Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 1944: The 359th Fighter Group

An excerpt from the original report:

HEADQUARTERS 359TH FIGHTER GROUP
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

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