Tag Archives: Prisoner of War

25 April 1956

Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base. Colonel Everest is wearing a capstan-type partial pressure suit for protection at very high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base. Colonel Everest is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at very high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)

25 April 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, United States Air Force, was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocket plane, serial number 46-674. This was the tenth flight of the X-2 program, and only the third powered flight.

For the first time, Everest fired both chambers of the Curtiss-Wright XLR25 rocket engine. On this flight, the X-2 reached Mach 1.40 and 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). It was the first time an X-2 had gone supersonic.

Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, circa 1955–56. (NASA Photograph ET–128)
Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, circa 1955–56. (NASA Photograph ET–128)

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons).

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

Bell X-2 46-674 on final approach. (NASA)

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

Two X-2 rocketplanes were built. The second X-2, 46-675, was destroyed during a captive flight, 12 May 1953. The explosion killed Bell test pilot Skip Ziegler and Frank Wolko, an engineer aboard the B-50A mothership. The B-50 made an emergency landing but was so badly damaged that it never flew again.

The X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,370 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 49-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)

The EB-50D was a highly modified four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress long range heavy bomber, engineered to carry research aircraft to high altitudes before releasing them for a test flight. The B-50 was an improved version of the World War II B-29A Superfortress.

Boeing B-50D-95-BO (S/N 48-096) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force/Bill Pippin Collection, 1000aircraftphotos.com)
Boeing B-50D-90-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)

Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., was born 10 Aug 1920, at Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Frank Kendall Everest, an electrical contractor, and Phyllis Gail Walker Everest. Attended Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West Virginia, graduating in 1939. He studied at Fairmont State Teachers College, also in Fairmont, West Virginia, and then studied engineering at teh University of Wesst Virginia in Morgantown.

Pete Everest enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 7 November 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. His enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.703 meters) tall and weighed 132 pounds (59.9 kilograms). He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 3 July 1942.

Everest married Miss Avis June Mason in Marion, West Virginia, in 1942.

Pete Everest with his Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, North Africa, 1943.

He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States, 11 November 1942. He was assigned as a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying 94 combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third. Everest was promoted to the rank of Captain, 17 August 1943.

In 1944, Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations where he flew 67 missions and shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major, 1 July 1945. He was returned to the United States military 3 October 1945.

After the war, Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Everest was returned to the permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945.

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-1 supersonic research rocketplane, 46-062, circa 1950. (mach-buster.co.uk)

At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was the test pilot on thirteen of the twenty X-2 flights.

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1956. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base.

Brigadier General Gilbert L. Meyers and Colonel Frank Kendall Everest delivered the first production F-4C Phantom IIs to the Tactical Air Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. He later worked as a test pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft.

During his military career General Everest was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Purple Heart; Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Prisoner of War Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four bronze stars; Asiatic-Pacific campaign Medal with two bronze stars; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960– device. General Everest was rated as a Command Pilot, and a Basic Parachutist.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr. United States Air Force (Retired), died at Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2004 at the age of 84 years.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, United states Air Force
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force. (U.s. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 April 1918

1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, Air Service, United States Army. (Campbell Studios, New York)

23 April 1918: at 09:55 a.m., near Saint-Gobain, France, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, 103rd Aero Squadron (Pursuit), shot down an enemy Albatross C two-place biplane. This was Baer’s fifth victory in aerial combat, making him the first American “ace.” ¹ [Official credit for this shoot-down is shared with Lt. C. H. Wilcox.]

Albatros C.VII C.2197/16 (Wikipedia)

Paul Frank Baer was born 29 January 1894 at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fourth of four children of Alvin E. Baer, a railroad engineer, and Emma B. Parent Baer.

In 1916, Baer served under Brigadier John J. General Pershing during the Mexican Expedition to capture the outlaw and revolutionary Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa. He then went to France and enlisted the Aéronautique Militaire, in 20 February 1917. He was sent for flight training at the Avord Groupemant des Divisions d’Entrainment (G.D.E.). He graduated as a pilot, 15 June 1917, with the rank of corporal.

