Monthly Archives: September 2012

Mission#25 and #26 September 23, 1943 – The Loss of Lt. George S. Dietz, 352nd Fighter Squadron

Date: Sept 23, 43

Dispatched: 34 Aborts: 2

Mission: General support to 1st TF, 120 B-17’s Field Order: 140

Time Up/Down: 06:58 hrs 09:30 hrs Leader: Major Duncan

Target: Nantes

Claims Air: 04-00-01 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 01-00

Group took off from Ford and made landfall at Grand Camp at 07:38 hrs, 23,000ft. They flew along their course over St Lo to Fougenes where the bombers were spotted ahead. Belly tanks were dropped at Marseille Robert and R/V with the bombers was made at Retiers at 07:50hrs. The Group then made a complete orbit and escorted the bombers to St Mars, then to target. Left bombers at 08:30 hrs southeast of Belle Isle when informed on C Channel that bombers were to proceed out to sea around the Brest Peninsula. Group flew along the French coast over Kerlin out at Loujean at 08:56 hrs at 26,000ft. In the vicinity of Chateaubriand a Me109 passed under the bombers but made no attack at 19,000ft. At Nantes 4 FWs approached under the bombers from the southeast at 19,000ft. Major Duncan took white flight of the 352nd FS, made an orbit to the left and came up to the rear of the e/a. During resulting engagement Maj. Duncan destroyed the leading Fw190, Lt Streit destroyed one Fw190 and damaged a Me109, and Capt. Beckham destroyed an Fw190 at Nantes. Lt Poindexter destroyed an Fw190 at Nantes. No bombers seen shot down or straggling. Two convoys, fairly large, seen going southeast of Groix Island. Radio reception was good except in target area where reception was poor. Dense smoke from bombing over Nantes du Haxe made observation difficult. Airdrome at Kerlin covered with smoke. Lt. Dietz of the 352nd FS missing. Capt Stafford of Group HQ participated.

350th: Lt Col McCollom. T/U 06:57 hrs. T/D 10:00 hrs. Total flight time 3:03 hrs. Mission flown from advance base [note extra time on flight]

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Melvin P. Dawson
1st Lt John L. Devane
2nd Lt John Zolner
1st Lt Wilford F. Hurst (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt William F. Tanner
2nd Lt William J. Price
2nd Lt Robert C. Peters
Capt Stanley R. Pidduck (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
1st Lt William W. Odom
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Roland N. McKean

351st: Major Christian. T/U 06:48 hrs. T/D 09:24 hrs. Total flight time 2:36 hrs. Route: From advanced base with belly tanks. Squadron went west to Port Enbessen. R/V with bombers south of Rennes. Escorted to Nantes out at west of St Malo. Capt Beckham claimed an Fw190 destroyed.

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Herbert K. Field
1st Lt William R. Burkett
2nd Lt Harold J. Morris
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Edgar J. Albert
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman
1st Lt Francis N. King
Capt Charles L. Stafford
2nd Lt Richard D. Stanley

Returning to Metfield via Ford after the mission Major Christian met with a slight accident. Whilst taxiing at Metfield a contractor truck appeared on the strip and a collision occurred which damaged the right wing and aileron of Major Christian’s P-47 YJ-S (a/c 42-2477).

352nd: Major Duncan. T/U 06:48 hrs. T/D 09:10 hrs. Total flight time 2:22 hrs. General support of bombers. Course: Port en B, St Aignon sur R, Nantes, south of St Nazaire, Dodman Point er Grandchamp. Lt. Dietz did not return from this mission. Lt. Poindexter destroyed one Me109 and Lt. Streit destroyed one Fw190 and damaged one Me109. Flight plan as per Squadron records.

White#2 1st Lt Gordon S. Burlingame
2nd Lt Wilton W. Johnson
Red#3 1st Lt James N. Poindexter
White#4 2nd Lt George S. Dietz W40
2nd Lt Clifford F. Armstrong
Blue#1 Capt Charles J. Hoey (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Edison G. Stiff
White#3 1st Lt William F. Streit
1st Lt Leslie P. Cles
Red#4 2nd Lt Victor L. Vogel
1st Lt Wilbert H. Juntilla (Flt Ldr)

Near Nantes four bandits were seen to be queuing up for an attack on a box of B-17’s. Major Duncan led white to their defence. As Duncan and 1st Lt Gordon Burlingame, his number 2, pressed the attack, 1st Lt William Streit, number 3 in the flight covered them. He had already fired on a 109 that came in from ahead and was awarded a damaged when he got strikes on the wing. He was then able to shoot an Fw190 off Burlingame’s tail. Streit reported that his own wing man, 2nd Lt. George S. Dietz flying in SX-X (a/c 42-7995), was not so lucky:

We escorted the bombers in quite a ways, Lt Dietz held good position. I spotted a couple [of] 109’s coming in on my left; one half rolled and went down and the other came in front of us. I took a burst at him and clipped him once. Lt Dietz was still with me when we pulled up on a Fw190 that was on Lt Burlingame’s tail…I shot that one down and then followed Major Duncan and Lt Burlingame. I noticed then Dietz was still with me, this was the last I saw of him. The next thing I saw was an Fw190 coming in on me. I managed to shake him and returned with my flight.

There is an internet source that claims Dietz was shot down by a Feldwebel Ernst Henning from JG2/1, but I am unable to confirm this information at this time. Dietz went down with his aircraft near Carentoir, France and is buried in the Brittany American War Cemetery. Any further information would be appreciated.

Date: Sept 23, 43

Dispatched: 29 Aborts: 1

Mission: Withdrawal support to 1st TF, 100 B-17’s Field Order: 142

Time Up/Down: 17:12 hrs 19:45 hrs Leader: Lt Col. McCollom

Target: Nantes

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 00-00

Group took off from Ford and arrived 20 miles north of Bayeux too early. Made turns right and left. Made landfall at St Aubin at 18:01 hrs, 26,000ft. Sighted bombers 20 miles north north east of Nantes at 18:25 hrs. Bombers were in five small boxes, considerably spread out which made escort difficult. Friendly fighters were with them. Made R/V at Chateaubriand area at 18:30 hrs. On the way to the coast one box of heavy accurate flak was experienced by the bombers over this target. One B17 was seen to go down in flames and another make off in a south east direction losing height and emitting white smoke. Came out at 20 miles north 18:50 hrs returning to Ford. No e/a seen. Maj. Duncan of Group HQ participated.

