This post has been at the top of my “to do” list for quite some time. Bryan Gilbert got in touch to update me on his research into his great-uncle’s career with the 352nd Fighter Squadron. Capt. Maurice “Mo” Morrison joined the Squadron in April 1943 and served two tours flying both Thunderbolts and Mustangs from Metfield and then Raydon. “Mo” (he did not like to be called Maurice) is interesting in 353rd Fighter Group history for many reasons and I detail just a few of them here for your interest and with thanks to Bryan for sharing the material on his great-uncle.
“Mo” from Kalamazoo, Michigan did not begin his career as a Captain and was actually a Flight Officer (F/O) on first joining the Squadron. The rank of F/O (instituted by the USAAF July 8, 1942) was one of the more controversial ranks because it denied full commissioned status to pilots. In practice it did not amount to much difference in the field (F/O base pay was the same as a Second Lieutenant), but it did indicate that the pilot had not qualified for a full commission because of previous enlisted status or perhaps some error made by them during training. In the mass approach to producing large numbers of pilots at this time the final decision could often be both arbitrary and subjective. We do not know if “Mo” had done anything during his air force career to warrant his F/O grade. Perhaps the name of his first P-47 “Hi-Lander” is a clue and he was getting his own back on those who had passed a wrong judgement on his flying skills. In any event a F/O who joined the Group and performed well in their duties would be quickly promoted to a full commission. This proved true in “Mo’s” case and Bill Bailey must have seen his ability as a pilot because he promoted him to his Lieutenancy at the start of September 1943. “Mo” would eventually hold a Captaincy with the Squadron and even lead it on three missions in February and April 1945.
“Mo” flew the Squadron’s very first mission on August 12, 1943 and as Wakeford (then Jockey 48) he flew a total on 92 missions to complete his first tour on 14 June 1944. His first tour was not without excitement – on the Schweinfurt mission of October 14, 1943 “Mo” had a narrow escape as number 3 man of a flight as 1st Lt William Streit reported:
Major Bailey went down after it and called to us to watch his tail, we stayed above. Then a 109 came in front of us and I took a shot at him, I didn’t see any strikes. He rolled over and went down. Just then I noticed a 109 come in on my wing man’s tail, Lt. Morrison. I called to him to break. Lt. Morrison didn’t hear me at first so I began to do evasive action so the e/a couldn’t get a decent shot at him and also tried to get on the e/a’s tail. I kept calling Lt. Morrison, when he heard he broke left and then I pulled in behind the 109, he rolled over, went down and I followed. He then pulled out and climbed into the Sun, I was closing in on him when he rolled over again.
At this time I began firing, my first burst brought smoke and flames. Seemed like the first shell caught him on fire. I was approximately 300 yards from him. I kept firing and he began to spin down. My wing man saw him spinning and burning.
“Mo’s” aircraft (a/c SX-R 42-8687) received several hits in the tail and, no doubt, gave him an interesting return flight to Metfield.
On November 3, 1943 “Mo” got the opportunity to take the fight to the enemy when he claimed an Me210 destroyed (later credited as an Me110):
Lt. Juntilla led the flight down and started firing at an e/a that went into a left turn, I then lost him because I followed Lt. Poindexter on an Me210 which blew up. I then went under Lt. Poindexter and started firing at an Me210 at about 300 yards. Strikes came from the right side of the cockpit and wing root and several large pieces came off. He went into a left spin with fire coming from his right wing a fuselage.
“Mo” Morrison received an award from Brig Gen. Murray C. Woodbury of 66th FW at Metfield March 23, 1944.
Given that “Mo’s” first tour ran to June 14 he probably either chose to extend and fly extra hours over D-Day or was caught, like many others, by the May 15, 1944 increase in combat hour requirements to complete a tour. It was a situation that led to another very narrow escape for him. Flying on the June 12, 1944 mission “Mo” took part in the most costly mission for the 353rd during the war – two of his fellow 352 Squadron pilots were lost together with a further six pilots from the 350th when they were bounced by German aircraft while on a dive-bombing mission over France.
Despite the many narrow escapes “Mo” took the brave (and entirely voluntary) decision to fly a second tour of operations. We do not know his reasons for the decision, but after a brief leave back in the US he returned and began flying his next tour on September 18, 1944. He quickly ran up a further 19 missions during which he was able to claim further aircraft destroyed. Leading his flight on November 18 he claimed an Me163 destroyed and He177 damaged:
We were to follow Red and Yellow flights across the target. I started our dive at the N tip of Ammer Lake and was to the deck approximately 3 miles to the NW. On my dive I noticed 3 green flares shot from the hanger line of the drome, evidently to alert the gun crews.
On my pass from the east, I fired on a Me163 on the east side of the landing strip. I got many strikes and as I pulled up over it, fire broke out and I believe it destroyed. I then fired on a He177 parked in front of the hanger on the W side of the field. I got more strikes on the e/a damaging it.
My wing man, Lt. Thomas, fired on an e/a he believed to be a Ju88. This a/c burned and he claims it destroyed. He also damaged another Me 163 and an unidentified twin engine a/c.
Lt. Hernandez, flying number 3, fired on a Ju88 in the middle of the drome, setting it on fire. This a/c he claims destroyed.
