Tag Archives: World War II

14 October 1943: “Bloody Thursday”

B-17 Flying Fortresses attack Schweinfurt, Germany, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1943: A large force of 8th Air Force heavy bombers and escorting fighters attack the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany, for the second time. Five bombardment groups sent 291 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers on the raid.

A B-17F Flying Fortress going down over Europe. The left outboard engine is on fire and the right wing has been shot off. There are ten men in this airplane. (U.S. Air Force)

60 B-17s were shot down by German fighters or anti-aircraft artillery (“flak”). Another 17 were so heavily damaged that they crashed on landing back at their bases, or were so severely damaged that they were beyond repair. 121 B-17s received lesser damage. 594 crewmen were listed as Missing In Action (presumably Killed In Action). 65 men were captured and held as Prisoners of War. Of the bombers that returned to England 5 crewmen were killed and 43 were wounded. B-17 gunners shot down 35 to 38 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulk Fw 190s. Another 20 fighters were damaged.

A B-17G Flying Fortress with its bomb bay doors open. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1944

1st Lieutenant Chuck Yeager. (American Air Museum in Britain)

12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.

Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.

At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.

A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)
A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)

As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.

It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.

1st Lieutenant Charles E. Yeager with “Glamorous Glenn II,” at USAAF Station 157, Raydon, Suffolk, England, 17 October 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):

“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed

“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.”

Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.

Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II had previously been assigned to Captain Charles K. Peters and named Daddy Rabbit. Flown by another pilot, Second Lieutenant Horace Roycroft, 44-13897 was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather. Lieutenant Roycroft was killed.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This fighter is from the same production block as Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

The P-51D was 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 with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. 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.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry AN/M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked .50-caliber ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D-25-NT Mustang 44-84900 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, circa 1945–1952. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 October 1943

In this iconic World War II photograph, a Douglas-built B-17F-50-DL Flying Fortress, 42-3352, “Virgin’s Delight,” of the 410th Bomb Squadron, 94th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force, is over the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter factory, Marienburg, East Prussia, 9 October 1943. The aircraft commander was Lieutenant R.E. Le Pore. (U.S. Air Force)

VIII Bomber Command Mission Number 113 was an attack by nearly 100 American heavy bombers on the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG aircraft factory at Marienburg, East Prussia (Malbork, Poland), where the Luftwaffe‘s Fw 190 fighter was being built. Early in the war, German fighter production had been dispersed and it was thought that Marienburg was beyond the range of Allied bombers.

The Fw 190 was the most effective of Germany’s fighters. More than 20,000 were built in 16 variants.

A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 fighter, DN+FP, W.Nr. 160016, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 DN+FP, W.Nr. 160016, in flight near Wright Field, Ohio, May 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 DN+FP, W.Nr. 160016, from above and behind. (U.S. Air Force)

100 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were assigned to the target and 96 of these reached the plant. Between 1253 hours and 1302 hours, the B-17s arrived over the target in five waves at 11,000 to 13,000 feet (3,353 to 3,963 meters). They dropped 217.9 tons (197.7 metric tons) of bombs with a very high degree of accuracy.

During the mission, two B-17s were lost with 13 more damaged. Three airmen were wounded and 21 listed as Missing in Action. The bomber crews claimed 9 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and 2 probably destroyed in air-to-air combat. Target assessment estimated that 15 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters were destroyed on the ground.

This strike photo was taken from B-17 42-30353 ("Ten Knights in a Bar Room") of the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (U.S. Air Force)
This strike photo was taken from Boeing B-17F-100-BO Flying Fortress 42-30353 (“Ten Knights in a Bar Room”) of the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (U.S. Air Force)

Casualties among the factory work force were high. Of 669 workers, 114 were killed and 76 injured.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, KCB, DSO, MC, Royal Air Force, described the Marienburg attack as the “. . . most perfect example in history of the accurate distribution of bombs over a target.”

