German Me 262 jets ambush Allied bombers

The Me 262 first became operational in late 1944.
The Me 262 first became operational in late 1944.

The development programme for the world’s first operational jet fighter had begun in 1939, although its development had been slowed because the Nazis believed they would have won the war long before it became available. The Me 262 first flew in 1942 but did not appear operationally until 1944. The Nazis pushed ahead with a mass production programme but by now they lacked the experienced pilots needed to fly them, and increasingly found themselves limited by fuel shortages.

Although the Me 262 was able to outrun any Allied fighter it did not make a dramatic breakthrough in the balance of airpower that Hitler had hoped. In many ways it was too fast to take on the Allied bombers, especially given the short time it had in the air, which meant it was limited in the number of attacks it could make in a sortie. The preferred tactic was to ambush the mass of bombers with rockets fired by simultaneously by a group of Me 262s, followed by individual attacks.

Luftwaffe pilot Hermann Buchner, already an Ace decorated withe the Knights Cross, describes an attack:

On 31 March there was something new for us — an early scramble. We were still at breakfast in the dining room and the weather was not very good with a cloud base 150-200 metres above the ground. We flew with seven 262s led by Oberleutnant Schall, one Schwarm and one Kette. Our mission was against US units in the Hannover region, with take off at 0900hrs. We climbed in tight formation into the clouds, heading westwards.

The clouds just weren’t coming to an end and Schall asked the ground station guiding us whether we should make ‘Luzi-Anton 5’. A brusque answer came back over the radio: ‘First of all make Pauke-Pauke“ At 7,500 metres above ground, we had just come out of the clouds when Schall got the order: ‘Assume course 180, Dicke Autos, course 180!’

At the same moment someone from our unit cried, ‘To the right of us, nothing but bombers, to the right of us!’ Schall, as well as the rest of us, saw the bombers, flying north in a fomiation that was new to us. They flew staggered, about 1,000 metres deep and 2,000 metres wide. They were not US bombers, however, but Tommys in night-flight formation, doing a daytime attack on Hamburg.

Schall ordered us to take up attack formation, already having long forgotten the order ‘assume 180’. We were lucky to reach the band without fighter protection and Schall, a fighter with real heart, was not going to pass up a chance like this. As we got closer we could clearly see what kind of bombers they were — RAF Lancasters — on their way to attack Hamburg, but still 50km away over the Luneberg Heath.

On our first attack seven Lancasters were shot down with the R4M rockets. Now the large unit dissolved somewhat and the Rotten flew a renewed attack on the bombers. I made a right turn and lined up for another attack, using the nose cannon.

The R4M Rocket was an unguided missile that was fired in salvos from about 600 metres. One hit hit was sufficient to bring down a bomber.
The R4M Rocket was an unguided missile that was fired in salvos from about 600 metres. One hit was sufficient to bring down a bomber.

My Lancaster lay directly in my sights and I only had to get a bit closer. I opened fire, the hits were good, but the pilot of the Lancaster must have been an old hand. He turned his Lancaster steeply over on its right wing, making a tight turn around the main axis. With my speed I was unable to follow this tight manoeuvre and was also unable to see if my shots had had any effect, or to see how he flew on.

I shot through the pile and had to think about returning home. The other pilots were also having the same problem. We had a shortage of fuel and had to get back to our own garden. At the same time, all called to the ground control ‘Autobahn’, for the course number for the direction back to our home airfield.

Only one of us could be handled by ‘Tornado’ ground control, but all of us wanted to be given a course. We were still all in the tangle of RAF bombers, but none of us had visual contact with each other. We all had to go back down through the cloud layer. I thought to myself, ‘Go back down alone!’

At 7,000 metres I dived into the cloud layer, laying on a course of 090, 700kmph and the engines running at 6,000rpm. Over the radio I could still hear my colleagues calling ‘Autobahn’ to ‘Tornado’ — they were all still in the air. My altimeter showed that I was quickly losing height, and at 1,000 metres it was already dark — I had to get out of the clouds soon. My altitude was diminishing, the gauge showing 500, 400, 300 metres — the ground must surely soon appear. Yes, there it was. Doing 700kmph I shot out of the clouds and found myself over fields and clumps of trees. Unfortunately I didn’t know quite where I was. On my left side I could make out the sea — was it the Baltic, or where was I?

Anyhow, I flew eastwards with a normal turbine rpm and at 800kmph. In the distance I could see the silhouette of a town. I quickly thought about it, then I was sure that the town had to be Lubeck. I had recently seen a film called Die Budenbrocks in which the silhouette of the town had been shown. Flying over the harbour, I came under fire from light flak, but I was too fast — they had no chance of hitting me.

Now I knew how I could get back. My other comrades were also on their journey back to Parchim, and now the traffic with ‘Tornado’ was quieter, so I could also call up and ask for instructions, giving him my location. I was the last 262 to call in after the mission at 7,000 metres. Now he had his flock together.

By the time I reached Ludwigslust I had already been given permission to land, as well as the comforting news that there were ‘no Indians on the airfield’. After 65 minutes flying I landed without difficulty in Parchim, the last of the seven.

My list of aircraft shot down was extended: one Lancaster confirmed and one definitely damaged. Altogether we had certainly shot down ten Lancasters and five others had been damaged.“ The seven 262s on the mission had landed without problems after 60-70 minutes flying time in bad weather conditions. The reported aerial victories were confirmed by Jagd Division, and the bombers had offloaded their cargoes over the heath, far from their target. Around sixty flying personnel were taken prisoner on the heath.

See Hermann Buchner: Stormbird: One of the Luftwaffe’s Highest Scoring Me 262 Aces

RAF records show that of the 469 aircraft involved in the attack on Hamburg, eight Lancasters and three Halifaxs were lost. The bombing raid was aimed at the Blohm and Voss U-Boat construction factories but cloud covered the target area and the bombing was scattered. For more details see the extended comment below, thanks to Pierre Lagacé.

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwable, the world's first jet fighter. Messerschmitt Me 262 Werk-Nr. 111711, seen here post-war during a test flight in the USA. It was the first intact Me 262 to fall into Allied hands on March 31st 1945.(U.S. Air Force photo)
Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe, the world’s first jet fighter. Messerschmitt Me 262 Werk-Nr. 111711, seen here post-war during a test flight in the USA. It was the first intact Me 262 to fall into Allied hands on March 31st 1945.(U.S. Air Force photo)

‘Ace in a Day’ as P-51 pilot downs five FW-190s

A 26 foot long 22,000-lb MC high explosive deep-penetration bomb (Bomber Command executive codeword 'Grand Slam') is manoeuvred onto a trolley by crane in the bomb dump at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, for an evening raid by No. 617 Squadron RAF on the railway bridge at Nienburg, Germany. 20 aircraft took part in the raid and the target was destroyed.
A 26 foot long 22,000-lb MC high explosive deep-penetration bomb (Bomber Command executive codeword ‘Grand Slam’) is manoeuvred onto a trolley by crane in the bomb dump at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, for an evening raid by No. 617 Squadron RAF on the railway bridge at Nienburg, Germany. 20 aircraft took part in the raid and the target was destroyed.

