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Old 04-28-2010, 04:30 PM
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After being processed, three of us were assigned to the 78th Fighter Group 1ocated at Duxford, England. The 78th formerly flew the P47, but now the fighter was the P51, which I had never seen or flown. Our only training in the P51 was to sit in the cockpit and familiarize ourselves with the instruments until we felt comfortable and then take it off.

The primary mission of the 78th was to escort the bombers into Germany, protecting them from enemy aircraft. After the bombers reached their target and were safely on their way back to their bases, we would remain and strafe enemy air fields, trains, German convoys, tanks - anything of the enemy that moved before returning to our base in Duxford, England. While escorting them to their targets, if any of the bombers werewounded by flack or enemy airplanes, but yet still able to fly, the flight leader of one of our flights of four would have one P51 on each side of the bomber plane escort the plane back to its base in England or to wherever it could land in friendly territory. We were known as their "little friends." I had this assignment once and I can't tell you how happy the pilots, bombardiers and gunners were to have us protect them. We flew close enough to see their faces.

It was my 18th flight into Germany on April 16, 1945. Our mission this day was to fly to the vicinity of Pilzen and Prague in search of air fields where the Germans had parked a number of their planes to hide them for lack of fuel to fly them and we were to destroy them, whether in air or on the ground. The 78th Fighter Group that day destroyed 135 German planes. You will note in the Squadron minutes that they gave me credit for one.

After reaching the area, the squadron broke into flights of four to search and destroy. Our flight had just strafed an airfield near "Marianbad." As I made my pass, I noticed a plane that had not been destroyed. I called on my radio to my Flight leader, Captain Hart, told him I had seen a plane we didn't get and that we should make another pass. He replied, "No, we've had enough. Let's get back to home base." This was the flight leader's last mission before returning to the U.S.A. (Our base was at Duxford, just outside of Cambridge, England). I replied that I was going down to get that plane and he said, "Go ahead. Get low. Get on the deck. They are shooting at us. We will rendezvous at 5,000 feet."

When I approached the city, I flew down the street at an altitude less than the height of some of the buildings to reach the airfield. My altitude was perhaps 50 feet. A bullet went through my canopy. The Plexiglas shattered and a piece of the Plexiglas hit my sunglasses, which broke them. While trying to remove my helmet and oxygen mask, so that I could take off the sunglasses and scrape the glass away from my eyes, I approached the airfield. There was a tall communication pole, possibly 250 to 300 feet in height, that was supported by guy wires. I pulled back on the stick and banked my P51, but I hit the communication pole about l0 feet from the top.

The pole broke off, smashing and tearing off my canopy and causing most of my instruments to become inoperable. The pole hit me on the head forcing pieces of the canopy into my scalp and forehead causing blood to run down my face and eyes, making it difficult to see. At the time I hit the pole, the plane was traveling at top speed -- approximately 450 mph.

The propeller was so damaged that it would not pull the plane. One wing was partially separated from the fuselage by about 8 inches. The other wing tip was shattered and I was pulling about ten feet of pole as one of the guy wires attached to the pole was wrapped around the tail of my plane.

I could only keep the plane flying right side up by cross-controlling. I didn't have enough altitude to bail out. I was flying over valleys and hillsides. To keep the plane in the air, I was flying at an attitude of a three point landing, so it was difficult to see ahead of the airplane. I was probably three hundred feet from the floor of the valley when the plane crash landed on the ground of a sloping hillside that had trees on it. I thought it would never stop hitting trees and demolishing more of the plane. The plane was also on fire before crash landing. There was gas on the floor of the cockpit.

I was unable to get out of the plane easily, as I had my G suit hooked in and each time I tried to raise myself, the G suit connection pulled me back down. After a couple of tries, I had enough brains to disconnect it. We were always to destroy our gun sight - it automatically centered on another plane and you didn't have to lead the plane to shoot it down. My gunsight was smashed by the pole. I didn't have to destroy it. I pulled out my .45 revolver, put a shell in the chamber and got out of the plane.

Not 100 feet away was an army soldier and an officer in a Jeep. The driver had his rifle pointed and me and said, "Hands up." My hands went up and the pistol flew out of my hands at the same time. I thought they might be Russians, so I waved my identity, at the same time asking, "Are you Ruskys?". We wore an American flag with writing in Russian so they would know we were not the enemy. They let me know very fast they were not Russians.

I was put in the front seat of the Jeep with the driver. The officer kept his gun on me. We drove a little ways and stopped. There were two or three civilians that had come up to the road -- I think they were farmers. We stopped and they talked with my captors. They started hitting me with the handles of their pitch forks. The officer could not control them, so we drove off.

We stopped at a city. The people gathered around. I was left in the Jeep with the driver. The officer went to what I believe was their headquarters. Somebody got a rope and they were going to hang me. The officer, along with others, came out with rifles and told the crowd to disperse. The officer and driver drove me out of the town to save me from hanging.

Other events that I experienced was being interrogated at several German headquarters and being stripped of my clothes, which were given back to me, but not my flight jacket, watch, ring or wallet. However, I was finally put in a dungeon, moved to a hospital in Tirschenreuth, Bavaria The Germans treated me very well and I demanded it as an officer. They respected rank.

