Fortune and Courage: The Survival, Evasion, and Return of Two Fighter Pilots from Occupied Greece

Steve Blake and John Stanaway’s book Adorimini is a comprehensive, detailed, well-written, and beautifully produced history of the 82nd Fighter Group.  The 82nd, equipped with Lockheed’s P-38 Lightning, served under the 12th and 15th Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater of War, and was credited with 548 enemy planes destroyed, 88 probably destroyed, and 227 damaged.  In terms of the Group’s losses, Adorimini lists the names of 267 casualties, comprising men who were killed in action, missing in action, prisoners of war, or who lost their lives from other causes.  As mentioned in the book’s appendix, these figures indicate that 41% of the Group’s pilots became casualties.

Among the 267 are nine men who evaded capture.  These include 2 Lt. Earl T. Green, 2 Lt. Clayton A. Bennett, 2 Lt. Stephen A. Plutt, 2 Lt. Edwin R. English, Jr., 2 Lt. Walter T. Leslie, 2 Lt. John N. Girling, 2 Lt. Elwood L. Howard, Capt. Charles King, and 2 Lt. Lawrence W. Zellman. 

Certainly all of these men had a “story”, but, as in “life” – “in general”, for all people – not all stories are recorded.  Not all stories that have been recorded are known.  And, not all stories that are known, are remembered.  But, at least two such stories of men mentioned in Adorimini – stories of survival upon the thinnest margins of probability and luck; stories of endurance and fortitude; stories of courage – are known, and are here presented.

The aviators in question were Bennett and English, both shot down on combat missions in 1943: Bennett on October 8, and English on December 6.  Reference to Bennett’s survival, and a compelling excerpt from an account about English’s experience are given in Adormini.  These follow below:

2 Lt. Clayton A. Bennett

Most of the missions tended to be escorts of B-25s to targets in Greece and Albania throughout the first half of October.  On the 8th the 95th and 96th Squadrons escorted the 321st BG once again, to Athens’ Eleusis Airdrome.  As the formation left the target, a dozen or so Me-109s from III and IV / JG 27 attacked the 95th from above and behind, utilizing the cloud cover to their advantage.  A running fight then ensued over the Gulf of Corinth.

Lts. Bob Muir and Stoutenborough each claimed an Me-109 destroyed and other 95th pilots claimed four more as damaged.  Two of the squadron’s P-38s were lost in return; one was seen to crash into the hills west of the target and another fell in flames into the gulf.  The latter was flown by Lt. Clayton Bennett, who miraculously survived, although badly wounded.  He was also fortunate enough to be rescued and assisted by Greek Partisans.  Bennett made it back to Italy in February and soon thereafter was on his way home.  The other pilot, Lt. Jim Shawver, was MIA.  JG 27 pilots claimed to have shot down eight (!) Lightnings for the loss of one Me-109 and its pilot plus serious damaged to another.  (p. 111)  (Lt. Bennett was flying P-38G 43-2332, which carried the squadron code “AJ“.  His loss is covered in MACR 925A.)

***

2 Lt. Edwin R. English, Jr.

The 82nd returned to Greece on December 6, escorting Liberators of the 98th and 376th Bomb Groups to Eleusis Airdrome.  Enemy fighters intervened and the 97th Sq. claimed two destroyed – an Me-109 by Lt. Bill Clark and an FW-190 by Lt. Gene Chatfield, who was on his first mission (!).  The 96th claimed 2-1-1 109s, both of the confirmed kills being credited to Lt. Leslie Anderson.  (IV / JG 27 lost two of its Messerschmitts that day.)  For Lt. C.O. Seltz of the 97th this mission was the magic #50.

The mission was #18 for Lt. Edwin English of the 96th Sq., for whom it was at least equally memorable.  He was the only 82nd pilot lost that day.  In a report filed after his eventually – and almost miraculous – return, English recalled that he didn’t see any enemy fighters until the American formation was coming off the target:

It was then that I saw 3 ME 109s coming down on the tail of the last group of bombers; I called them in to Andy, and we turned back.  To my surprise, we found at least 15 to 20 enemy fighters coming in from above us, by twos and threes.  Andy turned into two that were coming in on our left, so Dolezal and I broke off and turned into two that were coming at us from in front, leaving him and his wingman to take care of the ones from the rear. 

One of our two started down, with Dolezal after him; the other made a head-on pass at me.  My gunsight was flickering, so I turned it off, and fired steadily by my tracers as we closed.  Apparently I was hit just as we made our range, for I noticed smoke in the cockpit, but I was too busy to give a damn just then.  I started hitting him just as we got in range, with my tracers pouring in, and he pushed his nose down to dodge; I kept them on with forward pressure, and saw cannon shells explode in his engine, with pieces flying off his plane; as he passed fifty feet below me.

