April 28, 1944. P51 Mustangs of the 352nd Fighter Group, one of the highest scoring fighter groups in the European theatre of operations, attack a Luftwaffe base at Herbeville, France. Featuring Captain Bob 'Punchy' Powell in 'The West "By Gawd" Virginian'.
352nd Fighter Group: One of the highest scoring groups in the European Theatre of Operations!
Lieutenant Charles M. Price was born in East Orange, New Jersey. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet in August 1942 and trained on P40's. He was assigned to the 352nd Fighter Group, 486 Fighter Squadron at Bodney, England. His first mission was in a P51 Mustang. He completed 27 operational missions destroying three German aircraft on the ground. He remained in the air force after war's end, and flew P47's until May 1951.
Lieutenant James N. White enlisted on his 18th birthday, and was in Bodney two years later. He flew twenty missions, mostly as escort to B17's and B24's over Germany. He also flew strafing missions that saw upward of seventy enemy aircraft on fire. His P51 suffered a direct hit from small arms fire while strafing, and the bullet missed his neck by a fraction of an inch. During another mission, he was shot down at 500 feet and bailed out over France. On March 17, 1945, he destroyed an Me109 over Berlin. During April 1945 over Bavaria, he destroyed five enemy aircraft on the ground. Lt. White set a high altitude record for the P51 Mustang at 43,500 feet. Among his awards was the DFC and two Air Medals. He also received the Presidential Unit's Citation.
Major General Cuthbert A. (Bill) Pattillo was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and flew Mustangs with the 352nd Fighter Group on 35 combat missions. He shot down a Messerschmitt 262 jet in a dog fight and six other enemy aircraft on the ground. Whilst with the 352nd Fighter Group he was awarded the DFC and Air Medal, with two Oak Leaf Clusters. After the war he flew jet aircraft with the USAF and together with his twin brother, Charles C. Pattillo, was instrumental in organizing and forming the 'Thunderbirds.'
Lieutenant Robert H. 'Punchy' Powell was born in Wilcoe, West Virginia. His first combat was in P47's with 328 Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group at Bodney, England. In early 1944, the squadron switched to Mustangs. He has 83 combat missions and an unofficial score of 6-2-7 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground. He piloted 'The West "By Gawd" Virginian.' His awards include DFC with two OLC's, Air Medal with three OLC's, the DUC, and four Battle Stars.
Major General Luther H. Richmond was born in Chicopee, Mass. In March 1943 he took command of 486 Fighter Squadron at Farmingdale, Long Island, NY, and that July went with them to England. On his 67th combat mission he was shot down by ground fire and captured. After the war he rose to the highest levels in the USAF Awards include the Legion of Merit with OLC (twice), DFC with OLC, Air Medal with three OLC's, and Purple Heart. He flew P40's, P47's, P51's and the F-94C.
Major Donald S. Bryan is from Hollister, California, the seventh of seven sons. In March 1943 he was with 328 Fighter Squadron , 352nd Fighter Group at Mitchell Field, NY, and in July 1943 was with them at Bodney, England. He flew P47's and then P51 Mustangs, and completed two combat tours. He was credited with thirteen (plus) aircraft destroyed including an Arado 234 jet. Decorations include DSC, DFC with two Oak Leaf Clusters, as well as the Air Medal with fourteen Oak Leaf Clusters.
Staff Sergeant Earl Lange joined the service in July 1942 and attended armament school at Denver, Colorado. While at Bodney, England, he was sent to ground gunnery school on a British base at Land's End. He was too colourblind to be an aerial gunner, and therefore instructed instead. He was called back to 486 Fighter Squadron , 352nd Fighter Group before DDay. He was then in France at Camp Lucky Strike. While sleeping in a tent in Chievres, Belgium, his carbine was stolen, and he had to pay $15 restitution before he was allowed to leave the service!
Staff Sergeant Ken Bailey joined the service at Camp Attenbury, Indiana. The man who handled his induction paperwork was his High School Ag. teacher. Boot camp was in Florida. In January 1943 he was posted to the 352nd Fighter Group. Because he said that he could read a thermometer, he was immediately assigned as the 352nd weather person! At Bodney, he spotted winds aloft with weather balloons, amongst various other duties. He later was transferred to the 21st Weather Squadron Strategic Air Forces, Europe.
Staff Sergeant James O. Bleidner was born in New York City and grew up in Islip, Long Island, NY. He was called into the Army Air Force in September 1942 and served with the 352nd Fighter Group, 487 Squadron, as an armorer. He served in England and Belgium. For most of the time, he was the armorer for Colonel J. G. Meyer, who was at various times Squadron Commander and Group Commander.
As the invasion of the European continent approached in the winter/spring of 1944, the missions of the 8th and 9th Air Forces began adjusting tactically and strategically in preparation for Operation Overlo Often, initial sorties consisted of fighter escorts for Bomber Command to ensure adequate protection was given and that the bomber missions reached assigned targets. These consisted of fighter relays between groups, squadrons and Air Forces.
After completing escort missions, these fighters were then free to attack targets such as marshalling yards, convoys, flak emplacements, trains, or enemy airfields.
Ground attacks were extremely hazardous. While air to air combat relied upon skill and first-sighting of the enemy, ground attack relied on a large measure of luck and courage. Many a successful combat pilot perished or was taken prisoner after being shot down from the intense defensive fire that was thrown up while flying 'on the deck.' Enemy airfields were particularly hazardous as they were often ringed by a multi-array of anti-aircraft flak batteries.
In Bluenoser Bounce, fighters from 328 Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, are seen attacking Herbeville airfield on April 28, 1944. They have just finished an escort mission with B17's from the 91st and 381st Bomb Groups which attacked a German airfield at Avord, France.
Lt. Robert H. Powell Junior, flying 'The West "By Gawd" Virginian', has overflown the hangar at the north end of the aerodrome, having destroyed a Ju-88 in the process. Attempting to exit his strafing run, he was hit by an explosive 20mm shell in his tail section, causing him to prepare for an immediate bail-out.
Calm thinking and excellent reflexes enabled him to regain control of his crippled Mustang and nurse it back to Bodney, England. His wingman was not so lucky. Lt. Jamie Laing was also struck by anti-aircraft fire from the opposite direction, taking hits in the radiator and sealing the fate of his plane. Lt. Laing parachuted a few miles away and became a POW. He spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft 1.