day was the worst for the 4th since its inception when 12 Spitfire MkIXs were lost near Morlaix, France. Colonel Blakeslee lead a fighter patrol to the Rouen-Dreux area with the 334th and 335th. Near Rouen a 20 truck convoy was attacked by 335th Blue Section when over fifteen 109s and 190s bounced them out of the cloud cover. The entire section, consisting of Bernard McGratten, Harold Ross, Walter Smith, and Cecil Garbey, was shot down and all four pilots were killed. Later, at 2035 hours, Edward Stepp was heard over the radio to say to Mike Sobanski "Watch those behind you White Leader!" after Sobanski had requested a visual check of his aircraft after hitting some wires. Both were killed. As if that were not enough, Mike McPharlin, who was visiting his old squad, the 334th, on loan from the 339th Fighter Group in his 6N-Z, was lost after reporting his left magneto was out and he was aborting. He wanted to fly "the big one" with his old buddies. He was never heard from again. The totals for D-Day, 4 destroyed, 9 lost. Seven of the losses were on the final mission of the day.
WHATTA YA SAY GENERAL?
June 11, 1944 - As was typical for June, the Group was again on a fighter bomber mission. This time to the Vire, France area. The Mustangs bombed and strafed 70 plus trucks. Thirty-two of the trucks were destroyed. Both Harry Noon and Leon Cole were killed. Noon hit some trees with his bombs still attached and Cole was hit by flak. Enemy air support was sent in but the Group didn't have enough ammunition to stay and fight and so withdrew. Ralph Hofer's oil system was punctured by small arms fire and he was forced to land at a forward air strip in Normandy. Major General Ralph Royce, 9th Air Force CO, met him and escorted him on a tour of the front.
REFUEL AND REARM
June 13, 1944 - Pilots were ordered to learn quick refueling and rearming of their Mustangs in addition to how to make daily inspections of the planes. Contests were held among the pilots in drills, the 334th CO, Howard Hively giving a bottle of whiskey to his A & B Flights, the tied winners. Speculation was that this meant a shuttle escort mission to Russia or Italy.
June 15, 1944 - After extensive tests, which began February 10, 1944, all 8th Fighter Command bases started getting 100/150 octane fuel. It was noted that these tests could have been responsible for several of the Mustang losses of the past 3-1/2 months. Later in the month new kits arrived for the installation of new bob weights, dorsal fins and landing gear uplock systems in the P-51s. During March and April some 4th P-51s lost wings and tails in combat and after modifications there were no further problems of this type.
Everyone was restricted to base due to plans for a Russia shuttle mission for the next day. Thirty-five enlisted men left for bomber bases to make the trip with them. Detailed maps were prepared for all the pilots. The next day the mission was scrubbed due to bad weather.
GOODSON GOES DOWN
June 20, 1944 - Jim Clark lead a target withdrawal support mission to Politz, Germany. The mission was laid down so fast that the ground crews were not able to get the Mustangs properly serviced. Form up was confusing and there were numerous aborts. Near Griefswald Bay over 25 enemy aircraft were spotted. 334th Red Section dropped their tanks and bounced. Just then five plus Me-109s were spotted swinging around to attack the Group. Two were destroyed before a milling fight developed with over 50 German fighters. The 336th later attacked Neu Brandenburg Airdrome and destroyed a few. Jim Goodson's glycol system was hit forcing him to belly-land his brand new P-51D. He got out of the Mustang and walked to the nearby woods with his hands in his pockets after which the rest of the squadron strafed his P-51 to junk. After the mission, the base was alerted again for the Russia Shuttle mission and work was done through the night.
June 21, 1944 - The Group was again called on to be the first at something. They were to fly to Piryatin, Russia. Blakeslee was all business in the briefing. There would be no fighting on the way over, no dropping of tanks and no radio chatter. "No one will abort because of lack of oxygen. You'll be at 15,000 feet. If you get dizzy, go down under the bombers for awhile. This whole thing is for show. That's why everything must be pansy. It's not what you do, but what you seem to do." Blakeslee wanted to lead the mission so badly that he had another Mustang ready to go in case his WD-C had to abort. Ralph Hofer was giving his CO, Howard Hively, a headache since he refused to take his shots, even on orders. Hively flat out told him that he wasn't going on the mission and assigned "Salem Representative" to Preston Hardy. He eventually gave in to Hofer and told him he could be an alternate.