After flight training, Corporal Baer was assigned to Escadrille SPA 80, under the command of Capitaine Paul Ferrand, 14 August 1917 to 20 January 1918, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 and SPAD S.XIII C.1. Baer was next transferred to Escadrille N. 124, the Escadrille Américaine, under Georges Thénault. This unit was equipped with the Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C1.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view.

After the United States entered the War, Baer was transferred to the 103rd Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant with a date of rank retroactive to 5 November 1917. At that time, the 103rd was under the command of Major William Thaw II, and was operating near La Cheppe, France, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 chasseur.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 S7714 of the 103rd Aero Squadron, France, 1918. The pilot is Captain Robert Soubiran, the squadron’s commanding officer. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Baer is officially credited by the United States Air Force with 7.75 enemy airplanes shot down between 11 March and 22 May 1918, ² and he claimed an additional 7. (Credit for two airplanes was shared with four other pilots.) After shooting down his eighth enemy airplane on 22 May 1918, Baer and his SPAD S.XIII C.1 were also shot down. He was seriously injured and was captured by the enemy near Armentières and held as a Prisoner of War. At one point, Baer was able to escape for several days before being recaptured.

For his service in World War I, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer was awarded the United States’ Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award). He was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by Raymond Poincaré, the President of France. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

After World War I, Baer, as a “soldier of fortune,” organized a group of pilots to fight against “the Bolsheviks” in Poland. He returned to the United States, departing Boulogne-sur-mer aboard T.S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, and arriving at New York City, 4 November 1919. He then flew as a test pilot, an air mail pilot in South America, and worked as an aeronautical inspector for the U.S. Department of Commerce, based at Brownsville Airport, Texas. In 1930, he was employed as a pilot for the China National Aviation Corporation.

Baer was flying from Nanking to Shanghai for with an amphibious Loening Air Yacht biplane, named Shanghai. The airplane crashed after striking the mast of a boat on the Huanpu River. He died at the Red Cross Hospital at Shanghai, China, at 9:00 a.m., 9 December 1930. A Chinese pilot, K. F. Pan, and an unidentified female passenger were also killed. General Hsiung Shih-hui and four other passengers on board were seriously injured.

Paul Baer’s remains were returned to the United States aboard S.S. President McKinley and were buried at the Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In 1925 a new airport was opened in Fort Wayne and named Paul Baer Municipal Airport. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the military and designated Baer Army Airfield. It is now Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA).

A CNAC Loening Air Yacht amphipian at Lungwha, China, circa 1930. (SFO Aviation Museum & Library R2014.1811.001)
Lufbery

¹ TDiA would like to thank CMSgt Bob Laymon USAF (Ret.) (AKA, “Scatback Scribe”) for pointing out that while Lt. Baer was the first American to become an ace flying in the American service, that,

“The first American Ace was actually Gervais Raoul V. Lufbery, an American immigrant that was serving with the French Air Service when he shot down his 5th German plane in 1916: http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=903

² U.S. AIR SERVICE VICTORY CREDITS, WORLD WAR I, USAF Historical Study No. 133, Historical Reserch Division, Air University, Maxwell Ir Force Base, Alabama, June 1969, at Page 7

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1967

Lieutenant Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967.

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

Medal of HonorCitation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MiGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN HAROLD EUGENE JOHNSON

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Harold Eugene Johnson (AFSN: 0-3116556/42372A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission over North Vietnam on 19 April 1967. On that date, Captain Johnson guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation with an air-to-ground missile. Through his technical skill, he immediately detected a second missile complex and guided the pilot into visual contact. Diving into a deadly barrage of anti-aircraft fire, his aircraft bombed and successfully destroyed this site. In the attack on this second missile site, a wingman was shot down by the intense anti-aircraft fire, and the crew members were forced to abandon their aircraft. Flying through hostile missile threats, Captain Johnson’s aircraft engaged and destroyed a MiG-17 while attacking a superior MiG force. He aided in the rescue efforts for the downed crew, engaged additional MiGs, and damaged one in the encounter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Johnson has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-363 (April 19, 1967)

Action Date: 19-Apr-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam

Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)

A description of the air battle follows:

