On 6 August, 1944, the 357th Fighter Group was selected to escort B-17s from the 8th Air Force's 3rd Bomb Division on a shuttle mission to the Soviet Union. Seventy-two of the group's Mustangs took off from Leiston and sixty-six rendezvoused with the bombers seventy-five miles northwest of Gydnia, Poland. the group engaged several Me 109s near Gydnia, shooting down two of the German fighters. They regrouped after driving off the rest of the Me 109s and continued to escort the bombers until reaching Kiev. Seven and a half hours after taking off from Leiston, all of the 357th's P-51s landed at Piryatin.
The group escorted B-17s to Cracow, Poland, on the 7th and to Foggia, Italy, on the 8th. Lieutenant Bill Overstreet realized these mission were unique and began to feel sorry for the members of the group who were left behind in Leiston. He did not expect resistance from the Luftwaffe on the group's mission to Foggia. As a result, he traded the .50 caliber ammunition in his Mustang for bottles of vodka and loaded them in the now empty ammunition bays. The flight was uneventful until the group spotted Messerschmitt 109s over Romania. The Germans spotted the 357th almost as quickly and ran for home at full throttle. As the group chased the German fighters, Overstreet managed to get on the tail of a Me 109 and saw, to his amazement, the German pilot bail out of his fighter, even though he had not been hit. Regarding this incident, Overstreet wrote:
No one fired at the one who bailed out, so imagine the smiles on the faces of the fellows when we were asked at the debriefing, "Who was the closest one to him?" I was the closest, but I had vodka, not bullets. That (Me 109) could have been awarded to me as an aerial victory, it wasn't.
This story from Bill Overstreet with the help of Scott Richardson
Stars and Stripes Article from May 24, 1944. Donated by John Cirillo.
What a P-39 looks like when it "Tumbles In". This was Bill's shortest parachute jump. "When the chute filled with air and stopped my fall, my feet hit the ground beside the prop." The other members of the flight never saw Bill's chute.
Bill Overstreet and his favorite auto and plane at the time!