Forty-five Mustangs from the 4th along with 16 from the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, crossed Overflakkee at 0903 hours at 20,000 feet. Ralph Hofer, who was ordered back to base after no aborts were called, disobeyed orders and tagged along behind the Group. The fighters rendezvoused with the B-17s over Leszno at 1113 hours after their bombing run. Later, 25 Me-109s came in for a head-on attack against the bombers. The enemy fighters were engaged but the advantage couldn't be pressed due to fuel restrictions. Two were destroyed with the loss of Frank Sibbett. Again disregarding orders, Hofer continued to chase the Germans on the deck. He was listed as MIA until word came in later that he had landed safely in Kiev. Staff Sergeant Robert Gilbert, a 336th crew chief, was forced to bail out of one of the B-17s the 33 enlisted men were flying in. He fought for 36 days with Polish guerrillas against the Germans before returning to England on August 17. The Group escorted the bombers beyond Russian lines for a distance of 580 miles. Upon sighting Piryatin field, on time to the minute, Blakeslee threw all 16 of his maps into the air in his cockpit.
That night, as the bomber base at Poltava was severly pounded by German bombers, Piryatin became a madhouse with chandelier flares and anti-aircraft going off all over the place. The 4th pilots spent an uneasy night in the trenches. Grover Siems and "Lum" Blanding couldn't get out of their sleeping bags so they hopped all the way to the trenches.
June 25, 1944 - After scrambling the fighters from base to base to avoid attacks, to do maintenance, and to visit other Russian bases, the Group took off for Lucera, Italy. Their time in Russia had been interesting to say the least. In one memorable moment, one of the 334th's pilots landed in Chingueue and after taxiing, discovered his Mustang was sinking into the dirt. He had enough composure to turn off the engine before the prop hit the ground. Apparently what had happened was that the Russians would fill in bomb craters with dirt. They didn't always pack it down hard enough and the pilot had found one of these. The P-51 sank all the way down to the fuselage. The Russians had no heavy equipment to pull it out so they got about 40 men and dug a hole all the way around the aircraft. Then on command, they all dropped their shovels and grabbed hold of the plane wherever they could. They were going to lift it out! Hively stopped them in time and tried to show them where the lift points were so as not to damage the 14,000 pound Mustang. They dug again, found their places and manually lifted the P-51 up and walked right out of the hole and placed it down with no damage. All they had to do was wash the mud off.
On the flight to Italy, Ralph Hofer, Willlard Gillette, James Callahan, and James Lane all aborted back to Russia.
BENVENUTI A ITALIA
June 27, 1944 - The Group's Mustang's were dispersed to Lesina, Madna and San Severo with other P-51 Groups of the 15th Air Force. The 334th stayed with the 325th Fighter Group, the Checkertail Clan. Some of the 325th's pilots remembered the 4th's initial attitude as condescending, as though the real war was taking place from England.
HOFER DISOBEYS ORDERS, AGAIN
June 29, 1944 - The four aborts from June 26th left Poltava to rejoin the rest of the Group in Italy. Hofer, again on strict orders not to bounce the enemy unless bounced, went off chasing bandits. Callahan broke and covered him; both ran short of fuel. While Gillette and Lane made it safely to Foggia, Hofer overshot Italy and was guided to Malta by some Spitfires where he spent the night. Callahan ran out of fuel and crash landed on the beach at Sampieri, Sicily. He was picked up uninjured by the British and taken to Catania. The next day Hofer flew from Malta to Catania to see Callahan, then on to land at Foggia. Callahan was flown to Algiers, Rabat, and England by the British.
HOFER'S LUCK RUNS OUT
July 2, 1944 - The 4th was sent on a fighter sweep to Budapest, Hungary along with the 52nd and 325th Fighter Groups. The Mustangs encountered 75 to 80 Me-109s near the target. The Germans were very aggressive, pressing attacks at all altitudes. Howard Hively destroyed a 109 and was promptly jumped by another which caused him to lose his canopy. It gave him a good crack on the skull and wounded an eye. Despite this, he managed to down two more 109s. Grover Siems was severely wounded in the shoulder, neck and chin but still managed to nurse his P-51 back to Foggia. With his left side paralyzed, he had to kick the gear handle down with his right foot. When he landed he was so weak that he couldn't get the canopy open. He kicked the gun switch on and fired his guns to attract attention. He was sent home in serious condition. Ralph Hofer finally ran out of luck chasing enemy planes on his own. He was last seen over Budapest climbing to engage 20 plus Me-109s. The wreckage of his Mustang, QP-X, and his body were later found in Mostar, Yugoslavia.