350th: Lt Col McCollom. T/U 17:01 hrs. T/D 19:49 hrs. Total flight time 2:48 hrs. Mission flown from advance base [Ford] where formation was made up.

Col Loren McCollom (Sqdn Ldr)
Capt John B. Rose
Major Glenn E. Duncan
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Roland N. McKean
1st Lt John L. Devane
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
2nd Lt William F. Tanner
2nd Lt William J. Price
2nd Lt Robert C. Peters
Capt Robert E. Fortier

351st: Capt Beckham. T/U 17:01 hrs. T/D 19:37 hrs. Total flight time 2:36 hrs. Route in at St Aubin to Nantes, R/V with bombers at Chateaubriand, out Cap Frehl.

Capt Walter C. Beckham (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
1st Lt Frank N. Emory
1st Lt Vic L. Byers (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Jack Terzian
2nd Lt Lloyd A. Thornell
2nd Lt Francis L. Edwards

352nd: Major Bailey. T/U 17:00 hrs. T/D 19:30 hrs. Total flight time 2:30 hrs. General support of bombers. Course: Crepon, Laval, Rennes, Pleneuf, St Albans Head. Flight plan as per Squadron records.

Major William B. Bailey (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
1st Lt Leslie P. Cles
1st Lt Robert P. Geurtz
1st Lt Wilbert H. Juntilla (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Donald J. Corrigan
1st Lt Leroy W. Ista

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Mission#23 and #24 September 22, 1943 – Capt. Charles J. Hoey and Lt. Jesse W. Gonnam Claims

Date: Sept 22, 43

Dispatched: 43 Aborts: 3

Mission: Rodeo Sweep Field Order: 3/138b

Time Up/Down: 11:25 hrs 13:13 hrs Leader: Major Duncan

Target: Dutch Islands

Claims Air: 02-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 00-00

Group made landfall at Zandvoort, 28,000ft, 12:11 hrs. Continued on course and made right turn to the west of Utrecht to 20 miles south east of Rotterdam where Major Duncan heard on the radio that the 352nd Fighter Squadron were engaged. Made 180 degree turn flying to Boskof. Unable to locate engagement so a turn to the south was made at Gravendeel, turning right at this point coming out at Westhoofd, 27,000ft, 12.35 hrs. Just after the Group made landfall at Zandvoort, eight e/a were observed flying due west at 8 o’clock. Maj. Duncan believed these to be decoys which later proved to be correct, because the 352nd FS were bounced from 4 o’clock at Schoonhaven by 6 Me109s painted dark gray. They turned into them and engaged in combat, destroying tow Me109s. Just in the vicinity of Gilze Rijen, one flight of the 350th FS were bounced by 12 + e/a who were flying 2 to 3,000ft above in trail. One aircraft went down on the deck and returned home. Three other aircraft landed at North Coates. Just off Antwerp 351st FS were bounced by 4 Me109Gs painted with white bellies who came out of the sun at 31,500ft. Maj. Christian immediately broke up sun thereby causing e/a to undershoot. E/a continued on down and were not seen again. Two Me109s destroyed, one by Capt. Charles J. Hoey and one by 1st Lt. Jesse W. Gonnam, both 352nd FS. Capt. Rose and Capt Stafford of the HQ participated.

350th: Major Duncan. T/U 11:22 hrs. T/D 13:10 hrs. Total flight time 1:48 hrs. Squadron made landfall over Zandvoort and swept east of Rotterdam. E/A were sighted 20 miles east of Rotterdam. Red flight (Lt. Hurst) were bounced by 12 plus bandits. A 109 got on the tail of Lt. Tanner flying wing to Lt Hurst. He had to dive from 30,000 to 6,000 ft to escape and came out on the deck. Flight was split up, one plane coming home on the deck, and three planes landing at N Coates. No claims or battle damage were made.

Major Glenn E. Duncan (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt John B. Rose
1st Lt John L. Devane
2nd Lt John Zolner
Capt Stanley R. Pidduck (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Melvin P. Dawson
1st Lt William W. Odom
2nd Lt Joseph Rosenberg
1st Lt Wilford F. Hurst (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt William F. Tanner
2nd Lt William J. Price
2nd Lt Robert C. Peters Pipeful 53
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Roland N. McKean
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
1st Lt Robert L. Newman
2nd Lt Joseph F. Furness

351st: Major Christian. T/U 11:17 hrs. T/D 13:11 hrs. Total flight time 1:54 hrs. Route in at Zandavoort, Utrecht, Antwerp and out at Niewe Sluis.

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Herbert K. Field
1st Lt Frank N. Emory
2nd Lt Francis L. Edwards
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
1st Lt William J. Maguire
2nd Lt Edgar J. Albert
Capt Jack R. Walsh (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Lloyd A. Thornell
Capt Charles L. Stafford
2nd Lt Richard D. Stanley
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman

352nd: Major Bailey. T/U 11:32 hrs. T/D13:14 hrs. Total flight time 1:42 hrs. Course: Zandvoort, Utrecht, Antwerp, Nievwesluis. After being bounced by Me109s at Schoonhaven, Capt. Hoey and Lt. Gonnam claimed one Me109 destroyed each. Flight plan as per Squadron records.