I could see the pilot slumped ever to the side of the cockpit.  I made a quick break to the left, and saw him start straight down, smoking heavily; I watched him fall straight down for 5,000 feet, and would have followed, but there were too many planes around.  So I broke to the right and picked up Dolezal again; we started a two ship weave back towards the bombers, when I found that I was on fire.  I noticed that on the leading edge just inside the right engine nacelle was a hole the size of my fist; a 20 mm shell must have exploded in there, and it was rapidly getting worse. 

I tried to turn off the right engine gas, but the valve was jammed; I cut the mixture control, stopped the engine and feathered the prop.  I saw I couldn’t get up under the bombers, and as there were still a number of fighters around, I decided the best thing to do was to hit the deck and get away, so I called Dolezal and said I was going down.  I peeled off and went straight down, pulling out on one engine at close to five hundred miles an hour at about 1500 feet over the plains, and heading west for the mountains pulling 40 or 45 inches on my left engine; nobody was following me. 

I thought the fire might blow itself out so I could get home on one engine, but by the time I made the mountains the fire was much worse, with the hole in the wing two feet wide and three feet long, burning fiercely; there was so much smoke in the cockpit that I couldn’t take off my mask.  I cleared the top of the mountain at tree top level end saw a nice little valley ahead of me where I thought I might be able to land. 

Someone called me, asking if I was all right; I answered that I was on the desk with one engine on fire and that I might make it; I repeated this, and someone asked my heading; I told them northwest.  But just as I cleared the mountain, my left engine started cutting out, and I stalled out in a spiral spin to the right, the piano being at a 45° list to the right, and about 45° nose down. 

I was plenty close to the ground, so I had to get out, end soon.  I called “I’m bailing out,” grabbed the emergency canopy release and started out, but forgot to release my safety belt; I unsnapped it, put both hands on the top and pulled myself up; maybe I even jumped up and out, but I’m not sure. 

I have no idea how I went through the boom, as I went straight out the top without rolling down the windows; I probably went over it.  My air speed was then about 110 or 115, just above stalling, having lost my speed in clearing the mountain top.  The wind and flame hit me at that instant, and I threw my hands up to protect my face; after I was out of the flame, I grabbed for the rip cord, missed it, and got it the second time.  I tore off my mask and helmet, which were afire, saw the around coming right up at me, end just had time to reach for the shroud lines and pull my feet up when I hit. 

Luckily, I landed on the slope of the mountain aids and broke my fall; I rolled about ten or fifteen feet down the hill, getting all tangled up.  I immediately got untangled and out of my chute, for my plane crashed and exploded about 100 yards downhill from me, pointed up hill, and the guns started to go off right in my direction.  I ran down past the plane.  My flying suit had been burned off, with my escape kit and escape purse, and I later found that the bask strap of my harness was burned nearly through and my clothes covered with the white stuff that the nylon of my chute burning left on me, so I guess that I had a mighty close shave. 

“A might close shave,” indeed!  Lt. English’s luck continued to hold, as he was assisted by some nearby shepherds, who turned him over to members of the Greek Resistance.  The latter took him to a hospital, where his burns were attended to, after which he recovered rapidly.  Later English and some other American and British evaders were escorted by foot to the east coast of Greece, where they boarded a boat for Turkey; they eventually made their way to Cairo via Syria.  He was back with the group by the middle of February and was sent home shortly thereafter.  (pp. 123-125) (Lt. English was flying P-38G 43-2531, with carried a squadron code of “B10“.  His loss is covered in MACR 1469.)

1b

The above photograph, from Adorimini, shows a group of 96th Fighter Squadron pilots prior to a combat mission.  According to the caption, the men are (left to right): Lt. Art Larkin, Lt. Jim “Never Nervous” Nuckols, squadron intelligence officer Lt. Bob Cutting, Capt. Dan “Mac” MacDonald, and – lastly – Lt. Edwin English himself.

To gain an appreciation of the nature of Lt. English’s experience, I’d like to direct the reader to the Nathaniel G. Raley collection, at the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.  Lt. Raley, a 1st Lieutenant, was also a P-38 fighter pilot and member of the 14th Fighter Group’s 48th Fighter Squadron.  Shot down over Italy on February 10, 1944, he – too – survived a very (very) low-altitude, last-moment bailout, after his fighter has been struck by ground fire.  (P-38G 42-12962; MACR 2306)  Captured, he was imprisoned by the Germans at Stalag Luft I.  Mr. Raley’s account, which is presented in two video interviews, is detailed, moving, and enlightening, especially in terms of Mr. Raley’s experiences as a POW in Italy and his postwar reflections.  It is available in two sections

***

However – ! 

