Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 1944: The 359th Fighter Group

June of 1944 was the month that Eisenhower stormed and breached the Atlantic Wall of Festung Europa in the greatest short-range operation of war in the history of man to that time.

In the great scheme of assault, the VIII Fighter Command, forged and tempered as the peerless high altitude fighter team of all the world’s struggling forces, was slung into the rough and tumble of ground attack. Only their airplanes had the needed range before the cannon and the tactical air forces could be disembarked, and only they could choke off support from the Werhmacht at the chosen storming place, the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy.

So simply, is the story of June for the 359th Fighter Group told. With the 14 other groups of the Eighth Fighter Command, they isolated Normandy, hacked and splayed the German plan of reinforcement and counter-attack, and held off the Werhmacht while ships and men tore open a bloody hole in Western Europe.

It was expensive, 14 pilots were lost on tactical missions, 11 of those in the first 7 days of crisis, and this was one-sixth of the 359th Group’s normal pilot strength. Yet the total casualties for the month of 17 men, 16 operationally, was below the toll of May, and was well under the depletions suffered by other groups.

These are statistics, and they did not cushion the emotional shock of the grim second week of June, when 21 missions in 7 days cost 11 pilots, when foul weather, flak, fatigue, and warring enemy aircraft raised the normal odds against ground strafing to a great and nerve racking hazard.

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