Major William B. Bailey (Sqdn Ldr)
Blue#2 2nd Lt Wilton W. Johnson
1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
White#3 1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
Blue#4 2nd Lt Clifford F. Armstrong
Blue#1 Capt Charles J. Hoey (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt George S. Dietz
2nd Lt Donald J. Corrigan
Blue#3 1st Lt Clinton H. Sperry
2nd Lt Victor L. Vogel
2nd Lt Edison G. Stiff

Date: Sept 22, 43

Dispatched: 38 Aborts: 3

Mission: Sweep (2nd mission) Field Order: 139/4

Time Up/Down: 15:10 hrs     16:41 hrs Leader: Major Duncan

Target: Lille/Ghent

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 00-00

Group made landfall at Furness, 28,000ft, 15:46 hrs. Came in behind the 352nd FG. Flew over Lille, Ghent and out north of Knocke 27,000ft, 16:02 hrs. No e/a or flak seen – no flak. Small fast boat going east of Flushing.

350th: Major Rimerman. T/U 15:17 hrs. T/D 17:35 hrs. Total flight time 2:18 hrs. Squadron led by Major Rimerman left English coast about 12,000ft and entered enemy coast at 27,000ft between Ostend and Blankenburgue. Swept south to Lille, made left turn and on to Ghent, left turn and went north to northwest coast. They proceeded along coast to about Knocke and then out at Niewe Sluis. Visibility unlimited. No E/A. No flak.

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt William F. Tanner
1st Lt John L. Devane
2nd Lt John Zolner
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Roland N. McKean
Capt Stanley R. Pidduck (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
1st Lt Robert L. Newman
2nd Lt Joseph F. Furness

351st: Major Duncan. T/U 15:10 hrs. T/D 16:40 hrs. Total flight time 1:30 hrs. Route in south Walchern Island, Ghent, Courtrai and came out at Furness.

Major Glenn E. Duncan (Gp & Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Benedict E Kraft
1st Lt William R. Burkett
2nd Lt Harold J. Morris
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Richard D. Stanley
1st Lt William J. Maguire
2nd Lt Edgar J. Albert
Capt Jack R. Walsh (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Lloyd A. Thornell
1st Lt Vic L. Byers
2nd Lt Jack Terzian

352nd: Major Bailey. T/U 15:17 hrs. T/D 16:45 hrs. Total flight time 1:28 hrs. Course: Furness, Lille, Ghent, Niewe Sluis. Flight plan as per Squadron records.

Major William B. Bailey (Sqdn Ldr)
Capt Charles J. Hoey (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Donald J. Corrigan
1st Lt Robert P. Geurtz
1st Lt James N. Poindexter
2nd Lt George S. Dietz
1st Lt Wilbert H. Juntilla (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Leslie P. Cles
2nd Lt Wilton W. Johnson
1st Lt William F. Streit
2nd Lt Victor L. Vogel
2nd Lt Clifford F. Armstrong

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September 18, 1943, The Loss of 2nd Lt. Francis J. Hajosy, 352nd Fighter Squadron

Going through the early days of the Group has reminded me what a tough time the 352nd Squadron had during the first few months in England. I have added a new page to the header bar where you can see the terrible losses experienced and click on links to follow up on the individual stories.  September 18, 1943 was yet another tragic day for the Squadron with the loss of a pilot in a crash thought to have been caused by mechanical failure – the accident brought the total of 352nd pilots lost in the few short months since arriving in England to nine.

At 14:05 hrs that day members of the Group witnessed a horrific crash when Thunderbolt SX-R (a/c 42-7985) crashed near the 350th Squadron dispersal area at Metfield. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Francis J. Hajosy (Wakeford 58), had only joined the 352nd Squadron as a replacement four days previously and was up on a local familiarization flight.

Witnesses saw him coming in as if to land on runway 33 with his wheels down. Others reported that the planes’ engine sounded as if it was in trouble and was throwing white smoke. 1st Lt Maurice Kohn, the 350th Squadron Engineering Officer, reported what he saw:

I looked up and saw the plane, which was flying in a westerly direction, wheels down at approximately 400 feet. I turned to one of my men and said “Dibble, doesn’t that plane sound as if it were in trouble?” Within a few seconds the plane went into a left bank at about 100 feet, nosed sharply down and crashed into the ground. Flame broke out at the moment of impact. I and S/Sgt Dibble, T/Sgt Bielli, S/Sgt Hartman, and Sgt Fioretto jumped into a jeep and raced to the burning plane with the intention of removing the pilot. Ordering the men to stay clear of the burning aircraft, S/Sgt Dibble and I rushed to the cockpit. There were S/Sgt Croshaw and S/Sgt Flint, without regard for their own safety, already busily engaged in removing the pilot…S/Sgt Dibble and I gave immediate assistance and together we removed the pilot…[and] placed [him] in the ambulance.

P-47D-2-RE SX-R (a/c 42-7985) shortly after the crash.

This later picture of SX-R (A/C 42-7985) seems to indicate that the fire crews were not entirely successful in controlling the blaze. Note that they have managed to remove the remains of the wings and engine from the area.

The crash investigation report states that the plane appeared to be in trouble and that Lt. Hajosy was desperately trying to reach the nearest runway. As his wheels were down it was presumed that he had committed himself to a field landing (a landing off field with wheels down would have been even more risky). The report also stated that he may have been trying to ‘stretch’ his glide to make it in safely or that he misjudged the amount of safe bank to use and suffered a subsequent loss of flying speed which caused the crash. Sadly Lt. Hajosy died immediately as a result of the crash. His remains were returned to the United States and he is buried in St Edward’s Cemetery, Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

As a postscript to the crash, the enlisted men who selflessly attempted a rescue were awarded the Soldiers Medal. S/Sgts Leo C. Flint, James B. Dibble and Sgt Stanley A. Croshaw were presented their awards by Brig Gen. Murray C. Woodbury at a ceremony held at Metfield on March 24, 1944.

