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  #11  
Old 22nd May 2014, 21:59
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Peter Kassak Peter Kassak is offline
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

Thanks Denes...so no me 410 victims I see
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  #12  
Old 22nd May 2014, 22:01
Dénes Bernád Dénes Bernád is offline
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

Quote:
Originally Posted by drgondog View Post
4th FG
Hofer at Mostar while strafing
Hofer was probably damaged in air combat by rookie Hungarian pilot, Flight Officer Leó Krizsevszky, who received an unconfirmed air victory. 'Kidd' Hofer then crashed en-route home near Mostar, former Yugoslavia.
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Old 23rd May 2014, 01:01
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

Herky!: The Memoirs of a Checkertail Ace
by Herschel H. Green
pp 96-97
2 July 1944 Mission to the Rakos Locomotive Depot at Budapest.
Claims 2-1-1, all Bf 109s.
Losses 2-0, mid-air collision.

1000 Destroyed: The Life and Times of the 4th Fighter Group
by Grover C. Hall Jr.
pp 311-312
Combat with Bf 109s.
Two P-51s were also damaged by Bf 109s and their pilots, Hively (lost control of his plane but recovered) and Siems, wounded.
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Old 23rd May 2014, 02:14
kaki3152 kaki3152 is online now
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

I personally don't believe the damage to Hofer's fighter was too severe, otherwise he would not have been in a position to strafe the A/F at Mostar,which is far from Budapest.
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Old 23rd May 2014, 09:24
Dénes Bernád Dénes Bernád is offline
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

Is it certain he actually strafed Mostar a/f? Or, the damaged Mustang was flying low and was caught by airfield defence flak.
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Old 23rd May 2014, 20:34
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

Nothing is certain about Hofer other than he left the Group on his own, with no cover, and crashed at Mostar - far away from the air battle.
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Old 24th May 2014, 03:40
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

According to the book "Ralph Hofer - Last of the Screwball Aces" by Troy White (p159):

"The official Luftwaffe documents states that 1st Lt. Ralph Hofer was shot down by 4th Batterie/9th Flak Regiment "Legion Condor" at 1204 hrs on July 2,1944. Hofer was found in the wreckage of his P-51B, s/n 43- 6746, QP-X at Rodoc, Yugoslavia, 3 kilometers south of Mostar. According to Croatian documents...Hofer was shot down by flak and crashed into one of the flak positions killing two members of the flak crew and injuring a third."

He was buried in a common grave with 20 other USAAF personnel and remained there until 1950,due to political tensions with Tito.
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Old 24th May 2014, 19:22
John Beaman John Beaman is offline
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

Here is an article prepared by Marc Hammel on the participation of the 352nd FG on this mission--long

The Russia Shuttle:
A "Bluenosed" View
by Marc L. Hamel

An excellent contemporary account of the historic Shuttle Mission to Russia and Italy was penned by 486th Fighter Squadron (FS) pilot Lt. Donald W. ‘Mac’ McKibben upon his return to base in July of 1944. He graciously gave his blessing to utilize the narrative for preparation of this article. Likewise ‘486'ers’ Carleton L. ‘Bud’ Fuhrman, Leonard A. ‘Jim’ Gremaux, Edwin L. ‘Ed’ Heller, and the late Stephen W. ‘Andy’ Andrew, Thomas W. Colby, Charles E. ‘Griff’ Griffiths, George Hampson, Donald “Red” Whinnem, and Undo F. Rautio (crew chief) provided memories of this historic undertaking.

The first 8th AAF three-way Shuttle Mission (code named “Frantic”) to Russia, Italy, and back to England lifted off from English soil on June 21st, 1944. While the Shuttle's bomber groups and the 4th Fighter Group's involvement have been well covered, few have recognized the contributions of the 486th Fighter Squadron. The 486th was one of three squadrons making up the renown 352nd Fighter Group, known as the ‘Bluenosed Bastards of Bodney’ for their blue painted Mustang cowlings. Attached to the 4th FG’s three squadrons on this mission, the ‘Bluenosers’ carried more than their share of the fight to the Luftwaffe.

The basic concept behind any Shuttle Mission flown by the AAF in '44 was to confuse the defenders of the Reich by not leaving the target area in the same way it was approached. A side benefit of this plan was the corresponding boost in morale for our visited Allies. Over 160 Third Division bombers were involved in this Shuttle, closely escorted by 60+ P-51 Mustangs. By continuing westward into Russia after bombing Ruhland, the Eighth's aircraft would theoretically endure the Luftwaffe's wrath only once. As was customary, escort duty would be divided among several units. The final long-range, escort leg into Russia would be handled by the 4th FG and the 486th FS.

On June 10th, 1944, the 486th received confidential orders from AJAX headquarters that it would be attached to Col. Donald Blakeslee's three 4th FG squadrons for the mission to Russia. George Hampson, 486th FS Engineering officer, relates how the meeting at AJAX unfolded, “The 352nd received orders that the 486th CO and Engineering Officer were to fly to Fighter Command HQ’s in London for a secret meeting. Willie O. Jackson, our CO replacing Luther Richmond downed by flak in April, collared me saying that we’d be flying in the AT-6. I thought ‘Oh God, here we go again’ as I had been treated to a terrible ‘joy-ride’ by a hotshot pilot back in training. On the contrary, Willie O. flew straight and level at low altitude on a nice day.

Upon arrival at AJAX, Willie O. knocked on a door to ask directions and a major in dress uniform opened it while drying his hands on a towel. It gave me the feeling that things were pretty cushy around there. Entering the mess hall, I was stunned to see a huge room full of nothing but high-ranking officers in dress uniforms seated at the tables. Willie O. spotted a few empty seats way at the end, so we sauntered over and sat down. We were politely chased off by a sergeant who told us it was the General Officers’ table. We never did get to eat.

Here are my remaining impressions of the meeting that followed. General Kepner was seated behind a huge desk with nothing on it but red, white, and blue telephones. Behind him was a wall-sized map of Europe. Facing him were Don Blakeslee, a 4th FG officer, Willie O., and me. Kepner explained the mission and asked Blakeslee and the other officer if they could do it? With their raunch hats, expensive boots, and cigars, they replied something like ‘no sweat’ and ‘piece of cake’. I know that I wasn’t asked anything, and Willie O. didn’t say more than one or two words if any. You see, the 4th Group guys were members of the ‘old boys’ club, while Willie and I were the new kids on the block. It was a short meeting, and I wondered why they asked us to attend at all unless it was some was for the top brass to satisfy their egos.