While reviewing my files, I found a document comprised of the reports given by Bennett and English to Captain David Weld, a 15th Air Force Intelligence Officer, upon their return from Greece.  (Also included is an account by Lt. Walter T. Leslie, shot down during the mission of the 1st and 82nd Fighter Groups to Ploesti, on June 10, 1944.)  This document was copied during a visit to the Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, in 1986.   The accounts are riveting and detailed, especially in terms of their experiences while recovering from serious injuries with limited medical resources, living with Greek Partisans and civilians, evading capture by the Germans, and returning to Allied control.

Having not seen these reports elsewhere, I thought it would be worthwhile to share them with a wider readership.  Accordingly, I’ve transcribed the accounts in a format and font style (Times New Roman) as close as possible to the original document, and have created this post to make them freely available.

Escape and Evasion Reports for Clayton A. Bennett and Edwin R. English

References –

Blake, Steve, and Stanaway, John, Adorimini (“Up and at ‘Em!”) – A History of the 82nd Fighter Group in World War II, The 82nd Fighter Group History, Marceline, Mo, The Walsworth Publishing Company, 1992.

Rob Brown’s RAF No. 112 Squadron website includes pages devoted to each Fighter Group in the USAAF’s 12th and 15th Air Forces.  The website for the 82nd FG can be found at: http://raf-112-squadron.org/82ndfghonor_roll.htm

– Michael G. Moskow

Saved From the Sea III: Pilots Rescued – Ditching Near the Azores

On August 27, 1944, VC-13 lost ten aircraft (five FM-2 Wildcats and five TBM-1C Avengers) near the Azores Islands, in an event somewhat reminiscent – albeit on a smaller scale – of the group ditching of 23 VMF-422 F4U Corsairs in the Pacific Ocean on January 25, 1944. Aviation Archeological Investigation and Research’s website indicates that all ten pilots of these VC-13 aircraft survived, which hopefully implies that the TBMs’ radio operators and gunners (whose names are unknown) survived as well.

The aircraft, listed by aircraft Naval Bureau Number and pilots’ names, are given below:

FM-2s

16245 Blanks, Thomas N. Lt. JG
16008 Brown, Edward V. Lt.
16077 Brownstein, Julius R. Lt.
16255 Gregg, Donald B. Lt.
16789 Johnson, Alden V. Lt.

TBM-1Cs

46287 Carpenter, John E. Ens.
46390 Ecclefield, Vincent Lt.
46365 Hurst, Fred J. Ens.
45876 Rockett, P.M. Lt. JG
46394 Smith, Thomas Ens.

This incident, as recounted by Julius Brownstein:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The story of Julius Brownstein’s rescue from the North Atlantic, specifically the way this event was visually captured in such thorough detail, is simultaneously dramatic and fascinating, and makes one ponder the myriad of similar events – some with equally fortunate outcomes, some with far more tragic endings – the accounts of which never became part of the photographic or historical record.  Like most aspects of human endeavor – whether in World War Two or other conflicts; in the routine of “life”, in general, the memories of these events remained – for a few brief decades – in the personal memories of their participants and observers.  Well, it would seem that this aspect of our existence – the fragile natural of the historical record, and memory, both individual and collective – has always been and will ever be a central part of the human condition.

On a more contemporary level, it’s notable that I simply, nominally learned “about” this incident purely through chance; solely by luck; only by happenstance, using a markedly “low-tech” information storage and retrieval system: 35mm celluloid microfilm, viewed through an electro-mechanical reader / printer.  While hardly negating the convenience, versatility (and economic advantages) of information storage and retrieval in a purely “digital” medium, this small discovery is a telling reminder that there is, and will continue to be value that refreshingly cannot be quantified! – in the “real”, as well as the “virtual” world.

– References –

Doll, Thomas E., Jackson, Berkley R., and Riley, William A., Navy Air Colors – United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aircraft Camouflage and Markings, Volume 1 – 1911-1945, Squadron-Signal Publications, Carrollton, Tx., 1983.

A Navy Pilot Takes an Unscheduled Dip in the North Atlantic, The New York Times, January 27, 1944.

http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/

– Michael G. Moskow

Saved From the Sea II: A Wildcat Ditched; A Pilot Rescued – The Story in Photographs

Ditching in the North Atlantic:

Julius’ story in sound, photographs, and text.

The photographs in this posting comprise the four images that formed the composite photo that appeared in the Times, and, five other images in the sequence that remained – at the time – unpublished.  In the account presented here, below each picture is Julius’ own description of the events shown in that image, transcribed from his notes on the reverse side of the original photograph.  A scan of those those same notes accompanies each image.  

