by Major John T. Godfrey
RAF and USAAF
from the book: Fighter Pilot edited by Stanley M. Ulanoff
On March 8, our group struck off for Berlin again. For this mission Don (Gentile) received the DSC and I was awarded the Silver Star. Of all the stories written about Don and me, this was to be the most widely published
I was now flying section leader occasionally. It doesn't sound like very much, leading three planes, when you consider that the CO assumed the responsibility for forty-seven flying behind him. Oftentimes I was envious of his role, but I was still grateful to be able to command these few planes because it gave me more opportunity of attacking on my own. Today was not the day for this however, for one by one White Two, Three, and Four left me to return to base for various reasons. Don, who was leading Red Section, found himself in a similar situation when his planes left him. The other two sections fared no better, and when the bombers were sighted, only four remained from the squadron. I flew Red Two to Don, but there were so few of us, call signs were omitted and we were using each other's first names.
From our very first sighting of the bombers we could see Jerry fighters reeling and diving onto the mass formation. It was a picture that only the devil could have enjoyed. Planes were rent by fiery explosions; white blossoms of parachutes could be seen here and there as the victims of the air battle drifted to earth. We threw ourselves into the melee in a desperate attempt to stem the slaughter of the Fortresses.
"Johnny, cover me. I'm diving on the Jerry at three o'clock."
"Right behind you, Don."
I followed Don down, my excitement at fever-pitch. I watched in fascination as Don closed on the 109. Then, taking my eyes away from Don's plane, I cleared my tail, looking up, down and around. We were OK.
"Go to it, Don, your tail is cleared."
Don was at the most critical stage of shooting down an enemy plane. During these moments there was always a fear as to what was happening behind; with my assurance, Don closed in and literally blew the 109 apart. I didn't have time to study the spectacle, for off to the right I saw another 109 start its headlong attack onto a Fortress that was straggling behind the middle box.
"Cover me, Don. I'm breaking right." Banking my plane I wheeled on the 109, attacking him at 90 degrees.
"I'm right behind you, John. You're clear."
As Don's words snapped through my earphones I banked left and maneuvered onto the 109. He had seen me, and started to pull up from his dive. Don's voice reassured me once more. "You're still clear Johnny-nail him!" As the German pulled out from his dive he was fully outlined in my right sight. I pressed the tit and saw strikes. Clinging tenaciously on his tail I kept firing, and after an explosion in the cockpit the 109 turned on its back, ever so gently, and, trailing smoke, started its earthward plunge to join the wreckage that was now strewn over the German countryside.
"Good show, Johnny. Let's climb upstairs."
Don and I, flying abreast, climbed to 28,000 feet. We now had the advantage of height over the 109s that were diving in and out of the Fortress formation. Two 109s pulled below us and were gently turning into the Forts.
"You take the one on the right, Johnny, and I'll take the one on the left."
I dove down with Don, and we positioned ourselves to the rear of the 109s. So intent were they on their attack that neither one of them saw us approach. Don and I simultaneously opened fire; mine exploded in midair and I could see hits on the plane that Don was firing at. We had attacked with no cover, so I swung my plane around to insure Don protection.
"You're clear, Don. Belt him again." Don calmly blanketed the 109 with fire; it started smoking and burst into flames.
"You got him, Don" I yelled excitedly. I could see the pilot make a desperate attempt to free himself from his fiery coffin. Then the flames enveloped him, and I sickened with revulsion.
We had lost altitude with this latest attack and were now flying parallel on the same level with the bombers. There were no longer any planes attacking the Forts. We had lost the other two pilots of our squadron: Sel Edner, the new CO of the 336, had called over the RT to tell us he was bailing out; the other pilot had not been seen or heard from.
The Forts were dropping their bombs, but the sky was so black with flak that only occasionally could we see them as they flew through the solid wall of sooty explosions. Don was the first to see the Me-109.
"Johnny, at six o'clock high there's a single bandit."
I looked back, and there he was high above us. I gazed in disbelief as his nose dropped and he plummeted down on us.
"Don, the crazy son of a bitch is bouncing us."
I know. When I yell, 'Break', you break right and I'll break left."
I watched as the 109 dropped closer and closer. "Break, Johnny."
I pulled sharply to the right, and thought at first I had broken too late as the 109 pulled on my tail. I tightened my turn and met Don halfway around as he tried to fire on the 109 in a head-on attack. I went around twice more with the Jerry on my tail, before Don could reverse his turn and swing down for a rear attack. But this German pilot was a smart, capable flyer. As Don brought his guns to bear, he split S and dove to the ground. Don and I followed him, our motors roaring in pursuit. He pulled out of his dive and banked left, which brought him close to me. I followed him and fired. He wasn't one to sit still however, and changed his turn to swing into Don. I followed, firing intermittently. Don, meanwhile, had climbed for altitude, and I kept the Jerry busy in a tight turn. As I fired, I saw flashes on the wing, fuselage and even his motor, but the pilot wouldn't bail out. Turning all the time and losing height, we were now just above the treetops, and the 109's engine was spewing smoke. I had no forewarning that the ammunition was running out, but as I prepared for the final burst only silence came as I pressed the tit.
"Finish him, Don. I'm all out of ammunition."
Don, who had been maneuvering above us waiting for the Jerry to break out of the turn, zoomed down in front of me and made one pass at the courageous German flyer. His shots hit home, and the 109 crashed into the ground. we circled the wreckage, but it would have been impossible for any man to come out of that alive.
It was time to head home, so we climbed westward, hoping to meet friends on the way. Up ahead we could see one plane flying alone at 15,000 feet. As we approached we recognized it; it was a B-17 with one of its motors conked out.
"There's a big friend that needs company, Don. How's your ammunition?"
"I still have some left, but don't know how much. Let's throttle back, and maybe our presence will scare off any attacker."
Don flew off to the left, and I to the right, occasionally over the top of the Fortress as we weaved back and forth in what we hoped was a very convincing show of strength. As we hovered over the Fort our nerves were still on edge, for single planes such as this one were easy prey for eager German fighters; the strength of the B-17s lay in their group firepower.
By now we had flown around them enough for them to know we were their little friends. Usually we never flew close to Fortresses because they had a bad habit of shooting at anything that came in their range; their fear of enemy fighters caused them to be trigger-happy when any small plane appeared. Slowly, ever so slowly, I joined in formation with the Fortress.
Tucked in next to its wing I looked the plane over. In the waist gunners' positions I saw first one man and then another throwing kisses at me; the pilot was all smiles up front as he gave me the thumbs-up sign. I wondered how they would have felt if I'd told them I had no ammunition. For one hour we flew with them, and didn't leave until the Fortress entered the cloud covering that extended to England.
We opened our throttle in our hurry to return. Arriving over the field I followed Don down over the dispersal hut, where we both pulled up into a victory roll. On landing I taxied to where Larry was waiting with Lucky, relishing the word "ace" as it formed on my tongue.
That evening I borrowed five pounds from Don, to finance drinks for the house. After all, a pilot doesn't become an ace every day. If I bragged a little bit, no one held it against me. I was buying and entitled to my say.