This is a collection of stories about the same mission flown by the 357th FG on 20 January 1945.
One the Same Day by Will Foard
A day or two after our group of eleven replacement pilots arrived at Leiston Airbase, we were on a tour of the base. It was probably January 25th, 1945.
We were up in the base control tower having a look-see when a flight of P-51s radioed they were coming in. This flight of four were returning after landing in France the day before where they had stopped over for fuel. This was not a common situation to land in France.
The weather was socked in bad. A mortar flare was fired for the flare to appear above the overcast directly over the base. This would give the flight a fixed location. The flight leader brought one wing man down flying on his wing tip through the overcast on an easterly heading to break out under the clouds over the North Sea. With about 100 feet or so of clear space between the water and the clouds, they did a 180 degree turn to find the coast and the little town of Aldeburgh and then the broken down Abbey building.
We at the tower could not see the main runway or across the field due to the low clouds. We could hear an aircraft touch down on the concrete runway and at the same time, the flight leader was gunning his engine to climb back through the clouds. The wingman had landed on the longest runway which has a S. W. heading. The first time we saw the wingman was when he taxied by the tower on the perimeter track. The flight leader had gone back up above the clouds to bring in another wingman and go through the same performance until all were safe on the ground.
YOU CAN IMAGINE WHAT EFFECT THAT EPISODE HAD ON US GREEN REPLACEMENT! You can also understand our adoration of that flight leader. HIS GUTS AND INSTRUMENT FLYING ABILITY. My recollection is that the flight leader was "Pete" Peterson, of the 364th Fighter Squadron of our 357th Fighter Group. Our training in the states hadn't really sunk in to my noggin until that day at Leiston Control Tower and hearing about the English weather.
After our indoctrination of the importance of instrument flying, I took a REAL INTEREST in learning about "NEEDLE-BALL and AIR SPEED!"
DIARY FROM JOE DESHAY 25 January 1945
Cold! 16degrees. Released from combat mission schedule. "Pete" Peterson in C5-T along with V and F and another P-51 come back after landing in France. Finished an engine change on C5-Q. Received package from Ellen and two V-Mail Letters.
Letter from Robert Clark to Joe DeShay 30 Jun 96
The letter from Will Foard prompted me to write because I also was in the tower when Pete Peterson did that outstanding fete of bringing in his flight. I had a great respect for Pete and his flying ability and thought that his effort that day should not be forgotten but I felt that it should be written about by a pilot and not a desk jockey. (As I remember we were called waffleasses). Since I was first assigned and leader attached to the Group for about two years and came to Leiston via Casper, Ainsworth and Raydon perhaps I can add a few words:
I don't recall the replacement pilots but Will was certainly there because he has all the details right. So as I remember it the flight was on a forward strip somewhere in the Low Countries, that the long runway ran NW-SE, and that we saw the aircraft as they crossed the intersection with the E-W runway but I really don't trust my memory after 50 years.
Pete had been able to get through on a field phone that morning to ask about the weather. I told him that the field would be below minimums all day and strongly advised him not to return. As you recall the old timers had, with good reason, great confidence in their ability and they all had a strong homing desire. How many times have I heard "don't worry, that is my home field and I know it like the back of my hand." Pete demonstrated that he did know it like the back of his hand and he was correct in thinking that if a big mission was scheduled for the next day, it was very important to have his flight available.
They headed for the Leiston and the Radio Direction Finding (RDF) guided them in. As they crossed the field they took a reciprocal heading to the runway in use and using dead reckoning set up a holding pattern several miles offshore. RDF positioned them directly off the end of the runway. We could then hear Pete warn his wingman to fly a very tight formation and not to lose sight of him. We then heard "there's the coast, - see that church - see the big tree - there's the runway." Then after a couple of seconds (due to the distance from the tower) we heard the roar of his engine. He did that routine three times without any trouble before he landed. Truly remarkable.
Letter from Pete Peterson to Joe DeShay 30 Jul 96
Thanks for transmitting the letter from Robert Clark. Clark's letter and your Newsletter story about my instrument landing with my two remaining wingmen, Roland Wright and Ernest Tiede, prompts me to write about the same story from my memory of the mission.
On January, 20, 1945, I was Red Flight leader and my wingman was Ernest Tiede. Tiede had transferred to our Squadron from the 363rd. Ed Haydon was my element lead and his wingman was Roland Wright. Dale Karger was leading White Flight. I have forgotten what the originally scheduled mission was, but about the time that we were to return home, we engaged 2 ME-262s near Brunswick. It appeared that one 262 pilot was checking the other one out in the jet.
