The story below was written by Lt. Martin Engler, who was a pilot with the 391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group during some of the heaviest fighting of World War II. I was aware of the events of the mission he describes, and asked him to write it for inclusion on this website.– Quentin Aanenson
After flying for about thirty minutes, we picked up their signal “Loud and Clear,” and they were able to give us their exact position. We had no trouble locating them, and quickly ascertained they were in the middle of a major tank engagement. Since I was leading that day, it was my job to make an “Identification Pass” over the engagement to positively establish just where our troops were and where the Germans were in order to plan an effective attack, and not endanger our own ground forces.
I advised my squadron of my intent to make the identification pass and that I would be right back. The old Thunderbolt rolled over, and down we went hell bent for leather. As I passed over the battle area, I felt the old T-Bolt go “Bang,” shudder, and in its own inimitable way tell me it was hurt. I scanned the instrument panel, and saw my oil pressure drop to zero, and the oil temperature start for the ceiling. I looked outside and saw a lot of oil exiting the ceiling, and the cockpit was getting a little hot!
It was decision time – I jettisoned my two 500 pound bombs and started looking for a place to put the hurting bird down. I was too low to parachute and I did not like that idea anyway. I now was beginning to see a little bit of fire around the cowling so I knew I had to get down fast. All of a sudden I did see a small clearing, and headed straight for it. Wheels up, flaps down and here we come! The old Thunderbolt lived up to it’s reputation as a rugged piece of machinery for it just bumped along and skidded to a very abrupt stop.
Now was the time to survey the situation and see what came next. In the landing I had hurt both of my shoulders as the harness kept me from going into the instrument panel. But I was still mobile. Off came my seat belt and I got out of the cockpit as quickly as I could. All of sudden I was aware of a lot of noise. The noise of course was gunfire and it was loud and nearby. Well, if I was in a battle, I had better do what John Wayne would do, so I pulled out my Colt .45 pistol, stood on the wing and peered over the airplane to try to spot the enemy position. I spotted them alright – there were five German tanks on a ridge firing right over my aircraft at a group of American tanks behind me, and who in turn were firing at the Germans. I have to tell you that big old Colt .45 looked pretty insignificant as I looked down the barrels of those tank cannons.
About this time two very wonderful things happened. First, my squadron began it’s attack on the German tanks and that did a job of turning the tide for our forces. It gave me a chance to see the devastation a squadron of Thunderbolts could bring to bear. The second wonderful thing was when all of a sudden I heard a lot of clattering and engine noise as one of our tanks came crawling up over the wing of my airplane. The hatch on that thing opened up and I heard some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard – “Get your ass in here!”
I climbed into the tank, parachute and all. They took me back to the rear where a doctor worked on my shoulders. Following that I was in pretty good shape. Next, they took me to the head of the column, where they introduced me to their Colonel. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a flask and offered me a drink. I said “No thank you, sir.” Then he said “What can we do for you?” I said “You already did it by picking me up out of that battlefield – but could you call my squadron and tell them I’m OK?” He picked up his radio and said”Hello, Foxhunt Squadron. We’ve got your fair-haired boy with us!”
I spent two weeks with the marvelous Third Armored Division and had some most interesting adventures with them – but that’s another story.
– Marty Engler