An excellent photograph of a restored FM-2 Wildcat in the low-visibility Atlantic Theater anti-submarine paint scheme – identical to that carried on Julius’ F4F, and carrying the insignia of VC-13 – can be found at the sim-outhouse website. 

And now, the story and the photos:

Brownstein 409 80-G-89619

Brownstein 409 80-G-89619 Caption BrownsteinNo. I

“This is a picture of death itself, only “death” was cheated.  One chance out of a hundred to survive a charging sixty degree crash into the cold waters of the North Atlantic. 

This picture shows the start of the crash in which yours truly was the pilot.  Plane is completely stalled and is falling off on right wing.  Contrary to norm spin to the left.  Right wing tank hidden in picture made from spin to the right.  Things to note in this picture –

1) Water on flight deck, caused from the proceeding pitch of ship which took water over the flight deck.  Deck in this picture is at the top of its pitch.  It was this later movement that slowed my plane down below flying speed and I knew that I was going in before I left the deck, however I never expected to spin to the left.

2) Destroyer in the back ground – notice water going over its bow.  Waves and swells in the water were about twenty-five feet.  Temperature of water a little below fifty degrees.  Freezing a person in about one to two hours.

3) Notice left wing aileron raised upwards to depress left wing.  Plane being in stall this has no effects on plane’s movements.” (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89619 / CVE 13 / # 409)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 410 80-G-89620  Brownstein 410 80-G-89620 Caption Brownstein No. II

Plane out ahead of carrier, deck starting down.  I still had hopes that plane would get squared away before hitting water.

Note – Left aileron on full.  Flaps open.  There’s a twenty foot wave coming up in the right hand corner of this picture. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89620 / CVE 13 / # 410)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 411 80-G-89621 Brownstein 411 80-G-89621 Caption BrownsteinNo. III

Plane going down – carrier closing distance on plane.  In picture No. II plane is well out from ship in number three I’ve gone down more and carrier has closed some of this distance.  Normal height of deck is fifty feet.  When I left deck it was at the top of a maximum pitch – probably seventy five feet above water.  (Normal five story building.)  Note – I slacked off on left aileron and started to prepare for the ducking. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89621 / CVE 13 / # 411)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 412 80-G-89622 Brownstein 412 80-G-89622 Caption BrownsteinNo. IV

Just before the crash, almost underneath the bow of the ship.  I knew now that I was definitely going to crash.  Contrary to everything I ever learned I leaned as far forward as possible.  Tried to take up all the play in my shoulder harness & safety belt.  I knew that if I got socked out I was a “goner”.  Actual photos prove that my plane sank in less than eight seconds and that it only took me about three second to get out.  Those two small swells in the foreground picture are in reality pretty big fellows. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89622 / CVE 13 / # 412)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 413 80-G-89623Brownstein 413 80-G-89623 Caption BrownsteinNo. V

Actual crash –  Close aboard – starboard bow.  Damn near got rammed by carrier.  Plane completely under water.  Note life rafts on cat walk – One swell in the eight hand corner just past next swell coming up in background. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89623 / CVE 13 / # 413)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 414 80-G-89624Brownstein 414 80-G-89624b 800Brownstein 414 80-G-89624 Caption BrownsteinNo. VI

After initial hit bounced back to position you see in this picture.  Note.  Dazed expression on my face – helmet is off – bumped back of head slightly on gun sight – that’s what usually knocks most of the boys out.  They hit the gun sight with their forehead.  I had ducked below sight before landing. 

2) Position of plane – completely reversed.  Plane landed on right wing & engine forward, motion threw tail around.  This motion probably saved my life as it threw me sideways avoiding the gun sight.  Bruised my whole left side slightly – played badminton four days later, not a scratch from the whole affair.

3) Notice how I’m working to free the safety belt.  I did this without knowing it for I’m already starting to get out of plane. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89624 / CVE 13 / # 414; scanned at 800 dpi)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 415 80-G-89625Brownstein 415 80-G-89625 Caption Brownstein No. VII

Very good close-up.  Shows size of swell towering over tail of plane.  Plane sinking fast and I’m getting out.  Plane was sinking so fast that as I shoved away from plane I didn’t get any push.  Note gas tank floating in water. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89625 / CVE 13 / # 415)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 416 80-G-89626Brownstein 416 80-G-89626 Caption Brownstein No. VIII

The last of “Fox 5”.  Incidentally this was my own plane.  Had my name on it and everything.  Still slightly dazed, but had enough sense to inflate my “mae west” life jacket and swim away from tail of the plane.  Was a little afraid of getting sucked into the carrier.  Note – thumbs up by one of the men on the cat-walk.  If I must say so myself the men aboard this little baby think quite a lot of me.  (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89626 / CVE 13 / # 416)

