The following is posted with grateful thanks to Lt Col. McCollom’s daughter, Patty McCollom Bauchman.
A/C 42-8531 P-47D-5-RE. This olive drab Thunderbolt appears to have come into the Squadron in early September 1943. Lt Col. Loren “Mac” McCollom took it as his personal aircraft and named it “Butch II” for his wife. As commander of the 61st FS, 56th Fighter Group, McCollom called his P-47 “Butch.” His daughter Patty explains that “Butch” was her father’s humorous nickname for her mother – a very diminutive, feminine and educated woman who you could never imagine calling “Butch.” When he left the 56th to join the 353rd, McCollom’s old P-47 would likely have remained on the 56th books and the natural thing to do would be to call the new 353rd aircraft “Butch II.” It seems that “Butch II” was disappointingly unreliable in the air. McCollom’s diary for the time recorded that “she’s a little rough I’m afraid” on September 7, 1943 and then “Butch II is still a little rough and not as fast as Butch” on the following day. McCollom’s frustration was evident in his diary entry for October 20 writing “[I] had to come back because she overheated. I’m going to have to give Butch II up. She’s just not dependable.” To add to these problems, Glenn Duncan had lost a wingtip from the aircraft in combat on September 23, 1943 so you can imagine that McCollom was probably not sorry to lose the aircraft.
After McCollom, the aircraft then became the assigned aircraft of Lt. Gordon L. Willits, but there are few records indicating that he ever flew it operationally. It did receive further battle damage while being flown by Major Bill Bailey on December 1, 1943. By the time records do become more comprehensive in January, 1944 it seems a variety of 352nd Squadron pilots flew it, but with no regular pilot it perhaps had a poor reputation in the Squadron. It last flew operationally with the Squadron on March 6, 1944 in the hands of Lt. Clifford F. Armstrong and probably left the Group soon after this date. There are no details about the ground crew for SX-C.
The aircraft shows up twice in subsequent accident reports after leaving the Group. The first is an accident at the hands of Reavy H. Giles while landing at RAF Woodchurch on April 23, 1944. The second was taxiing accident by Ansel J. Wheeler of the 373rd Fighter Group at Le Culot (A-89) on December 10, 1944.
Just as a final note on SX-C – the coding was only used once in the Squadron during the entire war. Inevitably this fact has brought some speculation that it was not used again as a tribute to Lt. Col. McCollom who was brought down by flak on the mission of November 25, 1943 to become a POW. This now seems unlikely to me as McCollom, it would appear, had given up the aircraft at some point in late October. Roger Freeman in his 56th Fighter Group (Oxford, 2000), p.21 also describes British Air Ministry recommendations not to use “C” in aircraft codes. This seems a much more plausible reason for the lack of “C” in the Group though I have no further information on this at this stage.
A recent query from the 8th Fighter Command research community has prodded me out of inaction on the aircraft histories part of this blog. So here is a summary of the tragic history of SX-F aircraft with the 352nd resulting from that query.
A/C 42-7904 P-47D-1-RE. This olive drab Thunderbolt was an early aircraft with the Squadron. It was the assigned aircraft of Lt. Clifford F. Armstrong who named it “8 Gun Melody” Cross’s Jonah’s Feet Are Dry has an early picture of this aircraft (p.57) and a close-up of the artwork on (p.88). The aircraft continued in Armstrong’s hands, but was lost along with 1st Lt. Victor L. Vogel on January 11, 1944.
A/C 42-75622 P-47D-15-RE. This olive drab Thunderbolt was a replacement for Lt. Clifford F. Armstrong’s first aircraft. He named his second aircraft “Hun Buster” and flew it regularly until he completed his tour extension at the end of June 1944. There are two photographs of this aircraft in Cross’s Jonah’s Feet Are Dry (p. 208). The aircraft was then flown by a variety of Squadron pilots until assigned to F/O John J. Swanezy. He named the aircraft “Betty” and flew it throughout July and into August, 1944. Swanezy was killed in action while flying this aircraft on August 18, 1944. There is a nice colour photo of this aircraft available from the Jeff Ethel collection HERE though I have seen other versions of this photo but cannot establish who actually has the copyright. Although it does not appear that the Squadron flew another SX-F before converting to Mustangs, the records for September are missing so it can only be assumed that no further SX-F coded Thunderbolts existed.
A/C 44-14694 P-51D-10-NA. This Mustang was long-serving as one of the original aircraft assigned to the Squadron. The original pilot, Lt. Herbert F. Niklaus, flew it on 19 missions before completing his tour at the end of January, 1945. The aircraft was then taken over Lt. Albert P. Lang who named the aircraft “Eleanor” and flew it on 25 missions between January, 1945 and the end of the war. Tragically, 1st Lt. Edward A. Knickelbein lost his life in this aircraft after a mid-air collision and crash on July 3, 1945 near Stowmarket, Suffolk. There is a full account and pictures of the accident in Cross’s Jonah’s Feet Are Dry (p.624-625).
There are no SX-F bars recorded as flying with the Squadron.
As a final note on the crew for SX-F that flew as part of “B” Flight. The crew chief on the Thunderbolts was S/Sgt Joseph F. Brandon, Assistant Crew Chief was S/Sgt Raymond A. Wierzgacz and the armourer was Cpl. Earl A. Dunn. The crew for the Mustang period is unconfirmed and may have either changed entirely or in part. There is some evidence to suggest that Pvt. Joe Lopez may have been armourer at this time.