Back at Bodney, twelve ground crew members (representing the various technical disciplines) were selected to go with the force to service the fighters in Russia, and they would fly as waist gunners in the Shuttle's B-17's. Tom Colby reflects, “It should be noted that all briefed pilots and enlisted men were sworn to extreme security measures. The men of the 328th and 487th Squadrons tried every trick in the book to gain knowledge of the hush-hush mission afoot. Many free drinks were offered and wild stories were passed out, including tales of missions to central Africa. No incidences of security breaks were ever reported however.”

The 486th prepared for the worst, and traveled a round trip to the 4th FG’s home at Debden, England to collect 108 gallon paper drop tanks on the 14th. 486th C.O. Major Willie O. Jackson (flying PZ*J, s/n 44-13398) led the squadron back to Debden the next morning for scheduled liftoff on the 16th. The weather over Europe proved appalling for several days, so the mission was scrubbed. The eighteen pilots (including the two alternates) and twelve crewmen returned to Bodney on the 18th.

The 486th flew an escort mission to Magdeburg on the 20th, and upon return were notified that the Shuttle Mission was again ‘on’ for the next morning. The squadron packed once more and moved to Debden that evening.

The 486th FS aircraft that roosted overnight at Debden were a mixture of olive drab and natural aluminum P-51B and C models (plus Jackson's new P-51D-5NA). They carried the sweeping blue cowl and spinner paint endemic to the 352nd FG, and full D-Day ‘Invasion Stripes’ still encircled the fuselage and wings. The individual aircraft codes obscured by these stripes were boldly repainted on the cowling sides. Also, 108 gallon paper drop tanks were carried for maximum range, as opposed to the normal 75 gallon metal tanks. Generally these aircraft had upwards of 250+ hours each on their engines due to the intense grind of operations associated with the D-Day.

Liftoff

McKibben begins, "After taking a look at the foul weather that hung 200 feet over the field, hardly a man would have been eager to fly if this hadn't been the big show that we had sweated out for so long. However the weather officer assured us that we would encounter nothing but sunny skies and pretty white cumulus clouds over the entire route, and it really turned out that England was the only place that was having bad weather. Forming above the overcast, we could hear Col. Blakeslee's 'Hello Dicton, Hello Dicton, Horseback, horseback, horseback', and Dicton's reply, giving him his reciprocal course. When he got '90 degrees' we started out and settled back for a long haul." Lt. Joe Gerst flying his "Smoky Joe” (P-51B-7NA coded PZ*X, s/n 43-6865) reluctantly had to abort due to a malfunction on takeoff, as did Martin ‘Corky’ Corcoran in his "Button Nose", (P-51B-10NA, PZ*L, s/n 42-106439). Their places were eagerly filled by Lts. ‘Bud’ Fuhrman and Ernest Bostrom.

"Colonel Blakeslee's navigation was faultless and at exactly the briefed minute, the red nosed ships of the 4th Group and our blue nosed planes swung over the bombers and began weaving out to the side and over glistening B-17's. They had effectively bombed their target -Ruhland- and had reformed into two compact boxes. At the waist guns of those big friends, our crews were keeping a nervous eye peeled for the enemy. We didn't intend to let the enemy get a crack at our ground crews."

Combat

Tom Colby (piloting "Lil' Evey", P-51B-7NA, PZ*T, s/n 43-6864) recounts, "Warsaw was still under our left wing, and we were perhaps 50 to 75 miles south and just crossing the River Vistula, when we were hit by perhaps twenty Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters. The engagement was short and sweet. I didn't see much as I had a 108 gallon tank hang up and couldn't immediately shake it off. I spent a lot of effort in violent maneuvers, and was finally successful at the end of the engagement." Willie O. Jackson also had a 'hung' tank, which later tumbled loose in formation to the consternation of those narrowly missed.

The "sweet" part of the engagement was the 486th's score. Lt. Leo Northrop downed two Me-109's, Lts. Donald ‘Red’ Whinnem and Edwin Heller each accounted for one, and Yellow Leader Maj. Stephen ‘Andy’ Andrew (in P-51B-10NA, PZ*A, s/n 42-106467) had the lone 'damaged' claim.

Crew Chief S/Sgt. Undo Rautio had a different view over the waist gun of a B-17. "In due time, we arrived at and 'pasted' the target, and took our lumps from flak. Then the 109's came at us head on. I remember one passing so close that I could see the pilot’s eyes behind his glasses, but his speed was so great that I couldn't swing the gun towards him. Then 'zap', a 486th P-51 was on his tail. The last I saw of them were little specks diving towards earth. There was lots of gunfire from other locations, but my side remained clear. Then there was more flak, and I crouched down behind a very small bit of armor plate and sat on my flak jacket until things cooled off. Fortunately I didn't see any B-17's fatally hit, although one did trail smoke from the left outboard engine."

Ed Heller (flying "HELL-ER-BUST", P-51B-7NA, PZ*H, s/n 43-6704) elaborated in his Encounter Report, "As Yellow Leader was closing in on the tail of a 109, I observed another Jerry queuing up on his tail. I immediately chased the Hun that was pursuing Yellow Leader and forced him to break for the deck. I followed him down to about 8,000 feet where I finished him off with a short burst from 200 yards dead astern. The Me- 109 poured smoke and I last saw the E/A when it went into the ground."

Heller expands on this today with: "After I had shot down the 109, I started back to the bombers. At about Angels 20 (20,000 feet) I saw below me three 109's in a fight with one P-51, so I peeled over to help him. Well when I got close I saw they were actually four 109's, three being camouflaged. I took a burst at one and zoomed full-throttle with all of them on my tail. I climbed in a spiral so steep I was just above stall. It seemed that when a 109 shot its guns, it stalled. Three of them stalled out, and the fourth got a burst in on me and hit my rudder. It almost caused my knee to hit my chin. He then stalled out. I took off and finally found the bomber string. I surmise that if I hadn't been so scared, I could have winged over and gotten that last 109 after he stalled out."