* * * * * * * * * *

Brownstein 417 80-G-89627 Brownstein 417 80-G-89627b 800Brownstein 417 80-G-89627 Caption BrownsteinNo. IX

All alone and amazed at the speed in which the carrier is passing me by.  Swallowed plenty of water gas & oil, but heaved all this up the first four hours aboard the tin can destroyer to amuse lesser sailors.  Had to stay aboard the destroyer for four days before we had calm enough weather to transfer me back to carrier.  (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89627 / CVE 13 / # 417; scanned at 800 dpi)

* * * * * * * * * *

The original photos were lost…

– Michael G. Moskow

Saved From the Sea I: A Wildcat Ditched; A Pilot Rescued – Introduction

The Past Within the Present ~ or ~ The Story of a Story

A cultural theme pervading the latter part of the twentieth century was the recognition of the accelerating scope and impact of electronic technology – manifested through networked computers – upon the availability, access, and ubiquity of “information”.  In a popular vein, examples of this were evidenced by the publication of Scientific American’s 1995 Special Issue, “The Computer in the 21st Century”; Time’s Spring, 1995 Special Issue , “Welcome to Cyberspace”, and, The New Yorker’s October 1997 “Next” issue, which covered such topics as “The NEXT Space Odyssey”, “The NEXT Big Thinker”, “The NEXT Frontier”.  In essence, the complimentary spheres of human endeavor – the intellectual and physical – whether embodied in the worlds of science, the military, economics, government, academia, and inevitably pop culture – were increasingly characterized and transformed by a transition from largely physical, “traditional” methods of information storage and retrieval, to the retention and near-instantaneous provision of text and images in electronic – “digital” – formats.   

Depending on one’s priorities about the retention and preservation of information – ease of access, storage space, speed of replication, redundancy, physical survivability, and (inevitably) cost, all of which can be measured – arguments can be posited in favor of either physical or virtual information storage.  But, maybe a there’s another factor for which – refreshingly! – metrics may be irrelevant:  Luck.  Which leads to the images in these two posts…    

In Philadelphia, during the mid-1990s, I discovered that Drexel University’s Hagerty Library possessed a full “run” of The New York Times in 35mm microfilm format, commencing with its first issue, from September of 1851.  Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania’s nearby Van Pelt Library possessed a “run” of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and, other periodicals in the same media.  Having long been interested in the history of the Second World War, I knew I was “in luck”.  Solid and profound luck, at that.  The opportunity to access the Times and Inquirer gave me ready and immediate access to a deep and expansive trove of information about that conflict.  Internationally, in terms of the breadth of military and political reporting.  Culturally, as perceived and reported from the vantage of the New York and Philadelphia Metropolitan areas.  Photographically, given the commonality and quality of images and artwork – whether news or advertisements – presented in these newspapers.   

So, I began to peruse issues of the Times and Inquirer published between 1940 through 1946, to “see what I could see”, using the microfilm reader / printer machines at both universities.  By nature and default, this was a purely visual review, done chronologically; roll by roll.  An examination entirely independent of search strings, Boolean Operators, truncation (suffix or prefix!), the quantity of “hits”, or, the number of “likes”.  These criteria were irrelevant, because, with the exception of the time period – with each microfilm storage box labeled with the time-frame of the film contained within – there was no other search criteria.    

But, what about serendipity?  What about simple, straightforward, chance?     

That’s how, while reviewing the Times for January of 1944, I discovered the composite four-photo image you see below:  A photographic sequence showing an F4F Wildcat carrier-borne fighter plane being ditched in the roiling waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, in October of 1943.  These pictures were entirely new to me.  From my earliest days of building model aircraft – particularly WW II military aircraft; especially 1/48 scale Fujimi, Hawk, Monogram, and Tamiya plastic models – my avid reading of Wings, Airpower, and occasionally Air Classics, and, all manner of books about WW II aviation – I’d never, ever seen these images before.  And, I wanted to learn more about them. 

The Times’ photo captions contained two clues: The pilot’s name – “Lieut. Julius R. Brownstein” and his wartime address – “Chicago”.  In 1997, I was fortunate to locate, contact, meet and interview him (no longer quite a Lieutenant) “in person”, 54 years after the incident.  I learned more about the ditching of his Wildcat; about his experiences as a naval aviator in VC-13; about his life in general.  He generously shared his photographs and memorabilia, images of some of which accompany these postings.  (That I located Mr. Brownstein via Switchboard.com does lend more than a little irony to this essay, but hopefully does not refute its main undercurrent! *Ahem.*)    

I eventually found both the four images that comprised the item published in The New York Times, as well as five other images in the series that had remained unpublished, in the holdings of the United States National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  These images are part of NARA’s Record Group 80 – “General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1798-1947”, and were reviewed and scanned in the Archives’ Still Picture Research Room.

