The first missions of the 367th Fighter Group
The month of training, between the beginning of April and the beginning of May 1944, was turned towards one aim, the first missions. All the personnel, ground crews, ground officers, cooks, medical staff, etc., did their best for that purpose. But first, the most important thing was that the pilots had to master their new plane, the powerful P-38 Lightning. Most of them had little or no experience on twin engines planes. Some had already flown in the UC-78 Bobcat that the Group had in the States but piloting a twin engines fighter is another thing. To add to this difficulty the number of commissioned P-38s was pretty low. The lack of spare parts or new modifications asked by Lockheed were the main complains of the pilots and ground crews.
The narrative in the monthly report of April 1944 of the 392nd FS was: "shortly after we arrived here (Stoney Cross) we were informed that we would be flying P-38 planes. This was a complete surprise to everyone as the pilots and ground crews spent most of their time in the United States flying and working on single engine planes. It was on 11 April that Cap. Joe Rettig made the first local training flight. The rest of the month was spent in training and in maintenance and becoming accustomed to life in England".
The narrative in the monthly report of April 1944 of the 394th FS was: "on April eighth, twenty P-38s (one J-5, nine J-10 and 10 J-15) were assigned to the squadron of which only one was “available” for training on delivery. As no one had worked on these planes for some time, many modifications were necessary. In addition to the delay caused by the conditions of the planes, parts were lacking, manifold ventures in particular. The officers and men in engineering and supply worked unceasingly to make the planes available. April thirtieth saw the squadron with fifteen planes available for training with nine planes out. Five of these were waiting engine changes. In view of the other squadrons’ records, this was of particular credit to the 394th. While things were made ready the pilots attended group ground school. This training program was started on the seventh of April. Among the subject taught were geography, recognition, tactics, flak and weather. Classes were conducted by the group and squadron Intelligence Officers and officers outside of the group who had special training or experience in particular field. At the close of the month, the pilots attended the demonstrations of a mobile P-38 Mobile Unit".
Unfortunately the the microfilms of the monthly report of the 393rd FS are unreadable. But the diary written by Cap. Jack Reed, the 'C' flight leader of the 393rd FS at this time is really interesting: "We have a terrific amount of work to do as far as flying is concerned. I check out in a P-38 this P.M. (April 10, 1944) and it is entirely different from a single engine ship as we have been used to, so we are going to have to do a lot of work in a short time. Frankly, my impression of a 38 is like pushing around a big truck. You really know you have hold of a heavy ship. But some practice should cure that.../...We are trying to get parts to get our ships in commission but so far they haven't managed to get any. But whether yes or no we go operational May 1st".
This training had to be performed in a very short time as every Fighter Group already in United Kingdom had a role to play for preparation of the invasion of France. To add to the difficulties, the pilots were pretty rotten after more than one month without flying. They paid a heavy toll during this training, as 6 accidents occurred before the first mission. In the narrative of the 392nd FS one can read: "On the 20th Lt. Henry Gillespie bailed out of his plane when an engine caught fire (he suffered no injury). The following day, Lt. Frank Leppin made a dead stick belly landing and on the 24th Lt. Milton 'Milty' Jaeger, while landing his plane on one engine was unable to lock his wheels and the left wheel collapsed causing minor plane damage".
A dramatic accident occurred on for one of the most respected pilot of the 394th FS: "On April tenth, the 394th FS suffered a great personal loss. Cap. James S. Peck, first Commanding Officer of the squadron, crash fatally while landing. Admired by and the friend of every officer and man of the squadron and group, his departure came as a stunning blow. It was a privilege to have known Cap. Jimmy Peck”.