Lt. Northrop (in his P-51B-7NA "Donna Dae V", PZ*N, s/n 43-6736) simultaneously took over the task of clearing Lt. Heller's tail, convincing an Me-109 pilot to hit the silk after a few very long range bursts. While firing at this Messerschmitt, Northrop was assailed from 11 o'clock low by two others, whom he 'broke' into twice in an effort to gain position. Northrop reported, "...as I turned into them again, this time we both fired all we had. He tried to ram me and I had to pull up my right wing in order to avoid him. By pulling up my right wing I succeeded in making a very tight left turn to check these two jokers. I saw the leader, the one I had shot at, going straight down with his whole engine and canopy in flames."

Lt. ‘Red’ Whinnem downed another Me-109 while piloting his "HMS Hellion" (P-51B-15NA, PZ*W, s/n 42-106752). Red allows, “I saw this Me-109 milling around for a while. He was probably a green kid trying to ‘build up points’, and anyway he got up the nerve to make a pass at us. I was leading the flight, and as he swung down in front of us I kicked my rudder around and took a shot down at him. I am pretty sure I didn’t hit him, but someone saw the guy jump before I lost him into the clouds. Anyway, I got credit for that one.”

Luckily, the Luftwaffe chose to strike as the Mustang's drop tanks were nearly dry, thereby little shortening their ultimate mission range. Bud Fuhrman (piloting his assigned P-51B-10NA "The Flying Scot II", PZ*D, s/n 42-106472) recalls "We used the 108 gallon cardboard tanks when we went to Russia, but I never liked them as they vibrated in the air stream when they were empty. We were told to try to hang onto these 108 gallon models as they would only have the usual 75 gallon ones in Russia. Of course, when we were bounced that was all forgotten."

Klaus J. Schiffler recently translated into English a section of the book "Jagdgeschwader 51 'Moelders': Eine Chronik" by Gebhard Aders and Werner Held. The translation covers this unit’s viewpoint of the June 21st raid, “On the 21st of June an American formation which had bombed Berlin flew across Warsaw toward the southeast. The I. and III./JG 51 which had been practicing air combat in the air when the ground control informed them of an enemy formation heading their way. Although their fuel tanks were almost dry, the Wing Commander assembled both of these Groups and ordered the Staff Squadron to take off. The German fighters overtook the B-17 formation and participated in a regulation attack from the front. Mustangs were above the bomber units, but the unit was aware of their position. The American escort fighters were unable to intervene before the German fighters had flown through the bomber formations. First Lt. Wever of the 3rd Staffel shot down a B-17. As the German fighters began to reassemble after the attack, it was raining with Mustangs. The I. Gruppe was scattered. Major Losigkeit held the III. Gruppe together and was able to ward off the Mustangs' attacks. Two P-51's were shot down, one of which crashed at the edge of the runway at Bobruisk”

Russia

Passing into eastern Poland and western Russia, evidence of the stark horrors of the Eastern Front were visible even from the air. Tom Colby relates, "We passed just to the south of Kiev, and part of it was on fire. We could see artillery and mortars shooting and falling." The scorched earth policy in Russia took on vivid meaning when the charred villages, shell holes, and tank tracks became visible from the air.

Rautio in a B-17 relates, "We flew for a long time over dark green territory that seemed devoid of roads or human habitation, simply wilderness. All of the tension had thoroughly exhausted me and I fell asleep! I awoke just before we landed, and the Germans were already overhead photographing the whole area. We P-51 men were then flown by Russian DC-3 to Piryatin."

"Leaving the bombers, we altered our course southward and soon passed Russian P-39's as they flew towards a rendezvous with our bombers", McKibben continues. "We began to check our gas and a few of the boys began to sweat it out. After passing Kiev we all kept a watchful eye for our base. We were beginning to feel the effects of sitting on those hard dinghies for the last seven hours, and time seemed to drag before we sighted flares that marked Piryatin. You could sense the relief in Col. Blakeslee's voice as he said, 'Well boys, here's the end of a perfect mission. Well, it wasn't quite perfect, and a 4th Group boy didn't help matters when he staged a minor accident on the lone steel mat runway and held the remainder of us in the air for 20 minutes." Colby emphatically adds, "Believe me, this was serious as all of my tanks were dry, and when we finally landed I estimated only 15 to 20 minutes of fuel remaining. Blue Flight was very tight lipped, tired and relieved!

Speaking of 'relieved', after more than eight hours in the air plus the extra 20 minutes holding, everyone's bladder was ready to explode. Our aircraft were dispersed in a helter skelter fashion on the west side of the airstrip, and we immediately unbuttoned our drawers and ‘let fly’ in front of a huge audience. Later that day the elderly American base commander complained to Blakeslee about this unseemly conduct. Blakeslee just laughed it off."

A recent fine art print shows Col. Blakeslee having just landed in Piryatin. Fuhrman corrects, "In the painting of when we arrived in Russia, Blakeslee is pointing to his watch to show we arrived to the minute. He actually had little to do with that, as we were just following the bombers and their navigators that led us most of the way. Also it would be difficult to have previous knowledge on head or tail winds we might encounter during the flight. To bring it down to the exact minute was just luck. Pure luck." This is no reflection on Blakeslee’s skill as a pilot or popularity as a leader however, as he is well respected and thought of by those who flew on the mission.

After a truck ride to the briefing tent, an American Intelligence Officer interrogated the pilots while Russian girls provided refreshments. Fuhrman recalls having fresh white bread and jam. He adds, "Gee that tasted good after the dark coarse bread we got in England. I often wondered where they managed to find the stuff. I'm sure the Russian people didn't have it." Following a quick rest and evening chow, the pilots retired to their assigned tents with canvas cots. Colby allows, "I'd had the foresight to put two taped bottles of scotch in a suitable cranny of my right gun bay, and retrieved them in time for a twilight cocktail party. The group included Jackson, Higgins, McKibben, French, Heller, and Deacon Hively of the 4th Group among others. I'm sure someone thanked me for my generosity, but only momentarily." It seems the Luftwaffe had other plans for the Shuttle participants!

