The Mystery of the 364th Squadron's "Pistol Packin' Mama"

by Merle Olmsted

The first P-51 known to carry the 364th Squadron's code C5-O, was a P-51B, serial number 43-6867, delivered to the AAF at the factory in California on 10 December, 1943. After a short session at the Dallas modification center, it went to the vast aircraft shipping center at Newark, NJ, and departed the U. S. via ship on 22 January, 1944. Upon arrival in England it went to the huge depot at Warton, for processing and more modifications, etc.

Exactly when it arrived at the 357th Group's base at Leiston is unknown, but allowing ten days to two weeks for depot processing, it probably arrived at Leiston the first week in March, where it was assigned to the 364th, and coded C5-O. This was about one month after the Group had flown it's first mission on 11 February, 1944. SSgt Wilbur Reich, and his assistant and partner, Sgt Tom Aurio, would care for all of the C5-Os until the end of the war. The assigned pilot was Captain Glendon Davis, who named the aircraft Pregnant Polecat. 60 years later, Wilbur Reich recalls that this was the first aircraft coded C5-O.

On the 3rd of March, the day before the first Berlin mission, Davis scored two victories, and on the 2nd Berlin mission on 6 March, he added an Me 109 and shared another. By the first of April, Davis had passed to the Ace status, with 7.5 victories. On the 28th of April, while leading GREENHOUSE (364th) Blue Flight, his engine caught fire and he had no choice but to bail out near Bourges, France. Luck, and the French underground were with him and he evaded capture, and returned to England in the fall of 1944.

Anne Lou with Crew Chief Wilbur Reich

The last P-51 to bear the code C5-O, was P-51D, serial number 44-14334, named ANNE LOU, with pilot Robert Schimanski, who had reported in to the 357th on 12 July. He flew this P-51 until the end of the war, scoring 6 victories.

These two P-51s, the first and the last pose no problems for the historian, as their history is clear enough.

The P-51 between the first and the last (or were there two??), however is a tangle of facts and guesses which we will attempt to sort out and will illustrate with the four known photos.

The replacement for the now departed PREGNANT POLECAT, was another P-51B. It was serial number 42-106923 (tail number 2106923), which left North American factory and was accepted by the USAAF on 9 March, 1944. It departed the U. S. by ship on 26 March and was officially assigned to 8th Air Force, at Warton Air Depot on 11 April, arriving at Leiston Air Field about the end of April, just in time to take the 364th Squadron code C5-O, left vacant by the departure of POLECAT.

Among the various list of aircraft, codes and names, put together by 8th Air Force enthusiasts, there have been three names associated with this plane, DADDY'S PET, PISTOL PACKIN' MAMA and ALMOST. No photographic evidence has been found for the last two. In a letter written to this writer in Dec, 1990, Crew Chief Wilbur Reich says: (after the loss of Davis) "we got another airplane C5-O, with Harry Hermanson as pilot, who named the new P-51 DADDY'S PET. During his tour we got a plane C5-O named PISTOL PACK'IN MAMA." Reich does not say, but implies that the first P-51 was replaced by yet another. We will attempt to show that there was no other P-51 involved.

Lt Harry Hermanson

At the time of 923's delivery to the AAF, the factory had stopped painting P-51s, so on it's arrival at Leiston, it would have been in bare metal finish. Like many other arriving bare metal P-51s, it was immediately painted OD (or RAF green) on it's upper surfaces. The assigned pilot was 1st Lt Harry Hermanson, who flew this airplane for his entire combat tour, including the shuttle mission to Russia early in August, 1944. He scored one victory, an FW 190 on 24 August, shortly before completing his tour. He then returned to the ZI (Zone of the Interior). As mentioned in Reich's letter, he had named the airplane DADDY'S PET.

There are four known photos of C5-O, 42-106923, we will look at each photo and see what it tells us. Photo # 1 is the earliest known of this P-51B. It was taken on D-Day, the 6th of June, 1944. The tail number 2106923 is clearly visible. The painted upper surfaces and full invasion stripes are also clearly visible. The upper engine cowl shows 15 mission symbols, about right for the approximately 5 weeks it would have been on station.

