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Old 04-27-2010, 04:25 PM
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straffing a 262

On July 24th 1944 the 354th were part of a 3 squadron strafing mission designated to attack the airfield at Lechfeld, near Augsburg, Bavaria, Southern Germany, close to the Messerschmidt factory where 262s were being built. Their job was to destroy jet fighters parked on the airfield before they could be used against allied bombing raids. It seemed that it might be a wasted effort, as solid cloud covered the continent for the whole of the outward flight - until a hole appeared in the cloud near the target.

"One after another, six flights of four dove through the opening in the clouds. It was our turn. So much for the element of surprise. Even the lead flight could expect a warm reception. I turned on the windshield defroster, flipped the gun switch on and followed in a spiraling dive toward that thin ribbon below [the Lech River].

The Mustang seemed to come alive as the airspeed built up rapidly. Gone was the sensation of hanging motionless. We were moving! Streaking down the walls of cloud, my pulse quickened with the excitement of high-speed flight. Below I could see the lead flight level off above the river and head for the target, which was hidden by clouds.

We leveled off just above the trees and headed north, straddling the river. Almost immediately, we were beneath the overcast in a light drizzle that sharply restricted visibility.

With the throttle wide open, doing better than four hundred miles per hour, I was straining to find the airfield in the sunless gloom. I knew the field was west of the river, so if I held this heading...

A large hangar, dead ahead. Big brick buildings to the left. "There it is!"

I pulled up to about three hundred feet to get a better angle to fire the guns and find a good target. This also made us more vulnerable, because now the gunners could see us, and we had to maintain a steady shallow dive to the target - no evasive action; just like flying down somebody's gun barrel.

I spotted a row of hangars on the far side of the field and what looked like Me-262s scattered around in sandbagged revetments. Some were burning, the black oily smoke merging with the low clouds. |I picked out an airplane parked at an angle, half inside a small hangar, and lined it up carefully in my gunsight. There would be only one pass. It had to be good.

I was aware of small white puffs from exploding 20mm shells all around my aircraft. I could hear the soft pop of near misses. I forced myself to concentrate: Keep that pip steady on that airplane!

I squeezed the trigger on the stick. The four .50 calibre machine guns in the wings hammered, jarring the airplane as if it had been hit. Instantly, like a string of firecrackers, orange flashes appeared on the fuselage of the 262; then a small yellow flame licked up around the cockpit and flashed into a bright red-orange explosion as the fuel tank blew up.

Then I saw another airplane parked next to it. I fired a short burst and saw a few hits, but I realised I was getting damn close to that hangar.

I was almost too close. I pulled back on the stick and cleared the hangar roof by inches. As I did, a brilliant flash of light reflected off the clouds to my left, lighting up the whole area. Something had exploded. I banked left a few degrees to avoid flying over the airfield at Landsberg and skimmed the trees until well out of range of the airfield guns. I had seen enough of those for one day. Blue Flight finally caught up with us. They hadn't seen the airfield at all. I felt like saying, "You guys missed all the fun!"

I scanned the engine instruments and checked the plane over for damage. That's when I noticed the large chip in the "bulletproof" windshield. Apparently a shell had hit the windshield on a slant and been deflected off. Somewhere on that strafing run I had been only six inches from having my head blown off.

Red 3 and Red 4 both reported that they could see a few holes in their airplanes but everything seemed to be running all right. I looked to my left. There was no sign of my wingman. "Where's Red 2?" I asked.

"He went in - just off the airfield," answered Red 4 in a faltering voice. I knew they were roommates. I remembered that bright flash.

Of the last four aircraft on that strafing run, the German gunners had shot down one and hit the other three. I signalled both flights into a tight formation, and we started the long climb through the thick overcast.

It was a long and silent trip back to England. I kept staring at that chipped windshield and thinking about Red 2. The difference between life and death had been inches, or perhaps a few miles per hour one way or the other. This was my seventy-fourth mission, and his second.

Last mission for both."

Norman "Bud" Fortier, "An Ace of the Eighth", Presidio Press 2003, pp.233-235.

"the one that got away or perhaps not"

December 31st 1944; The 358th were escorting B17s to Misburg when FW190s were spotted:

"I managed to get right behind one of them. He was in a diving left turn, right in my gunsight. I pressed the trigger. To my consternation, only the right outboard gun fired.

That one gun popped away with no effect until I finally got a hit on his right wingtip. He straightened out and dove straight away from me, centered in my fixed gunsight. A perfect setup but I just couldn't hit him. Chuck Hauver was just off my right wing. He could see that I was having problems. "Let me have him," he said. I slid over to the left and watched him blow the FW out of the sky. Belatedly I turned on the gun heater switch. I felt foolish, frustrated and furious.

Chuck broke off to the right. Just as I turned to join him, I heard my wingman, Johnny Molnar, yell, "Bud! Get this sonofabitch off my ass!"

I racked into a hard left turn and saw Johnny about five hundred yards behind me with a Focke-Wulf about three hundred yards behind him. Molnar was turning that Mustang as tight as he could, and the FW was sticking with him, but it was unable to lead him enough for a shot. I joined the rat race.

Johnny kept yelling at me to "get this sonofabitch off my ass!" and I kept trying to assure him calmly that I would do just that. It wasn't that easy.

With Molnar leading the aerobatic display, we used up quite a bit of sky and soon found ourselves down to about seven thousand feet, just above a layer of clouds. There was neither sky nor airspeed enough left for anything but tight turns, and all three of us were doing the best we could in that department. I lowered a few degrees of wing flaps - I didn't dare look down at how many degrees. "Johnny" - I tried to sound calm but my blood pressure must have been sky-high - "did you lower your flaps a little?"
"Keep the stick pressure you have now. He's not gaining on you at all but I'm gaining on him." I tried to sound confident.

I could see the vapour trails from the wingtips of the planes in front of me and I knew that my wingtips were producing the same pattern. All three of us were right on the edge of high-speed stalls. My Mustang kept giving me subtle clues, through the control column and the seat bottom, that it would be unwise to tighten the turn much more. If I stalled out of this turn, Molnar would be on his own. Every ten seconds or so, the wings of the 190 became blanketed very briefly with white vapour, an indication that the German pilot knew I was getting in position for a shot, that he was slipping closer to a stall. He couldn't increase his turn enough to get to a shooting position on Johnny and I sensed that he felt he was running out of time.

The 190 pilot pulled it in a little too tightly. Suddenly his plane snapped viciously to the right and spun down into the cloud layer. The FW had a reputation of snap-rolling out of very tight turns. I watched him spin into the clouds. "Man, that was close!" said Johnny as he raised his flaps and eased into his wingman position. It wasn't hot inside my cockpit but I had to wipe the sweat out of my eyes.

The terrain below the overcast was hilly, with some peaks rising to nearly three thousand feet, and I doubt that the German pilot had enough altitude to recover but I'll never know for sure - I wasn't about to follow him into that overcast. I was tempted to claim it as a probable but it was just as likely that he was "one that got away".

Norman "Bud" Fortier, "An Ace of the Eighth", Presidio Press 2003, pp.276-9.
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