They did not run away; it appeared that they wanted to engage in a fight. We were at about 20,000 feet and the two 262s split....one went down to about 18,000 feet and the other stayed at about 22,000. Both flew in a large lazy circle, one opposite the other with me and my flight in the middle. Since it appeared that the upper jet was waiting for me to jump the lower one, I called Karger to turn back as if he were going home and climb back to jump the high jet while we circled. Karger and his flight did just that and the upper jet never saw them return. He was apparently concentrating on me and my flight. Karger got him with out any trouble and then Karger and his flight headed home.
When the upper jet was eliminated, the lower jet headed down for home in a hurry. I rolled over, split "S"ed and poured on the power. In no time, I hit compressibility with no control at speeds in excess of 650 mph. After finally getting control at the lower denser air, I pulled out in a wide sweeping arc just over the treetops and pulled up behind the 262 for a perfect shot at 6 o'clock. Unfortunately, I was out of trim and my tracers went right over the top of his canopy. He left me in a cloud of kerosene exhaust, as if I were standing still. In the meantime, my flight caught up with me and we headed for Lechfeld Airbase which I anticipated to be his home field. Maybe we could catch him on landing. We flew over Lechfeld at about 6,000 which bristled with flak emplacements. There were about 100 jets nose-to-tail parked on the inactive side of the field which meant that they were out of fuel, insufficient pilots, or both. We were not sure of the traffic pattern or which end of the runway the jet would use, Tiede and I cruised toward the south end. Haydon and Wright spotted him on the approach at the north end. Haydon headed for the jet, but Haydon was too high and made an easy target to the flak guns. When they opened up, I swear they put 3 or 4 20mm shells in the same hole...in the engine!!
On the R/T, Haydon said that he was on fire. He pulled up and bailed from about 400 feet and landed on the airbase ending up a POW. Roland Wright, following Haydon, was fence-post high and the flak never caught him. Wright wiped out the 262 on the approach.
The remaining three of us reassembled south of Lechfeld and I called for them to check their fuel. We were briefed before the mission that our minimum gas to get home that day would be 135 gallons because of strong headwinds. I had 135 gallons, and Wright, who was "Tailend Charlie", was down to 85 gallons or less. It was pretty obvious that we were not going to make it home, so it was imperative to find a "friendly" airport.
Flying at about 8,000 feet, deep in Germany in nasty weather, we headed west through a weather front with icing and instrument flying conditions. I was pretty concerned about Wright at about this time because his fuel was getting dangerously low, and being on instruments flying on me, he would not have a prayer if his engine cut out. We finally broke out and spotted a large town near a river and we turned to it. Lo, and behold there was an airport, covered with snow, no tracks from aircraft traffic, but there appeared to be an ME-109 near a hangar. I told Wright to land, tail-first because of the unknown depth of snow, and wave his arms if they were friendly. If they were not., then get the hell out of the way because I would shoot up his airplane. Out came a Citroen full of people to the airplane as I circled with Tiede. Finally, Wright waved his arms; Tiede and I landed. We were southeast of Paris at Auxere, France, and the front lines were 60 km down the road at Dijon. When Wright landed, his engine quit for lack of fuel. The Me-109 I had seen was gutted and abandoned.
Auxerre had a small company of MP's and the town had been recently "liberated". I asked the MP's for help with communications to get fuel so we could get out of there, but in the meantime we got rooms in a hotel and some food. Our fuel would be coming from Patton's tank corp and there was no telling when that would occur. The small contingent of French aviation cadets on the airfield pushed Wright's plane to the hangar area where we waited for fuel.
Finally, after a 5 day wait on January 25th, a truck with a trailer full of 5-gallon Jerry cans arrived and the French cadets filled up our planes. The weather was beautiful in Auxerre and we were anxious to get home...so we took off for England. In Clarks's letter, he thought I had made a phone call to check the weather. I don't recall ever contacting the base since we had no available communication. There must have been confusion between this mission and another. The first knowledge I had of the weather in Leiston was when we were about mid-channel, and I contacted the tower for an altimeter setting so I could have an accurate reading of altitude for an instrument letdown.
The weather at mid-channel was a solid wall of fog from 1500 feet down to the water. It looked like a wall of concrete along a straight vertical line. There was quite a roar on the radio when they heard from us because the last anyone knew was that we were in a dogfight with ME-262s. Major Gates got on the radio and said that there was no way that we could get in because the field was socked in solidly with fog. He thought that we may have to bail. Can you just imagine that one? I thought that I could give an instrument approach a try....even though we had no GCA (Ground Controller Approach) or instrument landing equipment on the field.