This mission had been tough. After this the 4th pilots were much more cordial to the 15th AF pilots. Apparently, there was a war going on in southern Europe after all.
July 5, 1944 - The Group finally was ordered home. Deacon Hively talked his way out of the hospital to join the Group. When they arrived at home, 8th Fighter Command CO, General Kepner, was on hand to greet Don Blakeslee who was given a seven day furlough along with Hively.
The enlisted men came home with lots of stories. Several got to fire at enemy aircraft from their B-17 hosts. Since their shuttle bombers had been, for the most part, destroyed at Poltava, the crews came home via Teheran, Cairo, Tripoli, Algiers, and Casablanca. All but Don Allen. He went with the bombers by mistake to Italy and was the only enlisted man to make the entire shuttle mission.
The entire tour had covered 6,000 miles, 10 countries, and 29-1/4 hours of operational flying. The talley at the end was 10 destroyed and 7 lost.
July 13, 1944 - With Blakeslee and Hively back from a week in London, the CO wasted no time in calling a briefing for all pilots. A new Operational Training Unit was to be formed on the field for many newly arrived pilots and for any pilot not meeting the best operational standards. Accidents were more expensive than pilots and they would not be tolerated. Any pilot not saluting Colonel Blakeslee would be grounded for two weeks.
HAPPY BASTILLE DAY
July 14, 1944 - The Group was on a mission escorting B-17s to and from the target. The target today was a little different. As the bombers approached the target, they dropped down below the heavy cloud cover to 1,000 feet. The "bombs" that they released were containers with parachutes that were for the French Maquis partisans. They came out to get them waving wildly; it was after all, Bastille Day.
WHAT A DAY, FIRST HITLER SURVIVES, NOW THIS
July 22, 1944 - The Mustangs were again on an escort mission that was non-traditional. They were with a group of B-17s dropping propaganda leaflets in Germany dealing with the July 20 attempt on Hitler's life. Takeoff for the mission had pretty much been a nightmare. Lloyd Kingham spun in and was killed. Gillette and Brown collided but both made it back down. On the way back from aborting, James Ayres crashed in a potato patch with a faulty engine.
THOUGHTS SINCE THE INVASION
July 31, 1944 - Even though the Group had passed the 600 killed mark on July 5th, morale was generally low due to the letdown from the 4th's small role in the invasion and the lack of increase in activity as had been expected. While the Russia shuttle was going on, there was virtually no activity at Debden. When the Group was up in force again, the Luftwaffe wouldn't come up. The general sentiment was why not go somewhere the 4th was needed, possibly even to another theater.
At least the tactical dive bombing was pretty much left to the 9th Air Force as the Group got back to strategic escorts into Germany. The 336th got seven of the K-14 gyro sights installed in their Mustangs and were the first in the 8th AF to fly operations with them. Also, the 336th armorers had a laurel wreath placed on them. The 8th Fighter Command acceptable average for ammunition per stoppage (jam) was 800 rounds. The 336th in July was getting an average of 6,904 rounds per stoppage.
WELCOME BACK JOHNNY
August 5, 1944 - John Godfrey returned from leave in the U.S. on July 24 and was up for the first time since to down a Me-109 in the air and three Ju-52s on the ground. Fred Glover got a 109 also.
HANG IN THERE
August 6, 1944 - On this day the Group went roaming for targets and got 2 in the air and 3 on the ground. After getting a Me-410, John Godfrey was hit by flak which crippled his fuel system. He jettisoned his canopy and got ready to jump when Fred Glover talked him into using his hand-pump primer to keep the airplane up. After 2-1/2 hours and a bloody primer hand, Godfrey landed at Beccles, Norfolk.
OLD MAN RIVER
August 17, 1944 - It was found out that Don Blakeslee had to go out and get a new logbook. It's generally thought that it was so that he could continue to doctor it in order to hide his actual amount of combat time (various estimates place it at 1,300 hours at this point). He was asked when he was going to quit. His response was "Hell, I'm just learning to fly!"