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Mission#22 September 16, 1943 – 353rd Fighter Group

Date: Sept 16, 43

Dispatched: 41 Aborts: 4

Mission: Penetration support to 1st TF, 120 B-17’s  Field Order: 63/133

Time Up/Down: 13:16 hrs 15:05 hrs Leader: Lt Col. McCollom

Target: Nantes

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 00-00

Group flying from Thorney Island made landfall at Grand Camp at 14:00 hrs. Bombers were ten minutes late for R/V. Made starboard orbit and picked up bombers north north west of Grand Camp, 26,000ft at 14:03 hrs. Bombers then made landfall at 14:08 hrs escorted to the vicinity of Avranches. Left bombers at 14:22 hrs. Landfall out at Grand Camp at 25,000ft. No enemy aircraft seen and no flak. Bomber inter communication with B17 unsuccessful. Lt Rose and Lt Herfurth of the Group HQ participated. Group landed at Thorney Island

350th: Major Rimerman. T/U 13:05 hrs. T/D 14:05 hrs. Total flight time 1:00 hrs. Bombers picked up NNW of Grand Camp ten minutes late and were escorted to vicinity of Avranches. No flak. Visibility slightly hazy. Capt. Newhart’s flight were recorded as aborting.

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Robert N. Ireland
1st Lt John Sullivan
1st Lt John B. Rose
Capt Dewey E. Newhart (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Francis T. Walsh
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff
2nd Lt Walter L. Angelo
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt Robert L. Newman
2nd Lt Joseph F. Furness
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
1st Lt William W. Odom
1st Lt Tom Lorance

351st: Major Christian. T/U 13:04 hrs. T/D 14:58 hrs. Total flight time 1:54 hrs. Route from advanced base R/V bombers at Grand Camp. To Avranches, out at Grand Camp. Landed at Thorney Island and then back to base by 17:48 hrs

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
1st Lt Frank N. Emory
2nd Lt Francis L. Edwards
Capt Frederick H. Lefebre (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt John G. Treitz
1st Lt George N. Ahles
2nd Lt Hassell D. Stump
Capt Orville A. Kinkade (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Herbert K. Field
1st Lt Harry F. Hunter
1st Lt Francis N. King
2nd Lt Benedict E Kraft
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman

352nd: Lt Col. McCollom. T/U 13:05 hrs. T/D 15:05 hrs. Total flight time 2:00 hrs. Penentrative support. Course: Grand Camp – St Martin. Flight list is as per Squadron records.

1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
2nd Lt George S. Dietz
1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
2nd Lt Edison G. Stiff
Capt Raynor E. Robertson
1st Lt Leroy W. Ista
1st Lt Robert P. Geurtz
2nd Lt Glenn C. Callans
2nd Lt Maurice Morrison
1st Lt William F. Streit

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Mission#21 September 15, 1943 – Capt. Robert C. Durlin Bailout and the loss of Lt Walter J. Donovan, 352nd Fighter Squadron

Date: Sept 15, 43

Dispatched: 51 Aborts: 3

Mission: Penetration support to 5th TF, 80 B-24’s Field Order: 62/132

Time Up/Down: 17:46 hrs     19:45 hrs Leader: Lt Col. McCollom

Target: St Andre De L’Eure

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 01-02

Group took off from Metfield at 13.45 hrs and flew down to Thorney Island for the mission. Set course at 18:06 hrs. Rendezvous was made with the bombers at 18.31 hrs, 26,000ft, 20 miles northwest of Trouville. The bombers were five minutes late. Escorted bombers on course, no E/A seen – no flak seen. Left bombers at Thomer at 18:55 hrs. Landfall out at Trouville. Pilots N.Y.R. thought to have been lost from formation about 19:10 hrs. Heard on R/T to say, “We are going down through overcast.” Capt. Durlin and Lt Donovan, his wing man, were forced to bail out. Air sea rescue launch making search. Lt Rose and Lt Herfurth of Group HQ participated.

350th: Major Rimerman. T/U 17:46 hrs. T/D 19:45 hrs. Total flight time 1:59 hrs. No e/a encountered, no ground or sea activity observed and no flak encountered.

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Robert N. Ireland
1st Lt John Sullivan
1st Lt John B. Rose
Capt Dewey E. Newhart (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Francis T. Walsh Flew with 351st
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff Flew with 351st
2nd Lt Walter L. Angelo Flew with 351st
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt Robert L. Newman
2nd Lt Joseph F. Furness
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
1st Lt William W. Odom
1st Lt Tom Lorance

351st: Major Christian. T/U 17:34 hrs. T/D 19:46 hrs. Total flight time 2:12 hrs. Route from advanced base R/V with bombers at Toulaville. Escort Thorny out at Toulaville. Stayed overnight at Thorny.

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
1st Lt Frank N. Emory
2nd Lt Francis L. Edwards
Capt Frederick H. Lefebre (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt John G. Treitz
1st Lt George N. Ahles
2nd Lt Hassell D. Stump
Capt Orville A. Kinkade (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Herbert K. Field
1st Lt Harry F. Hunter
2nd Lt George F. Perpente
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Benedict E Kraft
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman
1st Lt Francis N. King
1st Lt William J. Maguire

352nd: Lt Col McCollom. T/U 17:46 hrs. T/D 19:45 hrs. Total flight time 1:59 hrs. Penetrative support for 5th Task Force. Course: Cobourg – Montrail – St Andre de L’e – Le Houre. Flight list is as per Squadron records:

1st Lt Gordon S. Burlingame
Capt Robert C. Durlin (Flt Ldr) W33
Capt Raynor E. Robertson (Flt Ldr)
Capt Charles J. Hoey
1st Lt Leslie P. Cles
1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
1st Lt William F. Streit
2nd Lt Glenn C. Callans
2nd Lt Edison G. Stiff
2nd Lt Walter J. Donovan W39
1st Lt Leroy W. Ista
2nd Lt George S. Dietz
1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
2nd Lt Maurice Morrison

As the Squadron returned from the mission the appalling weather and increasing darkness resulted in the loss of two aircraft and one pilot. Capt. Robert C Durlin, a senior Squadron pilot and “A” Flight leader, flying SX-A (a/c 42-8420) and 2nd Lt. Walter Donovan flying SX-W (a/c 42-8494) got into difficulties and were forced to bail out. Durlin described what happened in the Missing Air Crew Report (No 625):

I was departing from the French coast after an escort mission, leading a flight of four ships. Upon attempting to descend through an overcast with the flight, I discovered part of my flight instruments were inoperative (flight indicator, needle). I orbited 360 degrees to port with my wing man, going through a hole in the overcast a short distance from the French coast. The second element lost me in the turn and evidently continued its course above the overcast.