The 14th March saw the first operational use of the RAF’s latest weapon – the ‘Grand Slam’ deep penetration bomb. Another design by Barnes Wallis of ‘bouncing bomb’ fame, the bomb was designed to penetrate the ground before exploding with enough force to cause shock waves that would knock down nearby structures – targets that did not not necessarily have to be hit directly. The bomb produced a 70 foot deep 130 foot wide crater. It was also used against the thick concrete of the U-boat pens.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the twin railway viaducts at Schildesche, Bielefeld, after the successful daylight attack by 15 Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF on 14 March 1945. Five arches of the viaducts have collapsed as a result of the detonation of 22,000-lb 'Grand Slam' and 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep penetration bombs in the target area. Craters from previous attempts to demolish the structure can be seen covering the floor of the Johannisbach Valley. CL 2189 Part of AIR MINISTRY SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION Creator No. 1 106 (PR) Group
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the twin railway viaducts at Schildesche, Bielefeld, after the successful daylight attack by 15 Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF on 14 March 1945. Five arches of the viaducts have collapsed as a result of the detonation of 22,000-lb ‘Grand Slam’ and 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep penetration bombs in the target area. Craters from previous attempts to demolish the structure can be seen covering the floor of the Johannisbach Valley.
Oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the twin railway viaducts at Schildesche, Bielefeld, following the successful daylight attack by 15 Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF on 14 March 1945. Five arches of the viaducts collapsed after 22,000-lb 'Grand Slam' and 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep penetration bombs were dropped in the target area. Numerous craters from previous attempts to demolish the structure can be seen covering the floor of the Johannisbach Valley.
Oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the twin railway viaducts at Schildesche, Bielefeld, following the successful daylight attack by 15 Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF on 14 March 1945. Five arches of the viaducts collapsed after 22,000-lb ‘Grand Slam’ and 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep penetration bombs were dropped in the target area. Numerous craters from previous attempts to demolish the structure can be seen covering the floor of the Johannisbach Valley.

Elsewhere the near complete air superiority that was being achieved across Europe by the Allied air forces was dramatically demonstrated by the USAAF 325th Fighter Group based in Rimini, Italy. The Luftwaffe was now struggling not only with a lack of fuel but with a shortage of experienced pilots. Nevertheless the achievements of Lt. Gordon H. McDaniel, who became an “ace in a day” by downing five aircraft in one sortie, were exceptional:

The Mission Report which included the 'Ace in a Day' record for Lt. McDaniel.
The Mission Report for the 325th Fighter Group which included the ‘Ace in a Day’ record for Lt. Gordon H. McDaniel.

A couple of days later Lt. McDaniel was interviewed by ABC News reporter Clete Roberts and gave this account:

There really wasn’t much to it.  There we were cruising aloft at about 20,000 feet.  We’d  just begun to let down.  I happened to look over the side and there … far below me … I spotted several planes.  They were traveling west…

We were headed east.  We were in an area where anything could happen.  Over the radio … I told the rest of the men to hold their fire until we positively identified the planes below us.  You see, I thought they might be Russian planes.  I certainly didn’t want to get in a fight if they were.  

So… we dropped in behind them.  They never knew we were there.  They were flying a pretty sloppy formation.  Sort of strung out in a long uneven line.  I closed up behind the last plane … about 150 feet from him.  There was no doubt about it … they were Jerry planes.  

The guy directly ahead of me had a big white “3” and a black cross on the side of his plane.  Well that-was enough for me.  Over the radio … I told the rest of the men to drop their gas tanks and get ready to hit ’em.  

Then I opened fire on the Jerry nearest me.  He just blew up …almost in my face.  I ducked my head as parts of his plane scattered around my ship.  He never knew what hit him.  

The Jerries ahead still didn’t know we were there.  I opened fire on the next one … one wing and part of his tail fell off and he spun out of sight.  

Then the three remaining German planes started to dive toward the earth.  I still don’t  believe they knew we were in behind them.  

I rode down on their tail … firing at the third German … his canopy popped off and I saw him jump … I don’t think he had a parachute.  

I started firing at the fourth German … he blossomed with flame and started to smoke and burn.  When he went into a spin … I concentrated on the fifth one.

I’m sure he knew I was after him.  He dropped down to about 100 feet above the deck.  He started to skid around a little … trying to evade me.  But it was no use.  I hit him … my wing man saw him spin in and burn.  

It was then I discovered that there was only two of us against the five Germans. You see, two of my planes had to drop out of the fight because of trouble … That’s all there was to it…

For more on the story see Ace 1945.

Lt. Gordon H. McDaniel is presented with an Ace by his commanding officer.
Lt. Gordon H. McDaniel is presented with an Ace by his commanding officer.

Mustang v Me 109 dogfight in the cloud over Germany

A USAAF publicity release of a formation of P-51 Mustangs over Germany.
A USAAF publicity release of a formation of P-51 Mustangs over Germany.

Another of Hitler’s wonder weapons, the Me 262 jet fighter, had failed to transform the air war over Germany. Not only were there not enough of them but loitering Allied fighters were having success picking them off as they either took off or landed. They were too fast to engage in a dogfight.

The remains of the Luftwaffe in the west, which had been decimated trying to support the Battle of the Bulge, was fighting a losing battle with its conventional aircraft. Too many of its experienced pilots had been lost. The young pilots now being thrown into the battle to defend had to contend with some talented opponents.

Robin Olds had been credited with eight kills while flying the P-38 Lightning out of England between May and September 1944. After converting to the P-51 Mustang he made a further six kills before returning to the U.S. for a two month break in November. Back in England, again with the 434th Fighter Squadron and its parent, the 479th Fighter Group, Olds resumed flying on 15th January. It did not take him long before he he was celebrating more victories.

February 9 turned into quite a fine day. First thing in the morning, I pinned on shiny new oak-leaf clusters and officially became a major. Better yet, we ran into a flock of Me-109s and enjoyed reasonable success.

By this period in the air war the group had settled into a daily routine of bomber escort. One squadron flew the close-escort effort as prescribed in the ops order, which meant staying close to the stream so the bomber crews knew someone cared about them. The bomber crews liked to see some friendly fighters around them. The second squadron flew area sweeps; their job was to rove within 15 or 20 miles of the bomber stream, hopefully putting themselves between the force and any attacking fighters.

The third squadron flew what we called “outlaw.” That was the preferred mission. Take off any time you wanted, and catch the Luftwaffe force either forming up for their attack or trying to return to their bases afterward. This took experience, planning, and a bit of luck for those of us pulling this duty.

