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Cameos and Quotes about Winkton, the 404th and P47 operations in Europe


The strength of a typical single engined fighter bomber group (A36*/P39/P40/P47 and P51) comprised a group headquarters with 27 Officers, 1 warrant officer and 57 enlisted men and three squadrons. The staff organization for a fighter group would have been divided in to four sections. These were Personnel, Policies and Plans (S-1), Intelligence (S-2), Operations and Training (S-3) and Supply and Maintenance (S-4). Each squadron had 39 officers, 245 enlisted men and 25 aircraft. Total compliment would be 144 officers, 1 Warrant Officer, 805 enlisted men and 75 aircraft.

On designated Group Missions some units regularly flew with three flights per squadron, (36 planes). For special targets they flew with 48 aircraft, an extra flight per squadron. The 404th at Winkton seems to have flown out of preference with 48 as a minimum at all times and often exceeded that number.

* The A36 was an early dive bombing variant of the North American P51A Mustang I as built for the Royal Air Force. It was adapted for USAAF use as a dive bomber with full dive brakes and other accessories to full US Navy dive bomber standards.


Many of the official unit histories reproduced here were written by officers described as Air Corps Historical Officer. This is a description of a secondary duty and these officers were in fact Group G-2 and Squadron S-2 intelligence officers. The Group has three intelligence officers, Captain (later Major) Dudley Connor, and his two assistants, Captain Robert Manss and Lieutenant William Corley. Robert Manss was to become a Major General and the Air Advocate General at the Pentagon. Each Squadron had two intelligence officers, a captain and and a first lieutenant. Squadron histories reproduced on this site have been authored by 2nd Lt. Melvin H Johnson, 506th Squadron; Captain Andrew F Wilson, 507th Squadron; and CaptainWilliam F Miller, 508th Squadron.

The 507th's intelligence officer, Captain Andrew F Wilson, has been a major source of the information reproduced on this web site.


Fighter pilots were nearly always singled out for their dog fighting prowess although they also performed bombing, ground attack and strafing using rocketry, machine guns, cannons and bombs.


The P47 was known as the Jug because it looked like a glass milk bottle, although it was often referred to as the Juggernaut in contrast to the slim profiles of the P51 and the Spitfire.


Several P-47 pilots have put their experiences into print. I can particularly recommend the late Kemal Said's thoughtful book  "Thunderbolt Odessey". However because they haven't been published in a historical aviation book, I have chosen to illustrate here the missions flown from Winkton and later on, with examples from Hal Shook, C.O. of the 506th squadron.

***

In the summer of 1944, we were flying at near the Seine River, trying to stop the German Army from crossing over and regrouping on the other side. Crossing points along the river were under constant aerial attack and were heavily defended with anti aircraft guns. Approaching the river, we ran into heavy flak, ugly black puffs of smoke so thick it looked like you could walk on it. We were dodging and changing altitude trying to outguess the gunners, when we saw five barges on the water, 10,000 feet below. They were heavily loaded with enemy equipment and troops.

As I rolled into my dive bomb run, almost straight down, my P47 Thunderbolt shuddered as heavy shrapnel slammed into the propeller and engine. Oil streamed out to cover my windscreen and the engine rpms screamed up to 50% above redline, something not even the P-47 was built to withstand. If I stayed in the dive, would I ever come out of it ?

"You have no option" I said to myself, "you’ve got to do it"! I had the target perfectly lined up and couldn’t quit now. At that moment it was my total focus in life. Punching off my bombs at the last minute, I got direct hits with both. Bobbing and Jigging from side to side, and with oil still blowing back. I pulled up and away from the river and the flak. Miraculously, the engine was still running. It carried me to an emergency landing strip in Normandy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Hal Shook

***

It was two days after D-Day. We had completed our dive-bombing mission and, on the way back, I sent twelve aircraft home and took my lead flight of four planes to attack a German armor concentration that we had seen on the way in. We were heading home at about 275 mph, flying at ten to twenty feet above the ground to avoid enemy fire, when near Caen I saw flashes from an enemy anti aircraft gun at my 10 o’clock. I popped up to get a good bead on the guy and turned into him, firing my guns. I got him just as he got me.

BLAM! A cannon shell exploded in my right wing, and the P-47 flipped on its side with the wingtip nearly touching the ground. I grabbed the stick with both hands and yanked it with all my strength to the left, fighting the wing slowly up level. More than a little shaken, I could see what had happened. The explosion had torn a hole in the wing and had knocked open the three foot door that gave access to the guns, which was acting as a huge dive break. One of the .50s was hanging out, along with snarled belts of ammunition.