ANOTHER ROUGH DAY
August 18, 1944 - A dive bombing and strafing mission to Beauvais-Gisor, France was on the schedule. The Group arrived in the Gisors area at 4,000 feet looking for targets of opportunity with 500 pound bombs. Fifteen Me-109s bounced the 334th south of Beauvais, downing 3 Mustangs (one pilot was killed, one a POW, and one evader). Arthur Cwiklinski, the evader, managed to get two of the 109s before going down. Later, the Group was bounced by over 50 more bandits. The 335th and 336th tangled with the 109s and 190s, losing six pilots. All were killed except for Otey Glass who evaded back to England. Three 109s were shot down for the loss of 9 pilots.
BYE BYE JOHNNY
August 24, 1944 - The Group was on a penetration target support mission to Misburg and then on a target withdrawal support to Merseburg, Germany. Ted Lines shot down two 109s south of Emden. John Godfrey and a few other 336th pilots strafted an airfield. Godfrey got four Ju-52s, Melvin Dickey got three and Pierce Wiggin got one. As they worked over the field, Godfrey's plane was hit and he was forced to belly in. He was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW. It was later determined that Dickey, Godfrey's wingman, shot Godfrey down by accident.
TWO BIG LOSSES
August 28, 1944 - Increasingly the Group had to go down on the deck for action and multiple losses were occurring. On this day they were strafing trains and trucks when a total of five pilots were lost. Three were killed. One was Albert Schlegel who had amassed 15 total kills ( 10 in the air, 5 on the ground). Two evaded. One of these was Pierce McKennon. He spent over a month with the French Maquis and made it back to England.
THOUGHTS ON STRAFING
August 30, 1944 - Again the Group was up for escort duty and again saw no enemy planes. This forced the 4th down on the deck. Strafing was becoming the most dangerous form of combat for them. Ralph Hofer was the only major 8th Air Force ace to be lost in aerial combat during the war. All the others went down while doing ground attacks. Blakeslee wrote a treatise on strafing for 8th Fighter Command use this day and offered the following advice: "Once I hit the drome, I really get down on the deck. I don't mean five feet up; I mean so low the grass is brushing the botton of the scoop." This may have sounded exaggerated to some but the lower one came in, the harder it was for flak crews to get a good tracking solution. Skilled flying at zero feet was better insurance than sitting up higher.
BLAKESLEE IN THE U.S.
September 1, 1944 - Don Blakeslee was placed on leave for the States for the month with Jim Clark as acting Group CO in his absence. Newly arrived Lieutenant Colonel Claiborne Kinnard assumed Clark's position as deputy Group CO. Kinnard had been the Group CO of the 335th Fighter Group. Within a few days Kinnard assumed Clark's position as acting Group CO when Clark was transferred. While gone, Blakeslee made the famous remark "women and fighter pilots don't mix" to the New York press, much to the amusement of the Debden boys. Blakeslee was secretly married during his leave.
NEW G SUITS AND A RETURN HOME
September 2-4, 1944 - New G suits were test flown by the Group for possible use in combat. Steve Pisanos, missing in action since March 5th, returned to Debden on the 3rd with stories of crash landing his plane while standing on the wing and evading to Paris where he fought with the Maquis until liberation.
ESCORTING A PRINCE
September 6, 1944 - Four 334th and two 336th Mustangs escorted three C-47s to Amiens, France. One of the "Gooney Birds" carried the Prince of Holland.
NOW THAT'S AGGRESSIVE
September 10, 1944 - The Group was up for a penetration target withdrawal support to Germany. Two wings of B-24 Liberators were joined at 20-22,000 feet with some P-38s joining the escort just before the target. Two sections went toward Strasbourg in reply to Ted Lines who radioed, "I've got seven of them cornered." Trying to catch up with the Group after landing for quick repairs at an advanced base, Lines attacked seven 109s and a Ju-88. Some P-47s arrived to help with the 109s but Lines did OK. He got three along with the Ju-88.
IT'S ABOUT TIME
September 11, 1944 - On a penetration target withdrawal support mission the 4th finally got, what many considered, the first good fight since May. The Germans put up over 100 fighters to stop the bombers. The fight soon raged all over the sky down to the deck. Several Me-109s were caught in landing patterns and much strafing was done at Langensalza Airdrome netting several ground kills in addition to the aerial kills. The score was 14 destroyed to 5 losses.
FIRST JET SIGHTING
September 12, 1944 - On a penetration target withdrawal support mission the 4th saw their first jet powered enemy aircraft. It was observed close by but was gone before anything could be done. After the mission a Field Day was held on the athletic field to celebrate the Group's second anniversary.
