LT. ROBERT W. FOY - "VERY COOL & COLLECTED"
Among fighter pilots, the real gung ho tigers are usually the most successful at the trade. It helps also if they have a strong sense of survival. Lt. Robert W. Foy, initially of the 363rd Fighter Squadron, but later Group Ops Officer, was both tiger and survivor.
Although the large percentage of the 357th pilots who went into the sea, did not survive, Foy was rescued from the waters twice. As further evidence of his ability to get out of tight spots, there is the incident of 24 March 1945.
By that time, Foy was a Major with a score of 14 air victories. On that date he shot down an Me 109 (his 15th and last victory) and while attempting to strafe the enemy pilot o the ground he momentarily lost control and reported: "My aircraft snapped to the left and my left wing hit a fair sized tree growing in a most inconvenient spot. The impact swung my ship around and m right wing-tip struck a smaller tree, both trees did their best to impede my further progress and did accomplish a great deal toward lowering my speed. I finally regained control and pulled up."
The left wing was buckled and the leading edge smashed in and the aircraft was badly out of trim and tended to stall at 160 MPH, but Foy set course for home.
He does not say in his encounter report how he put the wreck on the ground and the group records are also silent, but he obviously did so successfully.
However, that was all a year in the future and on 3 March 1944 he had not yet begun his victory string. On that date, the new Group Commander, Colonel Henry Spicer, led 53 Mustangs on what had already become the primary mission, usually listed on the mission report as "Penetration, Target and Withdrawal support", or more simply, bomber escort.
Soon after rendezvous with the bombers north of Hamburg, the bomber leader reported he was turning back due to severe weather conditions. Three hours and 15 minutes after takeoff, 52 Mustangs were on the ground at Leiston, and one, P-51B, serial number 43-6998, was on the bottom of the channel. The mission report says: "One ditched in the channel, engine failure. Lt. Foy, rescued 5 miles off Manston."
Shepherd of the Seas, the 65th Fighter Wing history tells us: "3 March 44, Chambers 54 (Foy's call sign) maydayed at 1158 hours stating that his engine quit and was burning. Very cool and collected, he gave excellent calls at intervals, and at 7,000, gave his last call and bailed out. Pectin 37 (a 4th Group P-51) overheard the distress call, and asked if he could be of assistance. Since he was closer that any of the spotters, he was given a steer to the position. He went down to the deck, made a search and very shortly discovered Foy in his dinghy. He stayed with him until relieved by spotters. The pilot was rescued OK, except for slight shock."
The 4th Group pilot was Lt. Howard "Deacon" Hively, later a major with 12 victories. Hively knew the loneliness of sitting in a wave-tossed dinghy waiting for a Walrus or an HSL. He tells the story in the book, Escort to Berlin, and winds up by saying: "That about winds up the story, except as you might have guessed, the cigarettes and chocolate bars and respect and admiration and comradeship that passed from one fighter pilot to the HSL crew and the whole RAF rescue service."
While Hively was orbiting Foy in his dinghy, a 277 Squadron Walrus arrived on the scene, but was unable to land due to sea conditions. The Walrus crew however, were able to direct an HSL to the area another satisfied customer to their list.
For the rest of March, April and May, the Group flew 56 missions, losing 48 pilots - dead, missing, captured or evader, and claimed 198 victories. It had been a busy and deadly spring.
On the 30th of May, Foy again left his burning P-51, parachuting into the sea 50 miles off home base. Shepherd Of the Seas, has this to say: "Greenhouse 30 and Cement 54 started across the North Sea at 1258 hours. Cement 54 (Lt Foy) was having serious engine trouble and had to bail out at 1331 hours, when his airplane caught fire. Greenhouse 30 Maydayed and HSL Seagull 46, was vectored to the position 12 miles away. Lt. Foy was rescued at 1405 hours uninjured."
The real mission that last day of May had been filled with action - a real rat race. The mission report says: "Approximately 75 FW 190s, Me 109s and Me 410s were engaged in Magdeburg/Bernburg area from 30,000 to deck, 14 of these were destroyed." There was one loss, Capt. Fletcher Adams shot down by a 109, bailed, and was later murdered by a German policeman.
Somewhere in the melee, Foy began to have mechanical problems. He had been element leader in Cement (363rd) White flight, led by Capt. Wm. "Obee" O'Brien. Bandidts had been reported by the squadron leader, Capt Bud Anderson, and O'Brien and his wingman had rolled into a steep dive in search for the bandits. O'Brien recalls:
"I had no more than assumed a near vertical attack position with Mike Kenny on my wing, when I spotted a batch of Me 109s in string formation immediately under me. I was committed to the attack. At this instance Foy called me; "Obee, my prop has gone out". I told him I was busy, but I'd get to him as soon as I could. Air fights are of short duration, but sometimes they seem to the participants, to last quite a while."
"I went from 28,000 feet to the deck chasing the Me 109s and did get two of them. As the second 109 went straight into the ground, I pulled up and watched from about 4,000 feet, somewhat less than 4 minutes had passed since Foy's call, and before I started calling him. As I climbed for altitude I repeated the call to Foy, but he never answered me. Bud Peterson did answer my calls, saying; "Never mind, Obee, I've got him."