Germany_Retaliates

"That night (the 21st) we had just gotten settled when all hell broke loose around us. We peered under the edge of the tent to see ack-ack breaking in the sky above us and searchlights groping through the night. We just laid there and took in the show. That is, until a couple of parachute flares broke into brilliance directly above our tent. There was a sudden rush of half dressed and undressed figures, making for the slit trenches at the end of our row of tents. Those sprinters among us made it in time to get the few remaining vacancies in the trenches. Raid-wise G.I.'s had just about filled the trenches with the first few bursts of ack-ack. The rest of us squatted in the shallow ditch and waited for the bombs to start falling. Meanwhile, tracers from the field defenses were trying to shoot out the Jerry flares. As the parachutes got lower to the ground, the Russians depressed their guns until tracers were coursing between our tents and directly above our heads. After the flares had been shot out, the ack-ack stopped firing and no bombs had been dropped, we went back to our sacks. We decided that Major Andrew and Lt. Northrop had broken some kind of dash record in their scramble for the slit trenches. Jerry didn't bother us again that night."

“It was a crazy deal all over when the Germans came after us in Russia”, ‘Red’ Whinnem adds. “We hit the slit trenches, and it felt like World War One all over again!”

Crew Chief Rautio pitches in, "That night the Germans blew up most of the B-17's at the bomber bases, ending the crew's mission, and stranding us!"

Colby again continues, "During the raid that night I ran out with the group and nearly hung myself on a tent rope - as did others. I had a rope burn for a week. When I returned later, there was two inch tear in the cot at about chest level if I'd been lying on my back. I looked up to see a large tear in the tent, and felt under my cot and came away with a jagged 3-inch shell splinter!"

"We learned the next day that Poltava and Mirgorad, the two bomber bases had suffered heavily in the raid", McKibben laments. "Only about half of the original force of bombers would be able to continue on to Italy. They then decided to evacuate us and our planes farther into the interior. That evening (June 22nd) our squadron went to Kharkov and the 4th Group went to Chugiev and Zaporoache."

Klaus J. Schiffler’s translation of "Jagdgeschwader 51 'Moelders': Eine Chronik" continues with, “Two P-51's were shot down, one of which crashed at the edge of the runway at Bobruisk. In this aircraft was found a map with the flight layout pointing directly to Poltava. Capt. von Eichel-Streiber brought this map to Air Fleet HQ which confirmed a recon aircraft report which followed the bomber formations to Poltava on which a bombing attack was planned. That night eighty He 111 and Ju 88 bombers attack this airfield and destroyed forty seven B-17's. The only personnel loss that JG 51 sustained that day was Uffz. Robert Willms of the III. Gruppe, KIA over Domaczewo. He had no kills to his credit.”

From Undo Rautio's Crew Chief point of view, "The Germans also tried for the '51's on the night of the 22nd, and we could do nothing but cringe in the cellar of a school house while the bombs shook us up. We could hear some ineffective AA gunfire in the distance. In the morning we found the Germans had missed our '51's, and we settled down with the Russians to await rescue by the ATC. The plan was to prepare the '51's for a long flight to Italy, then go by ATC through Iran, North Africa, Casablanca, and finally back to Bodney. That's the way it was, but in the meantime, we tented out, ate captured German food, and looked over the Stormoviks (crude, to say the least). One day a lone German 'Me' (Messerschmitt Me-109 - author) flew over at about 800 feet and never fired a shot. A Russian Airacobra attacked him from above, cannon banging, with shells ripping up our sod taxi-ways. The German 'poured on the coal' and roared off west streaming black exhaust smoke. The Airacobra was pretty, but not fast enough."

Kharkov,_Russia

While Kharkov initially looked untouched, it was soon apparent that past fighting had gutted many buildings. The airfield was on the outskirts of town, and Colby recollects, "The runways were in a triangle, with hangers on the south side. Huge bomb craters, smashed steel hangers, and perhaps 30 to 40 wrecked Stormovik aircraft were scattered about. I'm sure the field had been shelled also, but the runways were made of huge concrete hexagons and they stood up. We landed and parked our aircraft in a line at the east end of the airfield."

Initial reception on June 22nd by the Russians was confused until an American interpreter arrived in a B-17. Transport was then arranged to get the pilots and enlisted men into Kharkov itself. The aircraft were guarded by Russian women soldiers, who overnight picked wildflowers and left them on the planes. Colby recalls this, "Transport to and from the airfield was by open top Studebaker G.I. trucks! The Russian truck drivers drove in a kamikaze fashion, and knew little English except 'stop' and 'go'. The drive from the airfield to the building where we stayed was about 2 miles and up a hill. The airfield itself was at the top of a hill and in spots had a view of the wrecked city. Kharkov, a pre-war city of about 250,000, was reduced to rubble with burned out brick and concrete buildings barely 10 feet high in most places -no roofs. Anywhere. Our building was perhaps 150 feet long by 80 feet wide, had at least two floors (we slept on the second), and a very broad staircase. It did have a patched but complete roof." These quarters were 'furnished' with two-foot high, room length raised platforms with straw mattresses that masqueraded as bunks. It resulted in twenty to thirty-man continuous beds.

As can be imagined, the Americans were a real curiosity for the Russian population, and small mixed groups gathered in the dirt square before the quarters attempting to be understood. "Everyone we met was pleasant and tried to make us feel at home, despite the obvious hardships they were under", relates McKibben. "The uniforms of the Russian men and women were rather grimy, but they themselves were clean and neat. The women were attractive, though not beautiful, and long after we left Russia those buxom belles were the source of great wonderment on the part of Americans who had only known English and American girls. Compared to those Russian beauties, our girls are flat-chested indeed!" Colby adds, "We were warned by the B-17 commander who came in late in the day not to mess with any of the women or we could get shot! Any flirting was done in a group only, and in daylight."

Fuhrman adds that one of the Russian women soldiers encountered was a sniper by trade, with 23 German ‘kills’ to her credit.

The latrine situation was quickly sussed out as Colby describes, "Perhaps 25 yards from the main entrance was a wooden latrine, approximately a '100 holer' with human excrement built up around every hole and lime sprinkled generously atop. It smelled to high heaven! Russian troops and civilians used it constantly, and were in no way bashful. To urinate they would step away from the building and do their 'business' either standing or squatting and showed absolutely no concern. We did not watch, point, laugh, or in general comment because at least half of them (men and women) were armed."