At mid-channel, we were flying in a "V" formation, with both wingmen stacked above me as I started a letdown in an attempt to get under the soup. I got down where the altimeter read "0" and one of the guys said, "Pete, you better get up...a wave just went by!" At that point, discretion was a better part of valor so we climbed back up above the fog to about 2,000 feet. When I guesstimated that we were within the general area of the field, I asked the tower to fire a rocket so we could get a fix on our position relative to the field. The rocket came up just above the fog and dropped back and I told the guys to circle the area of the rocket because I was going to try an instrument approach.
Since our longest runway had a bearing of 240 degrees, it gave me a clue that maybe I could apply my high school geometry to an instrument letdown and we could then make it in. So I headed out a little way toward the channel and turned straight North at 0 degrees. As I kept talking on the radio for bearings, they fed me bearings to the field back to me. First, 300 degrees, then 290 degrees, then 280 degrees. When they gave me 270 degrees (making a 90 degree angle with my true north), I clocked the time that it took for the bearing to change to 240 degrees. Twice that time was the time it would take me to reach the field on a heading of 240 degrees which was the alignment with the runway.
The runway 240 degree heading and a heading of 270 degree makes a 30 degree/60 degree right triangle as I flew north. In a 30 degree/60 degree right triangle, the side opposite the 30 degree angle is half the length of the hypotenuse. In this case, the "hypotenuse" would be my line of approach toward the 240 degree bearing, turning toward the landing on the runway. As I descended toward the runway and got to about 50 feet above ground, I could see straight down and spotted the end of the runway! I knew then that we could make it in by just repeating what I had done. I climbed back up on instruments and picked up Roland Wright who flew off my right wing and we went through the same triangulation. As we turned on the approach and started the letdown on instruments, I let down my wheels; Wright lowered his wheels and stayed back just far enough to still keep me in sight and follow my instrument flying. I dropped flaps; he dropped flaps. As I got to about 50 feet, I spotted the runway and called it out to him He picked up the sight of the runway and landed. I did the same thing with Tiede and he landed. I then did a tight 360 degree turn about 50 feet off the ground and landed.
The people in the tower could hear us; could hear the tires squeal on landing; could hear me powering up to go back up, but could not see us. At no time did the Tower see us until we taxied by. The Tower and DF guys did a helluva job or we could not have made it. It was the best flying that I had ever done....or ever since. Without an automatic pilot, instrument landing system, or GCA to assist us, we managed to get in safely without losing airplanes or pilots.
Roland Wright and Bud Peterson 50 + Years Later
Letter from Roland Wright to Joe DeShay 26 Sept 96
It was really great to see you at the reunion and I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me a copy of the letter from Pete about the mission he and I shared on January 20, 1945. The details Pete gave are exactly as I remembered it.
After this mission and because of the interest in the ME-262, I was later sent to London for an interview with the BBC. As you may remember, they used to make radio broadcasts of war experiences during the war and this one was broadcast over the BBC. They also sent a recorded record of it to KSL radio in Salt Lake City and it was broadcast locally and this is how my family heard about it.
KSL also made a 78 RPM record of it and sent it to my family. After your newsletter story about this mission, I found the phonograph record and listened to it again as it was broadcast during the war, and it confirms the facts as Pete related it in his letter. The interview broadcast covered only to the time that I landed out of fuel in France.
Several years later, the Air Force Times did a study on the ME-262 and according to that, the ME-262 which I was credited with on Jan 20, 1945, was the 8th one that had been shot down and the 357th FG was the leader in ME-262 kills when the war ended.
20 January 1945 - Truly a Memorable Day By Robert G. Schimanski
Here is the story of only two pilots of the 357th FG, the 364th FS, that flew with about 58 other pilots on 20 January 1945, escorting bombers over the Ulm/Augsberg, Germany area. The field report of the mission states as follows:
LF 1010 Osterd 20,000 RV 1st 3 Grp 4th force S Charleroi (est) 26,000. Bs 1325 N Luxembourg 27,000. LF out 1415/1435 Overflakkee/Ostend 0/25,000. Grd target straffed vicinity Ulm. One section left Bs at target to investigate Me 262 at 18,000. Jet pulled away in slight dive at speed estimated 500 plus. After about 5 minutes chase plane shot down over Lechfield AD as it attempted to land. Lt Haydon hit by light flak and bailed. Observed at 32,000 2 contrails over Lechfield circling slowly downward. 1 flight climbed to investigate at 15,000 they became apparent as Me 262s. One of them made a head on pass at an element of the section, which turned into him, whereupon the jet headed toward Munich. In vicinity of Munich the 262 turned north which was one turn too many - the element cut him off in the turn and pulled rapidly within firing range, destroying the 262 whose speed in chase was estimated 500 plus.