My speed dropped to a max of 150 mph, and since I was a sitting duck, the other three pilots moved up into a protective cover as I hugged the ground. I was just beginning to think I might make it home when I hopped over a hedgerow, and there twenty feet below my wings were massed tanks, trucks, and guns from a German Panzer division. The German soldiers stared at me open mouthed, but since they were as surprised as I was, nobody opened fire.

I pulled up over the barrage balloons on the Normandy beachhead and crossed the Channel to England, with my team mates checking my badly damaged aircraft and guiding me in. As the wheels touched down I breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a long day but it wasn’t over yet.

Just then the right landing gear collapsed and my wing hit the ground. With no control over the aircraft, I began skidding off the runway at well over 100mph. I was heading straight for the control truck. At the last minute, the big fighter somehow slid past the truck and stopped in the field.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Hal Shook

***

We needed to come in low in order to hit the target, and with so many people shooting at us, it would have been suicidal to fly straight and level. If you did that, you were gone. We had to keep changing altitude and turning in order to avoid enemy fire. It was quite a task, trying to hold a map on my lap and keep track of our position while the plane corkscrewed around in the air and tracers were steaming up from the ground. I was incredibly busy and I got a little punchy. Even though you kept jinking around in the sky to avoid being hit, still you got hit. The map I was studying was wacked violently off my knee and thrown to the floor of the cockpit. A bullet had come in though the side of my bird, missing my leg by inches. Fortunately I was over the target, so I dropped my bombs and completed my strafing run before I was hit again on the way out. This time the bullet came from behind, penetrated the firewall between me and the engine and smashed into the carburettor.

All of a sudden I had no control of the throttle. I could push and pull on it, but nothing happened. The engine’s power was jammed at 32 inches of mercury - - a measurement of engine pressure. At full power, which I needed in order to pull up from the bombing run and escape the enemy ground fire, I should have had 52 inches. Flying at a little more than half power I could neither increase or reduce my speed.

I would be easy prey for enemy fighter, so other members of the squadron gave me top cover as I headed for home at a very low speed, maybe 200 mph. Since it was impossible to climb I maintained a low level flight back to our airbase in Normandy. When I was over the field I cut my engine off with the mixture control, made a 360 degree approach and glided down to a dead-stick landing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Hal Shook


Bob Williams described to me the deceptive nature of pierced steel planking as a runway surface. On takeoff, with a fully loaded aircraft, initially the surface tended to flex under the aircraft, as the planks rocked under the aircraft’s weight, an effect almost like a bow wave under a ship until the wings gained enough lift to support the weight of the aircraft. And when it was wet (and usually muddy or at least greasy too), landings on a short narrow metal runway could be quite exciting !


P47s were not the only type of aircraft known to have used Winkton. Other types include Douglas C47 Skytrain transport aircraft, Cessna UC78 Bobcats, Lockheed P38 Lightnings, and a British Hawker Hurricane which carried out a precautionary landing with a faulty ignition harness on its Merlin engine and whch remained for several days parked by the Hangar whilst an RAF servicing party worked on it (it may have come from Hurn where a unit was re-equipping with Typhoons to replace their Hurricanes). Two B24 Liberators are thought to have used Winkton, one is reported to have flown in to test the runway loadings before the airfield opened officially, and another is known to have forced landed at Winkton with battle damage and casualties.There are reports of a light communications aircraft, possibly an Auster using the field after the 404th departed, and when the 404th first arrived they used a Percival Proctor on loan from the British as a communications aircraft and station hack. In the background on one photograph is what looks like an Airspeed Oxford. These were built at nearby Christchurch but were also used by the USAAF.

It would appear the steel runways at Winkton remained in place during August 1944. On August 6th B-24 Liberator bomber of the 702nd BS 445th BG, serial number 42-100331 and coded WV U, diverted into Winkton. The Liberator a model B-24J-90 CO called "Percy" was being flown by Capt James C. Baynham. They were returning from a raid on Hamburg and diverted to get immediate medical care for 1st Lt John W. Cowgill, the plane's navigator.


At some stage, probably when operating on the Europe mainland in 1945, the 404th is reported to have acquired the nickname "the Tin Hornets". Many other USAAF unit had such names, including many P47 units. The 404th's nickname was never officially adopted as the Group Commander, Colonel Leo Moon didn't like the "tinhorn" gambler implication. Andy Wilson, by this time Group PR officer, does admit he may have used it without authorization in a press release or two!



