With acknowledgements to Hal Shook and Andy Wilson

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Frag Order

A typical mission from our base near the south coast of England might begin with a teletyped Operations Order at 0230 from 9th, 12th or 29th TAC for a dawn takeoff. Group operations went to work assigning targets to the squadrons, plotting courses on the 12 foot map and figuring takeoff, rendezvous and briefing times. Intelligence, the "Snoop and Poop" guys would produce any photographs they had of the target and check the map for all known or suspected enemy flak concentrations.

When the Frag order came to us, Squadron operations determined what pilots would fly and told Engineering how many planes we needed, their bomb load and fuzing, and the time they were to be ready. Ops kept a status check on all aircraft, which were either "in" - - ready to fly - - or "out". When it was critical for our fighter squadron to launch four airplanes on a short alert, we’d have five ready to go. One was our backup. Flying out of England, if we needed sixteen aircraft for a target, we would send eighteen. Once the primary sixteen birds were in the air and well over the Channel, with all systems "go" the two backups would break off and return to base. While Ordnance and Armament were rolling the bombs out and loading the guns, Communications would be checking the radios and mechanics would be going over every part of the airplane.


At about 06:30, the pilots would assemble in the briefing tent. Whoever was leading the mission would describe the target and how it would be attacked, carefully covering takeoff, formation procedures, course and flak evasion. The intelligence officer would project pictures of the target onto a screen, giving details about the target and enemy opposition. The weather officer would produce his charts and tell us as much as he could about weather conditions over the target area.

Sweating it out

Then began the time of sweating it out until takeoff. There was little talking during this time. For every pilot, this might be the day the dice would be cast against him. Meanwhile, Ops would recheck the mission plans, watch for changes in the Ops order, and get last-minute information from the weather van.

As takeoff time grew near we got into our equipment and went out to the flight line to check our birds. The preflight check began with a careful walk around the airplane and continued inside the cockpit, where we would check all the controls and instruments in a precise order from left to right. It was a ritual that never varied. Pat Vercande, my crew chief who over the years has become like a brother to me, would help me fasten the safety belt and the shoulder harness. Then we waited.


At start engine time I would give a crank-it-up signal and flick the starter toggle switch to the left, to energise, and then to the right, and the 2000 hp engine would roar into life. Along the flight line the engines of the squadron fired up in a mighty deafening thunder.

The engine of the Jug was so huge that you couldn’t see over it when the tailwheel was on the ground. As we taxied to the runway we would either be essing along like a flock of ducks, so Pat or Carwein, his assistant or at times our Armorer, "Hap" Arnold, would crouch on the wing to give me directions.

In takeoff position, I would rev up the engine, check the mags, the controls and the instrument readings and lock the tail wheel into position. As I shoved the throttle forward the P-47 began to roll and then roared down the runway with a surge of power that was a real kick in the pants.


When we were airborne we assembled in formation and set our course for the target. Once I spotted the target, the attack procedure was simple. I would roll over and go into a dive that was almost straight down, and like a deadly aerial ballet, my wingman and the other flights would peel off and follow me in succession.

We were almost always diving into a rain of tracers and exploding cannon shells. You saw those bright streamers coming up at you, but in those seconds you were totally, intensely focused on one goal - - hitting the target. I’d go down as low as I could, to ensure a direct hit, release the bomb, and then yank back on the stick to pull more than seven tons of aircraft out of a dive that neared the speed of sound.

Climbing fast to get away from the guns, I’d look back to see what I’d hit and check to make sure the planes of the squadron were still with me. I’d look for the enemy flak guns, and when we spotted them we’d often go back for a strafing run. The German gunners had had plenty of time to get our range, so flying into the guns could be a hazardous undertaking.

The squadron would reassemble, and I’d count every plane and breath a sigh of relief when they were all there. Sometimes they weren’t. With this part of the mission accomplished, we’d head for another target or for our base in England. On our way back we’d always be looking for targets of opportunity, sometimes attacking until our ammo ran out. As we crossed the gray, choppy water of the English Channel, the Isle of Wight was always a welcome sight, pointing the way home.


The last part of the mission was always the debriefing. The pilots who had been so quiet and tense before take off were now yelling happily: "There I was on my back…" "the first thing I saw were the tracers…" "there were black puffs as low as 2,000 feet, "I was really pulling streamers". Steamers were vapor trails off the wingtips caused by the compressibility of the air in high speed manoeuvres.

Then things would settle down and the straight story would emerge. The intelligence officer would extract from the pilots every vital observation made during the mission and pass the details up to higher headquarters. The mission report, called an Ops Flash, would then be phoned to TAC Headquarters.

This mission was over. But within the next few hours or the next day, there’d be another.

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