Rather dull and uninteresting but it does not describe what happened to two of us who got locked in that day.
When we took off in the morning the weather was atrocious, clouds and instrument flying in formation almost all of the way until we arrived in the Angsburg area and then it was sunny, clear and blue skies. Soon ME262 jets were spotted and our group gave chase. Lt. Dale Karger states:
As I try to remember this specific mission it was clear, blue sky, at that time, probably about 50 to 80 miles west of Munich. I remember the snow on the ground when a train was spotted. I don't know what our specific mission was that day or why we were at fairly low altitude. We started a run to strafe the train. I was flying greenhouse white and Lloyd Zacharie was my wing man. The Alps were could be seen south of us. We spread out a little as was proper for this kind of run. I can't remember whether we were abreast as a squadron or went in as individual flights. When I was within range I started firing and one of my guns "ran away" (wouldn't stop firing) when the trigger was released. I turned a few degrees (to keep from hitting anything out ahead of me) and started to climb. I really didn't realize that my wingman (Zach) had stayed with me. I can't recall whether I announced my problem over the RT (Radio Transmission) at the time. As I was climbing at about 6,000 to 7,000 feet at this time with gun still firing, someone called out "Two jets circling above us." Pete" Peterson said he would start up to intercept and I said that I was already climbing and would also continue on up. My runaway gun had expended all its ammo at this time.
These two jets continued to circle and were estimated to be about 30,000 ft., but as I think about it now, they were probably closer to 20,000 feet because it didn't take us long to get up there. When we got within about 1,000 ft. below them they decided to split up and started to descend. The one I latched onto headed east toward Munich in a slow descent. Having a speed advantage he began to slowly pull away from me. He was about 4 or 5 miles ahead of me and I was about ready to turn back, when I saw him start a steep turn to the left. He was over Munich at about 5,000 feet by this time. I did have the idea that maybe he was trying to draw me over Munich to draw anti-aircraft fire. Anyway, when the 262 started his left turn, I turned 90 degrees to the left. Anticipating his high rate of speed, I thought I could cut him off and it worked, except he was crossing in front. I had the diamonds on the gun sight all the way closed and decided to lead him slightly with the pipper. Almost immediately as I fired the pilot bailed out at about 3,000 feet. I am reasonably sure that I saw a hit on or around the cockpit area. Of course, at that distance, it could have been a reflection. One thing for sure, the pilot had some reason for going overboard at that precise time. The ME 262 immediately crossed into a wooded area where I observed smoke but no flame.
You know, when the bloods get pumping with excitement of the "moment" you sometimes do some dumb things that you wouldn't do under normal circumstances, or things you aren't too proud of, like taking a couple of shots at the pilot and a big gold ball on a church steeple at a nearby town. These things you also never forget.
On this particular mission my own plane was in for repairs so I was flying Steve Waslyks's "My Lady Diane." Can't remember the C5 number. He told me it was a real smooth running engine, etc. And to make sure I brought it home in one piece. Well! He was right. That engine was so smooth it was scary, but as fate would have it, I didn't bring it home. As Zack and I started back alone we found the weather had deteriorated to IFR (Instrument Flight Conditions) conditions in eastern France and went IFR into clouds and snow. By this time we were aware of the fact that we were not going to get anywhere near the United Kingdom. We had really chomped up a lot of fuel in the jet chase and it was down to probably the last 50 gallons. I called a fixer station and got a vector but he was 125 miles away so I decided to gingerly let down through the overcast, not having any idea of the elevation or terrain below. Needless to say the good Lord was with us and we broke out at about 500 feet in a snowstorm. No luck in finding a landing strip and Zack reported gauges bouncing on empty. I told him to pick a good snowy field an belly it in while I continued to look for a 9th AF field, anywhere. Zack reported he was down and ok, it seemed like only a few minutes later that I came over an air field and was glad to see P47s instead of ME109s parked there.