Richard W. Peterson is a man with superb recall of the events of 5 decades ago. Then a captain and flight leader, he was well on his way to becoming one of the Group's top aces. Peterson was Greenhouse 30 as mentioned in the 65th Fighter Wing history, as quoted above. He had lost his wingman and the rest of his squadron during the big scrap with the 75 enemy aircraft. After chasing and losing a FW 190 in the clouds, and ending up on the deck near Liepzig, he shot up a few locomotives and then headed for home alone:
"I was almost to the Zuider Zee when I heard O'Brien call, and ask if I could pick up Foy who had a runaway prop. I called Foy and asked his position and he responded that he was hear Leipzig at 11,000 feet with a prop stuck in low pitch. Though I was low on fuel, I headed back to find him."
"I spotted this lonesome looking single-engine aircraft barely cruising along at about 180 mph with red and yellow checkerboard nose. It was Foy. He appreciated the company as we exchanged greetings, but what he didn't know was that the side of his aircraft was covered with black oil - obviously from a leaking prop seal. Foy had no prop control and he was stuck with the prop in low pitch. I didn't comment on the fact that he was losing oil because I wanted him to relax and stay with the plane at least to the Channel. I kept reassuring him that we would make it home. He said that he was not about to go into the channel since he had already been there once before. I coaxed him to hang in there and we would make it home as we cruised about 4 or 5 miles away and parallel with the bomber stream."
While keeping an eye open for any enemy aircraft, I spotted a formation of Me 109s that cruised toward the bomber stream and just below at about 1,000 feet. Gawdalmighty, I was so tempted to go after them, but Foy was too vulnerable. I rolled over as if to Split S after them and the four scattered like a covey of quail and I completed my roll back to Foy. The day was bright and clear and we were able to stay north of the major flak trap cities like Hanover.
As we approached the Zuider Zee, I had been giving Foy geography lessons along our trip, so in case he had to bail out, he would at least have some idea of key landmarks. Foy did not have a map accessible to him for some reason. I had a panic thought, which I quickly dismissed, what if Foy had to bail and he ended up in the Zuider Zee - cold water and still in enemy territory. We crossed out of Holland and over the Channel. I reminded Foy to switch his radio to B channel so we could both be on Air/Sea/Rescue. I radioed a fix so we could be followed something to the effect - "MAYDAY,MAYDAY, MAYDAY, Greenhouse 30 here with a crippled aircraft." ASR came back loud and clear. "Roger, we have you and we're on the way." It was a great relief to hear that reassuring English feminine voice!
Shortly, Foy radioed that it was starting to get hot in the cockpit, and I tried to reassure him that it looked like he was in good shape. He said, "to hell with this, I smell smoke and I'm getting out." We were at about 1,000 feet and Foy pulled the canopy, rolled over and dropped out like he had done it before - which of course he had. Half way down to the water, Foy's plane caught fire and blew!
Foy's chute popped open and I buzzed him - so close that I almost dumped his chute. Foy was frantically trying to light a cigarette before he hit the water and his cigarettes would be wet. He got into his dinghy in record time and I buzzed him and pulled straight up so ASR cold possibly see his location. I could see a launch making waves in our direction and ASR acknowledged seeing our position. Foy would be picked up in about 15 or 20 minutes.
I was at about 8,000 feet and headed home. I checked my fuel and found all gauges showed empty as I headed down-hill with a prop at high pitch and a leaned mixture, thinking that it would be just my luck to end up in the Channel with Foy. Fortunately with our base located on the Channel coast, I could now see Leiston and headed straight in on runway 24. I landed, my engine cut out and I could not taxi to my hardstand - I was out of fuel! I took a deep breath and headed for a tall cool one at the club. Another day another dollar."
As Peterson relates, Foy was in the water only a short time, bailing out at 1331 and picked up at 1405 by HSL, call sign Seagull 46. This was boat #2551 out of the station a Great Yarmouth.
On the 29th of June, Seagull 46, the same vessel that had rescued Foy, was on station about 60 miles east of Great Yarmouth and at 1135 hours responded to imminent ditching of a 390th Bomb Group B-17. A few minutes later, fighters of the 479th, 78th, 355th and 359th fighter Groups, all called MAYDAY's for the B-17 crew. With one of the fighters as a guide, Seagull 46 picked up the crew 3 hours later.
Contact with the HSL was then lost for about an hour, until fighters found it wrecked and burning, with many men in dinghies. Other HSLs soon arrived and picked up eight men of the B-17 crew and 13 crewmen of Seagull 46, who reported that thy had been strafed by a Ju 88 which made one firing pass from astern. Flight Lieutenant George Lindsay, it's coxswain, and several crewmen were killed. They had rescued Foy and many other airmen down at sea, and how they were lost. It was a dangerous business.
Major Robert Foy's ability to survive deserted him in the postwar years. He was killed in the crash of a B-25, in which he was only a passenger.