September 13, 1944 - The Group again went on the deck to find targets. They got 12 with the loss of one pilot. Upon returning to the base, it was found that the 4th had again taken the scoring lead from the 56th FG, 687 to 684. A party was held in the mess to celebrate.
September 16, 1944 - The Group got a taste of the V-1 "Buzz Bomb" as one hit near the water tower in Saffron Walden at 0610 hours, shaking things up quite a bit. This was only the beginning. The V-1 alerts would be frequent for quite a while to come.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR
September 17, 1944 - The Group flew escort for the parachute and glider assault phase of Operation Market Garden to Arnheim. They then patrolled the area as a screen for the landings. The Mustangs were bounced by 15 FW-190s netting 6 kills and 2 losses.
KILL NUMBER 700
September 27, 1944 - The Group encountered 100 enemy aircraft attacking a bomber group. They killed 5 with no losses. This put them over the 700 destroyed mark.
JETS OF OUR OWN
October 10, 1944 - Four RAF Gloster Meteor jets arrived to work with the 4th in developing jet countermeasures for the 8th Air Force's fighters.
BLAKESLEE COMES BACK
October 20, 1944 - Don Blakeslee arrived back from his stateside leave, minus his ribbons, saying that the soldiers on the home front were hostile to overseas men. He was happy to be "home" and in addressing the 336th's enlisted men he said, "You are not missing anything by not being in the States." The enlisted men's reaction? "Bull!"
A CHANGE IN TAIL FEATHERS
October 27, 1944 - Rudder colors were applied to all three squadrons which helped aid in unit recognition. The 334th was red, 335th white with a red outline and 336th was blue.
BLAKESLEE GETS GROUNDED
October 30, 1944 - After leading an uneventful mission into Germany, Don Blakeslee got the news he'd been dreading for a well over a year: he was grounded. Colonel Hubert "Hub" Zemke, the 56th's famous former CO, had been downed in bad weather and was captured while flying with the 479th. The Germans were delighted to see Zemke and one German officer was quoted as saying to him: "Ah, Colonel Zemke, welcome. Now when we get old Blakeslee, we will win the war." The Eighth Fighter Command had no desire to lose Blakeslee in the same way and grounded him. Before leaving for the States on November 19 he made several trips in WD-C to the old bases he'd frequented during his 3-1/2 years in England as well as a trip to Paris. He hated to leave but he did...without his decorations, his RAF wings or the silver beer mug his men gave him. Lieutenant Colonel Claiborne Kinnard assumed command of the Group from Blakeslee the next day.
FIRST JET KILLS
November 2, 1944 - The Group encountered 15 Me-109s and 5 rocket powered Me-163s over Germany. The 335th and 336th engaged knocking down two 109s and two 163s. The 163s were credited to Fred Glover and Louis Norley.
MULTIPLE JET KILLS (ON THE GROUND)
November 18, 1944 - The Mustangs were sent hunting on the ground again, this time to Leipheim Airdrome. With jets all over the field, the Group destroyed 12 Me-262s and 1 Me-109 on the ground.
CHANGE OF COMMAND
December 7, 1944 - Lieutenant Colonel Harry Dayhuff, formerly of the 78th Fighter Group, took command from Lieutenant Colonel Kinnard.
A NEW TERROR
December 14, 1944 - As if the frequent V-1 attacks weren't enough, the Group got its first taste of a V-2 as it impacted southwest of Debden at 0500 hours with the worst explosion felt thus far in the war.
THOSE WONDERFUL COOKS
December 24, 1944 - Just a few minutes before scheduled landing time after an escort mission Debden was completely socked in, forcing the Group to land at other bases; some as far away as Belguim. The mess, planning on a big Christmas dinner, was undaunted, dispatching turkeys, whiskey and cigarettes to the stranded pilots.
A BIG FEATHER IN THE 334TH'S HAT
December 25, 1944 - After an escort mission to Germany in which the Group downed 12 enemy aircraft, the 334th was given a Christmas present as it became the first squadron in the ETO to down 300 enemy aircraft.
FIRST AIR KILL OF A ME-262
January 1, 1945 - During yet another escort mission, the 336th engaged a gaggle of enemy fighters downing four Me-109s. Donald Pierini got one of the 109s then later got a Me-262.
WHAT A COWARD
January 10, 1945 - Noel Coward's USO show "Blythe Spirit" did a two-night run at the base theater.
