Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

11 January 1944

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, United States Army Air Corps, with his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, “DING HAO!” (Imperial War Museum)

11 January 1944: Major James Howell Howard, United States Army Air Corps, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, led fifty P-51 Mustangs escorting three divisions of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a raid against Oschersleben, near Berlin, Germany.

As defending Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bomber formation, Major Howard immediately went on the offensive and shot down a twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer long range fighter. During this engagement, Howard became separated from his group, but climbed back to rejoin the bombers.

More that thirty German fighters were attacking the bomber formation and Major Howard single-handedly went after them. He shot down two, probably shot down two more and damaged at least another two. He continued to attack even after he had run out of ammunition and was low on fuel. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang had just a single bullet hole.

For this action, James H. Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz. He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to have received this Medal. Howard was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Before the War, Howard had been a U.S. Navy pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor. In June 1941 he went to join the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—in Burma, fighting for the Chinese against Japan. He is credited with shooting down 6 Japanese fighters.

The Mustang that he flew on the day of the aerial battle near Oschersleben was named DING HAO! and carried the victory marks from those AVG actions. [“Ding Hao” was an American World War II slang term based on the Chinese phrase, 挺好的 (“ting hao de”) meaning “very good” or “number one”.]

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

HOWARD, JAMES H.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944.

Entered service at: St. Louis, Missouri. Birth: Canton, China.

G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany on 11 January 1944. On that day Colonel Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long range mission deep in enemy territory. As Colonel Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Colonel Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME-110. As a result of this attack Colonel Howard lost contact with his group and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Colonel Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than thirty German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some thirty minutes, during which time he destroyed three enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement three of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Colonel Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the Armed Forces of the United States.

Major James H. Howard, center, with a group of pilots of the 354th Fighter Group, with a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, at RAF Boxted. (Imperial War Museum)

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

North American Aviation P-51B Mustang with identification stripes. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

DING HAO!, James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. At the time of this photo, the Mustang had been modified with a sliding “Malcom hood” canopy. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 January 1967

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force)
MiG Sweep, by Keith Ferris.
“MiG Sweep,” by Keith Ferris. Colonel Robin Olds uses a Vector Roll to gain firing position on a MiG-21 fighter. “I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn. . . .”

2 January 1967: This painting, MiG Sweep, by aviation artist Keith Ferris, depicts “Olds 01” during Operation Bolo. The twin-engine all-weather jet fighter, a McDonnell F-4C -21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7680, was flown by Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, with First Lieutenant Charles C. Clifton, USAF, as the Weapons System Operator.

Here, the Phantom is inverted as Colonel Olds maneuvers to fire an AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missile at a North Vietnamese MiG-21 over Hanoi. Olds is the only Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

(A lithograph of this painting is available for sale online at  http://www.keithferrisart.com/korea-vietnam.asp)

The area around Hanoi, North Vietnam, was the most heavily defended target area ever encountered by the United States Air Force. A combination of radar-directed anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air guided missiles, and fighter interceptors made every mission very dangerous. Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers were taking heavy losses to the Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 fighters. When escorting F-4C Phantoms would try to engage the MiGs, they would return to their bases which were safe from attack under the American rules of engagement.

Operation Bolo was a complex plan to lure the ground-controlled MiG-21s into an air battle by having the Phantoms simulate a Thunderchief attack. Colonel Olds led 48 McDonnell F-4Cs of the 8th and 366th Tactical Fighter Wings on the same type of attack that would have been used by the Thunderchiefs, but rather than carrying a full load of bombs, the F-4s were armed with AIM-7E Sparrow radar-guided missiles and AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (The F-4C was not armed with a gun.)

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
An Aero Vodochody-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

As the Mach 2+ MiG-21s started coming up through the clouds, their pilots quickly realized that instead of the vulnerable targets of F-105s on a bomb run, they were faced with air superiority fighters.

In the official after action report, Colonel Olds said,

“At the onset of this battle, the MiGs popped up out of the clouds. Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at my 6 o’clock position. I think this was more by chance than by design. As it turned out, within the next few moments, many others popped out of the clouds in varying positions around the clock.