Visibility below the overcast was extremely poor, so I continued on (330 degrees) on what I considered the correct compass course. Shortly after I encountered what I thought was the English coast, but which turned out to be the French coast, as an intense anti aircraft barrage was encountered. The compass was swinging consistently through a 180 degree arc. Not trusting the compass I called several times for an emergency homing on channel ‘D’, but received no reply.

My wing man, Donovan, called and said that he had to bail out near an Island off the French coast. I switched to emergency IFF and went to channel ‘B’ and gave a Mayday for Donovan but was unable to remain in the vicinity due to the intense flak barrage from a nearby island.

I climbed back into the overcast through a small hole, continuing my call for homing on ‘D’ channel. Due to the inaccuracy of my compass, I was unable to follow the vector given by homer. I continued on as close as I could figure on a northwest heading to England, darkness having already descended. My fuel gave out a short time later and I gave a Mayday on channel ‘B’ and switched the IFF to emergency.

I rolled the ship over and bailed out at about 6000ft, at about 20.30 hrs. When I thought I was free of the ship, I became aware of a fluttering overhead. Then I noticed that my chute was already partially opened, without my having pulled the ripcord. I also saw that the shroud lines were badly tangled and that the canopy was torn. I struggled with the shroud lines, attempting to untangle them. This opened the chute about half way. I continued to work on the shroud lines until I struck the ground and lost consciousness. I regained consciousness about an hour and a half later, and was picked up by searchers about one and a half hours after that.

Capt. Durlin was found in the early hours by some RAF men searching a tiny island off Lizard Point, in the far south west of England. The partial parachute failure had resulted in him breaking his back along with several ribs and an ankle. Several colleagues from the Squadron were able to visit him in hospital, as did the investigation team who had found his aircraft which had crashed near Truro. He did not fly with the Squadron again and it is not known what happened to him subsequently. The crash site of his Thunderbolt was excavated in 2008 and you can see pictures from their investigations Here and Here. There is also a website detailing the records of RAF Davidstow Moor that mentions the incident Here.

Lt. Walter J Donovan had only joined the Squadron as a replacement on September 3 and was taking part in his first mission. Lack of experience probably led him to be either hit by flak over the French coast or to become lost in poor weather when he and his leader stumbled into the battery of fire. Air Sea Rescue mounted a search, but nothing was ever found and he was recorded as having been lost at his last known position, 18 miles south west of Portland Bill.

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Happy Birthday Ray Hall – 350th Fighter Squadron Crew Chief

This is just a post to wish my dear friend Ray Hall a very happy birthday – 90 years young on September 21, 2012.

Ray was a crew chief with the 350th FS thoughout the war and crewed for Dwight Fry in LH-Y “Eager Beaver” and later Roland Lanoue in LH-H “Fran.” He was also assistant crew chief for Dewey Newhart in LH-Q “Mud N Mules.” One of the guys who kept the pilots flying and “sweated out” their return.

Here’s to you Ray and I wish you and Judie a wonderful day.

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Mission#20 September 9, 1943 – 353rd Fighter Group

Date: Sept 9, 43

Dispatched: 44 Aborts: 0

Mission: Close escort to 7th TF 60 B-17’s     Field Oder: 58/128

Time Up/Down: 07:34 hrs 09:27 hrs Leader: Major Duncan

Target: Vitry-En-Artois

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 00-00

Group made landfall between Calais and Gravelines. At Fruges sighted bombers on starboard of Cayeaux. Right turn at Hesdin. Picked up bombers between Abbeville and Doulens. Continued with bombers S-ing and orbiting to Vitry-En-Artois. Left bombers at Dunkirk at 08:51 hrs at 26,000ft. Lt. Rose and Lt. Herfurth [not listed in flight plan] of the Group HQ participated. Observed no attacks on the B-17’s – no stragglers. No response to attempts to contact them on C Channel.

350th: Major Rimerman. T/U 07:44 hrs. T/D 09:28 hrs. Total flight time 1:44 hrs. Squadron met the bombers at Doullens and escorted them to Douai Airport, the target. Buildings along Douai Airport, and dispersal areas received direct hits. An oil dump (presumably) was hit causing large fire and black smoke. Flak was negligible.

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Robert N. Ireland
1st Lt William W. Odom
1st Lt John B. Rose
Capt Dewey E. Newhart (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Tom Lorance
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Roland N. McKean

351st: Major Duncan. T/U 07:26 hrs. T/D 09:20 hrs. Total flight time 1:54 hrs. Route in at NE Calais, Doullens, Vitry en Artois, Adrm and out NE of Dunkerque.

Major Glenn E. Duncan (Gp and Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Jack Terzian
1st Lt William R. Burkett
2nd Lt Harold J. Morris
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Irving Toppel
Capt Jack R. Walsh
2nd Lt Lloyd A. Thornell
Capt Frederick H. Lefebre (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt John G. Treitz
1st Lt George N. Ahles
2nd Lt Hassell D. Stump
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Richard D. Stanley
1st Lt Francis N. King
1st Lt William J. Maguire
1st Lt Vic L. Byers

352nd: Unknown. T/U 07:38 hrs. T/D 09:24 hrs. Total flight time 1:46 hrs. Close escort. Course: Doullens, Douai. Flight plan as per Squadron records:

1st Lt Gordon L. Willits
1st Lt Gordon S. Burlingame
1st Lt Leroy W. Ista
1st Lt Wilbert H. Juntilla (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Donald J. Corrigan
1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
2nd Lt Maurice Morrison
2nd Lt Wilton W. Johnson
1st Lt Clinton H. Sperry
1st Lt Leslie P. Cles
1st Lt James N. Poindexter (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt William F. Streit
1st Lt Robert A. Newman

A second mission led by Lt Col. McCollom, took off 17:51hrs and returned to Metfield at 18:58 hrs. Total flight time 1:07 hrs. The plan was to escort the 3rd Task Force of 60 B-17’s to Chievries. McCollom was first forced to abort and Capt. Hoey took over command. A dense layer of 10/10ths altostratus was encountered at 17,000ft. After five minutes of instrument flying the Group was forced to abort and returned home. No mission credit was given, but the pilots were given combat time credit. Lt. Herfurth of the Group HQ participated.