After a brief stint at the Rolls-Royce engine school in early December 1944 “Mo” returned to operations on December 15 and flew a further 10 operations before going on nine days of well-earned leave in early January 1945. He returned to operations on February 3, 1945 and flew a further 17 mission – flying his last on April 5, 1945.
This was not to be the end of his exciting career with the Group. On April 10, 1945 “Mo”, Bill Maguire and Lt Col. Bailey were given the task of ferrying Mustangs to Sweden. “Mo” and Bill Maguire then returned to the UK via transport plane while Bill Bailey remained to organise the handover of the P-51s to the Swedish air force. The Swedes wished to modernise their air force and so purchased the aircraft from the US. There are unconfirmed reports that the deal had a “secret” clause in which the neutral country would aid the allies if an invasion of Norway was required, but I have never seen any evidence for this claim. You can read much more about “Project Speedy” HERE and HERE.
After his mission to Sweden “Mo” returned to Raydon and was posted to the zone of the interior May 6, 1945. “Mo” died relatively young in 1968 and so he never got to attend any of the Group reunions. He was well-remembered by his comrades as a stalwart and long-serving member of his Squadron. Hopefully this post sheds a little light on his fascinating career.
A Brief History of SX-R
“Mo” flew a variety of aircraft coded SX-R. Here I detail the further information we have (with thanks to Ash Gant for our usual brain-storming and checking in the interests of accuracy).
A/C 42-7985 P-47D-2-RE. We have not seen any evidence to confirm that this aircraft was assigned to Morrison or named by him – though he may well have flown it on early missions. There is a picture of this aircraft (with no name showing) on p.29 of Jerry Scutts, Lion in the Sky (Wellingborough, 1987). Lt. F. Hajosy was killed in this aircraft when it crashed at Metfield September, 18, 1943.
The first SX-R (a/c 42-7985) was lost when Lt. Hajosy crashed and was killed at Metfield September 18, 1943.
A/C 42-8687 P-47D-5-RE “Hi-Lander.” This was Lt. Morrison’s aircraft though we do not know the origin of the name. The aircraft was salvaged by the 10th Air Depot Group, 9th AF on August 15, 1944, but we have been unable to identify which 9th AF Group it then went to.
The well known shot of Lt. Morrison’s SX-R “Hi-Lander” (a/c 42-8687). Crew Chief S/Sgt. R. E. Moore, Asst C.C. Sgt. E. H. Gardner and Armourer Sgt. T. H. Jones.
A/C 42-75552 P-47D-5-RE. The earliest reference to this aircraft indicates that it was with the Squadron by April 18, 1944. It is sometimes also referred to as “Hi-Lander,” but we have been unable to find any evidence that confirms this. We do have a reference to P-47 SX-R named “Marie” which could possibly be the name given to this aircraft by Morrison. This aircraft was lost while flown by F/O Earl W. Green June 6, 1944.
As a further clarification there are a number of “typos” on the internet associated with this aircraft so caution is required in tracing the history of the airframe. It is sometimes listed as B7-E “Bald Eagle” of the 374th FS/361st FG, but this was aircraft 42-75522 (as per combat report April 1944). It is also sometimes listed as also being OI-X of the 356th FG and HL-N of the 78th FG. QI-X was actually 42-75522 while HL-N was 42-25552. Whilst we do not know the history of the SX-R before it joined the 352nd we are confident that none of these are the same aircraft (subsequent to this post Peter Randall confirmed that 42-75552 flew with the 361st FG prior to the 353rd).
A/C 42-26665 P-47D-25-RE “Buzz Bunny.” Lt. Morrison flew the final two missions of his first tour in SX-R on June 12 and 14, 1944 after the previous SX-R was lost. Thus Morrison probably flew this aircraft, but it was named and flown almost exclusively between July and October 1944 by Lt. Thomas W. Jones. There is a picture of this aircraft (without name) on p.207 of Danny Morris, Aces and Wingmen II Volume I (Usk, 1989). The aircraft left the Group when they converted to Mustangs and was lost with Lt. William J Gray of 391st FS, 366 FG 9th AF April 16, 1945.
A/C 44-14804 P-51D-10-NA “El Gato” (Capt. Maurice Morrison) and “Honey Bee II” (Lt. Harold Miller). This was the only P-51 to fly as SX-R between October 1944 and the end of the war. It logged 84 missions with 32 different pilots (31 with Morrison and 5 with Miller). Morrison named the aircraft “El Gato” (Spanish for The Cat) after returning eight times either badly shot up or after another worrying experience. When he was assigned a P-51 he felt he was on his ninth life. The artwork is sometimes mistaken for an alligator (probably helped by the name) but as illustrations show it is clearly a panther (i.e. a cat). Further pictures are on p.208 of Morris’s Aces and Wingmen.
As a final note, the crew on SX-R throughout the war was: Crew Chief S/Sgt. Ralph E. Moore, Asst Crew Chief Sgt. E. H. Gardner and Armourer Sgt. T. H. Jones. Danny Morris names Ralph Morrow as the crew chief – as there was no recorded crew chief by that name in the 352nd we assume it is a typo or Ralph Moore later changed his name.