“This one was just lucky. He was called out by the second flight that had entered the area, they were looking down on my flight and saw the MiG-21 appear. I broke left, turning just hard enough to throw off his deflection, waiting for my three and four men to slice in on him. At the same time I saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about my 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away. I went after him and ignored the one behind me. I fired missiles at him just as he disappeared into the clouds.

“I’d seen another pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just about across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG. I pulled the nose up high about 45 degrees, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll. I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn and I timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him, I’d be about 20 degrees angle off and about 4,500 to 5,000 feet behind him. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind, and he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off”

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 39.

With another flight crew the Phantom flown by Robin Olds on 2 January 1967, McDonnell F-4C-21-MC 63-7680, shot down a MiG-17 on 13 May 1967. It was itself shot down by antiaircraft fire while attacking a SAM site, 20 November 1967. The Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant James L. Badley, bailed out and was rescued, but the pilot, Captain John M. Martin, was not seen to leave the aircraft and is listed as Missing in Action.

Colonel Robin Olds shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds shot down a MiG-21 interceptor with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680, at Ubon RTAFB, sometime between March and November 1967. (Photograph by Frank R. MacSorley, Jr.)

Brigadier General Robin Olds, United States Air Force, a fighter pilot and triple ace with 17 official victories in two wars, was born at Honolulu, Hawaii 14 July 1922. He was the first son of Captain Robert Olds, USAAC and Eloise Olds. He graduated from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, in 1942 and completed pilot training the following year.

Sent to Europe as pilot of a Lockheed P-38J Lightning assigned to the 479th Fighter Squadron, he became an ace in his first two missions, shooting down 2 Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighters on 14 August 1944 and 3 Messerschmitt Bf-109s on August 23. The squadron re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and Captain Olds continued to destroy enemy fighters. By early 1945, he had been promoted to major and commanded the squadron. He completed the war with a record of 13 aerial victories, with another 11.5 aircraft destroyed on the ground.

After World War II, Robin Olds transitioned to jet fighters, assigned to fly Lockheed P-80 Shooting Stars at March AFB, California. While there, he met his future wife, actress Ella Raines. They soon married and had two daughters.

In 1948, Robin Olds returned to England as the commanding officer of the Royal Air Force No. 1 Fighter Squadron at RAF Tangmere, the first non-Commonwealth officer to command a Royal Air Force squadron. From 1955 to 1965 he commanded two fighter wings in Europe.

He returned to combat as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB. Flying the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, Colonel Olds scored victories over two MiG-17s and two MiG-21s, bringing his confirmed score to 17 kills. (There have been rumors that he actually shot down as many as nine MiGs but that he credited those to other pilots in order to avoid being pulled out of combat and sent back to the United States.)

Robin Olds flew 107 combat missions during World War II and 152 during the Vietnam War.

In September 1968, Robin Olds was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and assigned as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. He retired from the Air Force in 1973. The General passed away in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 14 June 2008 at the age of 84. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy.

Colonel Robin Olds with an AIM-9 Sidewinder. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds with an AIM-9 Sidewinder. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 January 1954

Brigadier General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force.
Brigadier General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force.
Colonel Willard W. Millikan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his F-86F Sabre, "Minuteman." (Unattributed)
Colonel Willard W. Millikan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his F-86F Sabre, “Minuteman.” (Associated Press)

2 January 1954: Colonel Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force, flew a North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre, 51-13393, named Minuteman, from Los Angeles International Airport to New York in 4 hours, 6 minutes, 16 seconds,¹ averaging 595.91 mph (959.02 kilometers per hour).

Colonel Millikan departed Los Angeles International Airport at 10:10:55 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, and flew most of the route at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). After expending the fuel in his two 670-gallon (2,536 liter) wing tanks, he dropped them over the southwest desert.

Millikan made a refueling stop at Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska (OFF), where a waiting 20-man crew attached two full wing tanks to the Sabre and he was airborne after only 6 minutes, 28 seconds on the ground. Millikan dropped the second set of tanks over Lake Michigan.

Colonel Millikan crossed the finish line at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:19 p.m. EST. His engine flamed out as the aircraft ran out of fuel at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Colonel Millikan made a “dead stick” landing at Idlewild Airport, New York City (IDL).

“My tank was dry,” he said. “I had to glide in. When I arrived on the ground I did not have a drop of fuel.”