On this particular day, the 434th pulled close-escort duty and I was leading the flight. We took off as scheduled with a minimum package of twelve Mustangs and ground our way along with the big boys toward Stuttgart at 27,000 feet. The weather wasn’t all that good. Broken clouds ranged in various decks right down to the ground, and off to the southeast a formidable front, like a gray wall, stretched away to the southwest.

I had just turned the 434th around the backside of our box of bombers and was heading parallel to their course on the right side of the stream, when I spotted a gaggle of shadowy contrails sneaking along the top of that cirrus bank and headed in the direction of our bombers. I was about to turn to intercept them when the 435th flight sailed past just to my right.

I wondered what in hell they were doing so close to the bombers. By all rights those enemy fighters (and that’s all they could have been) were their responsibility. I held my turn and watched the 435th go scurrying along out of sight. My God, a whole squadron, and it was obvious not one of them had spotted the enemy.

As soon as the 435th cleared, I dropped my externals, turned, and headed my bunch to intercept the rapidly closing bandits. Soon, the German leader saw us coming and, knowing the jig was up, broke off his attack. His formation turned into a gaggle of individual aircraft as we piled into them.

P-51K Mustang “Donna-Mite” of the 352nd Fighter Squadron assigned to Lt Leroy C Pletz coming in for a landing at RAF Raydon, Suffolk, England, UK, 1945
P-51K Mustang “Donna-Mite” of the 352nd Fighter Squadron assigned to Lt Leroy C Pletz coming in for a landing at RAF Raydon, Suffolk, England, UK, 1945

All this time my outfit had uttered not a single word. We prided ourselves on rfio discipline, and We fought that whole fight in silence. It was a weird one. We ended up with the battle swirling along and then into the huge squall line. It was like flying into the proverbial milk bottle.

I had managed to knock one Me-109 down quickly and went after another just as he entered the cloud. I concentrated on my adversary and hoped he was a good instrument pilot. Without a horizon, there was no up, no down, no left or right. There was also no “seat of the pants” to believe in. I closed on the 1O9, trying to get my gun sight on him, when everything went to hell at once.

I could feel my bird staggering and shuddering, but wanted to get off at least one burst before I lost everything. To my amazement, the 109 snapped, and then spun straight up! Hell no, that wasn’t up, it had to be down… and both of us must have been nearly inverted when we stalled.

To hell with the German, Robin! Get your head in the cockpit. Get those gyrating instruments sorted out, and recover from this spin. I knew I had plenty of altitude, so I didn’t rush things. Horror stories of pilots pulling the wings off in their haste to recover from similar situations flashed through my mind. I stayed cool as I sorted the situation, then recovered from the spin and pulled back to level flight.

So then why did I start shaking almost uncontrollably when I got the beast flying straight and level, headed more or less to the west? The whole incident had happened so quickly, was so intense and disorienting, that I’d had no time to be afraid. Adrenaline was pumping, and my reaction after the sudden return to the normalcy of the steady, soothing hum of the Mustang engine in the relative security of my snug cockpit made everything let go at once.

I remember being glad to be alone in my plane, without a witness to my aftershock.

See Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

Robin Olds in WWII
Robin Olds in WWII

Ace Pilots has a good summary of Robin Old’s career.

B-17s of the 91st Bomb on their way to bomb Oberpfaffenhofen in March 1944.
B-17s of the 91st Bomb on their way to bomb Oberpfaffenhofen in March 1944.

Chuck Yeager downs five – becomes an “Ace in a Day”

Silhouettes of P-51s in flight over Europe.
Silhouettes of P-51s in flight over Europe.
Flugzeug Messerschmitt Me 109 in flight 1943-4.
Flugzeug Messerschmitt Me 109 in flight 1943-4.

Charles ‘Chuck” Yeager had already made a name for himself as a talented pilot. He had also had some remarkable adventures, surviving being shot down over France and escaping back to Britain via Spain. He had recently been promoted to Lieutenant with the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373).

On the 12th October 1944 Yeager was leading the 363rd Squadron as part of the escort for a bombing raid on Bremen. Other Squadrons remained as close escorts with the bombers while the 363rd ranged 50-100 miles ahead looking for trouble.

First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

This was how Yeager described the action in his official report:

I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet.

I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation.

Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing.

I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin.

I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed.

Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet.

I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The me.

109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over.

I claim Five me 109s destroyed.

J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.

Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.

Contemporary USAAF briefing film on the P-51, with combat footage, describing the improved characteristics of the P-51 B:

Chuck Yeager’s Mustang, Glamorous Glen III: North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA, serial number 44-14888, identification markings B6*Y, at USAAF Station 373 (RAF Leiston), Winter 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Chuck Yeager’s Mustang, Glamorous Glen III: North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA, serial number 44-14888, identification markings B6*Y, at USAAF Station 373 (RAF Leiston), Winter 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Falaise – fighter bombers attack the German retreat

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing wrecked enemy vehicles left by the retreating German columns burning on a road in the Falaise area after coming under attack by aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing wrecked enemy vehicles left by the retreating German columns burning on a road in the Falaise area after coming under attack by aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
Wing Commander J E 'Johnnie' Johnson, commanding No. 144 (Canadian) Wing, on the the wing of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX with his Labrador retriever Sally, at Bazenville, Normandy, 31 July 1944.
Wing Commander J E ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, commanding No. 144 (Canadian) Wing, on the the wing of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX with his Labrador retriever Sally, at Bazenville, Normandy, 31 July 1944.

As Rommel had predicted Allied air power had made the movement of German troops extremely difficult in France, ever since D-Day. As the Germans now found themselves in a concentrated mass, desperately trying to break out from encirclement, they now came under even more intense bombardment from the air.

Amongst those joining the attack was fighter ‘Ace’ Wing Commander J.E. ‘Johnie’ Johnson, who commanded No 144 (later 127) Wing RCAF, the first to be stationed in France. He had scored more victories whilst patrolling over France and was only days away from shooting down two more Fw 190s, bringing his score to 32, equalling the British record – held until then by ‘Sailor’ Malan. However the focus for the next couple of days was ground attacks rather than enemy aircraft:

A gleam of reflected sunshire on metal here, a swirl or eddy of dust there, or fresh tracks leading across the fields were sufficient evidence to bring down the fighter-bombers with their assorted armoury of weapons. When darkness fell and brought some relief to the battered Germans there was time to take stock of the situation and to add up the score.

My own pilots had amassed a total of slightly more than 200 destroyed or damaged vehicles, plus a few tanks attacked with doubtful results. For once the weather was in our favour, and the forecast for the morrow was fine and sunny. The pilots turned in immediately after dinner, for they would require all their energy for the new day. As they settled down to sleep, they heard the continuous drone of our light bombers making their flight across the beach-head to harry the enemy columns throughout the short night.

