So I’ve taken a break from posting while I read through the proofs of an exciting new book on the 353rd. It’s a major contribution to the Group history, but I can’t say more than that at the moment I’m afraid – my lips are sealed at the request of the author.
In an attempt to get back to the group chronology, I’ve been looking at the familiarisation missions some Group pilots flew with the 4th, 56th and 78th Fighter Groups during July 1943 and it has turned up some interesting points. The following discussion is based on what the Air Force records at Maxwell AFB show. Major Duncan and Major Bailey flew a series of fighter sweeps with the 84th and 83rd Squadrons of the 78th FG and didn’t see much action, but gained valuable experience. Rimerman and Stafford seem to have had a more ‘exciting’ time with the 334th, 4th FG encountering the enemy on July 28 and witnessing the more experienced pilots claim four kills. Shannon Christian is the only recorded pilot with the 63rd FS, 56th FG. Cross’s Jonah’s Feet Are Dry seems to be incorrect in stating Pidduck of the 350th also went to the 4th FG. He may well have done (three aircraft LH-K, J and X went to Debden) but there’s no record of him flying that I can find. Similarly, there is no record of Lt Col. Morris, the
353rd FG leader, flying with the 56th FG although it’s often stated he did. The 56th might not have kept good records at this time or maybe Morris flew on some missions elsewhere and had some difficult experiences? Perhaps experts on the 4th and 56th can clear this up? The 353rd and 56th went on to have something of a special relationship during their time in England. Their respective bases at Halesworth and Metfield and Boxted and Raydon were very close to each other and the 56th acted as a kind of bigger, more experienced, brother to the younger Group. The officers at least would also often turn up at each other’s officer club parties.
The absence of Morris in the records is intriguing. Bill Price recounted a story that when Morris came back from the familiarisation flights he had developed a ‘nervous tick’ – so if true, he certainly must have encountered something challenging. Morris is a controversial figure in Group history and is somebody that has never had his story fully told. He’s sometimes seen in a negative light and there are some understandable reasons for this. For a start he was a lot older than most of the Group – at 32 he would have been seen as an ‘old man’ to men in their early twenties and perhaps difficult to relate to. He had also been in the army since 1936. If you had that much regular army experience then it would be unsurprising if you did not see eye to eye with the hoards of civilians filling the Air Corp and changing its nature fundamentally by force of numbers. Finally, he had a difficult relationship with some of the 350th FS members after he dismissed Wallace Hopkins, their popular first squadron leader, for not being ‘military enough.’ Hopkins went on to become the Executive Officer of the 361st FG and, according to 361st expert Steve Gotts, was known as a bit of a stickler for military discipline. It would not be surprising that he would later pay extra attention to discipline if lacking it had been the cause of him losing his first command.
There’s clearly a lot more to be said (and written) on Morris and his time with the Group. A relative of his did email me some photos of him a few years back with some more of his story. There is also a good amount of information on the following link about Lt Col. Morris. For your interest I attach a summary below of the these early flights before the 353rd officially entered combat operations.
Postscript: July 24, 2012
A couple of further details have come up since I originally posted. The first is that Mac McCollom’s daughter kindly sent me details of a brief diary entry her father made – he commanded the 61st FS, 56th FG at this time.
His diary for July 26, 1943 reads: “Led two more fighter sweeps today. They were most uneventful. Col. Morris the Group Commander of the 353rd Group has been flying my wing the last few missions. His Group is going to be stationed at Metfield about six miles from here. They will probably be operational in about three weeks.”
So now we know for sure that Morris was flying with the 61st FS. In addition I checked the 351st Squadron records and they record that Morris took a P-47C-5-RE (a/c 41-6583) from the Squadron to fly while seconded to the 61st FS. I then did some further digging and discovered he wrecked it in a landing accident at Halesworth on July 25. I don’t know how serious the accident was (I’m awaiting sight of a copy of the accident report) but maybe this was part of the ‘challenging’ circumstances he encountered at the time.
Clearly, there is more to the story here…
|Pilot||Type||Unit||A/C||Area||Date||Time Up||Time Down||Flight Time|
|Duncan||Fighter Sweep||84th FS||French/Dutch Coast||25-Jul-43||14:15||15:56||01:41:00|
|Duncan||Fighter Sweep||84th FS||Dutch Coast||26-Jul-43||09:40||11:28||01:48:00|
|Duncan||Fighter Sweep||84th FS||Abbeville||26-Jul-43||16:44||17:20||00:36:00|
|Duncan||Fighter Sweep||84th FS||French Coast||27-Jul-43||17:23||19:05||01:42:00|
|Duncan||Fighter Sweep||84th FS||Dutch Coast||28-Jul-43||10:49||Abort|
|Duncan||Fighter Sweep||84th FS||Dunkirk||28-Jul-43||18:15||19:55||01:40:00|
|Bailey||Fighter Sweep||83rd FS||French/Dutch Coast||25-Jul-43||14:13||15:48||01:35:00|
|Bailey||Fighter Sweep||83rd FS||Dutch Coast||26-Jul-43||09:37||11:20||01:43:00|
|Bailey||Fighter Sweep||83rd FS||Abbeville||26-Jul-43||16:46||18:17||01:31:00|
|Bailey||Fighter Sweep||83rd FS||French Coast||27-Jul-43||17:20||19:06||01:46:00|
|Bailey||Fighter Sweep||83rd FS||Dutch Coast||28-Jul-43||10:45||12:55||02:10:00|
|Bailey||Fighter Sweep||83rd FS||Dunkirk||28-Jul-43||18:15||20:00||01:45:00|
|Rimerman||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-K||French/Dutch Coast||25-Jul-43||14:15||15:46||01:31:00|
|Rimerman||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-K||Dutch Coast||26-Jul-43||09:40||11:15||01:35:00|
|Rimerman||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-K||Lille||26-Jul-43||17:05||18:25||01:20:00|
|Rimerman||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-K||Dieppe||27-Jul-43||17:20||18:55||01:35:00|
|Rimerman||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-K||Cayeux||28-Jul-43||18:10||19:50||01:40:00|
|Stafford||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-J||French/Dutch Coast||25-Jul-43||14:15||15:46||01:31:00|
|Stafford||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-J||Dutch Coast||26-Jul-43||09:40||11:15||01:35:00|
|Stafford||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-X||Lille||26-Jul-43||17:05||18:25||01:20:00|
|Stafford||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||QP-J||Dieppe||27-Jul-43||17:20||17:40||00:20:00 Abort (radio).|
|Stafford||Fighter Sweep||334th FS||LH-J||Cayeux||28-Jul-43||18:10||19:50||01:40:00|
|Christian||Fighter Sweep||63rd FS||Lille||26-Jul-43||u/k||u/k||u/k|