Lieutenant Willard W. Millikand, 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Force, stands in the cockpit of his Republic P-47C Thunderbolt 41-6180. (American Air Museum in Britain, Object Number UPL 18911)
Lieutenant Willard W. Millikan, 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Force, stands in the cockpit of his Republic P-47C-2-RE Thunderbolt 41-6180. (American Air Museum in Britain, Object Number UPL 18911)

Willard Wesley “Millie” Millikan was a fighter ace in World War II, officially credited with having destroyed enemy 13 Messerschmitt Bf-109s and Focke-Wulf Fw-190s. After failing his flight checks as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he went to England and joined the Royal Air Force, serving in the Eagle Squadrons as a Flying Sergeant and piloting Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires. After the United States entered the war, Millikan was transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and commissioned as a second lieutenant. Millikan served with the 4th Fighter Group and was eventually promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded the 336th Fighter Squadron and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt and North American Aviation P-51B Mustang.

On 22 April 1944, during a 25-minute air battle, Millikan shot down four Fw 190s with just 666 rounds of ammunition from his Mustang’s four .50-caliber machine guns.

On 30 May 1944, he had to bail out of his North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, 43-24769, Missouri Mauler, near Wittenberg, Germany, after colliding with his wingman, Lieutenant Sam Young, who was evading anti-aircraft fire.

Captain Millikan was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He later escaped and returned to friendly lines.

Millikan served during the Korean War, and at the time of his record-setting flight, was commanding officer of the 113th Fighter Interceptor Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard.

Major General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart. He died at Alexandria, Virginia, 20 October 1978 at the age of 59 years.

Morth American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre, Minuteman, right profile. (Million Monkey Theater)
North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre 51-13393, Minuteman, right profile. (Million Monkey Theater)

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The F-86F was the third variant, with improvements over the earlier F-86A and F-86E. Colonel Millikan’s Minuteman was a Block 25 F-86F Sabre built at Columbus, Ohio. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed, by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

The F-86F was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,890 pounds (4,939.6 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 20,357 pounds (9,233.8 kilograms). The F-86F was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-27 turbojet engine which produced 5,910 pounds of thrust at 7,950 r.p.m. (5 minute limit). Minuteman was one of the first Block 25 fighters built with the “6–3” wing, which increased the Sabre’s maximum speed to 695 miles per hour (1,118.49 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and improved high altitude maneuvering. This came with a 16 mile per hour (25.75 kilometers per hour) increase in the stall speed, to 144 miles per hour (231.75 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling with this wing was 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). The F-86F-25 carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,525 miles (2,454.25 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six M3 .50-caliber machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684.

North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre 51-13393, Minuteman (Artist Unknown)
North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre 51-13393, Minuteman (Artist Unknown. If anyone knows who the artist is, please notify me so that I can properly credit the image.)

¹ In an e-mail, Mr. A.W. Greenfield, Director, Contests and Records, National Aeronautic Association, confirmed Colonel Millikan’s world record was certified by the N.A.A. and stated that the time was adjusted.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 December 1944

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, United States Army Air Corps. From an oil painting by an unknown artist. (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection)

Medal of Honor

Frederick W. Castle

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Brigadier General (Air Corps) Frederick Walker Castle (ASN: 0-319375), United States Army Air Forces for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 487th Bombardment Group (H), 4th Bombardment Wing, Eighth Air Force.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Brigadier General Castle was air commander and leader of more than 2,000 heavy bombers in a strike against German airfields on 24 December 1944. En route to the target, the failure of one engine forced him to relinquish his place at the head of the formation. In order not to endanger friendly troops on the ground below, he refused to jettison his bombs to gain speed maneuverability. His lagging, unescorted aircraft became the target of numerous enemy fighters which ripped the left wing with cannon shells, set the oxygen system afire, and wounded two members of the crew. Repeated attacks started fires in two engines, leaving the Flying Fortress in imminent danger of exploding. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the bail-out order was given. Without regard for his personal safety he gallantly remained alone at the controls to afford all other crewmembers an opportunity to escape. Still another attack exploded gasoline tanks in the right wing, and the bomber plunged earthward, carrying General Castle to his death. His intrepidity and willing sacrifice of his life to save members of the crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 22 (February 28, 1946)