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Mission#19 September 7, 1943 – Lt. Vernon A. Leatherman and Major Glenn E. Duncan Crash

Date: Sept 7, 43

Dispatched: 44  Aborts: 7

Mission: Withdrawal support to 1st TF 120 B-17’s   Field Order: 56/126

Time Up/Down: 07:53 hrs 09:50 hrs Leader: Lt Col McCollom

Target: Brussels

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 00-01

Group led by Lt Col. McCollom made landfall at 08:31 hrs, 25, 000ft over Knocke.  Arrived at R/V point on schedule at 08.31 hrs. B-17s were late and seen to the south west. Picked up two boxes of 60 bombers 15 miles SW of Brussels, 27,000ft, 08.45 hrs.

Continued over the target ‘S’ ing over the bombers. In vicinity of Woensdrecht drove off three unidentified aircraft coming in on B-17s. Out over Haamstede. Capt. Stafford and Lt. Herfurth [ not listed in flight plans] of the Group HQ participated. One P-47 belly landed near Westleton – reason unknown – pilot safe. 20 to 30 A/C observed on Brussels airfield in dispersal areas. Types unidentified. Bombings appeared to have hit these dispersal areas. Bombing results seemed good and well concentrated on aircraft repair shop at edge of airdrome.

350th: Lt Col McCollom. T/U 07:53 hrs. T/D 09:45 hrs. Total flight time 1:52 hrs. One returned early because of radio faded out. Bombers sighted ten or fifteen miles south of Ostend where light inaccurate flak was encountered. Bombing results on airfield at Brussels was excellent. Pattern of bombs completely obscured airfield which had 20 to 30 aircraft in dispersal areas. Bombers were at 28,000ft, and the Squadron at 29,000ft. No e/a engaged, nor unusual sea or ground activities observed.

Lt Col Loren McCollom (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt John B. Rose
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
Capt Dewey E. Newhart (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Walter L. Angelo
1st Lt William W. Odom
1st Lt Tom Lorance
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Joseph F. Furness

351st: Major Christian. T/U 07:46 hrs. T/D 09:41 hrs. Total flight time 1:55 hrs. Route in at Knocke over Brussels, south and out over Walcheren Islands.

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt William R. Burkett
Capt Charles L. Stafford
2nd Lt Edgar J. Albert
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Irving Toppel
Capt Jack R. Walsh
2nd Lt Lloyd A. Thornell
Capt Frederick H. Lefebre (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt John G. Treitz
1st Lt George N. Ahles
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Richard D. Stanley
1st Lt Francis N. King
2nd Lt Benedict E Kraft
2nd Lt Jack Terzian

At 09:58 hrs on the return, the Royal Observer Corp at Bury St Edmunds reported that aircraft YJ-N (a/c 41-6585) crashed at Westleton, Suffolk. The Pilot 1st Lt. Vernon Leatherman was unhurt:

I was leading a flight of four P-47’s back from a mission and had made landfall a few miles below Orfordness at approximately 09:30 hrs, altitude 5,000ft and descending to 2,000ft as we moved north toward home base. The other three ships had just closed in to right echelon when my engine coughed and started bucking. Immediately I switched to my auxiliary tank, but the engine started hammering and kept running rough, so I peeled up and over the flight. At the same time I lowered my landing gear to land at an airfield back about three miles.

Immediately after peeling up and turning 90 degrees from my original flight path, the engine froze tight and the propeller stopped turning. My altimeter read 2000 and I started my wheels back up because I was not close enough to the airfield to get into it without power. With the engine stopped, my hydraulic pressure dropped to zero. I started pumping the wheels up until I had to release the handle to cut the switches and belly the ship into a mowed field. I bounced the ship hard and then lifted the right wing over two haystacks and dropped it into the next field through a hedge, where it skidded to a stop.

Important parts of the engine were later found in the sump of the aircraft’s engine, but this was not to be the conclusion to the drama that day.

On hearing of Lt. Leatherman’s crash, Major Duncan flew to the scene in the Group’s Tiger Moth. He and 1st Lt. John B. Rose, his passenger, hoped to give immediate assistance to Lt. Leatherman if necessary, and further investigate the crash. Major Duncan landed in the field next to the crash and after securing the necessary information prepared to take off:

I prepared to take off for my home airdrome with Lt Rose still in the rear cockpit. I placed the aircraft in a position to permit the longest run off
the field about 6 to 700 yards in length. The lowest obstruction at the far side was a small hedge about five feet high. The wind was slightly cross to the line of take off, about 15 miles per hour. I had two enlisted men hold the wings while I revved the engine up as there are no brakes on the Moth. With the throttle wide open we started across the field, tail off the ground.

The ship was just airborne but not enough to clear the small hedge. I tried to bounce over the hedge but didn’t quit make it. The ship hit the hedge and went over on its back. The visual damage was propeller, wing and rudder. The property damage included a few sugar beets dug up. There was no injury to either passenger or pilot.

The flight was deemed contrary to flying regulations and Major Duncan’s error but Lt Col. McCollom felt that the time saved getting to Lt Leatherman outweighed any regulation.