The Canadians were up well before the dawn, and the first pair of Spitfires retracted their wheels as the first hint of a lighter sky flushed the eastern horizon. The Germans were making strenuous efforts to salvage what equipment they could from the débacle and get it across the Seine. Such enemy action had been anticipated: some of the Typhoon effort was diverted to attacking barges and small craft as they ferried to and fro across the river.

Once more the Spitfire pilots turned their attention to the killing-ground and attacked all manner of enemy transports wherever they were to be found. They were located on the highways and lanes, in the woods and copses, in small villages and hamlets, beneath the long shadows of tall hedges, in farmyards and even camouflaged with newly mown grass to resemble haystacks.

During the previous night many of the enemy had decided to abandon a great proportion of their transports: they could be seen continuing the retreat on foot and in hastily commandeered farm-carts. Sometimes the despairing enemy waved white sheets at the Spitfires as they hurtled down to attack; but these signs were ignored; our own ground troops were still some distance away and there was no organisation available to round up large numbers of prisoners.

On this day, 19th August, my Canadians claimed a total of almost 500 enemy transports destroyed or damaged, of which many were left burning. Even so, this score was not outstanding since Dal Russel’s wing easily outstripped us with a score of more than 700. Afterwards our efforts in the Falaise gap gradually petered out, for the transports and personnel of the German Seventh Army had either been eliminated or had withdrawn across the Seine.

The Falaise gap ranks as one of the greatest killing-grounds of the war, and is a classic example of the devastating effects of tactical air power when applied in concentrated form against targets of this nature. During these few days, pilots of the Second Tactical Air Force flew more than 12,000 missions and practically wiped out no less than eight infantry divisions and two armoured Panzer divisions. The Second Tactical Air Force had in fact turned an enemy retreat into a complete rout.

After the fighting had ebbed away from Falaise, we decided to drive there and see the results of our attacks at first hand. We thought that we were prepared for the dreadful scenes, which Eisenhower later said could only be described by Dante.

On the last flights the stench from the decaying bodies below had even penetrated through the cockpit canopies of the Spitfires. Another, and perhaps the most important, object of our visit was to bring back a suitable German staff car, since it was obvious that we should soon be on the move across France, and a comfortable Mercedes would provide a welcome change from our hard-riding jeeps.

After we left Falaise behind, all the roads were so choked with burnt-out German equipment that it was quite impossible to continue the journey. The bloated corpses of unfortunate domestic animals also lay in our path, so we took to the fields and tried to make some progress across country. Each spinny and copse contained its dreadful quota of dead Germans lying beside their wrecked vehicles, and once we came across the body of what had been a beautiful woman lying sprawled across the back seat of a staff car.

We found our limousines, which consisted of Renaults, Citroéns, Mercedes and strangely enough a smooth Chevrolet. We had brought ropes, jacks and a few jerrycans of petrol, but it was impossible to extricate any of the cars. Soon we abandoned our search and left the fields and lanes, heavy with their rotting burden in the warm sunshine.

See J. E. Johnson: Wing Leader: Top-scoring Allied Fighter Pilot of World War Two

Contemporary footage of the battle from a British public information film:

A knocked-out German PzKpfw IV tank with the burnt bodies of two of its crew in the Falaise Pocket, 24 August 1944.
Wrecked German transport and knocked out tanks on a road in the Falaise-Argentan area, 21 August 1944.
Wrecked German transport and knocked out tanks on a road in the Falaise-Argentan area, 21 August 1944.

Two bogeys at dawn as Robin Olds opens score

A formation of Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters in their 'D-Day stripes'. One of hundreds of images in the iPad app 'Overlord'.
A formation of Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters in their ‘D-Day stripes’.
One of hundreds of images in the iPad app ‘Overlord’.

In Normandy the German counter offensive at Mortain had failed and Field Marshal von Kluge, the Supreme Field Commander West, was struggling to convince Hitler that it was time to order a general retreat to escape an encirclement that appeared to be developing near Falaise.

Now, more than ever, the Allied fighters and fighter bombers dominance over the battlefield was to play a critical role. They ranged far and wide over northern France attacking targets, mainly bridges, that would block the German retreat and then turning their attention to targets of opportunity, mainly strafing targets on the ground.

One P-38 Lightning pilot was looking for more than just ground targets. Twenty-two year old Robin Olds had not yet scored after arriving in England in May 1944 with the 479th Fighter Group. He describes in graphic detail how he decided to break away from his colleagues on 14th August 1944 because he disagreed with their navigation:

Bison Lead decided they would turn south to find the target. South? That seemed dead wrong. I had just corrected to the northeast a little to be on course.

If Bison was north of the rendezvous point, he would be at or near the target. If he didn’t see the target he had to be south of it. That assumed he and his people were reasonably close to course as they came in. The screwups just seemed to keep piling up.

Rechecking my armament switches, I pushed up full power and headed for Chalon-sur-Saone all by myself. Sure enough, there was the ribbon of the Saone River catching the first glow of dawn. It had to be the Saone. And there was the gray darkness of the town with the bridge clearly visible against the river’s silver sheen. I lined up so I’d cross the target at about a 45—degree angle and came out of the west.

My pass was shallow, more like a skip—bomb pass than a dive-bomb attack. The sight picture was good. Speed just right. There was time to remind myself: Don’t hit long, Robin, don’t hit the town. I wanted to hit the center span of the bridge, so when the gun sight pipper came up to the release point, I pressed the pickle button under my right thumb. There was a thump as the pair of 1,000-pound bombs left the pylons.

I broke hard left and stayed down low to make myself as difficult a target as possible. An orange flash in my canopy’s rearview mirror told me the bombs had detonated. No flak. Must have caught the gunners sleeping late this morning. Once I was clear of the target there was time to burn, and apparently I had the whole of this part of France to myself.

Truthfully, finding the rest of the group didn’t enter my mind. I stayed right down on the deck, as low as I dared, heading northwest. I throttled back, then tweaked the mixture and prop into auto-lean to save a bit of fuel. When the sun peeked over the horizon, I was paralleling a paved country road bordered by poplar trees and farmhouses set back behind hedges and stone walls. A ridge loomed ahead, running almost due north—south.

The valley from my position, and all the way up the ridge, was totally covered with vineyards. Years later I would recognize it for what it was, the Beaune region: good Burgundy country. But not now. I was looking for something to shoot at, anything military: a convoy, a train, troops, anything.

After several minutes of this, two dark shapes suddenly flew across the road left to right about a mile ahead of me. They were just a little higher than I was. I turned right to cut them off, got right down on the grass, pushed the mixtures into auto-rich, rammed the props to high, and shoved the throttles I) the wall.