The first MiG kill of the day was recorded by Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, pilot, and Capt. Harold E. Johnson, Electronic Warfare officer (EWO), flying an F-105F. Thorsness’ flight consisted of four F-105F Wild Weasel aircraft, each plane being manned by a pilot and EWO and being specially equipped to locate and attack SAM sites. The flight was ahead of the main strike force and was committed to suppress SAM activity in the target area. About 8 to 10 MiG-17s attacked as the flight prepared to strike a SAM radar site with Shrike air-to-ground missiles. The Thorsness flight split up into three parts: the third and fourth aircraft entered into separate MiG engagements while Thorsness and his wingman continued the attack against the radar. The time was then about 4:55 p.m. Johnson provides an account of the encounter:

“We found and delivered our ordnance on an occupied SAM site. As we pulled off the site heading west, Kingfish 02¹ called that he had an overheat light. He also headed west, and the crew, Majors Thomas M. Madison, pilot, and Thomas J. Sterling, EWO, had to eject from their aircraft. We headed toward them by following the UHF-DF steer we received from their electronic beepers and saw them in the chutes. . .

“As we circled the descending crew, we were on a southerly heading when I spotted a MiG-17 heading east, low at out 9 o’clock position. I called him to the attention of Major Thorsness. . . .”

Thorsness continued the story:

“The MiG was heading east and was approximately 2,500 feet mean sea level. We were heading southeast and at 8,000 feet MSL. I began “S” turning to get behind the MiG. After one and a half “S” turns the MiG had progressed from the foothills over the delta southwest of Hanoi. The MiG turned to a northerly heading, maintaining approximately the same altitude and airspeed. Captain Johnson continued to give me SAM bearings, SAM-PRF [pulse recurrence frequency] status and launch indications as I continued to maneuver to attain a 6 o’clock position on the MiG.

“The first burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm was fired from an estimated 2,000–1,500 feet in a right hand shallow pursuit curve, firing with a cased sight reticle. No impacts were observed on the MiG. Within a few seconds we were in the 6 o’clock position with approximately 75 to 100 knots overtake speed. I fired another burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm. I pulled up to avoid both the debris and the MiG. While pulling up I rolled slightly to the right, then left. The MiG was approximately 100 feet low and to our left, rolling to the right. The two red stars were clearly discernible, one on top of each wing, and several rips were noted on the battered left wing. We continued to turn to the left and after turning approximately 130° again sighted the MiG, still in a right descending spiral. Just prior to the MiG’s impacting the ground, Captain Johnson sighted a MiG-17 at our 6:30 position approximately 2,000 feet back. I pulled into a tighter left turn, selected afterburner, and lowered the nose. I again looked at the crippled MiG, saw it impact the ground in what appeared to be a rice field. After confirming the MiG had in fact impacted the ground I made a hard reversal and descended very near the ground, heading generally westerly into the foothills.”

Thorsness then left the battle area, but returned after refueling to provide rescue combat air patrol during the search for his wingman’s aircrew. Thorsness and Johnson attacked another MiG and scored some damaging hits before they were themselves attacked by other MiG-17s. Although it is highly probable that Thorsness and Johnson destroyed a second MiG, this kill was not confirmed.

— 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 Pages 46 and 47.

Eleven days later, 30 April 1967, Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson were shot down by an AA-2A Atoll heat-seeking missile fired by a MiG-21 fighter piloted by Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh, 921st Fighter Regiment, Vietnam People’s Air Force. They ejected but were captured. Both men were held as Prisoners of War until 4 March 1973.

Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force (Retired) died Tuesday, 2 May 2017, at St. Augustine, Florida. He was 85 years of age.

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 March 1944

Stammlager Luft III prison in Province of East Silesia, World War II. (Muzeum Obózow Jenieckich W Żaganiu)
Stammlager Luft III prison in Province of East Silesia, World War II. (Muzeum Obózow Jenieckich W Żaganiu)

24 March 1944: At about 2230 hours, the first of 76 Allied prisoners of war interred at Stammlager Luft III (Stalag Luft III) began to escape through a 30-foot-deep (9 meters), 320-foot-long (98 meters) tunnel, code-named “Harry.”