352nd: Major Bailey. T/U 07:55 hrs. T/D 09:40 hrs. Total flight time 1:45 hrs. Withdrawal support. Course: Brussels, Woensdrecht, Haamstede. The Squadron saw several 190’s but they were too far below to be engaged. Flight plan as per Squadron records:

Major William B. Bailey (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt James N. Poindexter
1st Lt William F. Streit
1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
2nd Lt Wilton W. Johnson
Capt Raynor E. Robertson (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Thomas J. Forkin (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Leroy W. Ista
2nd Lt William J. Jordan
2nd Lt Donald J. Corrigan
Capt Robert C. Durlin (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon L. Willits
1st Lt Edward M. Fogarty
1st Lt Robert P. Geurtz
1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
1st Lt Wilbert H. Juntilla

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Mission#18 September 6, 1943 – the loss of F/O Earl W. Perry Jr., 352nd Fighter Squadron

Date: Sept 6, 43

Dispatched: 45 Aborts: 19

Mission: Penetration support to 1st & 2nd TF 140 B-17’s

Field Order: 55/125 Time Up/Down: 07:17 hrs     09:37 hrs

Leader: Major Duncan Target: Stuttgart

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 01-00

Group made landfall at Mardyck, 23,000ft, 08:00 hrs. Belly tanks were dropped in the vicinity of Bethune. R/V with the bombers was made at Chaulines on schedule at 08:14 hrs at 24,000ft. Escorted bombers in ‘S’ formation to Le Chatelet where a 180 degree turn was made to starboard at 08:35 hrs and withdrawn over planned course covering penetrating third task force. Out at Berck-sur-Mer at 24,000ft. B17 was seen going down near St Quentin at 08:39 hrs. Four chutes seen to open. Two Fw190 observed chasing one P-47 at Le Chatelet. P-47 was in a dive. Heavy intense flak over Bethune and St Omer, accurate for height. Large fire seen in the vicinity of Ghent. Difficulty in understanding Jacknife [Fighter Control]. Transmission was weak from St Quentin on. Continuous whine was exceptionally loud. Jamming reported on C Channel. Considerable difficulty was experienced in releasing belly tanks, causing some pilots to return earlier than planned [note that 19 aborted]. F/O Perry, of the 352nd Fighter Squadron, was reported missing. Lt Col. McCollom and Capt. Stafford of Group HQ participated in the flight.

350th: Major Rimerman. T/U 07:32 hrs. T/D 09:33 hrs. Total flight time 2:01 hrs. Two returned early due to failure of belly tanks to release. Heavy flak encountered in the vicinity of Dunkirk. R/V was made with bombers on time as they were on way in. As the Squadron turned to leave the bombers, Lt. Odom observed a P-47 rolling over to the left, going into a ‘split s’ dive, and being followed by a gray FW190 with a bright red nose. The 190 was following the manoeuvre but rolling to the right and firing his cannon all the time. The cannon flashes were what attracted Lt. Odom’s attention and he was close enough to observe black crosses on the wings. Lt. Mckean observed the same engagement and reported that one large fragment flew off one of the planes. Lt. Walsh observed an FW190 or Me109 make a head on attack at the bombers after the Squadron had been ordered to return home, but the results of the attack were unobserved.

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Robert N. Ireland
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff
1st Lt William W. Odom
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt John Sullivan
2nd Lt Roland N. McKean
Capt Dewey E. Newhart (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Francis T. Walsh
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse
1st Lt Robert P. Geurtz (352nd FS)

351st: Major Christian. T/U 07:23 hrs. T/D 09:51 hrs. Total flight time 2:28 hrs. Route in south of Dunkerque, Bethune, Chaulines, Le Chatelet, North Amiens and out Berk S Mer.

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
Capt Charles L. Stafford
1st Lt William J. Maguire
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt David C. Kenney
Capt Orville A. Kinkade
2nd Lt Irving Toppel
Capt Frederick H. Lefebre (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt John G. Treitz
1st Lt George N. Ahles
2nd Lt Hassell D. Stump
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Richard D. Stanley
1st Lt Francis N. King
2nd Lt Benedict E Kraft

352nd: Unknown but likely Major Duncan. T/U 07:17 hrs. T/D 09:40 hrs. Total flight time 2:23 hrs.  Penetration support. Course: Mardyck-Marchelepot-Chamoville-Chatelet-Matchelport-Berck sur Mer. F/O Perry did not return from this mission. Flight plan as per Squadron records:

1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
1st Lt Robert A. Newman
2nd Lt Maurice Morrison
1st Lt William F. Streit
1st Lt Robert P. Geurtz (flew with 350th FS)
2nd Lt Donald P. Corrigan
Capt Robert C. Durlin (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Wilton W. Johnson
1st Lt Edward M. Fogarty
Capt Raynor E. Robertson (Flt Ldr)
Capt Charles J. Hoey
1st Lt Wilbert H. Juntilla (Flt Ldr)
1st Lt James N. Poindexter
1st Lt Thomas J. Forkin (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt William J. Jordan
1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
F/O Earl W. Perry  W56

Nobody saw what happened to F/O Earl W. Perry Jr., Wakeford 56, flying SX-Z (a/c 42-7901). Included in his Missing Air Crew report are the testimonies of members of the 350th Squadron which suggests the P-47 they saw under attack may have been Perry. 1st Lt James N Poindexter felt he was the victim of a sneak attack:

I was Wakeford Blue 3 and last saw F/O Perry when making a 180 degrees turn at Le Chatelet Sur R, our deepest point of penetration. The turn was exactly down Sun and after the completion and roll out of the turn, F/O Perry did not pull up into formation.

Perry was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1921 and enlisted into the cavalry before transferring to the Army Air Corp. He gained his wings in October 1942 and joined the 352nd Squadron in January, 1943. He was killed when his Thunderbolt crashed in Gueudecourt, near Bapaume (France) and his remains were repatriated to Cleveland Lake View Cemetery June 22, 1949. He left a widow, Katherine, who remarried in 1947.

