Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 1944: The 359th Fighter Group

An excerpt from the original report:

Office of the Group Historian
APO 637   US Army
4 August 1944

The 359th Fighter Group, July 1944

After the crescendo of June and the Invasion, July of 1944 was for the older pilots almost anticlimactic. The 25 missions of the month produced no large-scale air combat, strafing receded in importance, and the focus of interest shifted to the identity of the men completing their 300 hour combat tours. There were 17 of these on 31 July, of whom 11 were already in or on their way home to the Zone of the Interior.

But the complexion of the 359th Fighter Group had changed and the “originals” now were heavily outnumbered by replacement pilots for whom July provided pulsing excitement. There were eight long escort assignments to Munich, several in execrable weather, another to Leipzig, two to Merseburg and three to Kiel-Bremen. There was a strafing expedition to Leipheim, and another on French railroad targets. For the new men, this was a rugged introduction to combat flying.

In July, 31 more new pilots reported, and at month’s end, strength was at a peak: 146 pilots, of whom 17 had finished their tours and were off ops, 2 were administrative pilots, 13 were in training, 9 sick, 5 on DS in England, 12 on pass, with 71 available for a mission.

The 25 missions include a freak job on 14 July, a four ship evening weather reconnaissance east of Paris with which Captain Janney of the 368th completed his tour. Disregarding this mission, the 24 jobs of the month resulted in 1,075 Mustangs airborne from East Wretham, with 193 early returns and 992 completed sorties averaging 5 hours 4 minutes each for about 5,400 hours of combat time.

The Luftwaffe still was hoarding its strength and enemy sightings dwindled. The total of 207 shown includes 100-plus seen in two gaggles by a single pilot on 20 July near Merseburg, the enemy obviously being late for a planned interception, and another sighting of 50 seen at 20-mile range over Munich on 21 July, when only Lieutenant Colonel Murphy’s section could get in close enough for effective action.

Similarly, the 25 E/A sighted on 19 July in the Munich area were seen only by one section, which had dropped back on the task force trailing the lead assault elements, and the most profitable sighting of the month (three biplane trainers!) was made by a flight on 24 July, the flight driving all three of the antiques into the ground.

One sighting was, however, historic: the first operational use by the enemy of jet-propelled fighters, five Me163 Swallows being seen near, and driven off from, the bombers on the Merseburg show of 28 July, as Colonel Tacon’s widely-circulated teletyped special report duly narrates. The same day four German daredevils, apparently Wild Boar night-fighters, got into a B-17 combat wing and the bomber’s defensive cross-fire prevented our flights from following.

Me 163 photo courtesy of
Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Briefing Room

The original Briefing Room (or War Room) at East Wretham Airfield. 
Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association, 
from records at HQ USAF Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Detail of chalkboard from photo of the original Briefing Room, 
believed to be from the December, 30, 1943 mission. 
Photo archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association, 
from records at HQ USAF Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Damn this lousy English weather

Excerpt from Fogg in the Cockpit: The wartime diary of Captain Howard Fogg.

"Wednesday, July 12, 1944: Wretham
Up at 0815. Briefing at 0930. Took off at 1110. Duplicate of yesterday’s show in every detail but flight time. I led Olson, White, and Keesey. My #2 and #4 planes got lost in very rough air of overcast. Picked up Kosc for #2. Homeyer flew #4 later. Encountered heavy flak near Ruhr so everyone split up as usual. Major Shaw led. I became Blue Flight.

We only had eight planes out of 16 for escort duty. Never saw the ground; went from here to Munich and back on instruments.

Couldn’t release my left tank and it pissed me off highly. Then it fell off on my landing approach.

Sure was tired. Up for 6 hours and 10 minutes. A long ride. Plane ran fine, loads of gas.

Damn this lousy English weather."

March 29, 1944 photo of belly tanks.
Photo archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"The Mad Rebel"

Lt. John Houston Oliphint - "The Mad Rebel"
359th Fighter Group, 369th Fighter Squadron

Lt. John H. Oliphint flew with the 359th Fighter Group from April 1943 through June 8, 1944, when he was nearing La Fleche and his P-51 began to lose coolant. He continued to strafe, releasing his bombs point blank into the side of a locomotive. He crash landed, was injured, and needed medical attention, so the Maquis reported his position to the Germans. It was the Gestapo, though, who took him prisoner.

After interrogation and torture, Lt. Oliphint and several others escaped. During his stay with the Resistance, Lt. Oliphint gathered data for British Intelligence. On August 5, 1944, he was picked up by the RAF at a covert airfield and returned to England.

He served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years, through World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and was awarded Command Pilot wings and 43 medals including the Silver Star, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 8 Air Medals, 2 Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, Commendation Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, and numerous theater and foreign medals.

John Houston Oliphint passed away on December 19, 2011. He was a true Texan and a great fighter pilot.