There are a number of photos of all silver P47D-30s which show aircraft of both the 506th and 508th squadron, 7J*Q, 7J*U, 4K*T and others with a cowl insignia. Andy Wilson told me that "the insignia is the thunderbird, the mythic bird of the southwestern Indians. Some of the pilots had trained in the far west of the USA and some liked the association of the 'thunderbird' with the Thunderbolt type of aircraft". The insignia consisted of a white triangle with a thin black outline on the side of the cowling, with a black thunderbird silhouette set within the triangle. Some of the aircraft have a coloured band around the cowl that passes underneath the triangle badge, dark on some aircraft (508th), lighter on others (506th), and not visible at all on others. Bob Williams of the 508th tells me that:

The device on the cowls of the airplanes weren't painted on until we were in Fritzlar, Germany – at the end of the war. The thunderbird was in a triangle and a different color band ran around the cowl for each squadron. Seems like the 508th was blue, the 506th green (recently discovered photos show 506 planes with yellow bands), and I don't remember what the 507th was (Red perhaps as with the flight colours [or squadron colours within a group], Red, White, Yellow and Blue ?). I don't remember any information being passed around as to what the color scheme was supposed to represent. It didn't show up on very many airplanes as I remember. Mine,7J*N, never got that treatment.

The yellow banded 506 machines mentioned above are P47 D30s at Fritzlar and one at least has the yellow trim repeated on the leading edge of the underwing bomb racks and on the mainplane wing tips. The photo can be found on on Jim Sterling's 404 pages on his Warbirds on the Web site.


"A pilots escape kit was a clear plastic box about six inches by four and contained matches, compass, adhesive tape and bandage. Included were a small hacksaw blade, tablets to sterilize water for drinking, two ounces of chocolate, a hyperdermic needle and a container of morphine. Pictures of the pilot in civilian clothes were carried in case fake papers were needed to be made in the event of a bail out." From Kemal Saied’s "Thunderbolt Odessey".


"From briefing to interrogation a pilot’s intense concentration and constant physical exertion, fuelled by adrenalin, would drain the body of all energy when the work was finished. He would be keyed up tight for eight hours straight, then completely relaxed afterwards. Two missions of about of two and a half hours each with preparation for the next one sandwiched between made one very tired. Interrogation, supper, bed in that order finished the day." From Kemal Saied’s "Thunderbolt Odyssey"

 


"Leap Off" - to the tune of Amor, Amor 1944

Leap off, Leap off, Leap off !
The mission's rough, the flak is tough,
But we are tougher !
Leap off, Leap off, Leap off !
The guns may puff, that's not enough,
We'll make them suffer.
 
The formations perfect with the planes all in place,
The ships all in echelon are such a  pretty sight;
The target is spotted and the flak's in our face,
As the leader takes the Group down flight by flight.
 
Leap down, leap down, leap down !
Release we must, the target's dust -
My tail is busted !
Leap out, leap out, leap out !
Now I'll be stuffed in Stalag Luft
for the du-ra-tion !

The Fighter Plane

Written originally by an anonymous USAAC fighter pilot for the little Boeing P-26 Peashooter pursuit aircraft but adopted by other fighter pilots for their own steeds as well. The P-26 at 4 tons was only just over half the weight and size of a P47.

Something about a fighter job just gives a man a thrill,
She kinda sets your heart a-throb you know shes built to kill.
She doesn't have plush cushions, the torque is pretty bad,
but she keeps right on a-push-n despite the hell she's had.
There's not much there but motor, some stubby wings and guns,
But there's plenty power to float her and she weighs about four tons.
It's true she's hot to handle and landing takes two tries,
But nothing holds a candle to the ship that rules the skies.
When the gates of hell are open, and the battle starts for true,
There's one thing for which I'm hopin, a "P" Shooter to fly me through.

The Dauntless Ditty

Put together by Andy Wilson and a few flyer cohorts during Saturday night relaxation in 1943. Sung to the American folk tune "I’ve been working on the rail road".

(The 404th Bombardment Group flew an army variant of the US Navy’s Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber, known as the A24. SBD stood for Scout Bomber Douglas)

I have flown the Douglas Dauntless
All the live long day;
Don’t you think it’s rather pointless
To spend your time this way ?

I would rather log some sack-time
At night or early in the morn,
And never fly another Dauntless
Till Gabriel blows his horn !

etc., etc.


Floyd "Ramblin’ Wreck" Blair’s nickname derived from him being a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta Georgia, one of the top-echelon engineering colleges, usually referred to as Georgia Tech. Their colourful school song went:

I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech
and a helluvan engineer !


Flugzeug Lieder der 404 Jagdbomber Geschwader

(more contemporary [1944] tunes to which were invented new lyrics - during off duty hours, sometimes stimulated by French Champagne - in bottles marked "Reservé pour Wehrmacht" - these quickly changed to "Reservé pour les Armées Alliès".)

(tune "San Fernando Valley")

I hear the bell in the hall
Snoozing flat on my back,
And I respond to the call,
leaping out of my sack;
I check the sky and see the weather is fine,
And catch that cold and dirty truck to the Line.