Sadly, this rather poor picture of F/O Earl W. Perry Jr. (T186020) from “C” Flight, 352nd FS is the only one I have. (353rd FG Archive)

As a further piece of information on this sad loss, there is a French researcher, Laurent Wiart, who is in contact with the man who witnessed the crash and ensured the remains of the young pilot were treated respectfully until returned to the United States. Anyone with further information on F/O Perry should drop me a line and I can also put them in touch with Laurent.

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The Loss of Capt. Irvin E. Venell and 1st Lt. Harold W. Long – 350th Fighter Squadron – September 5, 1943.

Weather was problematic for all aircraft operation in Europe during World War II, but particularly in England because of the abundance of moist, cloud-laden, air that often reduced visibility to near zero. Things have not changed in England, but modern day pilots are now equipped with a raft of instrumentation and training to make flying in poor weather a routine occurrence – though this is not to suggest that it is no longer an impressive skill.

This was not true seventy years ago – good instrument flyers were a rarity and it was something that only came with experience. Most American pilots had been trained back home at bases located specifically to take advantage of the abundance of good weather and were given little in the way of instruction on flying solely on instruments. Fred Lefebre once told me they were taught only to use the needle and ball instrument and the airspeed indicator for flying in poor weather and not to rely on the artificial horizon. I am not a pilot myself, so there are many out there who could appreciate, better than I could, the full significance and meaning of this statement by a Squadron Commander. What it does illustrate is that instrument flying skills were rudimentary even with senior Group pilots. In those days of scant training, instrument flying ability often reduced as you went down the ranks and junior pilots commonly relied on their flight leader to guide them through the murky blankness. This state of affairs brought about simply by lack of knowledge and rushed wartime training could, and often did, lead to tragic losses.

One such day was September 5, 1943 when the 350th Squadron’s “B” flight set off on a training exercise to visit to the famous Battle of Britain airfield at Biggin Hill and learn how the RAF flew fighter operations. Twenty-nine enlisted men were to travel on ahead by truck, while seven pilots would fly their aircraft down to the RAF station. The weather at Metfield was good and so at 14.45 hrs the pilots took off and formed up into two flights as follows:

Capt. Stanley R. Pidduck  (a/c 42-8373)

1st Lt. Harold W. Long (a/c 42-8475 LH-X)

1st Lt. Wilford F. Hurst (42-7940 LH-M)

1st Lt. Melvin P. Dawson (a/c/ 42-22475 LH-N)

Capt. Irvin E. Venell (a/c 42-7956 LH-K)

2nd Lt. William J. Price (a/c 42-7989)

1st Lt. John L. Devane (a/c 42-8392)

The weather remained cooperative until the formation reached the Thames Estuary where cloud forced them down below 1,000ft. I should point out that altitude indicators were notoriously inaccurate at this time – a factor that further contributed to the uncertainty when pilots were flying on instruments. Capt. Pidduck made the decision to continue on to their destination and, when about two miles from reaching Biggin Hill, noticed some low clouds ahead:

Knowing the field was dead ahead, I let down under the clouds and flew at an altitude of about 2 or 300 feet above the ground level for a minute or two when I saw the field under my left wing. Immediately upon passing the field the clouds closed in completely. Knowing I could not stay below the clouds and find the field I decided to ascend to the clear area immediately above the low fog and return to Gravesend. I climbed to 3,000 ft found no clearing at all, so leveled [sic] out. During the start of the climb I noticed Lt Long, who was flying my wing, disappear in the fog.

Lt. Hurst was flying second element in Capt. Pidduck’s flight:

We came in sight of Biggin Hill and Capt Pidduck dipped his wings for echelon formation to the right. I started to cross over into echelon and Lt Long broke away and up into the cloud. Right at this time we ran into a solid cloud and I became separated from the entire flight. I was in cloud and started a gentle turn right and away from the formation. I broke out of the cloud and was able to see the field to my left. I turned toward the field riding in tree tops and just below the cloud. I came across the field and put my wheels down in level flight and made a flat approach to the south runway. As soon as I taxied to the line, the ground crew told me a ship had crashed just off the edge of the field.

The crash was Lt. Long flying LH-X (a/c 42-8475). Investigators believed he had gone onto instruments in the low cloud but had lost control of his aircraft.  When he attempted to bail out he was to low and his parachute failed to open.

The crash scene of LH-X (a/c 42-42-8475). Lt. Long bailed out too low and was killed.

The day, however, quickly became a double blow for the Squadron. The second flight, led by Capt.Venell, lost sight of the lead flight and attempted to catch up with a tight turn. As the flight approached Biggin Hill, Capt. Venell flying LH-K (a/c 42-7956) came in over the trees and banked sharp to port (perhaps making the ‘catch up’ turn) and in doing so caught his left wing tip on  a bungalow and crashed his Thunderbolt in Jail House Lane, Biggin Hill. Venell was killed instantly and flames quickly engulfed the aircraft and surrounding area – though luckily nobody on the ground was injured. The rest of the Venell’s flight continued on to find some clear air and landed at RAF Weathersfield where they were informed of the crash.

The crash site of LH-K (a/c 42-7956) in Jail Lane, Biggin Hill. Venell was not long married and Bill Price wrote to his widow giving an account of the tragic accident.

This accident illustrates that even senior flight commanders could be caught out by the changeable weather in England and that insufficient training could be deadly. The loss of two original and well-liked members hit the Squadron hard and some 50 years later Bill Price wrote a painful and honest account of the accident in his book Close Calls – Two Tours with the 353rd Fighter Group (p.34). In it he recounted how he and Devane had been flying either side of Venell with Price on the left and low position as they made the turn. He glanced over and saw a tree at the bottom of his left wing and so slid under Venell to put the flight in right echelon formation. Price, thinking the more senior members of the flight knew what they were doing, did not realize the extreme danger and call the alarm. Regrettably, the loss of Venell and Long would not be the last tragedy of this type suffered by the Group during its time in England.

Postscript September 14, 2012

At quick search of the internet reveals that Venell’s wife Edna Marie did find a way to rebuild her life after her sad loss – even if she never forgot her first husband. Marie Avers obituary is located HERE.

 

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