My P-38 leaped ahead as though kicked by a mule. The cutoff angle was good and I could see I would be coming in behind the bogeys in short order. I still didn’t have a positive ID, but every instinct told me they had to be German. Instinct is no good when you’re coming up behind a target with a 20mm and four .50 caliber guns armed and ready to shoot.

It is particularly no good when your adrenaline is pumping. Patience, patience. I wanted those shadowy shapes to be Focke-Wulf 190s! My instincts told me they were Jerries, not a couple of Jugs out of 9th Air Force. Please, bogeys, please turn just a little. Give me an aspect where I can get a positive ID on you.

I’m closing fast. There isn’t much time left. I pressed rudder and slid the pipper onto the trailing aircraft’s left wing. Another second and suddenly I could see the Iron Cross on the side of the lead plane’s fuselage. No time left now. I squeezed the trigger. The wingman’s bird lit up with strikes, spewed heavy smoke, rolled inverted, and hit the ground with a huge explosion.

I had to get the other 190 before he gained an advantage on me. He made a violent left break the moment his wingman was hit. I followed, staying inside his turn, knowing my left wingtip was no more than 20 feet off the ground. The g-forces came on hard but I was scarcely aware of them. I flew the pipper slowly through his fuselage, pulling ahead, trying to get about a 100-mil lead.

I pressed the trigger in a short burst and watched as strikes moved down his fuselage. Perfect! Another burst, more strikes, and he suddenly pulled straight up. The canopy separated and the pilot came out as though he had a spring in his seat. His chute opened immediately and he swung under it. I had pulled up with him and rolled inverted in time to see his aircraft hit in the middle of a farmer’s field. I rolled into a hard left bank and watched through the top of my canopy as the Jerry landed close to his burning aircraft.

He started running as I came around my circle to point my nose at him. I dove at him and he flopped onto his belly. He thought I was going to strafe him. No such thing! I buzzed him there in the mud and pulled up to do two victory rolls. I hoped he saw them. Then I felt like an ass doing such a silly, damned-fool, kid thing like that. Obviously I’d read too much of Hogan’s C-8 and His Battle Aces and watched too much of Wings and The Dawn Patrol.

The flight home was uneventful, except for a mixed feeling of elation, disbelief, and nagging worry. I hoped my camera had worked. Confirmation couldn’t stand on my word alone. That was a grim thought.

See Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

Olds would soon convert to the P-51 Mustang and ended WWII with a score of 12 enemy planes. His combat days were far from over – he shot down four MiG-21s while flying a F-4C Phantom II over Vietnam in 1967.

Robin Olds in WWII
Robin Olds in WWII

Ace Pilots has a good summary of Robin Old’s career.

B-17 Bomber encounters Nazi rocket fighter Me 163

A B-17 Flying Fortress encounters heavy flak bursts over the target area.
A B-17 Flying Fortress encounters heavy flak bursts over the target area.
The B-17 bomber She -Hasta, ditched on the 29th July 1944, after being hit by flak.
The B-17 bomber She -Hasta, ditched on the 29th July 1944, after being hit by flak.

Another day, another daylight mission to Germany for the USAAF bombers based in England. This time the target was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany, part of the programme to strangle the fuel supplies of the Wehrmacht. Although escorting fighters had dramatically reduced the losses amongst the bombers by this time, it was rare that missions were completed without casualties.

A/C #007 was observed to have one engine smoking as it went over the target. It dropped back and took over the lead of the second element of the low squadron and gradually lagged further and further behind. Friendly fighters were all around and when last seen the A/C was under control and appeared to be in good condition.

This A/C later was seen over Wesermunde by a flight of P-38s from Station 337, 479th Fighter Group. A jet-propelled E/A was attacking and was driven off by the P-38’s. The B-17 was escorted until it reached the Frisian Islands where the P-38’s were forced to return to England because of a shortage of gasoline. When last seen all engines were operating and the A/C was headed for home at 10,000 feet.

The Nazis were losing the battle over Germany but they pinned their hopes on technical advances. The ‘vengeance’ weapons, which Hitler had boasted about, which so many Nazis continued to believe would miraculously transform the war, were starting to appear. As well as new Jet fighters was a unique aircraft.

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to become operational, capable of up to 700 mph. Allied intelligence was aware that they had begun flying on the 28th July, and Allied fighters were on the lookout for them. Operationally the speed of the Me 163 proved not to be a great advantage in combat with conventional fighters.

The limping B-17 survived the encounter with the Me 163 but was still stricken. The full story comes from Lt Robert Fulkerson who was Navigator on B-17 Bomber ‘She-Hasta’, flying with the 351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group from England:

July 29, 1944, the 100th Bomb Group target for the day was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany. This mission was the second day in row that the 100th bombed Merseburg. As a navigator with the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, this was my fourth mission having recently been assigned to the 100th on July 17, 1944. Our Crew was flying the B-17 “She-Hasta”. Bill Greiner was flying as a replacement pilot on his “last” mission and Jim Coccia, our regular pilot, was flying as co-pilot.

Once in Germany and arriving at the IP, we flew to the target at the altitude of 26, 000 feet. As we approached the target, we encountered a very dense, black carpet of flak. The flak was so thick one would think that one could walk on it! We lost one engine as we dropped our bombs and encountered other damage forcing us to leave the formation. The entire low squadron of the 100th A-group failed to return home along with two of the B-group of which we were one, accounting for eight B-17’s lost.

Flak had knocked out the oxygen in the nose of the aircraft forcing the bombardier and me to retreat to the radio room. I had given the one walk around bottle of oxygen to the bombardier and told him to go on to the radio room and that I would follow him. Upon entering the entrance to the bomb bay my parachute harness caught on to something and became entangled. Still being at altitude and without oxygen, I soon passed out. Fortunately for me, John Vuchetich, our flight engineer, who was in the top turret saw me and plugged in my oxygen mask. Upon recovering, I noticed that the bomb bay doors had not completely closed and upon passing out I had dropped most of my navigational aids out the bomb bay doors.

With a map or two I proceeded to the radio room. By this time we had lost a lot of altitude and while limping along, encountered more flak at about 10, 000 feet. Another engine was lost and Bernie Baumgarten, one of our waist gunners, was severely wounded in his abdominal area and upper left leg. Shortly after this, near Weserbunds, Germany, a squadron of P-38’s appeared on the scene. Apparently they had spotted a Me 163 KOMET rocket fighter on our tail. The German pilot, on seeing the squadron leaders P-38, turned in his direction until he saw the squadron leaders wingman and decided to turn away. The P-38’s pursued the Me 163 and the squadron leader made direct hits and the Me 163 went down.

Photo of Luftwaffe Me-163 being shot down by USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-47's gun camera.
Photo of Luftwaffe Me-163 being shot down by USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-47’s gun camera.