Oh the mission’s a song,
So the S-2’s say,
But I know that’s wrong because I’ve been that way;
They think it’s smart to call us up on the ‘phone
And say "Go out and knock hell out of Cologne!"

So in trail we take off,
And formed up we make off,
Carrying a potent half ton;
I take a last look at Heaven from my Forty-seven,
And drop my eggs on the Hun.

Oh we zoom for more height,
As they cut loose the flak,
But we’re all all right,
And we all get back;
But I don’t want those medals on my chest,
I want two wing tanks and the chance to head West !

 

(tune "I’ll Walk Alone")

I’ll strafe alone,
If we’re up and my wing man deserts me;
If that low life deserts me,
I’ll strafe alone.

I’ll strafe alone,
When I strafe with my 50’s they stay struffed;
Though it’s railroads or flak guns,
I’ll strafe alone.

The Focke Wulf’s may pop up,
And get on my tail,
But I’ll evade, and shoot them down;
The flak guns may fire,
But I’ll never fail,
I’ll cross ‘em up, I’ll skid and turn.

I’ll strafe alone,
On the deck I’ll catch panzers with pants down,
If they mark them with red smoke,
I’ll strafe alone.

 

(tune "Take It Easy")

Though you’re flying combat,
Don’t let it worry you;
It’s something to remember,
There’s always something new.
But if you’re apprehensive,
And don’t know what to do,
We’ve been on the offensive,
So here’s a tip or two.

Don’t be nervous, don’t be nervous;
Though the flak is thick and you are sick you’ll soon be through;
Don’t be nervous, don’t be nervous;
For the guys that you are bombing sure are nervous too !

Don’t be jumpy, don’t be jumpy;
Though the ground control is calling bandits all around;
Don’t be jumpy, don’t be jumpy;
Every time you try to find ‘em there are none to be found.

Watch your step, watch your step;
Don’t knock your knees;
Trim your ship, trim your ship;
Fly it with ease !

etc…….


There was it seems a tradition in the 404th dating back to at least the days at Winkton that, whenever possible,Saturday night was a club or party night. For those rostered to fly the following morning however the socialising was, not surprisingly, constrained.


"Between missions and during inclement weather, the men busied themselves by construction of elaborate living quarters……. A day room was also built. This enlisted mens club room was formerly an old stable and the first obstacle was the removal of about two feet of the ……. stuff that usually covers stable floors. Later a wooden floor was put down, the walls plastered and the place generally policed up. Eventually "L’odour du ferme" was no longer noticeable.

The addition of some very comfortable homemade furniture, settees and chairs which were made and cushions were improvised with a bit of straw, a mattress cover and a G.I. blanket, a radio, phonograph, a small library, a situation map,and some pictures has made the place a very inviting hangout. A "pin up corner" originated and bits of pulchritude were not only pinned up but set in white frames. The day room is the place where GI’s of the 506th gathered – some to chew the rag, some to write, some to read, some to listen to the radio, some to look at the map and predict future movements and the end of the water, and others came of course to play "bridge".Possibly the most unique feature of the club is the bar which, so far as we know, is the only copper-covered "joy-juice counter" in the E.T.O. "

The pilots went all out in constructing their snack bar. Enhanced by a neat brick bar, made by Lt. Martin E.Adams, the snack bar was roomy, pleasant and comfortable. Here the pilots take advantage of the hot coffee and sandwiches offered by Johnny Tsoros, snack bar specialist. They read the "hot poop" given them by the S-2 section, they write letters, listen to the radio, read, play cards and speak proudly of the quality of their P-47 Thunderbolt. On the opening night the officers had as their guests many nurses from nearby hospitals, music was furnished by records from the Special Service Library, and liquid refreshments were flown across the channel. "Doc" Templin outdid himself on the decorations, with camouflage nets covering the ceiling, allied flags adorning the wall, pin up girls and other accessories the club took on all the atmosphere of a New York night club, making it difficult to realize that this was only eight miles from the front lines.

One end of the bar is petitioned off to make up the briefing room. Facilities for seating 16 pilots comfortably are provided. In front of them is the large map from which they are briefed. On one side is another map, of a larger scale and which contains Paris. As the front lines move so do the pilots, and they keep on their toes to know just where the American doughboy is located.


……On many occasions we bombed targets 400 yards from our own friendly lines which required the utmost in good briefing, pinpoint navigation, and accurate bombing. Much co-operation was received from our ground troops by their giving us accurate bomb lines and troop lines and on no occasion did we make the blunder of bombing our own troops. Colored smoke shells fired by the artillery to mark targets for us were extremely helpful. On some occasions our pilots could see the smoke markers immediately after taking off from our own (Site A-5, Normandy) airdrome………