Action Date: December 24, 1944

Service: Army Air Forces

Rank: Brigadier General

Regiment: 487th Bombardment Group (H), 4th Bombardment Wing

Division: 8th Air Force

Colonel Frederick Walker Castle, U.S. Army Air Corps (center) and Lieutenant Colonel Elliot  Vandevanter, Jr. (left), speaking to Brigadier General Curtiss E. LeMay, 10 November 1943. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, commanding officer of the 487th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Air Force Station 137 (RAF Lavenham) was leading his group’s 57 bombers as part of 8th Air Force Mission No. 760, which was an attack against German air field. This was a “maximum effort” involving three air divisions—nearly 900 bombers. The 487th’s target was the airfield at Babenhausen, Germany.

As the group commander, General Castle flew as co-pilot aboard the lead ship, B-17G 44-8444, with pilot 1st Lieutenant Robert W. Harriman and his lead crew of 6 officers and 3 sergeant/gunners. As the leading pathfinder, Treble Four carried three navigators.

The group began taking off from Lavenham at 0900 and assembled at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in what was described as “perfect weather.” Enroute to their target, the B-17s continued climbing to 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and leveled off at 1223.

At about this time, Treble Four‘s number four engine, outboard on the right wing, began losing oil and could not produce its normal power. As the bomber slowed, it dropped out of the formation, with General Castle relinquishing the lead to a second Pathfinder B-17. The airplane, now on its own, was quickly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters, putting two engines out of operation and setting the bomber on fire. Two crewmen were wounded in the first attack.

The bomber was overhead American 1st Army formations and the General did not want it to come down among the friendly lines with its full load of bombs. Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle continued to fly the disabled airplane as the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Six men bailed out. One man was machine-gunned in his parachute by an enemy fighter and was killed. Another lost his parachute and also died. A third died of his wounds at a hospital.

At about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the B-17’s right wing came off and Treble Four entered a violent spin. The fuselage broke into several sections. The largest remaining part of the airplane, the forward fuselage, including the bomb bay, left wing and inboard right wing, crashed approximately 300 yards (275 meters) from Chateaux d’Englebermont in Belgium. The wreck was on fire and bombs exploded. Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle, still in the cockpit, were killed.

Lockheed Vega B-17G-65-VE 44-8444 Treble Four crash site
The wreckage of General Castle’s Lockheed Vega-built B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress 44-8444, Treble Four. (U.S. Air Force)

Treble Four was a B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress, built by the Vega Aircraft Corporation (a subsidiary of Lockheed) at Burbank, California. It was delivered to Dallas, Texas, 14 September 1944. After crossing the continent, the new bomber departed Bangor, Maine, 16 October 1944, and headed across the North Atlantic Ocean for England. On 20 November, 44-8444 was assigned to the 836th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 487th Bombardment Group (Heavy), at Air Force Station 137 (RAF Lavenham) near Sudbury, Suffolk, England.

The airplane was a “Pathfinder,” equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar which allowed a radar navigator to locate a target through cloud cover. The rotating antenna replaced the bomber’s ventral ball turret.

The two B-17s in this photograph, both Lockheed-Vega B-17G-20-VE Flying Fortresses, 42-97627 and 42-97555, are equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar. (U.S. Air Force)

NOTE: A detailed analysis of “The Crash of B-17 44-8444 Treble Four” by Paul M. Webber can be found at: http://www.geocities.ws/pmwebber/castle_treble4.htm

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1943

Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, United States Army Air Corps (U.S. Air Force)
Technical Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler, United States Army Air Corps (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

VOSLER, FORREST L.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps. 358th Bomber Squadron, 303d Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Bremen, Germany, December 20, 1943.

Entered service at: Rochester, New York. Born: July 29, 1923, Lyndonville, New York.

G.O. No.: 73, September 6, 1944.

Citation:

Forest Volser was the radio operator on this Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29664, the "Jersey Bounce Jr." (U.S. Air Force)
Forest Volser was the radio operator on this Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29664, the “Jersey Bounce Jr.” (U.S. Air Force)

For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler’s actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crew member, were outstanding.

Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force)
Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., 31 August 1944. Shaking Vosler’s hand is Under Secretary of War Robert Porter Patterson, Sr. (U.S. Air Force)

Staff Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler was the radio operator/top gunnner aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-298664, Jersey Bounce, Jr., one of 21 B-17s of the 303rd Bombardment Group sent on Mission No. 90, an attack against Bremen, Germany. The bomber was under the command of 2nd Lieutenant John F. Henderson. Captain Merle R. Hungerford, an instructor pilot, acted as co-pilot. The bombers encountered heavy antiaircraft fire over the target, and were attacked by as many as 125 enemy fighters. Bombing from an altitude of  26,200 feet (7,986 meters), the B-17s dropped 24 tons of incendiary bombs.

Jersey Bounce, Jr. was hit by anti-aircraft artillery just after its bomb load was released. The number 1 engine, outboard, left wing, and the number 4 engine, outboard, right wing, were  damaged. When the B-17 slowed and dropped out of its formation, it became a target of opportunity for the Luftwaffe fighters. The crew reported that as many as ten fighters attacked, one after another. Flight engineer and top turret gunner Staff Sergeant William H. Simpkins, Jr., was credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, and right waist gunner Sergeant Ralph F. Burkart shot down a Messerschmitt Me 210 twin-engine heavy fighter. Sergeant Stanley E. Moody, the left waist gunner, destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and probably shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighter.

The heavily-damaged bomber flew at low altitude as it headed for the North Sea, and then toward England. Vosler sent repeated distress signals which allowed search and rescue aircraft to locate the B-17. Lieutenant Henderson ditched 42-29644 within sight of land. The crew were quickly rescued by a small coastal freighter, MV Empire Sportsman. The bomber crew was then transferred to a British air-sea rescue boat.

Technical Sergeant Vosler was the third of only four enlisted airmen two be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. After recuperating from his wounds, Vosler was discharged from the Army Air Corps. He then worked for the Veterans Administration for thirty years. Forrest Lee Vosler died 17 February 1992 at the age of 68 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress (B-17F-95-BO 42-30243). (U.S. Air Force)

Technical Sergeant Vosler was the radio operator aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr. The bomber was on its 32nd combat mission. It had been flown by at least nine different pilots.

42-29664 was delivered from the Boeing plant in Seattle to Denver, Colorado, 30 January 1943. It arrived at Salina, Kansas, 12 February 1943, and was sent on to Morrison, New Jersey, 28 February 1943, and was then flown across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The new B-17F was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group, at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, England, 21 March 1943. It carried group identification markings VK-C painted on its fuselage.

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.1-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction.  The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

These engines gave the B-17F a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet, though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods.

The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters). With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

358th Bombardment Squadron flight crew. Most of the men in this photograph were aboard "Jersey Bounce Jr.", 20 December 1943. Front, left to right: Sgt. Edward Ruppel. ball turret gunner; T/Sgt. Forest L. Vosler, radio operator; S/Sgt. William H. Simpkins, Jr., flight engineer/top turret gunner; Sgt. Gratz, tail gunner 9replaceing teh critically wounded Sgt. George W. Burke, who was rescued by Vosler); Sgt. Raaplh F. Burkhart, waist gunner. Rear, left to right: 2nd Lt. Warren S. Wiggins, navigator; 2nd Lt. Woodrow W. Monkres, bombardier; 2 Lt. Walter J. Ames, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. John F. Henderson, aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)
358th Bombardment Squadron flight crew. Most of the men in this photograph were aboard “Jersey Bounce Jr.”, 20 December 1943. Front, left to right: Sgt. Edward Ruppel, ball turret gunner; T/Sgt. Forest L. Vosler, radio operator/top gunner; S/Sgt. William H. Simpkins, Jr., flight engineer/top turret gunner; Sgt. Gratz, tail gunner (replacing the critically wounded Sgt. George W. Burke, who was rescued by Vosler); Sgt. Ralph F. Burkhart, waist gunner. Rear, left to right: 2nd Lt. Warren S. Wiggins, navigator; 2nd Lt. Woodrow W. Monkres, bombardier; 2 Lt. Walter J. Ames, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. John F. Henderson, aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence.

This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle's Boeing Field. (Boeing)
This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field. (Boeing)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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