We continued on our way still losing altitude and soon spotted water and decided to ditch our aircraft. Hopefully it was the English Channel but it turned out we were farther north and the water was the North Sea. We ditched the B-17 around noon, July 29, 1944. After surviving the ditching, John Vuchetich our flight engineer and I were the last two of the crew to leave the aircraft. We had remained in the radio room in hopes of saving the wounded gunner. Since the nose hatch had been opened earlier and the ball turret repositioned for ditching water was rushing in fast and furiously.

I soon realized the situation was hopeless and told John to exit the top hatch. As I climbed out the top hatch, Bernie, half covered with water, called out my name. What a feeling! From the top hatch I could see that the B-17 was at about a forty-five degree angle to the sea and the wings were half covered with water. As I dove into the sea and started swimming towards the two dinghies, something touched my feet. Looking back I saw it had been the tip of the B-17’s rudder that had touched my feet and the aircraft disappeared from sight. Eight of us survived the ditching and Bernie went down with the B-17.

We spent four days at sea. On the second day, a sailing vessel appeared on the horizon and seemingly heading in our direction. As it became closer, we fired flares and pistols into the air in hopes of attraction their attention. The ship became close enough that we could see a flag painted on the hull and took it to be Danish. What seemed like eternity, the ship proceeded on its way, choosing to ignore us and left us floundering in our frustrations.

The two dinghies had been tied together to prevent our being separated. During the second night, I was awakened by the angry sea and found our dinghies starting to break apart. At about the same time, John, who was in the second dinghy, awakened. He and I sat the rest of the night with our arms interlocked together. Finally daylight arrived. We had won our battle. That night has to be one of the worst nights in my life.

During the four days at sea we could hear aircraft flying over but the overcast prevented us from seeing them and in turn preventing them from seeing us. Late afternoon on the fourth day at sea, land was sighted. Separating the two dinghies, we raced, paddling to shore, firing flares into the air only to be met by German soldiers who took us prisoners. We were told, “For you the war is over!” Actually it was only the beginning. We had landed on Ameland, one of the Frisian Islands north of Holland.

We had no food while at sea and when the Germans finally gave us some food the following day, it had been over five days since we had eaten! The Germans gave us cold potatoes and cold gravy served in two mess kits from which the eight of us took turns eating. After a few days in Holland, of all places in solitary confinement in a convent, nine months in Germany as POW’s, which included two forced marches, General Patton and his forces liberated us at Mooseburg, Germany, April 29, 1945.

The full account used to be available at – http://www.100thbg.com/mainpages/history/history5/fulkerson.htm – 100th Bomb Group. It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

Civilian Charles Lindbergh gets into air combat

The 431st Fighter Sqdn. over Huon Gulf. near Lae, New Guinea, In April. 1944, In typical attack formation. It Is led by Col. Charles MacDonald. CO of the 475th Fighter Gp., "Satan's Angels," an ace with 27 victories. MacDonald began the war as a lieutenant stationed at Wheeler Field. Hawaii. and was present during the Japanese attack of December 7th. Photo was taken from tall turret of a B-25, whose pilot was going so fast that the other two fighter squadrons In the group, the 432nd and 433rd, never were able to catch up and have their pictures taken.
The 431st Fighter Sqdn. over Huon Gulf. near Lae, New Guinea, In April. 1944, In typical attack formation. It Is led by Col. Charles MacDonald. CO of the 475th Fighter Gp., “Satan’s Angels,” an ace with 27 victories. MacDonald began the war as a lieutenant stationed at Wheeler Field. Hawaii. and was present during the Japanese attack of December 7th. Photo was taken from tall turret of a B-25, whose pilot was going so fast that the other two fighter squadrons In the group, the 432nd and 433rd, never were able to catch up and have their pictures taken.
Early P-38s are shown over California. France's Army of the Air was so impressed by Lockheed's new fighter that it ordered 500 of them in 1940. In an era when "destroyer" or heavy fighters, such as the Me-110, etc. were looked upon as the "heavy cavalry" of the sky, particularly for low level work, the P-38 seemed tallor-made. But it was the turbosupercharged P-38 built for high altitude performance that proved the big fighter's worth. Unfortunately for early Lightnings, shortages of superchargers kept that important addition off the engines of the Initial production runs and when the British tested their first export P-3Bs, Models 322-16s, they did so without supercharging and the results were mediocre. As a result, production orders for the RAF were cancelled.
Early P-38s are shown over California. France’s Army of the Air was so impressed by Lockheed’s new fighter that it ordered 500 of them in 1940. In an era when “destroyer” or heavy fighters, such as the Me-110, etc. were looked upon as the “heavy cavalry” of the sky, particularly for low level work, the P-38 seemed tallor-made. But it was the turbosupercharged P-38 built for high altitude performance that proved the big fighter’s worth. Unfortunately for early Lightnings, shortages of superchargers kept that important addition off the engines of the Initial production runs and when the British tested their first export P-3Bs, Models 322-16s, they did so without supercharging and the results were mediocre. As a result, production orders for the RAF were cancelled.

Charles Lindberg had become a national hero in America after his pioneering solo flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St Louis. Later his isolationist views prior to the war, when he led the ‘America First’ campaign, had not endeared him to the Roosevelt Administration. When war eventually broke out he was still determined to serve his country but found his route back into the military blocked by the White House.

Lindberg found a way round this by joining the United Aircraft company as a civilian consultant. By 1944 he was in the Pacific advising of how get the best fuel performance out of the Lightning fighter – and managed to fly 50 combat missions in this role, many involving strafing Japanese position. On the 28th July he went further and shot down a Japanese plane:

July 28

We jettison our drop tanks, switch on our guns, and nose down to the attack. One Jap plane banks sharply toward the airstrip and the protection of the antiaircraft guns. The second heads off into the haze and clouds. Colonel MacDonald gets a full deflection shot on the first, starts him smoking, and forces him to reverse his bank.

We are spaced 1,000 feet apart. Captain [Danforth] Miller gets in a short deflection burst with no noticeable effect. I start firing as the plane is completing its turn in my direction. I see the tracers and the 20’s [20mm. cannon] find their mark, a hail of shells directly on the target. But he straightens out and flies directly toward me.

I hold the trigger down and my sight on his engine as we approach head on. My tracers and my 20’s spatter on his plane. We are close – too close – hurtling at each other at more than 500 miles an hour. I pull back on the controls. His plane zooms suddenly upward with extraordinary sharpness.

I pull back with all the strength I have. Will we hit? His plane, before a slender toy in my sight, looms huge in size. A second passes – two three – I can see the finning on his engine cylinders. There is a rough jolt of air as he shoots past behind me.

By how much did we miss? Ten feet? Probably less than that. There is no time to consider or feel afraid. I am climbing steeply. I bank to the left. No, that will take me into the ack-ack fire above Amahai strip. I reverse to the right. It all has taken seconds.