Bud Fuhrman concurs, "There was a huge box about 2 feet high with holes cut around the edge. The place was so dirty that we didn't want to use it. A Russian soldier showed us how by leaping up, straddling a hole, pulling down his pants, and letting fly. This we probably could have managed, but with half of the city looking on, you had all the privacy of a goldfish bowl."

Colby elaborates, "We had another problem when it came time to urinate. We would walk as far away as we could get from the building, but at least in pairs as we were followed by very bold male children who would laugh, point, and shout to others probably insulting us in Russian. No one, and I repeat no one, would drop their pants and defecate. Man did this become a problem!"

The next day the men were informed that return to Piryatin would be delayed until the next morning (June 24th). The 486th spent the 23rd increasing their Russian vocabulary and looking over the area. Wary of mines, Colby and Lt. Warren Brashear made a three mile jaunt through the desolation, only turning back when met by a huge, heavily armed, though well-intentioned Russian Captain.

Before takeoff for Piryatin, the men realized that something had to be done about the elimination problem. "It had been several days and most of us had headaches, dizziness, and nausea. I had a roll of toilet paper, stashed in the same gun bay as the scotch, so it was decided to go up to the airfield to be away from everyone. We rounded up a Russian truck driver, and after much yelling, he took us up to the field. Somewhere there is a photo of about nine of us squatting around PZ*T doing our utmost to eliminate all of those Vienna Sausages, macaroni & cheese, and delicious white bread accumulated inside!" (see photo of Northrop)

"At daybreak on the 24th we took off for Piryatin, hoping eagerly that there would be a mission", continues Don ‘Mac’ McKibben. "There wasn't, so we spent the day sunning ourselves and taking advantage of the comparative luxury of outdoor showers. We learned that Jerry had tried to bomb the field the previous night, but missed by three miles."

All departed at daybreak on the 24th except Colby, who had a dead battery in his Mustang "Lil' Evey". "I never felt so alone in my life." After walking to the quarters over two miles away, he was able to borrow a C-10 generator and get started. Before leaving Colby was given a package by the C.O. of the B-17's to give to Capt. Hively, some thirty miles away at Chugiev. Colby was also ordered to report back to him with acknowledgment and answer! After circling over the sea-like landscape, he was able to locate Chugiev, deliver the package, and make it back to Piryatin about two hours later. The offending battery was duly recharged.

Chugiev_Troubles

"We heard from the 4th Group boys of a big party that had been given for them in Chugiev, and Major Jackson decided to take us there that night. The dusk landing on the 24th at Chugiev was the beginning of our airplane troubles. Lt. Brashear (in PZ*B, s/n 42-106613, a P-51B-10NA) taxied over an unseen abandoned slit trench and sank in, damaging his prop." Shear Russian manpower lifted this 11,000 pound aircraft out and into a safe area. Fuhrman dryly describes the landing as "very interesting" with brush and shell holes flashing past his wingtips at dusk. Colby adds, "There was no runway, just a large grass field. The grass was about 1-2 feet high and hid a lot of loosely filled abandoned slit trenches, holes, and ditches. The landings were hard and really beat up the aircraft. While we weren't taxiing fast, sinking into a trench was enough to shear the splines off of a prop hub. You didn't get very far after that." After a moderate celebration and another night in a community bed, the 486th rose to return to Piryatin on June 25th.

On takeoff that morning, problems again plagued the ‘Bluenosers’. Lt. ‘Jim’ Gremaux's starter motor was damaged by water, putting that Mustang out of action. Gremaux would remain in Chugiev with Lt. Brashear, as the remainder of the squadron (along with the 4th Group) lifted off, returned to Piryatin, and relaxed for a rumored mission on June 26th. Eventually transport was arranged for Lts. Brashear and Gremaux via Air Transport Command, and their damaged Mustangs were abandoned.

Chugiev also proved to be the bane of Ed Heller and his famous Mustang "HELL-ER-BUST". Having had his rudder repaired back in Piryatin, he optimistically lined up for takeoff with the rest of the unit on June 25th. On takeoff his engine failed. "I jammed on the brakes and stopped just short of a ditch", Heller recalls. "After checking the mags I again attempted to take off. This time the engine failed after the 'point of no return' and I ended up in that damned ditch with busted a prop blade." Heller was determined to fly out in a Mustang, so he had the prop repaired with a bastard blade from a B-17. After these repairs were completed over a couple of days, the Mustang was again lined up for takeoff after ground running. A few seconds after becoming airborne, a connecting rod came sailing through the cowling, and Heller jammed the P-51 back onto the ground and stopped without additional damage. He was forced to wait two weeks for a replacement Merlin, which was then manhandled into the Mustang. The rest of the Group was now long gone, so Ed decided to fly home via the southern Air Transport Command (ATC) route over the Middle East. After a short hop over to the large bomber base at Poltava for extra drop tanks, Heller lifted off and pointed his nose towards Teheran.

The_Alert_Flight

An alert flight of four ships was arranged the morning of June 25th at Piryatin. "Willie O. Jackson came to me early and ordered me to take my four aircraft to the end of the runway and set up an 'alert flight' in case we needed to protect the takeoff for that day if we flew down to Italy", Colby details. "We were to ask no questions, just keep an eye on the tower and take off on a red flare and defend the entire airdrome!

About this time an event took place that emphasized the warnings we had received about proper conduct in any and all fashion while in Russia. Trucks would occasionally use a road crossing the end of the runway to service Russian P-39's on the N.E. corner of the field. Though trucks were supposed to check for arriving or departing aircraft, one truck crossed just as a P-39 was landing and a collision resulted. The P-39 pilot was not using the metal runway, but was apparently trying to shorten his taxi time by approaching at an angle on the grass. I don't think the pilot was killed, but there was a big 'dust-up' and some shots were fired. We were told that as an example the truck driver had been shot - on the spot!

After some 30 minutes on 'alert', suddenly red flares were fired. Frankly I hesitated, then cranked up the engine and turned on the radio to hear a voice screaming to 'get airborne'! We lumbered down the runway fully loaded with fuel, including two 75 gallon drop tanks. We climbed at about 40" of manifold pressure and 2500 rpm, jettisoned drop tanks after clearing the field, and requested directions. Subsequently I was told there were Ju-88's in the area, but not where. I kept climbing and to the south as this was late morning and I wanted the sun behind or above me.