Photographic portraits, the complete sequence of images of the ditching, and excerpts from an interview I conducted with Mr. Brownstein, appear in these three postings.

Brownstein, Julius R Lt JG New York Times 1944 01 27The photographs, as published in The New York Times (and beyond…)

Julius Brownstein’s account of the publication of the photographs.

Photographs of Julius Brownstein from the National Archives.

Brownstein, Julius R Lt JG 80-G-268943 600“Lt. (jg) Brownstein on flight deck of the USS Core (CVE 13)”, by PhoM Montgomery, 30 August 1943.  (NARA photo RG 80 G 268943 / CVE 13 / 358)

Brownstein, Julius R Lt JG 80-G-299447 400 crop BWJulius Brownstein, seated in an F4F Wildcat.  (NARA photo RG 80 G 299447)

brownstein-julius-r-lt-jg-usn-0-122062-10-20-43-p-122-2400-1-w-newFifty-four years later: Julius R. Brownstein, veteran and civilian.  (Michael G. Moskow; October 5, 1997)

– Michael G. Moskow

Through Enemy Eyes: A Downed P-51 Mustang in a German Luftgaukommando Report

The Army Air Force’s Missing Air Crew Reports were instituted in May of 1943 to provide a system for the documentation and organization of information covering aircraft and personnel reported missing on Army Air Force operational missions, the ultimate goal being the conclusive determination of the fate of such missing personnel. Though these documents show notable variation in style and format depending upon the immediate organization filing the report*, the “elements” of information within them remained highly consistent throughout the war.  A thorough description of the implementation and use of the MACR system is presented in the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Publication M1380: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, available here.

Commencing with the de-classification of MACRs on September 10, 1982, historians, military aviation enthusiasts, and genealogists have been able to avail themselves of these documents, and the multi-faceted wealth of information within them.  As such, a casual perusal of books published since the mid-1980s about the WW II Army Air Force – particularly unit histories – as well as a cursory web search, will quickly reveal the importance of these documents.  They are now available in microfiche format at the National Archives and Records Center in College Park, Maryland, now digitally through Fold3.com, and in transcribed or other formats at many websites. When used with official Squadron and Group histories, they are an essential resource in the creation of accurate and comprehensive histories of combat units of the WW II Army Air Force.

Another series of documents, perhaps less widely known than Missing Air Crew Reports but complementary to them (specifically, those MACRs filed for USAAF losses in the European and Mediterranean Theaters) are the German Luftgaukommando Reports. These documents, held within NARA’s collection of Foreign Records Seized (Record Group 242), are reports on Allied aircraft lost in the European and Mediterranean Theaters of War. In terms of the information recorded with them, they are an ironic and accidental counterpart to MACRs. Though the extent of information in Luftgaukommando Reports shows very great variation, in a general sense, they include information about the nature and circumstances (flak or fighters) as to how an American aircraft was downed and recovered in German-occupied territory, the location and condition of its wreckage, technical aspects of the plane or its equipment particularly noted by German investigators, and, nominal biographical information about aircrew casualties.

A particularly notable aspect of Luftgaukommando Reports is that these documents not uncommonly contain material found in the possession of American airmen when they became casualties. The reports can include dog-tags, correspondence both to and from servicemen (V-Mail, and, typed or handwritten letters), official documents, and other items, such as navigational records or fragments of technical documents.  Luftgaukommando Reports practically never include POW information / identification cards (“Personalkarte“ – “Personal Card“) created by the Germans about captured aviators – post capture.  And, they don’t include POW identification photographs (“mug-shots”) of captured airmen typically attached to such cards.

In any event, far more than digitized, published, or secondary material, the content of Luftgaukommando Reports – documents carried by airmen – inevitably make one “pause” and reflect about the reality, nature, and impact of war.

A small fraction of the Luftgaukommando Reports include photographs of downed American aircraft.

Such material is the subject of this posting: A crash-landed P-51 Mustang of the 356th Fighter Squadron of the 354th Fighter Group, the “Pioneer Mustang Unit”.

The aircraft was piloted by Captain Gordon T. McEachron when it was downed by flak on December 1, 1944, near Niederkirchen, Germany.

Captain McEachron, from California, was originally assigned to the 380th Fighter Squadron of the 363rd Fighter Group (9th Air Force), in the service of which he scored three aerial victories in 1944 while a First Lieutenant: An Me-109 on April 30, another Me-109 on May 28, and an Me-410 on June 20.