Damage assessment photograph
Reconnaissance photograph taken by a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito PR flown by Squadron Leader R.A. Lenton and Pilot Officer Heney of No. 540 Squadron, R.A.F., 10 October 1943, showing results of the previous day’s attack. (Royal Air Force)
The target area as it appears today. (Google Maps)
"Instrument workers line up aerial cameras at Benson, Oxfordshire, before installing them in a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX: (left to right) two Type F.24 (14-inch lens) vertical cameras, one F.24 (14-inch lens) oblique camera, two Type F.52 (36-inch lens) 'split pair' vertical cameras." (Imperial War Museum CH-18399)
“Instrument workers line up aerial cameras at Benson, Oxfordshire, before installing them in a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX: (left to right) two Type F.24 (14-inch lens) vertical cameras, one F.24 (14-inch lens) oblique camera, two Type F.52 (36-inch lens) ‘split pair’ vertical cameras.” (Imperial War Museum CH-18399)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 October 1943

USS Ranger (CV-4) escorted by USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) during Operation Leader, October 1943. (© Imperial War Museum A 19598)

4 October 1943: In an effort to interrupt the supply of iron ore from Norway to the Third Reich, the Royal Navy and United States Navy staged Operation Leader. Task Force 121, a combined task force of two British battleships, two cruisers and nine destroyers, along with the American aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) and its escorts of a heavy cruiser and five destroyers, sortied from Scapa Flow on 2 October. The mission was to attack German convoys at the Norwegian sea port of Bodø.

By early morning, 4 October, the task force had arrived at a position in the Vestfjord Sea, about 100 miles west of the Norwegian coastline. At 0618, Ranger launched a strike force of 20 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers with an escort of 8 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters. The airplanes flew at 50–100 feet (15–30 meters) above the water to avoid detection. The squadrons maintained total radio silence.

Photographed looking southeast, VB-4 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless 4-B-19, Lt.(j.g.) Clyde A. Tucker and ARM2c Stephen D. Bakran. Kunna Head, south of Bodø, is at upper right. 4 October 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The air strike was undetected and sunk or severely damaged several ships.

A second air strike of 10 Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers with 6 Wildcats followed. They damaged several more ships in the harbor.

This attack was the United States Navy’s only aircraft carrier operation north of Arctic Circle during World War II.

Operation Leader. Bombs detonate close aboard S.S. Malaga. (U.S. Navy)

It was later determined that the steamship Rabat (2,719 tons) and the freighter Vaagen (687 tons) were sunk. The tanker Schleswig (10,762 tons), Topeka (4,991 tons) and the freighter La Plata (8,056 tons) were heavily damaged. La Plata was run aground to prevent its sinking, as was another ship, Kaguir (1,536 tons). A German troop transport, Skramstad, carrying more than 800 enemy soldiers, was damaged beyond repair. More than 200 soldiers were killed.

Enemy shipping under attack at Bodo, 4 October 1943 NH 84255

Strike force losses consisted of two SBD dive bombers and a TBF. Five airmen were killed, and the two survivors captured and held as Prisoners of War. One F4F, one TBF, and 4 SBDs were damaged. One airman was wounded.

Luftwaffe bombers counterattacked. A Junkers Ju 88D-1 and a Heinkel He 115B float plane were shot down by Ranger‘s Combat Air Patrol fighters.

Gun camera image of Junkers Ju 88 4N+EH on fire, 4 October 1943. (U.S. Navy via AirGroup4.com)

The Operation Leader task force retired and arrived back at Scapa Flow on 6 October.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 September 1967

Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, in the cockpit of McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7668, on his last flight out of Ubon-Rachitani RTAFB as Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, 23 September 1967. This was his 152nd combat mission of the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force)

23 September 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, the Wing Commander, of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon-Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, flew the final combat mission of his military career.

On this last mission, Colonel Olds flew a McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7668. Olds had flown this Phantom when he and Lieutenant William D. Lefever shot down a MiG-21 near Hanoi, 4 May 1967.

23 September 1967: Colonel Robin Olds' last flight as Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon-Rachitani RTAFB, Thailand. The airplane is McDonnell F-4D-31-MC Phantom II 66-7668. (U.S. Air Force)
23 September 1967: Colonel Robin Olds’ last flight as Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon-Rachitani RTAFB, Thailand. The airplane is McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II 63-7668. (U.S. Air Force)

63-7668 had been delivered to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing from the factory on 18 January 1965. It was lost in the South China Sea, 27 January 1968.

Thanks to reader Raymond Shaw for correcting a significant error in the previous version of this post.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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