Lt. Col. Morris "Mo" Crossen, Deputy Group Commander of the 367th FG. He was one of the pilots of the advanced echelon and flew some missions with the 55th FG during which he shot down two German aircraft (collection 367th FG association)
Captain Joe Griffin and his brother T/Sgt James Griffin. They were both assigned to the 367th FG. Joe was one of the pilots of the advanced echelon and a former pilot with the Flying Tigers in China (collection 367th FG association)
Cap. James Peck is showing a maneuver to his close buddy, cap. Jack Reed. Both flew with the RAF before joining the 376th FG in California. James Peck was killed during a flight in a P-38 in Stoney Cross (collection 367th FG association)
Two other accidents occurred during April. On April fourteenth the plane test-hopped by 2ndLt. Dueron. H. Robertson received a major damage while being landed. 2nd Lt. Ross. P. Lezie caused major damage to his ship on taking-off on April twenty-first. Neither Lt. Robertson nor Lt. Lezie was injured.
The 394th Fighter Squadron's narrative added: "By the eighteenth (of April 1944), all pilots of the 394th FS had checked out in P-38’s. Complying with a directive from the 100th Fighter Wing, a thirteen phase flying training program was inaugurated. Before the close of the month the squadron pilots had logged hours in eight of the phases, namely transition, navigation, formation, R/T (radio transmission) procedures, aerobatics, combat practice and familiarization of terrain. From the tenth to the thirtieth the pilots flew an average of thirteen P-38 hours per man".
Experienced pilots were sent to operational units to fly missions over Europe and gain experience in order to lead the Gang during the first few missions. Maj. "Mo" Crossen and Cap. Joe Griffin, as part of the advanced echelon, flew some missions in an outfit equipped with P-38. Maj. Crossen shot down two Jerries during his first sortie, a Junker 88 and a Me 109. On the 28 of April, Major Kelley, C.O. of the 392nd FS, flew with the 338th FS, 55th FG. On his first combat mission he flew top cover in a fighter bomber mission near Amiens, France. His second mission with the 55th FG was on the 30th but this time with the 343rd FS on a bomber escort to Brussels, Belgium.
The narrative for the first mission in the monthly report of the 394th FS was: “on April twenty-eighth and again on May first Major Robert E. Smith flew Bomber Escort missions with the 55th FG. These missions carried him deep into France. The reported results of the missions were excellent”.
The narrative for the first mission in the monthly report of the 393rd FS was "in order to gain combat experience at first hand, a number of pilots included our commanding officer Maj William A. Jones were placed on T.D. (temporary duty) with operational units and flew combat missions with them. The experience will be invaluable as they lead their gallant warriors to meet the foe".
The first week of May was spent in routine training missions and ground school. These series of “would be” missions came to an end and it was on the 9th that the 367th FG plunged into the fray after Field Order 228 had been received. The first two missions were led by Col. Dale of the 55th Fighter Group.
The narratives of each squadrons for the first missions are the following ones:
- 392nd Fighter Squadron
“These would-be missions soon came to an end and it was on the 9ththat we learned the difference between a training and an operational squadron. The change was unmistakable – eleven months of training, in addition to the previous training the men had received before the activation of the squadron and now the day had come. The men on the line checked their work with minute scrutiny; The S-2 and S-3 officers buzzed with activity. At 1300 (real time was 0900) a flight of 14 airplanes took off on a fighter sweep into France. The rest of the squadron waited with strained anxiety. Finally all the planes returned but with one casualty, Lt. Eberhardt. Fortunately, but most uncomfortably, he needed no medical care, but just a change of underwear, a shower and a cleaners. The second mission of the day, also a sweep into France involving 12 aircrafts. On returning home from this mission, Lt. O’Donnell’s port engine conked out and in attempting a one-engine landing at home base, his landing wheels failed to operate correctly and he was ordered to attempt another landing; in doing this, he was unable to gain sufficient altitude on the one good engine and crashed into the trees. Immediately the plane caught fire and witnesses claimed that no man could escape from such an accident; the flames had ultimately consumed the entire plane. As yet we have not heard Lt. O’Donnell complain about the small bump he received in the forehead while crawling out of the cockpit. Lt. O’Donnell miraculously escaped the death (he finished the war
Pilots of the 392nd FS in front of one of the big T1 hangar in Stoney Cross the day they received the
Air Medal on 20 June 1944. This medal was awarded for ten sorties (collection 367th FG association)
- 393rd Fighter Squadron
"The squadron dispensed 12 p-38s on a group fighter sweep over France. There was (unreadable) apprehension and tension prevailing (unreadable) at the pilots prior to take off. The hangar line was crowded by interested crew chiefs and other squadron personnel as the ships left the ground and circled to gain altitude and assemble before they set a course which took them into the continent at Cabourg (coast of Normandy) and followed a rectangular course passing over Alençon, Avranches and making landfall out at the Pointe de la Percée from there to base; a flight of two hours. Thus the first operational time was logged in the squadron record excepting two missions flown by Major Jones while observing in another Group. Lt. Col. J.D. Dale of the 55th Fighter Group lead the Group on its initial mission as he did on the two following missions from which time on Group personnel controlled the flights".