An account of his victory of May 28 – from his Distinguished Flying Cross citation for his actions of May 28 – appeared in Steve Blake’s publication Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat, in 1983, in a comprehensive six part series about the history of the 363rd Fighter Group.

The citation states: “Lt. McEachron was leading a Flight on a bomber escort mission when he spotted a large number of enemy aircraft overhead. He immediately ordered the Flight to drop their wing tanks and make a sharp turn to the left. By the time the Flight had completed the turn, the enemy aircraft could no longer be seen. Suddenly a break was called, and as Lt. McEachron turned, he saw more than 100 enemy planes approaching from the rear. Intercepting the group of Me-109s just as they were pressing their attack on the bombers, Lt. McEachron picked a target, closed to about 300 yards, and fired a long burst. Strikes were noted along the fuselage and wing, and the enemy aircraft rolled over and split ‘S’d’ with dense black smoke pouring from the engine.

“Suddenly an Me-410 appeared just in front of him. As the enemy turned, Lt. McEachron turned with him and fired a long burst. Strikes were observed along the fuselage of the enemy plane. Together with his wingman, Lt. McEachron went after the main group of enemy aircraft which were ahead. Another target, an Me-109, came into view. Lt. McEachron chased in on the enemy fighter and began firing from 500 yards. Pieces of the plane began to fly off as round after round went home. Suddenly black smoke began pouring from the plane and it caught on fire. The enemy pilot bailed out.”

Lt. McEachron was sent home on leave in August of 1944, and after his return to France as a Captain – at which time the 363rd Fighter Group no longer existed – was assigned to the 354th Fighter Group in November, as Assistant Operations Officer of the 353rd Fighter Squadron.

Captured and imprisoned at Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, Captain McEachron returned to the United States at the war’s end. According to his biography at FindAGrave.com and his Wikipedia entry, he coached college football at the University of Nevada, and, Pepperdine University (near Los Angeles) between 1953 and 1958. Later, he sold insurance. He died on April 22, 1993.

And now, time for some photographs and documents…

McEachron, Gordon 1 600Captain McEachron, probably photographed while still in Stateside training, given that his flight helmet is equipped with Gosport Tubes.  (From Steve Blake’s The Pioneer Mustang Group: the 354th Fighter Group in World War II.)

* * * * * * * * * *

mceachron-gordon-t-1A portrait of then Lieutenant McEachron, from Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat.

* * * * * * * * * *

beachcomber-ii-2Gordon McEachron seated on the wing of his personal P-51B, Beachcomber II, while serving in the 363rd Fighter Group.  He named the aircraft after a club he founded while a student at Pepperdine University.  This image is reproduced from the book Mission 376: Battle Over the Reich, May 28, 1944, by Ivo De Jong.

* * * * * * * * * *

mceachron-gordon-t-2_edited-1Additional views of Lt. McEachron in service with the 363rd Fighter Group, from Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat.  The upper photograph is another view of Beachcomber II, while the lower photograph shows Beachcomber III (with three kill markings) a P-51D he received in July of 1944.

* * * * * * * * * *

     And now, the subject of our study. 

First, the Missing Aircrew Report (MACR 11479) filed by the 353rd Fighter Squadron after Captain McEachron failed to return to Saint Dizier, France.

fold3_page_2_missing_air_crew_reports_macrs_of_the_us_army_air_forces_194219471

fold3_page_4_missing_air_crew_reports_macrs_of_the_us_army_air_forces_194219471

Eyewitness account of loss of Captain McEachron and Chicago’s Own

Now, we come to the subject of our study:  Images from Luftgaukommando Report “J-2525” covering P-51D 44-14010, AJ * G, otherwise known as Chicago’s Own

44-14010 1 J 2525 600Right-front view of the Mustang, under an overcast but still sunny sky.  Note that the aircraft’s coolant radiator has been removed from the fuselage.

* * * * * * * * * *

44-14010 2 J 2525 600Close-up of canopy rails along left side of cockpit, with names of ground-crew (Rooney, Branch, and Smith) painted below.  (Why photographs were not taken of equipment within the cockpit itself, is a matter of conjecture!)

* * * * * * * * * *

44-14010 6 J 2525 600Starboard gun bay, providing an excellent view of the installation of the three fifty-caliber guns and firing selonoids.  Belts of .50 caliber ammunition are still laying in ammuntion trays.

* * * * * * * * * *

44-14010 7 J 2525 800A very high resolution (800 dpi) scan of the above photograph, specifically of the placard attached to the interior of the gun-bay access door, showing bore-sighting information and ammunition loading diagrams.  (This image will be of particular benefit for plastic modelers building Tamiya’s 1/32 P-51D while under the influence of AMS – “Advanced Modeler’s Syndrome”!)

