My Memories of the 357th FG by Joe Shea

Lt Joe Shea (R) with his Mustang "My Bonnie" and crew chief Breezy" Monroe (L).

The day the Germans blasted the 362nd over the Hague.

On many of the mission I flew on we would enter the continent over the Hague and always at about 18000 feet. This had become more or less routine, and we never expected the Germans to shoot at us. In fact I recall being told in Clobber College just that.

One morning though the Germans had apparently been observing our pattern, our air speed, etc and had polished the barrels of their 88 mm anti aircraft guns one last time before we flew over. There were probably 24 planes in the formation, 4 ship flights in trail and all tucked in nice and close. Guess we wanted to show the Germans what pretty formation we could fly.

Suddenly about a dozen rounds of 88s exploded right at our altitude and right in the formation. I happened to be tail end Charlie and as I pealed off to the right sharply I looked back and you have  never seen a bomb burst of planes the like of what I observed.

The old saying goes, If you can see the flash and hear the noise, youre dead. Well thats not true. I was at the rear of the formation but both saw the flash and heard the noise and I am sure the rest of the pilots saw and heard the same but we all formed back up and continued the mission. I guess the only casualties were the crew chiefs that had to patch up all the holes in the aircraft.

The moral of this story is to never get too cocky and let your guard down.

Joe B & Joe S got snookered.

Joe Shea was flying on the wing of Joe Broadhead one day and apparently there had been some action because we were down to a flight of 2 heading home when we came across a German airfield with 7  ME-109s lined up along one side of the field and 6 on the opposite side. Col Broadhead  elected to take the 7 and let me have the 6. As we approached from the east, suddenly the sides of the buildings along both sides of the field fell away revealing anti aircraft guns. Col Broadhead called break and I didnt have to be told twice we both  broke sharply to the right and down to tall grass levels and got out of there full speed.

Dont know to this day if the planes were real or dummies but somehow feel like we were duped.

The urge to KILL.

During the spring of 1945 it was quite common to perform your escort duties and after returning the bombers to friendly territory, to turn tail and go back into Germany and search out targets of opportunity. On one such occasion, probably south of Hanover, we encountered an unusual cloud pattern. The clouds were in rows much the same as hay farmers  roll up the hay into parallel rows across a field. We were flying up one clear space and finding nothing diving down under the cloud row to the next clear spot. On one such maneuver we flew, inadvertently for sure, right over a German airfield and all hell broke loose. I recall looking back and seeing a solid red stream of tracers directly behind my tail. Needless to say, I bent the throttle over the quadrant in an effort to get more speed and somehow managed to stay ahead of the stream of bullets.

End of story?  No not quite. I have never been able to erase the memory of the almost overpowering urge to kill the gunners who were firing at me. I wanted to split S and  blast the gun emplacement. To have done so at that altitude would have been suicidal. Its the only time during my tour that I was truly insanely angry with the Germans. Since then I have rationalized and understand that they had every right to be shooting at me, after all I was invading their homeland. But at that moment all I could think of was How dare you. Guess you might say I took it personally.

2 for me and 2 for you.

Do not recall the name of the pilot I was flying with but apparently we had been in a clash with German planes because we were down to a 2 ship formation. We came across 4 ME-109s flying along at our altitude and they had not seen us. My leader called out and said, You take the 2 on the right and I will take the two on the left. And be sure to shoot the one at the rear first so you dont give yourself away. We were closing in nicely from about the 7 oclock position. We were almost to the magic 250 yard place to open fire when 4 blue nosed P-51s came screaming over the top of us and in an instant the 4 ME-109s were destroyed. Two burst into massive flames, one the wing was sawed off at the wing root and the other was sawed in half right behind the pilot. All 4 crashed in a field the size of a football field. None of the pilots escaped.

The thoughtless train engineer.

On one occasion where we had gone back into Germany to search out targets of opportunity we ran across a trainload of gasoline. The train was in a small German town and the engineer disconnected the engine from the rest of the train and high-tailed it to the south. Our leader dispatched a couple of 51s to take out the engine and the rest of us stayed to work over the tank cars.

There was a huge lumber yard right next to the train tracks and our leader instructed us to drop our external fuel tanks on the lumber yard on the first pass and to fire into the lumber yard on the second pass. We then started working over the 20 or so cars of gasoline. On my first pass to fire on the train the tank car I was shooting at exploded and I had to fly through the huge fireball. My gun camera captured a beautiful shot of the top of the conning tower on the tank car spiraling up in front of my plane. Fortunately I missed all the pieces and burst out into the clear in a second or two. On my second pass I was relegated to the 2 cabooses which I managed to splinter quite well with the 6-50 cal guns..

The squadron destroyed all the cars of gasoline and made a proverbial mess of the town in the process. 

The amazing part of this experience is that about one block beyond the railroad tracks was a road running parallel to the tracks. All the time we were beating up the place a little old German lady was walking along that road with a satchel over her arm, presumably on the way home from the market. When we left we could still see her walking along the road.

The ME-262 that got away.

It was close to the end of the war and one day while on the return home from a mission, someone shouted break and one of our pilots made a fast break, his guns accidentally fired, and one of our 51s went down. That evening a TWX came down advising us to turn our guns off when we left the target area because, after all, the Germans never attack us on the way home anymore.

The next day or so we went to the Brunswick area and after we left the target area I turned my guns off as directed.

Apparently there was a ME-262 pilot that did not get the message that the Germans never attack us on the way home.

We were in a 4 ship formation heading home. I was on the flight leaders left wing and the 2 ship element was off a hundred yards to the right.

I had just checked my tail and swept my eyes around past the leader to check the elements tails. Saw nothing so started the return sweep. As my sight went past the leader I saw a small cloud like affair forming out ahead of us. I knew instantly that what I saw was a string of 20 mm shells exploding. My eyes darted to my tail and sure enough, there was a ME-262 firing at me. In a split second I observed that he was closing very fast and could not continue to fire much longer. I also rationalized that hes missing me now and the present crop of German pilots are extremely poorly trained. I then made the command decision to not make any movement and take the chance of flying into his stream of bullets. I was correct because he stopped firing and started fish tailing in an effort to slow down to stay behind me. He was unsuccessful and slid up past me ever so slowly.

At this point I should have backed off and let the leader have him but my mind never thought of that. All I could think about was, You had your turn, now its mine. I slid in on his tail but since I was probably less than 2 feet behind him I realized I could not fire because I would be flying through the pieces. I waited till he was out there a couple hundred yards and pressed the trigger. NOTHING HAPPENED. Oh my God, my guns are turned off. I dove for the gun switch and in the process banged my head on the gun sight and knocked myself out. I came to with the sound of spent casings from my leaders guns rattling off my plane. He knocked some pieces off but the 262 got away.

I did get some gun camera image since the camera works even when the guns are turned off.

Ever since the war ended I have wanted in the worst way to find out the name of the German pilot so I could make his acquaintance. I think it would be fun to hash over that day over north Germany.  

P-51D, "My Bonnie" G4-E, 44-72819