The prison, located just south of Sagan (Żagań) in East Silesia (now a part of Poland) was specially constructed to house captured Royal Air Force and other Allied airmen, and was controlled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Prior to this escape, the German captors had discovered at least 98 tunnels at the prison.

A drawing showing the proposed route of one of the escape tunnels, by wartime artist Ley Kenyon, a prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft III at the time of the Great Escape in March 1944 [Picture: from the original drawings of Ley Kenyon 1943] (GOV.UK)
A drawing showing the proposed route of one of the escape tunnels, by wartime artist Ley Kenyon, a prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft III at the time of the Great Escape in March 1944 [Picture: from the original drawings of Ley Kenyon 1943] (© Crown copyright)
The weather was the coldest in thirty years and five feet of snow lay on the ground. The last escapee left the tunnel at 0455, 25 March. Of the 76 prisoners who escaped, 73 were soon recaptured, and of those, 50 were murdered by the Gestapo.

Popularly known as “The Great Escape,” this was the subject of a 1950 book, The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill, who was a POW at the prison. His book was adapted into a very popular motion picture, “The Great Escape,” in 1963.

Squadron Leader Thomas Gresham Kirby-Green, RAF, and Flight Lieutenant Gordon Arthur Kidder, RCAF, were murdered by Gestapo agents near Zlín, Moravia, 29 March 1944. (This photograph may be of a reconstruction by the RAF Special Investigations Branch, circa 1946)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 March 1972

Lieutenat Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of a McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of a McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

1 March 1972: Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force, and 1st Lieutenant Leigh A. Hodgdon, were flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC  Phantom II serial number 66-7463, call sign Falcon 54. Along with a second F-4, they were assigned to a combat air patrol (MiGCAP) mission over northern Laos.

At approximately 2000 hours, Disco, a Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star airborne early warning aircraft, alerted Kittinger to the presence of several Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptors and gave him radar vectors toward the enemy aircraft.

Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Kittinger reported:

At approximately 18 miles the system broke lock but it was quickly reacquired. A slow left turn ensued to keep the dot centered. Altitudes were slowly increased from 8,200 feet to 11,500 feet. The Vc on the scope was extremely difficult to interpret; however, it appeared that we were not really overtaking the target, so the outboard tanks were dropped. Heading of the aircraft changed to approximately 360° at time of firing. At approximately 6 miles the “in-range” light illuminated, followed by an increase in the ASE circle. Trigger was squeezed and crew felt a thump as the missile was ejected; however, missile motor did not ignite. The trigger was squeezed again and held for approximately 3 seconds; however missile did not fire. Trigger was squeezed again and missile #3 fired. The missile made a small correction to the left then back to the right and guided straight away. Pilot maintained the dot centered.

Approximately 5 to 6 seconds after launch, detonation was observed. Almost simultaneously, two enemy missiles were observed coming from the vicinity of the detonation. Evasive action prevented more thorough observations of detonation. The flight turned to a heading of 210°, maintained 9,000 feet, airspeed 500 knots, and egressed the area.

— 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 III at Page 87.

Joe Kittinger is officially credited with the destruction of the MiG 21.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463, flown by Captains Richie and DeBellevue, 28 August 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
This McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II, 66-7463, was flown by LCOL Joe Kittinger and 1LT Hodgdon when they shot down a MiG-21, 1 March 1972. Flown by several different crews, this airplane is officially credited with shooting down 6 enemy fighters. It is on display at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force)

Joseph W. Kittinger II is best known for his participation in experimental high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, he ascended to 97,760 feet (29,490 meters) aboard the Project MAN-HIGH 1. On 16 August 1960, he reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) and then stepped off for the longest free-fall parachute jump—a record that would stand for 52 years.

Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. He was shot down 11 May 1972, when his F-4D, 66-0230, was struck by a missile fired by a MiG 21. (Kittinger’s wingman shot down the MiG.) He and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich were captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for the next 11 months.

Captain Kittinger steps off the Excelsior gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kittinger steps off the Excelsior gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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