Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The 359th Fighter Group's First Mission

VIII Fighter Command policy required that each unit in the growing roster of Thunderbolt groups be led into battle by pilots experienced in the theatre. This objective was achieved by sending a new group’s senior flying officers to fly on the wing of combat-tested pilots in an older organization while a veteran of the theatre was detailed to lead the new group in its first missions.

Thus, during the first 10 days of December, Colonel Avelin P. Tacon Jr., Majors William H. Swanson, John B. Murphy, Albert R. Tyrrell, Rockford V. Gray, and 12 captains and lieutenants waited at Duxford for an opportunity to fly operationally with the 78th while Major Richmond, commander of the 486th Squadron, 352nd Group, moved from nearby Bodney to Wretham Hall to act as flying group commander of the 359th. Command of the 359th Group devolved upon Captain Chauncey S. Irvine, operation officer of the 370th Squadron, promoted to major later in the month.

The contingent at Duxford had a lazy time waiting for a break in the weather, but the activity at their home station continued at a pace only a little less than feverish as all departments checked their readiness to undertake operations.

Major Richmond in this period made an unobtrusive but thorough study of the Station’s operational scheme. He also demonstrated the necessity of personally digesting all available information on the enemy and the war, an attitude that made a lasting impression on the pilots and tactical sections of the 359th Group.

On 11 December 1943 the waiting ended for the command detachment at Duxford. The 78th flew withdrawal support for the 2nd Bomb Division after the attack on Emden that day and the 359th’s pilots flew with elements in each of the two tactical groups Duxford put in the air. The group in which Colonel Tacon flew destroyed an Me109 in the course of escort.

Our pilots played a role in the combat: the flight led by Captain Irvine with Colonel Tacon on his wing, made an unrewarded bounce of an Me109, and a top cover flight including First Lieutenant James R. Pino, 368th Squadron, was bounced, also unsuccessfully, by enemy fighters.

There were no losses on the mission and on the night of the 11th the 359th officers returned from Duxford with their ground crews. The atmosphere resembled a swimming pool after the bathers’ first plunge, with general announcements that the water felt just fine.

Photo courtesy of Richard Fogg: from the photo archives of Howard Fogg.

This text excerpt is from the December 1943 original monthly narrative History of the 359th Fighter Group archived at HQ USAF Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The complete documents were transcribed and provided courtesy of Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association, from reports filed by Maurice F. X. Donohue, 359th Fighter Group historian and combat intelligence officer.

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