We ultimately got to nearly 20,000 feet when a voice blared 'Here he comes!' and 'He's coming right at me!'. In a scramble of hysterical girlish screams a series of contradictory instructions flowed, so in desperation I called for full power and dived at a steep angle for the center of the field. At a scream, 'He's going away!', I turned to starboard then another scream informed me I was wrong so I did a half roll and headed west. Not seeing a German plane, I dove to treetop level so we could see a shape on the horizon. Looking around, Blue Flight was in tight, so I radioed them to spread out and asked who saw anything. No answer, so at about 61" manifold pressure and 3000 rpms we flew on for what seemed like hours on 270 degrees west. After actually only a few minutes, I spotted an aircraft and we slowly but surely closed in on it. I was directly astern and under him and closed to 25 yards. It was a P-39 at full bore also chasing our mysterious German! I called out not to fire, and pulled alongside left with my wingman Bostrom, and our element leader and his wingman (‘Bud’ Fuhrman) on the right. The Russian pilot gaped at us as I don't think he knew us to be behind him!

We passed him by, continued on for a while and didn't see a thing ahead. I aborted the chase and returned to base, making very sure to call in our approach well in advance because of the itchy Russian gun batteries."

Bud Fuhrman had it even rougher on the ‘Alert Flight’, a precursor to the tone of his entire day. “When I got the order to be on the ‘Alert Flight’ I asked Jackson if I should take my plane and gear. He said ‘No, use the plane and equipment there’, I guess figuring we would never be used. As it was, I was using Jerry French’s airplane (formerly Chet Harker’s “Cile II - Luck of the Irish”, code PZ-H, s/n 43-6509, later Russ Leibfarth’s PZ-Lbar) and the helmet and harness were too big. I had to use one hand on the earphone just to hear, and crossed my legs to keep from falling out. Nothing fit right! The yelling from the tower caused the radio to be so garbled we couldn’t make out anything.” Not a good way to fight in a Mustang!

Colby points out that the aircraft had been run very hard for about 40 minutes, well exceeding the 5 minute time limit on maximum performance operation. On the ground a successful scramble was made to mount new drop tanks, connecting them with the scarce and invaluable glass break-away tubes.

Colby finishes, "We reported to Jackson who questioned our maneuvers (rather sharply) as he was embarrassed that we hadn't downed the Ju-88 in full view of the airfield, bringing distinction to the 486th Squadron and America in general. It had been Hively who was screaming like an embattled virgin, and he was both embarrassed and angry. Col. Blakeslee was present, took it well, and told Jackson that we did fine considering the screaming and mixed instructions. It was rumored that the Ju- 88 was caught by P-39's. No way! He escaped and no one in my flight ever saw him at any time."

Fuhrman's_'Milk_Run'

That afternoon of June 26th the 486th (minus Brashear, Gremaux, and Heller) took off to escort the bomber boys again. The target would be the oil refinery at Drohobvos, Poland, proceeding to a landing in Lucora, Italy. The mission was a 'milk run' for all except ‘Bud’ Fuhrman, who fills in the details for us. "At our briefing we were informed that a ground crew, ready with spare wing tanks and gasoline, would be stationed along the side of the runway for anyone who might drop a tank on takeoff. This precaution was made because we were taking off from the steel mat runway which was anything but smooth, causing our fuel laden fighters to take some hard bounces. As the flight to Italy would be a long one, we needed all of the fuel we could carry. Our takeoff seemed normal, and the Squadron formed up and set course for the first check point.

The pilot next to me signaled that I had lost one of my 75 gallon wing tanks. This had not become apparent to me as I was still using fuel from one of the internal tanks located in the wings. I pulled PZ*D out of formation and headed back to Piryatin. I quickly found the airfield, came around, and made a standard 360 degree overhead approach. When I swung onto my final approach to the field, there was a photo-recon P-38 landing ahead of me. He landed short and taxied slowly down the runway. Nothing the tower shouted at him seemed to speed him up, so I went around again and made another landing approach. This all cost me valuable time. When I landed and saw that my roll would carry me to the waiting fueling crew, I cut the mixture control causing the engine to cease firing. I rolled up to the crew and spun the aircraft around with the brakes. I will give the crew all of the praise, as almost before the propeller stopped wind-milling, they had the new tank hung and filled with fuel. Others raced to get the sway braces adjusted and the fuel lines connected. Inside of five minutes I started up and was taxiing out for takeoff.

I was quickly airborne and on my way again by myself. I had all of the compass headings on the back of my hand, which was standard practice to give us something to go by in case we got separated from the group. I climbed to 25,000 feet and set a very fast cruise to catch up with the squadron. I easily spotted where the bombers did their work, as there was a towering column of dense black smoke. I set off on the new course I knew our airplanes had taken.

I always kept a sharp lookout for other aircraft, especially over enemy territory. This habit sure paid off, as when I glanced in my mirror, my heart jumped into my throat! Close and coming up fast were two Me-109's. I didn't need a second look to see their cannons sticking from the holes in their spinners. Just moments before I glimpsed our airplanes ahead of me, though some miles away. Almost in one motion I broke left in a violent turn, reached down and flipped the fuel selector to an inboard wing tank, flipped the arming toggle to the wing tank release, and dropped the tanks. The P-51 had an 85 gallon fuselage fuel tank behind the pilot, and being full it caused a very tail-heavy condition. My turn was so sharp that I thought the tail would pass me. As opposed to a lot of control stick back pressure in a normal steep turn, I had to push forward to keep control of the plane. This sudden turn caught the Me- 109's by surprise as I was fast taking the initiative from them. The two E/A separated, one zoomed climbing right, the other swinging down to the left. I would have loved to have taken off after the one heading down, but I knew his buddy would be on me in a flash. No chance of catching the one climbing right.