Photo # 2: With no serial number visible, we can't say positively that his is C5-O, #923, but there is no reason to doubt that it is. It still has the "half" paint job, (painted upper surfaces), but it now has been fitted with a Malcolm hood and a "Spitfire" mirror. The mission symbols now extend back beyond the rear of the exhaust stacks, implying about 30 of them. At top left is Crew Chief, Wilbur Reich, with Tom Aurio on the wing, and Hermanson sitting on the cockpit rim. Invasion stripes appear to cover the top wing, which indicates it is before late August when the directive came in to remove the stripes from the top wings.

All three men appear to be admiring the small figure of the PISTOL PACKIN' MAMA. This was a popular song at the time and many airplanes carried the name, but there is no indications here of the name itself.

Photo #3: This photo can be dated approximately by the fact that the aircraft has now  been fully painted (probably in RAF green), has the invasion stripes removed from all of it's upper surfaces, which is probably about the time that Hermanson completed his tour of duty, around September the 1st. Although faint, mission symbols now extend almost to the end of the engine cowl. Hermanson flew this airplane on the shuttle mission to Russia, 6 - 12 August, 1944. The name DADDY'S PETS, (note that both words are plural) is clear, as is the small figure of the pistol packin' cowgirl, just behind Tom Aurio and below the windshield. The color of the name DADDY'S PETS is probably red, but that is just a guess. So now we have the name DADDY'S PETS and the figure of the pistol packin' mama together, but no sign of the name PISTOL PACKIN' MAMA.

Photo #4: Here we have the same overall green paint job, the code "O", and the tail number is clearly 2106923. Invasion stripes on lower surfaces as in Photo 3. With the right engine cowl off, we do not know if the name was on the right side or not. It is safe to assume that this photo was taken about the same time as Photo 3.

After Hermanson completed his combat tour with some 283 hours, we do not know who was assigned as pilot, for the two or three weeks before C5-O became a pile of scrap in a Dutch field. Also we do not know what name it carried at the time of it's loss, which occurred on 19 September, 1944, during the massive air battles around the air drop zones at Arnhem. Captain Bernard Seitzinger, who had only been assigned to the squadron/group for a couple weeks was the pilot who was shot down in C5-O, 42-106923. He scored one victory before his own demise. He survived as a POW and was killed in action during the Korean war.

Now we must deal with the name ALMOST, sometimes listed with this aircraft. The source of this seems to be Seitzinger's Missing Aircrew Report (MACR), which lists the name of the aircraft as ALMOST. However, this entry says "maybe" after it, so apparently they were not sure of it. Crew Chief Wilbur Reich says it never carried the name ALMOST.

The name ALMOST shows up on DeShays list (Dec 1987) as C5-O.   Although this list was probably put together from memory, it is a good indication that C5-O may have actually had this name, even though the crew chief does not recall it.  If it did, it would have been only the last two weeks of it's existence that Seitzinger flew it until he was lost in it on l9 Sept.  During the rest of it's life it was DADDY'S PETS with a small figure of pistol packin mama, but not the name.
 

One list by a well known researcher shows ALMOST as C5-S, with Lloyd Hubbard as pilot, but he was lost on 8 Feb, 44 before we became operational, in 42-12368. This same list shows Hermanson as pilot of C5-O(correct), but shows it as 42-10543, but this was Nowlin's C5-M, which was wrecked twice, once by Sullivan and then totaled on 20 July by Sanborn.  Wreck photos show no names, even though Nowlin says he named his P-5ls HELLS BELLS and VIVICOUS VIV.   Lloyd Hubbards brother was in the 364th until August when he left the group. It is possible he may have been connected with ALMOST  in some way.

 
This is a good example of the tangle that one can get into when trying to pin down  names, codes etc.  No conclusion can be reached on a P-5l named ALMOST.   There probably was one, but until photographic
evidence surfaces, we don't know anything about it.
 

Merle Olmsted, August 2004

 

 

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