A RARE BIG DAY
January 16, 1945 - Major Fred Glover lead an escort mission into Germany. Again, the Group had to go on the deck to find the enemy. The total for the day was two He-177s, one Me-262, twenty FW-190s, two Me-109s, two Ju-87s, and a Ju-88.
February 18, 1945 - A two-seater conversion was completed on one of the Group's older P-51Bs. The 336th's VF-4 ended up with a Malcolm hood for the rear seat with a powder blue color overall (the 336th's rudder color), with a bright swept red nose.
ANOTHER NEW CO
February 21, 1945 - Colonel Everett W. Stewart assumed command of the Group after coming from the 352nd Fighter Group.
OOPS, SORRY, MY FAULT
February 22, 1945 - The Group again was on an escort mission to Germany and, in what was becoming the rule rather than the exception, left the bombers after the escort to find targets of opportunity on the deck. They strafed the autobahn between Brunswick and Hannover. After, they strafed the autobahn between Berlin and Leipzig, causing a traffic jam. Fred Glover led several pilots over Halberstadt Airdrome and they destroyed eight on the ground. During the strafing a 479th Fighter Group P-51 was accidentally shot down by a 4th pilot.
ANOTHER AIR JET KILL
February 25, 1945 - Pierce McKennon lead a fighter sweep to the Dessau area, Germany. When they reached the target area, Rohrensee and Kothen Airdromes were hit. Kendall Carlson, while strafing Kothen, mushed in and hit the ground. He got out, stood on the wing and directed the others to targets on the field through the radio before he was captured. The 334th's Blue Section, comprised of Thomas Bell, Carl Payne, Arthur Bowers and Gordon Denson, destroyed seven on the ground and then Payne destroyed a Me-262 in the air near Naunburg. As the four pilots were on the way out, they were bounced by seven FW-190s and Me-109s at 11,000 feet; but no one fired. Both formations were out of ammunition. The 11 fighters joined up as the German leader looked over and waggled his wings. Everyone flew on together until the Germans broke off. This mission also brought the Group to over 800 destroyed.
A REALLY BIG DAY
February 26, 1945 - The Group again went on the deck to find targets. This time they found a target rich environment. They hit Weimar Airdrome and raked the field from one end to the other, destroying 43 enemy aircraft including a captured C-47.
THE SHORTEST EVADE OF THE WAR
March 18, 1945 - Again the Group was on an escort mission and again they had to go down on the deck to find any action. "Mac" McKennon led "A" Flight down to strafe Neubrandenburg Airdrome. As he went across the field, he was hit by flak and bailed out into a plowed field. The 335th covered while George Green radioed that he'd land and pick Mac up. He put his Mustang "Suzon" down in the field, threw out his parachute and let Mac get in. Green then got on Mac's lap and after a very short take off over trees the two flew back to Debden sharing oxygen on the way amid cheers over the radio. Upon returning to base, McKennon calmly suggested to Colonel Trippet that Green be made a general at once. Officially, the records list McKennon as a loss and evasion back to base.
ACE IN A DAY
March 22, 1945 - The Group was on another escort mission to Germany led by Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Woods. Most of the Group ended up searching for fighters after "B" Flight was unable to make a rendezvous. "A" Flight found a group of bombers already being escorted and so went chasing after some jets headed for Berlin. Later, a large gaggle of FW-190 Jabos (fighter bombers) was seen forming near Furstenwalde and the Group bounced them. Combat took place from 5,000 feet to the deck for 40 minutes as the heavy bomb-laden FWs were pounded. The Group destroyed 11 without a loss. Sidney Woods had knocked down five of them in 20 minutes.
GETTING IT FROM ALL SIDES
March 31, 1945 - The Group was lead by Lieutenant Colonel Woods on an escort mission to Germany. Near Breslau three Russian P-39s bounced the P-51s, putting a cannon shell through Lt. Payne's prop. One 336th pilot got hits on a P-39 but the two formations pulled apart before any more damage was done. By month end the Group had 867 victories. Quite a way from 1,000 considering that the Luftwaffe was all but extinct by this time.
1,000 DESTROYED; FOR THE 56TH
April 13, 1945 - Word was received that the 56th Fighter Group had hit Eggebek Airdrome and destroyed 90 on the ground bringing their score to 1,002-1/2. The first part of April the 4th had a good chance of beating the 56th to the 1,000 mark. On April 4 the 4th was ahead by 15-1/2. On the 10th the 56th destroyed 41 on the ground to pull ahead, 911 to 893. There had been an order for the 4th to stop strafing and they had had to leave loads of parked aircraft alone on the same day.