My eyes sweep the sky for aircraft. Those are only P-38’s and the plane I have just shot down. He is starting down in a wing over – out of control. The nose goes down. The plane turns slightly as it picks up speed-down-down-down toward the sea. A fountain of spray-white foam on the water-waves circling outward as from a stone tossed in a pool-the waves merge into those of the sea-the foam disappears – the surface is as it was before.

My wingman is with me, but I have broken from my flight. There are six P-38’s circling the area where the enemy plane went down. But all six planes turn out to be from another squadron. I call ‘Possum 1,’ and get a reply which I think says they are above the cloud layer. It is thin, and I climb up through on instruments.

But there are no planes in sight, and I have lost my wingman. I dive back down but all planes below have disappeared, too. Radio reception is so poor that I can get no further contact. I climb back into the clouds and take up course for home, cutting through the tops and keeping a sharp lookout for enemy planes above. Finally make radio contact with ‘Possum’ flight and tell them I will join them over our original rendezvous point (the Pisang Islands).

The heavies are bombing as I sight the Boela strips; I turn in that direction to get a better view. They have started a large fire in the oil-well area of Boela – a great column of black smoke rising higher and higher in the air. The bombers are out of range, so the ack-ack concentrates on me – black puffs of smoke all around, but none nearby. I weave out of range and take up course for the Pisang Islands again. I arrive about five minutes ahead of my flight. We join and take up course for Biak Island. Landed at Mokmer strip at 1555.

(Lieutenant Miller, my wingman, reported seeing the tracers of the Jap plane shooting at me. I was so concentrated on my own firing that I did not see the flashes of his guns. Miller said the plane rolled over out of control right after he passed me. Apparently my bullets had either severed the controls or killed the pilot.)

See The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh

The plane Lindberg shot down, a Mitsubishi Ki-51, known to the Americans as a 'Sonia'.
The plane Lindberg shot down, a Mitsubishi Ki-51, known to the Americans as a ‘Sonia’.
P-38J flown by Captain Frederick Champlin of the 475th Fighter Gp., 431 st Fighter Sqdn., over Leyte Gulf. Champlin was an ace with nine official victories.
P-38J flown by Captain Frederick Champlin of the 475th Fighter Gp., 431 st Fighter Sqdn., over Leyte Gulf. Champlin was an ace with nine official victories.

Airwingmedia has much more on the history of the P-38.

The Americans advance into Cherbourg

Soldiers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, France, June 16, 1944 Robert Capa.
Soldiers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, France, June 16, 1944 Robert Capa.
24 June 1944, the U.S. 79th Infantry Division while taking Fort du Roule near Cherbourg, had to storm the strong points. Here they blew the door of a bunker to clear the place.
24 June 1944, the U.S. 79th Infantry Division while taking Fort du Roule near Cherbourg, had to storm the strong points. Here they blew the door of a bunker to clear the place.

In January 1944 Montgomery had insisted that the invasion front be broadened to include Omaha and Utah beaches. Part of his reasoning was the need for the Allies to seize the Cotentin peninsula and the port of Cherbourg early in the campaign. He had been unconvinced that the Mulberry harbours would be sufficient to supply the Allies with the munition build up that he believed they would need. Now with the engineers still struggling to bring the Mulberries back into operation after the storm, Cherbourg seemed more important than ever.

Hitler had ordered that the Cherbourg garrison fight to the death. But they were a disparate group of forces, poorly supplied and now cut off from the rest of German forces in Normandy.

Alan Moorehead was present as the US troops entered the town on the 24th:

It was an uplifting moment. We could see the buildings fringing the water’s edge, the warehouses along the docks, and beyond this, in the calm sea, the outer concrete breakwaters of the harbour. All the green land between us and the sea – about a mile – was swarming with Germans. They brought us to a sudden halt on the road by firing almost point-blank out of a stone farmhouse. On the right they kept up a running fight through the undergrowth with machine-guns.

And on the left, just as I was watching with my glasses, a thicket of trees suddenly opened up with great trailing balls of fire coming towards us. These were the German rockets. As their phosphorus burned away the air was filled with a breath-taking noise, a sort of whirling and tearing, and a second later the farmyard below us disappeared in walls of dust and smoke. About the same time half an acre of ground half a mile away appeared to rear itself slowly and lazily in the air until it formed an immense mushroom of smoke and the noise of the explosion came rushing across the field at us.

We were pinned down on a sunken road under almost continuous rifle and machine-gun fire. It kept hitting with vicious little whacks against the piled-up earth beneath the hedge. So long as we did not bob up above the level of embankment we were perfectly safe there in the strong June sunlight. The embankment was four feet thick and those shots that missed simply whizzed by harmlessly overhead.

Some of the infantry slept oblivious of the noise and the presence of the enemy in the next field. Some brewed coffee. Some edged up the hedge nearer and nearer to the Germans. The American general, who looks like a successful business man, was striding about, highly delighted with it all. “Come on”, he called to us, “if you want a good view, go up that hill”. All around us was the recent wreckage of battle: a group of dummy German guns made out of saplings, the still warm German dead lying at their foxholes, a burning cowshed, the dead beasts in the fields among the torn telephone lines, and the litter of mess-tins and empty meat cans scattered up the road.

A haze began to drift over Cherbourg towards the evening when the Americans advanced for their last run down to the sea. It had been as balanced and as decisive a break-through as any I have seen in this war – the power of the offensive machine against fixed positions. Coming up the the Regiment Command post one could feel the sense of expectancy and eagerness among the staff officers. The colonel said, “I think we are going to have better luck today”.

He selected a good observation point for us on his map, and added: “Right now there is a German ack-ack gun on it firing at our forward troops, but we will have it within an hour for you. Just wait till I get the artillery to dump something on it.” He picked up his telephone, and presently the dumping began. While we were waiting the colonel explained that little knots of Germans had been by-passed in our rear and had been holding out for three days. “But, hell”, he said, “you don’t go any place unless you by-pass”. All this took place under the low branches of an apple orchard in full leaf, and there were with us a couple of British Guards officers who had come up to see the fight.

Midday was zero hour, and as it struck, the colonel picked up his telephone and told his general: “We are all ready to go!”

Then it started. There was no great barrage, no cloud of aircraft, no great noise. The infantry simply vanished into the forest with the sound of the light, quick coughing of their machine-guns. Yet the next six hours were packed with more incident than I can put down here. At the start a French irregular came up to my jeep with a Russian in civilian clothes. He wanted the Russian shot as a spy. But we managed to dissuade him and pushed on.

Within an hour we had gone clean through the main German perimeter. On either side of the lane there were deep concrete dugouts with many abandoned enemy guns – places with running hot and cold water and electric lights. The hedges and trees were badly damaged by blast and the German dead lay spaced along the roadside ditches. About 4,000 yards from the city limits we came on the main German encampment, with some 20 or 30 camouflaged barracks sunk beneath the surface and linked with underground concrete passageways.