I called my squadron for help, and Jackson asked my position. I replied, 'Angels 25 and about 5 miles east of target area.' In a couple of minutes the squadron dove down to my aid. Their appearance caused the Me-109's to quickly lose all interest and disappear. Having dropped my wing tanks, I throttled back and flew a straight and steady course to one side of the bombers to conserve fuel. Thanks to good old PZ*D, I didn't have to visit the prearranged emergency fuel stop on the Island of Vis, and had enough fuel to reach Lucora with the rest of the squadron. PZ*D was very good for fuel economy and speed. All of the rest of the pilots thought it was an uneventful mission, but for me it was all of the excitement I wanted."

Italy

After crossing the Adriatic the aircraft came to roost in the talcum-like dust of Lucora Airfield (near Foggia). After an overnight stay in the base's tents, the 486th took off with the 4th Group for the short hop to Madna, Italy. The next six days (June 27th through July 1st) were spent resting up at Madna, and cavorting on the beaches working on suntans. Though missions were likely to be 'on' at any time, poor weather over England prompted this extended rest period. ‘Bud’ Fuhrman celebrated his birthday in Italy that year, turning 23 years on June 28th and enjoying a swim in the Adriatic.

McKibben describes the departure from Italy on July 2nd: "We flew with the 15th AF on a mission to Budapest. Our Group swept the target area before the bombers and gave target support. Just as the bombers started their bomb run, a large formation of Me-109's were sighted and the Group took out after them. Major Higgins (piloting Bill Reese’s PZ*Rbar as his “Bayou Baby” malfunctioned before leaving Bodney) got an Fw-190, and a few minutes later shared in the destruction of an Me-109 with a 4th Group boy. However, we wound up on the red side of the ledger on that mission by losing Major Andrew and Lt. Howell. Lt. Howell was last heard of when he went on a bounce." Howell called that he "had a bunch surrounded" and for the flight to follow him, but they were unfortunately already engaged. He was flying "Texas Knight", (P-51B-15NA, PZ*V, s/n 42-106857).

The late Charles Griffiths relates the loss of Stephen ‘Andy’ Andrew when the engine on Mustang PZ*A failed. "Andy’ received a new engine in his P-51 before leaving England. It had been 'slow-timed' and test-hopped, but no missions flown on it before the Shuttle Mission. The engine performed okay on the England/Russia/Italy legs, but trouble arrived on the mission to Budapest. I was flying ‘Andy's’ wing and Lt. Northrop was element leader. I don't remember who number four was because we lost him right after the Germans jumped us. It could have been Lt. Howell who was lost on that mission. He left on his own going after a single bandit, and we heard him call for help later.

Apparently, as the Jerries hit us ‘Andy’ firewalled it to catch the Jerry he'd picked out. After a few seconds his engine froze, and he was staring at his prop and starting a steep descent. Northrop and I stayed with him, essing above him as he tried to restart his engine. At about 25,000 feet I suddenly saw tracers coming at me, and set new records for evasive action while still trying to stay with ‘Andy’. My head went full circle as they attacked again, then suddenly disappeared. I don't know why they left, unless another of our guys got on them. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, ‘Andy’ was still going down and me with him. If anyone knows what it's like to deadstick a Mustang, you know that ‘Andy’ was trying to find a suitable field. ‘Andy’ radioed, 'Well Boys, I guess I've had it' and asked for wind directions. It was fairly flat country, and he landed wheels-up in a plowed field. When we saw him wave and run away across a field, we strafed his plane in a couple of passes, left it burning, and left ‘Andy’ to his fate." Andrew evaded for a week, and covered 100 miles along his chosen escape route. However he stumbled into an SS Division’s bivouac while evading at night near Baja, Hungary and was captured. Imprisoned in Stalag Luft III near Sagan, he was later moved (in January ‘45) for the remainder of the war to Stalag Luft VII in Bavaria. Liberated in April of 1945, he was able to visit Bodney briefly to renew old friendships before heading Stateside.

Colby adds, "A single Me-109 plunged through the top cover, pulled out level at about 300 yards, and startled both me and McKibben. As we maneuvered to jump him, four Mustangs from another unit literally blew him apart. After a high power chase after two Me-109's towards Romania, I broke off and it's a damn good thing I did. My engine was breaking down from the stress of 275+ hours and hard use in the last week. I later signed off on the engine and used it returning to England, rather than have it rebuilt in Italy and remain with the 52nd Group."

Aviation author and editor Jon Guttman has kindly provided information on this day’s events from the German and Hungarian viewpoint, “In regard to the Axis side of the July 2, 1944 mission, the amount of aircraft they threw up does not make an easy sorting out of who got whom. All three of the Hungarian 101st Fighter Group's squadrons were up. Four Hungarian Me-109Gs were lost, resulting in the deaths of 2nd Lt. Erno Karnay and Corporal Sandor Beregszaszi of 101/1 Fighter Squadron, and Cpl. Pal Takats of 101/3, while Sgt. Pal Forro of 101/2 bailed out wounded (Forro had also been among the three Hungarian and one German Me-109s downed by the 49th Fighter Squadron during the June 14 dogfight; shot down by 2nd Lt. Don Luttrell, he belly-landed in a grove of trees and emerged miraculously unhurt, although he said in his combat report that the only part of his Messerschmitt still in one piece was the engine).

The Hungarian research book I have also noted that the following German units (operating from Vienna, Graz, Zeltweg, Wels and Seyring) also got involved in the air battle:

I/ZG.1--Me-401s
II/ZG.I--Me-110s
I/ZG.76--Me-410s
III/ZG.76--Me-410s
II/JG.302--Me-109Gs
II/JG.27--Me-109Gs
III/JG.27--Me109Gs
IV (Sturm)/JG.3--Fw-190A-8s and Me-109G-6s
I/JG.10--Me-109Gs
JG.108 (Jaegerschule), operating from Bratislava, also committed some planes to the fight.

I have only found partial German information thus far. JG.302 reported 10 of its pilots killed and one wounded who bailed out. I/ZG.76 claimed eight bombers, while III/ZG.76 claimed only one.

Hungarian claims for July 2 included five B-24s and two confirmed P-51s:

Sgt. Zoltan Rapos and Senior Cpl. Pal Szikora, 101/1--P-51, near Vereb

2nd Lt. Gyogry Debrody, 101/3--P-51, near Pilisvorosvar - probably 1st Lt.
George L. Stanford, Jr. of the 335th Squadron, brought down as POW.