The hospital was full of wounded German soldiers. I was put in a private room with two other German officers. The doctor at the hospital spoke perfect English. He had graduated from our Harvard Medical School. In fact the S.S. officer in charge of the area that I was in tried to put me with a group of other prisoners who were going through the town, but the doctor would not let me go advising the S.S. officer that I was too ill to travel.

After being liberated by the 90th Recon of the 3rd Army, I made my way back to Paris by bicycle, motorcycle, jeeps and airplanes. I arrived finally in Paris and was back under the good old 8th Air Force who in turn put me up in a hotel and arranged my trip back to England.

Because I was a repatriated Prisoner of War, I was shipped back to the U.S.A. I was slated to train in jets and head for the Pacific Theater at the time the war with Japan ended. "

Capt. Fred R. Swauger

Air Force Reserve Retired

"During the lengthy haul from our San Severo base across Italy and out over the Mediterranean, I trimmed my plane to fly hands off. And since our squadron and group was spread out in extended formation, I fumbled my big Zeiss camera from under my seat, unfolded it, slid the lens bellows forward to infinity focus and took several shots of our formations against the clouds. As we approached the French coast, we caught up with our designated bomber groups. I decided that vigilance took precedent over photography and managed to place the opened camera somewhere in my cockpit.

The haze of a summer noon made visibility less then perfect and it was difficult to make out the results of the bombs bursting 25,000 feet below us. I can't remember any radio chatter from our Playboy Squadron fighters, but apparently the Hun was up and about because an Me-109 popped up out of the haze not 50 feet from my right wingtip. We stared at each other in complete astonishment as I fumbled for my camera. Just as I raised it to snap his picture, he shoved the nose of his plane straight down and black smoke poured from his engine being fire-walled into full emergency boost. I dropped the camera somewhere in the cockpit and started down after him. But he was long gone and invisible in the haze. As quickly as possible I retrieved my camera, folded it up and stowed it back where I hoped it wouldn't jam any of my controls. Never again did I attempt anything so foolish. Later I asked my three other flight members if they had seen the enemy fighter. The reply was negative. I was lucky not to have become a casualty.

The date was April 28, 1944, and was my seventh mission as a fighter pilot with the 31st Fighter Group of the 15th Army Air force. The target was Piombino in the northwest of Italy and as usual I was flying as a wingman to my element leader, a boyish looking ex-Spitfire pilot named Junior Rostrom. As usual, we were providing escort to heavy bombers and were on our way back to base after an uneventful trip. As we neared the Adriatic on the East coast, the radio suddenly came to life announcing that enemy fighters were in the air from the numerous bases around the German stronghold at Ancona. With his experienced eyes Junior picked out a diving Me-109 and latched on behind although not yet in firing range. I was about 500 yards behind and slightly higher with my head on a constant swivel since I saw no other members of our flight or our squadron although the radio was busy with chatter indicating other contacts.

Everything seemed clear around us as Rostrom closed on his target. It was then that I spotted two Me-109's slanting down on me from my right. I was breaking into them as I punched my throttle radio button and told Junior I was leaving him. I'll never know whether he heard me or not. I had a fair amount of speed from our dive and as I turned up and around into the two Me's aiming for me, they sheared away into a climbing turn to port. With my speed and full throttle I rapidly closed on the inside wingman and fired from about 300 yards and all four of my .50s seemed to register. The German ship slowed quickly as black smoke and white coolant poured out in a blinding cloud. I kept firing until I couldn't wait any longer and broke sharply to starboard just in time to meet the other Me-109 who had been closing on me.

I didn't fire because my four-G turn had grayed my vision but I kept turning, easing enough for my vision to come back and found myself about 40 degrees angled off his right rear. He wasn't turning as sharply as I was and the angle decreased as I opened fire. Luckily I scored hits almost immediately and he slowed pouring coolant smoke as I slid through the smoke trail to his left. I was probably not more than fifty yards from him when his canopy came whizzing past me. I waited a few seconds getting the closest look I'd had at a 109 in my short tour. Impatiently I squeezed the trigger again just as a black clad figure climbed out on the left wing. It appeared as if he'd stepped right into my line of fire and I stopped firing. The figure slid off the wing of his ship trailing a long black tether. I watched fascinated as the strap yanked his parachute open. I had not known that the enemy had "static" lines to open their chutes. In fact, that was the first and only time that I actually saw one in action.

Realizing suddenly that I was alone in a hostile environment, a mild panic set in and I never looked to see if the German pilot was hanging limp from his shroud lines so I never knew if he'd stepped into one of my bullets or not. I headed for the Adriatic coast at a good rate of speed while I called on my radio for my element leader. The airwaves were as silent as the clear blue sky. Reaching the coast near Ancona Point I headed south sliding downhill all the time as I looked at the pastel colored houses climbing the cliffs along the seashore. Calling fruitlessly for my leader, I seemed to be the last or one of the last landing on our metal strip at San Severo, an occurrence that happened not infrequently during the rest of my tour. While elated at scoring my first victories my happiness was tempered with a sense of guilt that I had lost my leader. I drank a little more than usual that night with Prybilo, who had been Jr. Rostrom's best friend.

I was credited with one destroyed and one probably destroyed."

Extract from Robert E. Riddle, 31st Fighter Group memoir:
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