Closing Days

by:  RAF_Yank

In February of 1945 I was pulled off flight duty to a new assignment as an FAC (Forward Air Controller). This was a very effective program of taking experienced pilots and stationing them with forward units to help direct Ground Attack missions. I was assigned to an artillery officer in a forward unit. This was my first real opportunity to see the war from the front lines. We had seen our share of wrecked vehicles and corpses, but this was a whole new ballgame. We were under constant fire of one kind or another. Artillery barrages, mortars and occasional sniper fire. I longed to be strapped  back into the imagined safety of my cockpit!

After about 3 weeks of this duty I returned to my Squadron. When I came back guys were already assigned to missions so I was at loose ends for a day or two. We took delivery of several new planes and I volunteered to take one up to wring it out. It was a clear and relatively mild day for February and I though this would be a joy ride. After running it through its paces for awhile I saw some action near the front. I climbed up to around 15000' as I moved a little closer. The next thing I know is flak bursts started erupting around me. I said the heck with that and started to turn back to the field. All of a sudden a shell went off right next to me. I heard a loud "Bang!" and my cockpit filled with smoke. I could see fire snaking out from the cowling and I knew I was in big trouble. I banked as hard as I could and tried to point for home. Now there was flames coming through the floor. There was so much smoke I couldn't see to open the canopy to bail out. Now, a fighter pilots worst fear is to burn to death. That's how many of  us died and no one wanted to go that way. I pushed the stick forward and was determined not to burn. If I had to go, I wanted it over quick. All this took place in a second or two. Now I was headed straight down. The smoke was still thick but the flames were going out. I was never sure but I must have gone over 600 mph. Imagine pointing a 10 ton streamlined brick to the ground powered by a 2000 hp engine. My survival instincts took over and I pulled back on the stick for all I was worth. I managed to slide the canopy back enough so that the smoke was mostly sucked out. Now I could see the ground approaching. I pulled out with a few feet to spare. I was in open country or I would have augured in for sure.

I took stock of things and was amazed. The engine was running reasonably well so I changed course for home. I managed to land safely and was ready to face the ire of my crew chief. There was a big hole in the right side of the nose and most of the electrical system was burned up. I got off with blisters on my ankles and legs and a few on my unprotected face. My crew chief looked up and said " A test flight? Sheesh Sir this was a brand new plane!…."

At about that time we began to be assigned off of our ground attack missions into fighter sweeps. Our job was to get in the air early and try to intercept enemy fighters that were taking off to go after our bombers. We were often able to get to enemy airfields as they were taking off or just beginning their ascent. I picked up several probables in a short time.

We had been informed about  ME-262's in the area. These planes although relatively few in number were a real threat to our bombers. They had a top speed of around 540 mph, around a 100 mph faster than anything we could put in the air. The Air Force had managed to bomb or strafe nearly every Luftwaffe airfield so the Germans required new strategy to keep flying. They had begun to land there fighters on highways and roads and then hide the planes in the trees. On an afternoon sortie I had my flight stake out an airfield near a major highway. The only way to have a chance at an ME-262 was during take off or landing. They were vulnerable during take off and landings because they bled off speed poorly. They were not fitted with any sophisticated dive brakes like later jet aircraft would be. Hence they needed a long approach on landing

Sure enough on this day I spotted a 262 diving in for a landing. He was trailing smoke from one engine and was making for the highway. I banked in behind him as he began to slow for landing. Just before his wheels touched down I let him have it. My bullets converged on the rear of his plane and raked the fuselage and stabilizers. He touched down as my tracers sawed off his right stabilizer. He started to spin and his left wheel collapsed. I tore over his head and banked back towards him. Several of his ground crew had run out from the trees and were helping him out of the cockpit. Again I had the opportunity to let these poor bastards have it and I just peeled off and headed for home. I though of how many times I had come back from a mission exhausted or wounded and my guys had lifted me from the cockpit. I had no stomach to kill those guys in that situation.

 

This was my fifth confirmed kill which technically made me an ace. It went as a ground kill just like my last. That made 3 in the air and 2 on the ground as far as the Air Force was concerned. Later in the war they began to give guys credit for ground kills but it sort of muddied the waters a bit. I never appeared on any "Ace" lists and to be truthful I could have cared less. There were too many good men left behind when it was all over to care much about that sort of thing.

 

Next up…………."On my way home, the hard way"

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