Among the unconfirmed claims was a P-51 by Ensign Leo Kriszevszky of the 101/3 Squadron, which the Hungarians later traced to P-51B 43-6746 QP-X, the wreckage of which was found on the Yugoslav side of the border at Mostar. Its pilot was 1st Lt. Ralph Hofer, a 16 1/2-victory ace of the 4th Fighter Group's 335th Squadron. Stanford, whose Mustang had been disabled by a thrown rod and dove for the deck before finding his plane in flames and being forced to belly-land, stated that Hofer had been following him down, trying to guard his tail when he was jumped by an Me-109.”

In addition to the 352nd Fighter Group's two losses, the 4th Group lost four P-51s and the 325th "Checkertail Clan" lost two (one downed over Budapest and one destroyed in a mid-air collision east of Budapest).

‘Mac’ McKibben concludes the details of the July 2nd melee with a dry, "The rest of the mission was uneventful. The following day (the 3rd) we ran a mission with our own 8th AF bombers to Arad, Rumania. Another milk run."

July Fourth was uneventful except for the 486th's use of some flare pistols to create a little 'fireworks' in celebration. Some of the oat stubble surrounding the field was set smoldering by the flares, but as it was quickly doused no harm was done. That evening, the squadron was alerted with orders for a return mission to England.

Off_For_Home

"Target for the trip home was the marshaling yards at Bezier, near the south coast of France. The pilots of the 52nd Group at Madna were astounded when they heard the weather officer brief us for a 200 foot ceiling over England. In Italy they simply did not fly if there was any weather to contend with. Our route out to rendezvous took us directly over Rome and across Corsica. We rendezvoused with the big friends just south of the target. The only opposition was a lone Me-109, who was rat-racing around the tail-end of the bomber formations. Major Higgins, who had taken over the squadron when Major Jackson had to abort, started after the Hun but he evaded in a steep dive. We kept our wing tanks throughout the pass and were content to let the Jerry go. It was along way from home and we needed the gas in our wing tanks.

We left the bombers by flights of four as the gasoline supply began to dwindle and headed north toward England. Major Jackson and Lts. Williams, Whinnem, Northrop, and Bostrom all returned to Italy because of gas shortage or mechanical difficulties, but soon effected repairs. The English coastline looked good, but what even looked better was the weather over England. There were plenty of holes in the overcast, and we thanked our lucky stars the weather officer had slipped up on that score. After landing at Debden, we made a dash for the bar, where free beer was dispensed under a sign reading 'Welcome Home Col. Blakeslee and the Boys'.”

Colby adds, "No problems on the 20 minute flight back to Bodney from Debden, but for some reason I didn't join the others in buzzing and beating up the field...thank God. On landing I felt a severe jolt and a pull to the right. The next day the line chief came and showed me where the top rudder pin was sheared in two! (This aircraft was later made the assigned mount of Jerry French as PZ-F when Colby received a new P-51D).

In an irony, on the truck ride from our planes to the mess hall and huts, we passed Gremaux and Brashear. They'd left several days before us on ATC from Chugiev, and we all arrived together!" The next day Jackson, Whinnem, Williams, Northrop, and Bostrom arrived safely back in England from Italy.

The _'Wandering_Boy'_ Heller Returns

Back in Russia, after laboriously fitting the new Merlin powerplant Heller finally lifted off from Poltava and pointed his nose towards Teheran (next stop on the southern ATC route). Predictably, the hydraulics blew after gear-up, leaving no flaps or brakes upon landing. After rocking the aircraft until the gear dropped and locked, Heller successfully ground looped to a stop at Teheran with no further damage. After another two weeks of waiting (with a case of dysentery) for parts, repairs were again accomplished and the next leg of the return trip was completed to Cairo. After a bit of sight seeing, he was off again to Benghazi, flying low over the North African desert and viewing the battlefields. The next leg of the trip (to Casablanca) was undertaken crossing the Gulf of Sidra, Tunisia, and the Atlas Mountains. Upon landing and filing a flight plan for return to England, the resident General summarily grounded Heller and confiscated the Mustang for personal use. So the trip to England was completed by ATC after all. As Heller notes, "What a trip!"

Colby concludes, "There was great speculation as to the value of these 'Shuttle Missions'. Much was made over the symbolism of the Allies being able to strike from three sides and the general mobility of the American Air Force. It wasn't for the German's sake! It was all designed to impress the Russians. At our level we all suspected this, but Col. Blakeslee informally made this clear to us."

While the overall Shuttle losses incurred by the bomber and fighter groups were high, the 486th FS acquitted itself well on the mission. Official credits show 5 ˝ victories credited to the unit, versus one loss to enemy opposition (Howell). Operational accidents due to poor Russian field conditions claimed two more Mustangs, Heller’s P-51 was lost to the General in Casablanca, and “Andy” Andrew was made a POW due to engine failure.

486th FS Shuttle Mission participants were: (pilots) Majors Stephen W. Andrew and Willie O. Jackson, Captains Martin E. Corcoran (aborted) and Donald H. Higgins, Lieutenants Ernest O. Bostrom, Warren H. Brashear, Thomas W. Colby, David J. French, Carleton L. Fuhrman, Joseph L. Gerst (aborted), Leonard A. Gremaux, Charles E. Griffiths, Edwin L. Heller, Lester L. Howell, Donald W. McKibben, Leo W. Northrop, Donald Y. Whinnem, and Kenneth Williams; (ground crew) T/Sgt’s Sheldon F. Ackerly and Clifford A. Craft, S/Sgt’s Howard Jester, Alan L. Polworth, Undo F. Rautio, Edward F. Richards, Harry L. Sanford, Carl J. Scoffone (unable to participate due to illness), James R. Sturdevant John I. Sullivan, Walter J. Tyska, Harry L. VanDyk
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Old 26th May 2014, 08:59
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

oh Thanks John...
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Old 27th May 2014, 20:28
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Re: 2 July 1944 losses of the shuttle mission FGs

According to Fry's and Ethell's Escort to Berlin Grover Siems was severely wounded in the shoulder, neck and chin with his left side paralyzed but managed to do a normal landing at Foggia but could not open his canopy there. He was returned to the States in serious condition.
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