* * * * * * * * * *

44-14010 3 J 2525 600View of inboard section of the port flap.  Curiously, though the photographs were taken with black & white film, the “No Step” marking appearing on the image of the flap has been colored with red ink, matching the color and shape of the marking on 44-14010.

* * * * * * * * * *

p-51d-44-14010Images of Chicago’s Own (a color profile, and an official USAAF photograph of the aircraft at Debden, England) can be found in William Hess’ book 354th Fighter Group,  The aircraft is described as having been the personal plane of Lt. Frederick J. Warner.  The above color profile of Chicago’s Own, by Chris Davey or John Weal, appears on page 41 of Hess’ book.

The USAAF photograph of 44-14040, dated October 6, 1944, can be found at the website of the American Air Museum in Britain.

* * * * * * * * * *

The “Meldung über den Abschuss eines US-amerikanischen Flugzeuges” (Notification About the Shooting Down of a U.S. Aircraft) form – commonly found in Luftgaukommando Reports – filed for Captain McEachron and Chicago’s Own.

The data fields in the form covering the aircraft comprise:

Abschusstag und Zeit:   Date and time of shooting down

Abschussort:   General location of shooting down

Flugzeugtyp:   Aircraft type

Meldende Dienstelle:   [Location of] Reporting Service

The data fields in the form covering the aviator comprise:

Name und Vornamen / Geburststag und –ort:   Name and first name / Date and place of birth

Dienstgrad:   Rank

Erk.-Marke:   Tag number

Gef: [Gefangenen]:   (prisoner? [if so]) –   Welches Lager:   Which camp

Verw: [Verwundet]:   (wounded? [if so]) –   Art d. Verwundung:   [?]

Tot: [Tot]:   (killed? [if so]) –   Grablage:   Grave Location

And, at the bottom of the form:

Bemerkungen:   Remarks

44-14010 A J 2525 400

* * * * * * * * * *

The same form was typically used in Luftgaukommando Reports to cover aircrews of multi-place aircraft. 

This is a Luftgaukommando Report (KU 3493) crew list for a multi-place aircraft.  In this case, B-17G 43-97215 (BG * J) of the 334th Bomb Squadron, 95th Bomb Group, piloted by 2 Lt. Stewart D. Reed, which was lost on December 31, 1944.  There were five survivors of the plane’s nine crewmen, covered in MACR 11368.

43-38215-crew-list-ku-3493-360

* * * * * * * * * *

I hope that readers find these images of interest.  I may be able to post similar images in the future.

*Particularly distinctive in format are MACRs filed by the 15th Air Force’s 483rd Bomb Group.

 – References –

Books

Blake, Steve, The Pioneer Mustang Group: the 354th Fighter Group in World War II, 2008, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA.

De Jong, Ivo, Mission 376: Battle Over the Reich, May 28, 1944, 2012 Stackpole Books, Mechanichsburg, PA.

Hess, William N., 354th Fighter Group, Osprey Publishing; 2002, Botley, Oxford, United Kingdom

USAF Historical Study No. 85, USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II, 1978, Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Air University.

Other Publications

 National Archives and Records Administration, Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, NARA Publication M1380, 1942-1947, 2005, Washington, D.C.

Missing Air Crew Reports

 https://www.fold3.com/title_95/missing_air_crew_reports_wwii#overview

http://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/missing-air-crew-reports.html

http://www.afhso.af.mil/questions/topic.asp?id=1934

https://www.archives.gov/research/microfilm/m1380.pdf

Luftgaukommando Reports (see comments by RodM) at:

 http://www.rafcommands.com/archive/06732.php

J (Jäger) Report 2525

 United States National Archives – Collection of Foreign Record Seized – Record Group 242: “Records of Luftgaukommandos: German Reports of Downed Allied Fighters and Other Aircraft – J (Jäger) Reports”

Report J-2525: (At) Records Group 242, Entry 1013, Shelf Location 190 / 14 / 9-8 / 2-1

Gordon T. McEachron

 Blake, Steve, The 363rd Fighter Group in WW II (Part II), Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat, Number 6, Fall, 1982, pp 13-23.

Blake, Steve, The 363rd Fighter Group in WW II (Part III), Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat, Number 7, Winter, 1983, pp 15-22.

Blake, Steve, The 363rd Fighter Group in WW II (Part IV), Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat, Number 9, Summer, 1983, pp 22-26.

Blake, Steve, The 363rd Fighter Group in WW II (Part V), Fighter Pilots in Aerial Combat, Number 11, Winter, 1985, pp 4-15.

http://findagrave.com/ (Search for entry under Gordon Townsand McEachron)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_McEachron

P-51D 44-14010

 http://www.americanairmuseum.com/aircraft/14229

– Michael G. Moskow