THE BIGGEST DAY OF THE WAR
April 16, 1945 - The Group was ordered on a strafing mission to Prague, Czechoslovakia. They found three fields crammed with aircraft that had been pulled back from the front as they neared Prague. The Mustangs made run after run in the midst of heavy flak and destroyed 61 for the loss of eight. Multiple kills were numerous. The top was Douglas Pedersen, he destroyed eight. One of those lost was Sidney Woods who would spend the rest of the war (2 weeks) as a POW. Meanwhile, "B" Group, lead by Louis Norley, hit Gablingen Airdrome without a loss. The total for the day was a satisfying 105 destroyed.
LAST COMBAT FATALITY
April 17, 1945 - On a free lance mission to Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria, Robert Davis' coolant system was hit by flak and he bailed out. Although he was seen to hit the ground ok, he was killed. This was the last combat fatality of the war for the 4th.
WELCOME BACK JOHNNY
April 22, 1945 - John Godfrey, having returned the day before after his time as a POW, gave a talk in the briefing room about his adventures away from Debden. Over the next month several more POWs returned.
HOW YA GONNA KEEP 'EM DOWN ON THE FARM
April 23, 1945 - A B-24 Liberator took the first batch of enlisted men to Paris for 48-hour passes.
LAST COMBAT MISSION
April 25, 1945 - The Group flew its last combat mission of World War II to Czechoslovakia and Germany. North of Prague William Hoelscher bounced a Me-262 getting several hits before he was hit by flak. His coolant system was punctured and 40mm hits smashed his left wing root and elevator. He bailed out and evaded back. He was the last combat loss for the 4th. Also, at this point the score for the 4th was 1,003. The score for the 56th was 1,008-1/2.
May 8, 1945 - V-E Day was officially proclaimed. All the Mustangs were grounded and ammunition removed. At 1400 hours the 4th personnel stood formation on the parade ground as Chaplain Brohm led in prayer. From 1500 to midnight free beer was served and all work suspended. By 2330 a victory bonfire was started on the ball field with people also shooting off flares. The celebration lasted into the next day.
The Group's victory tally came in officially as 1,016 putting it ahead of the Wolfpack. Eighth Fighter Command later reappraised all the claims and credited the Group with 1,058-1/2 destroyed although the earlier figure is considered closer to the actual number. Regardless, it placed the 4th as the top scoring fighter group in the USAAF in World War II.
May 17, 1945 - 720 fighters of 8th Fighter Command flew around London and southern England in a giant victory review.
May 23, 1945 - No. 453 Squadron, RAAF, arrived from Manston with their Spitfires to fly in mock combat with the Group. Word was out that the 4th would be going to the Pacific in P-47Ns and the Spits were to serve as Zeros. From this date through most of June at least eight war weary P-47s were based at Debden. They were most likely to be used to convert 4th pilots to the Thunderbolt. It was not to be however. V-J Day came too soon and the Pacific adventure was cancelled.
May 29, 1945 - Most of the Group's P-51s with less than 100 hours were sent transferred to Speke Air Depot near Liverpool. Twelve 336th Mustangs took off and encountered bad weather. Two pilots, Barnaby Wilhoit and Harold Fredricks were killed when they flew into the ground in dense fog. Beacham Brooker hit the ground, after being thrown by the explosion of Fredericks' crash, tearing the wingtip from his aircraft. He made it back to Debden.
BREAKING US UP
June 1945 - The Group gradually disbanded internally as plans for the Pacific were cancelled and men began to leave. The Mustangs were gradually flown out to other bases.
July 7, 1945 - Fred Glover's P-51D, repainted to represent John Godfrey's VF-P, was flown to Paris and displayed with other 8th Air Force aircraft under the Eiffel Tower.
July 27, 1945 - The last of the 4th men and equipment transferred from Debden to Steeple Morden.
September 1945 - Throughout September the last of the original 4th members departed England and the Third Anniversary of the Group, on the 12th, was almost forgotten. The P-51s were flown to Burtonwood and other depots and pilots with less than 62 points for rotation home were assigned to the Occupational Air Force to fly, of all things, UC-64s.
IT'S ALL OVER
November 9, 1945 - The RMS Queen Mary docked in New York bearing all that was left of the Group. On the next day the 4th was inactivated at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.