Some 400 Germans were holding on here, but they fled in panic as the Americans burst through the trees. A dozen shuddering and frightened horses stampeded about the sloping parade ground. In the officers’ quarters and the storehouses we found cases of brandy and tubs of butter, many radio sets, big stacks of office equipment, bottles of eau-de-Cologne and such an array of toilet things that you might think the German effeminate if you did not know him. And so we came through the outer defences of Cherbourg to the hills above the city – the infantry feeling their way along the hedges, the jeeps and the guns slowly trundling up the roads.

This account first appeared in the Daily Express and then in The War Illustrated on July 21, 1944.

The relief at capturing Cherbourg so quickly was short lived. By the time the port itself was captured on the 27th it was clear that the Germans had done terrible damage to the harbour facilities and it would be some time before it could usefully be used by the Allies.

Contemporary Newseeel footage of the battle in Normandy:

The dead German soldier in this June 1944 photo was one of the "last stand" defenders of German-held Cherbourg. Captain Earl Topley, right, who led one of the first American units into the city on June 27, said the German had killed three of his men.
The dead German soldier in this June 1944 photo was one of the “last stand” defenders of German-held Cherbourg. Captain Earl Topley, right, who led one of the first American units into the city on June 27, said the German had killed three of his men.
Partial view illustrating the Cherbourg Arsenal after the German surrender 29 June 1944. Photo of the destructions taken early July 1944.
Partial view illustrating the Cherbourg Arsenal after the German surrender 29 June 1944. Photo of the destructions taken early July 1944.

Luftwaffe fighters meet USAAF bomber attack

A Luftwaffe model used to study how to attack the B-17 bomber.
A Luftwaffe model used to study how to attack the B-17 bomber.
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of 11/JG 2 after landing in the UK by mistake in June 1942. Introduced in 1941 to supplement the ME 109, the FW 190 was probably Germany's best piston-engined fighter.
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of 11/JG 2 after landing in the UK by mistake in June 1942. Introduced in 1941 to supplement the ME 109, the FW 190 was probably Germany’s best piston-engined fighter.

While RAF Bomber Command had finished their campaign against Berlin the 8th USAAF continued with daylight attacks. The RAF would maintain regular night time nuisance raids with Mosquitos, to keep the German capital awake until the end of the war.

The Luftwaffe fighters were doing their best to present a protective screen against the bombers. Since the beginning of the year they had had to contend with growing numbers of escort fighters, accompanying the bombers ‘all the way’. Despite the Allied attacks on the German aircraft industry, they were not short of fighter aircraft. It was the losses of German fighter pilots that was causing the difficulty. Even the most experienced pilots were finding the odds against them were increasing every day. For Luftwaffe ace Heinz Knoke the challenge were especially evident today:

29th April, 1944.

Three Bomber Divisions are launching an offensive from the Great Yarmouth area. Our formations in Holland report strong fighter escorts. My orders are to engage the escorting lighters in combat with my Squadron, draw them off and keep them occupied. Other Squadrons of Focke-Wulfs are thus to be enabled to deal with the bombers eiectively without interference.

1130 hours : off to the west and below I spot the first vapour-trails. They are Lightnings. In a few minutes they are directly below, followed by the heavy bombers. These are strung out in an immense chain as far as the eye can reach. Thunderbolts and Mustangs wheel and spiral overhead and alongside. Then our Focke-Wulfs sweep right into them. At once I peel off and dive into the Lightnings below. They spot us and swing round towards us to meet the attack. A pack of Thunderbolts, about thirty in all, also come wheeling in towards us from the south. This is exactly what I wanted.

The way is now clear for the Focke-Wulfs. The first of the Fortresses are already in flames. Major Moritz goes in to attack with his Squadron of in-fighters (Rammjaeger).

Then we are in a madly milling dog-fight. Our job is done; it is a case of every man for himself. I remain on the tail of a Lightning for several minutes. It flies like the devil himself, turning, diving, and climbing almost like a rocket. I am never able to fire more than a few pot-shots.

Then a flight of Mustangs dives past. Tracers whistle close by my head. I pull back the stick with both hands, and the plane climbs steeply out of the way. My wingman, Sergeant Druhe, remains close to my tail.

Once again I have a chance to fire at a Lightning. My salvoes register at last. Smoke billows out of the right engine. I have to break away, however. Glancing back, I see that I have eight Thunderbolts sitting on my tail. The enemy tracers again come whistling past my head.

Evidently my opponents are old hands at the game. I turn and dive and climb and roll and loop and spin. I use the methanol emergency booster, and try to get away in my favourite “corkscrew climb”. In only a few seconds the bastards are right back on my tail. They keep on firing all the time. I do not know how they just miss me, but they do.

My wingman sticks to me like glue, either behind or along- side. I call him to “Stay right there! ” whatever happens. “Victor, victor,” he calmly replies. In what I think could be a lucky break, I get a Yank in my sights. I open fire with all guns, steep climb. Then all his comrades are back again on my tail.

In spite of the freezing cold, sweat pours down my face. This kind of dog-fight is hell. One moment I am thrust down into the seat in a tight turn; the next I am upside down, hanging in the safety-harness with my head practically touching the canopy roof and the guts coming up into my mouth.

Every second seems like a lifetime.

The Focke-Wulfs have meanwhile done a good job. I have seen neatly thirty of the Fortresses go down in flames. But there are still several hundred more of the heavy bombers winging their way eastwards undaunted. Berlin is in for another hot day.

My fuel indicator needle registers zero. The red light starts to flicker its warning. Ten more minutes only, and my tank will be empty. I go down in a tight spiral dive. The Thunderbolts break away.

In a flash I glance round, and then instinctively duck my head. There is a Thunderbolt sitting right on my tail, followed by seven more. All eight open fire. Their salvoes slam into my plane. My right wing bursts into flames.

Knoke was shot down but lived to fight another day. See See Heinz Knocke: I flew for the Fuhrer: Story of a German Airman for his whole account of this day in action.

B-24 Net has some of the US perspective on this raid. You can also read online Norm Bussel’s account of being the last man out of a burning B-17 at around midday on the 29th.

A contemporary documentary about the US fighter planes over Germany, with impressive gun camera footage of aerial combat (from 19 minutes) and (from about 29 minutes) of ground attacks by US fighters over occupied Europe, 1944.

The P-47 Thunderbolt flew its first combat  mission--a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a  low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness.  this aircraft from the 8th Air Force was lost in August 1944.
The P-47 Thunderbolt flew its first combat mission–a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness. this aircraft from the 8th Air Force was lost in August 1944.
A pair of P-38 Lightnings take off for Germany with drop tanks of extra fuel to give them the range.
A pair of P-38 Lightnings take off for Germany with drop tanks of extra fuel to give them the range.