After making about three passes on a snow-covered runway and fearing running out of gas, I came in over some wires and seemed to float forever. When I finally touched down, about half way down the runway, on steel mat, with snow, it was like being on a sled. I figured I was home free until I hit the brakes at which time I took a toboggan ride downhill on the runway off the end and into a frozen pile of dirt. That took care of Wasylyk's "My Lady Diane."
After retrieving my gun camera film and being interrogated, by the Lord only knows who, I found out I was close to the town of Rheims (The Champagne center of France). No room for me on the base so I was billeted in a nice hotel in Rheims. Quite a large city park in the middle of town was jammed to the curbs with all kinds of military supplies. They were very lax about blackout and I had no problem doing some pub crawling. I finally stopped at a place with a good dance band and even neon signs in the windows. Very strange, I thought as we were probably within 60 miles of the front lines.
Well, I didn't hear anything about Zach till the next day. He had been pointed to the same base I was by some Frenchies. He had a little problem communicating, as he didn't speak French. We went out that day on a C47 to Paris where we spent a couple of days, then hitched a ride on another C47 to England.
So I guess you could say that the 262 I got cost two P51s. But as least we lived to fly another day.
After Karger landed on the continent he was interrogated by Army Intelligence Officers, who then called our base to advise us of his whereabouts. Karger has not told you all of his combat that day because the intelligence officer wanted to know if we had fed him raw meat for breakfast. Karger had been locked in to a most difficult situation.
Here is my story of that day. I helped chase the jets and tried to box them in but never could get close enough to fire my guns; instead I used up a lot of fuel and then had to think about getting home through absolutely horrible weather. Some of the squadron elected to return with me rather that setting down on the continent. I flew on instruments in a solid overcast for a long time at about 25,000 feet. Miraculously as I crossed the coastline a single hole appeared through the clouds. I could see the coastline and I elected to descend and cross the channel at an altitude of 200 feet. As I crossed the channel the ceiling got lower and lower and at about 50 feet I went back on instruments and climbed to about 500 feet. I then called into the tower (Dryden) and asked for a heading home, and was told that the base had been closed and that I should return to the continent. I then asked for a heading to any other airfield in England and was told England was socked in and all bases were closed. I was low on gas. I knew I could not return to the continent, and I did not want to ditch in the channel. (Virtually impossible in a P-51) "Locked in" I continued on to England with the other airplanes on my wing and told Dryden that I did not know who closed the field but as leader of Greenhouse Squadron returning I ordered the field to be reopened and all operations would proceed as normal. The flare truck was to be in full operation at the beginning of the runway. Pilots flying with me were advised that we would first try to land under my instructions, and if I could not make it, they were to climb to 1,000 feet, make sure they were over land, and bail out. (I now find it interesting to note that after hearing of my decision to reopen the field, no superior officer on the ground countermanded my orders.)
Dryden gave me a heading and I approached the base at an altitude of about 250 feet on instruments with my wing men tucked in already. The flare truck fired it's flares. I saw the flares and knew I was over the beginning of the runway heading 240 degrees. I then made a single needle width turn of 180 degrees heading into the downwind leg at 60 degrees climbing on instruments to about 400 feet to give me a little breathing room. I then flew an extra long down wind leg in order to have extra time to again line up on the runway. I completed another 180 degree single needle width turn, got another heading from Dryden and discovered I was exactly on course. Lowered partial flaps and dropped the gear, cut the throttle, and started descent from 400 feet very carefully. At 300 and 200 feet I could see nothing but slop all around me. At about 150 feet I couldn't see ahead, but I got the first glimpse of mother earth straight down below me. Full flaps, cut throttle, and saw beginning of runway while looking straight down. I say down on the left side of the runway, with number two man on the right, etc. We landed without mishap, and then had extreme difficulty in taxiing to our revetments, because of rotten visibility. My loyal crew chief, Sgt. Wilbur Reich, was there waiting for me. I had brought our airplane home once more. (Sgt Reich was one of the more experienced crew chiefs, but had already lost two pilots and two P-51s through no fault of his own. He and I got a new P-51 D, C5-O, serial number 414334; and he and I successfully finished my tour of 70 missions without a scratch, bullet hole or flak damage. Later I discovered that my aircraft ended up in a scrap yard in England and was bulldozed flat by a D-8 cat. Seems to me the 8th Air Force should have given it to me and told me to fly it home.)
The commanding officer, who I am sure had closed the field was waiting for me in the pilots ready room. His only question to me was "Where is the rest of the group?" Seems like a lot more should have been said.
And that is how two free spirits got locked in on 20 January 1945, and we were only two of sixty pilots on that mission. I now wonder what happened to the others.