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CHAPTER TWELVE - Flying the P-47

My P-47 checkout consisted of a little cockpit time, reading fuel system diagrams, finding all the switches, and a reminder from Bill Barns to remember, "Trim, Trap, and Turbo" before starting a take-off roll. The P-47 was so quiet compared to a P-40 that it seemed unearthly at first.

The missions I remember flying from Dole during our short stay there were medium bomber escort up the Rhine Valley -- no enemy air on any of my missions but beaucoup flak.

We moved to Luneville, France on the 2nd or 3rd of January 1945. The Battle of the Bulge was in progress as I recall. All of a sudden we were busy as the devil again -- from the very first day. Before I landed on a ferry flight into Luneville the controller called to ask if I could proceed to a point to the Northeast to look for some ME-109's that had been harassing our troops. We had to land and refuel. After a quick turnaround we were vectored to an area just north of Bitchie, France. It turned out that Bitchie is a town on the slopes of a hill with a medieval castle perched on top, complete with ramparts, parapets, and heavily defended. All this I discovered when we popped down below some broken clouds looking for ME-109's, and the whole town and castle opened up at us like a 4th of July celebration. I didn't have time to worry about the top flight -- all the lead flight could do was make a line abreast attack on the town in self defense -- and there I was eyeball to eyeball with a machine gun and light flak loaded castle! The bastards didn't even stop shooting when I started hosing them with eight 50 calibers! I passed right over the castle roof with all guns firing, but took a hit in the left wing which caused the ammo door to pop open -- it was an explosive shell or it exploded some of my ammo, or both.

The engine quit cold momentarily, but when it came back only gave me half power, as the Jug tried to do a sudden roll to the left. The outboard brace on the ammo door broke, or full right aileron, hard right rudder and full right trim would not have kept me out of the trees on the way home. Back at Luneville, I was able to get the gear down and locked by gravity, but had no brakes. My new beautiful P-47 #70 looked pretty sad off the end of the runway in the snow, full of holes, no tailwheel and a big burned out middle section where the turbo supercharger had been hit and the aluminum and hydraulic fluid had burned. Fortunately I had been too busy to hear the guys trying to tell me I was on fire and to bail out. I was glad that time not to know how bad it was. The only lesson learned that I hadn't already known was that without a supercharger that big B-2800 engine would only give you around 32 inches of manifold pressure.

Our "scroungers" and "innovators" should receive credit for making the winter at Luneville livable. They found two 16' x 16' prefabricated shacks which, joined together, made a first class (comparatively speaking) operations ready room. Steel reinforcing wire from the airport construction job, formed and covered with heavy tar paper (from the same source) made a good parachute shack igloo. The same materials, plus some tarpaulins (from only God knows where) made nose hangers. Our latrine on the flight line was a long L-2 or L-4 liaison aircraft shipping crate with a door cut in to each end -- Officers entered at one end and enlisted men at the other, with a pot-bellied stove in the middle. It wasn't like home, but it was warm! We even had a snack bar for coffee, doughnuts, and sandwiches on the flight line.

At first our close support and interdiction missions were real tough. As the Germans were pushed back, typically the flak seemed to get thicker. Again, enemy air activity was sporadic, but fought with more determination when they did show. We lost two pilots in one month, one of whom was recovered OK. We had more plane and pilot losses from accidents than from enemy action, so we initiated an accident reporting system at the suggestion of Capt. Jack Peeples. Any pilot involved in an accident, minor or major, had to write a report and brief the rest of us on the cause and possible prevention. It helped. Pilots were more careful because no one wanted to write a cotton pickin' report.

Early on in Luneville the stateside Training Command unloaded all of their "old" pilots on us. We had barside debates over whether a 30-plus years old guy could take it in combat. We got 10 of them, mostly under 30 but older than any of our Squadron pilots -- and with much more flying time. They were fine people, great pilots and eager to fly combat.

I'll never forget their reaction when we outlined our regular pre-combat training program, formations, tactics, air discipline, etc. They couldn't understand our reasons for starting high flying time people our at #2 spot and not allowing them to lead even an element until they had flown 12 or 14 combat sorties for experience. I could understand their disappointment -- many of them had volunteered for combat several times over the years and now were eager to get out there and win the war!

We made a bet with them that if they would cooperate fully with our system, they would thank us before 30 days were up. We had a lot of tough work to do, and it wasn't long before they understood the benefits of our methods.

One of them came to me (long before the 30 days were up) and pointed out that some of their buddies who had been assigned to other outfits had flown more sorties, but several of them had been shot down. We had not a single loss from among that bunch. We didn't hear any more questions like, "Why not set up a gunnery pattern around a train or convoy?" or, "Why such a hurry to get back above 6000 feet?" They became full fledged members of our team and were as proud of our Squadron as everyone else.

There were at least two occasions when we had unusual missions. At those times the ground troops had run into little towns where defenses were suicidal. They were towns just inside Germany where civilian men, women, and children as well as the German army seemed determined to fight to the last person. They gave us those towns with orders to demolish them. So, starting on a morning in relays we would dive bomb and strafe them until the towns were reduced to rubble. It helped reduce casualties for our troops, and also helped by convincing a few more Nazis of their fallibility and of the futility of holding out. It must have made Christians out of the poor devils in the cellars.

About this time Headquarters somewhere decided to find out how many sorties all the outfits in the Theatre of Operation could fly in an all-out effort. Our ground crews had long since developed efficient turn around procedures, so all they did was hustle a little harder. Volunteers from non-line units of the Squadron helped where they could, hauling ammo, sandwiches and coffee, etc., and Smoky Goldman's crews worked on sick airplanes at night in his nose hangers. We flew from sun up to last light -- eight ship missions. The afternoon of the third day the powers that be called off the max effort. The 316th Squadron was far and away ahead of any other Squadron, which we claimed was the reason they stopped it. The 324th Group set the Theatre one-day record with 264 sorties and the 316th established the Squadron one-day record at 104 sorties.

P47 Fighter Aircraft

Dave Gatlin's P47 Thunderbolt "Puddin". Corsica 12 August 1944

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