Pilots of the 393rd FS in front of one of the big T1 hangar in Stoney Cross the day they received the
Air Medal on 20 June 1944 (collection 367th FG association)
- 394th Fighter Squadron
"On May 9, 1944, the 394th flew two, high altitude fighter sweep over the Cherbourg and Brest Peninsula, France. That morning as fifty planes of the Group thundered off the runways the taxi strips were lined by clerk and crew chief, paddle foot and pilots all realizing that this was it. …One mission became five, then ten, and by the thirty-first we had completed twenty“.
At group level
The Group narrative was: “On may 9, 1944 the 367th Fighter Group went on its first operational mission, a fighter sweep which took 40 planes over the following course : Christchurch, Cabourg, Alençon, Avranches, Pointe de la Percée, Christchurch and return to base. Neither enemy aircraft nor flak was encountered, but the experience gained was invaluable. All planes returned safe. This mission was led by Col. Dale, a visiting officer. A critique was held upon return ».
The Operation Report was:”This Group took off at 910 hours on a fighter sweep of the Alençon area. Time down was 1106 hours. Contrails were seen at 23000 around Alençon. No enemy action. No flak. Construction work was reported west of Alençon in an area covering ½ square mile. Visibility restricted by haze. 39 P-38 were dispatched. Three returned earlier: one pilot error (forgot to turn on the generator switch), one mechanical (prop run away) and one escort. 39 belly tanks of 165 gallons each were used and 43200 cal. 0.50 rounds as well as 5125 20mm rounds were loaded in the aircrafts”.
OpFlash # 1 – 09 May 1944
Field Order 228 – Fighter Sweep - 367th FG
Number and type A/C dispatched: 39 P-38
Time up: 0919 Time down: 1106
Abortive: weather: 0 Personnel: 1 Mechanical: 1 Other: 1 (escort)
Enemy reaction: Over target: none
Flak: Over target: nil
Vital information: unreadable
Weather : unreadable
Map showing the course of the first fighter sweep of the 367th FG. This map was associated to the mission report (archive 367th FG)
On the 10th and 11th of May 1944, the Group flew two other fighter sweep over France. These missions were respectively led by Col. Young and Maj. Crossen. Both missions were uneventful although on the 10th heavy flak was encountered in the vicinity of Evreux while the aircrafts were flying at 18000 ft. This was the furthest penetration into France and the pilots circled Paris. On the 11th, they flew south west of France and two pilots had to act as radio relay. The number of abortive was rather important for these first missions, 5 on the 10th and 8 on the 11th, escort of the abortive aircraft included. Thanks to the hard work of the ground crews the early returns would become lower in a short time.
On the May 12, the 367th FG pilots flew their first bomber escort mission. Col. Dale, of the 55th FG, led this mission like for the first fighter sweep.
From the13th of May the 367th FG would fly its missions by its own and so until the end of the war.