This was the first of several intense periods of war we had throughout the last six months of 1944 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. For the pilot of the 366th Fighter Group, it was an especially brutal time. We had moved from England to Normandy on D+12 about a month earlier, and living conditions were still rather spartan. Our food primarily consisted of K-rations with an occasional pot of dehydrated stew. But at least we were now undercover with about six men to a pyramidal tent, sleeping on standard army canvas cots. We even had a jerry-rigged shower made by mounting two wing tanks on a wooden stand. But Allied forces were stalled in Normandy. The Germans had pinned us into the hedgerow country, and daily Allied gains on the ground were measured in hundreds of yards, if any. Right behind our tent area in an apple orchard was an American 90mm anti-aircraft battery, and almost every night a couple of German planes would fly over. These 90 mm guns and a thousand others spread across Normandy would open fire, and the sky would be filled with tracers and falling shrapnel. Uninterrupted sleep was uncommon.
Here is a brief report of some of my missions during this time frame:
July 15, 1944: Dive bombed the railroad bridge on the Seine River at Rouen, France. Halfway through the 60-degree dive from 8,000 feet, I took a direct hit in my right wing from a 40mm flak shell, leaving a large hole completely through the wing. I am sure I was praying as I pulled out of that dive, expecting the wing to collapse any second. If it had, I would have had no chance to bail out — the G-forces would have pinned me in the cockpit. Thirty minutes later I was safely on the ground at our airstrip in Normandy.
July 24, 1944: Attacked along front lines. Dive bombed and strafed German troop concentrations. Heavy flak.
July 27, 1944: Morning mission, armed reconnaissance. We destroyed two tanks and several trucks. My element leader, 2nd Lt. Paul Bade, was killed within 40 feet of me.
July 27, 1944: Afternoon mission, armed reconnaissance along front lines. Strafed anything that moved behind German front lines. Intense flak. Battle damage.
July 29, 1944: Gavrey, France. Dive bombed bridge and tanks. Intense flak. My bombs hung up, so I had to carry them back and land with them still attached to my wings. Fuel warning light had been on for 20 minutes. Because of weight of the bombs I had to land at high speed. Plane in front of me was slow in clearing the runway. He had not heard my repeated calls, “I’m landing hot. Clear the runway.” I overran him near end of the runway. This photograph of the plane that didn’t clear the runway shows that two pilots were very lucky that day.
August 1, 1944: Tours, France. Armed reconnaissance. Strafed train and vehicles. Hit by flak. All pilots very tired from stress of continuing combat.
August 3, 1944: Scrambled in a hurry to dive bomb German tanks counter-attacking near Mortain. Over Vire I took several 20mm flak hits. Fire in the cockpit and supercharger. Tried to bail out but canopy was jammed from flak hit. Crash landed at our base. Knocked unconscious, dislocated shoulder in crash landing. After this mission I was given several days leave in London to recover. I was back flying missions on August 10, 1944. (Note: current x-rays still show damage to shoulder and three ribs broken by shoulder harness).
366th Fighter Group Casualties – July 24, 1944 through August 2, 1944:
- July 24: Captain Vernon Taylor shot down by flak.
- July 26: 1st Lt. Robert Ackerly. Hit by flak. Bailed out — plane was on fire.
- July 26: 1st Lt. John Englehart. Hit by flak. Bailed out.
- July 27: 1st Lt. Charles Ray. Strafing with bombs on. Hit by flak — crashed and burned.KIA.
- July 27: Capt. Jack Engman. Hit by flak. Plane was on fire. Bailed out at 8,000 feet, but chute did not open. KIA.
- July 27: 2nd Lt. Paul Bade. Hit by flak at low altitude. Tried to bail out, but was too low. KIA. Waved to wingman an instant before he crashed. I was that wingman.
- July 28: 2nd Lt. Robert Jones. Shot down by flak. Injured in bailout.
- July 28: 2nd Lt. Clinton Mendenhall. Hit by flak in his dive. Crashed in flames. KIA.
- August 2: 1st Lt. Kenneth Roberts. Hit by flak over Vire. Crashed on edge of town. KIA.