Diary of a Squadron S2 in the E.T.O
373rd Fighter Group
412th Fighter Squadron
By W. Philip Van Kirk
Boarded troop train from Camp Shanks and embarked on Dutchess of Bedford at NYPOE.
Uneventful voyage with decent weather on the whole. Passed time with reading, drills and poker. Landed at Guroch, Scotland and stepped off boat onto train. Crowds of children and adults waving and cheering along the route. Lovely country.
Arrived new station in Ashford, England and found few comforts. Spent next few weeks in getting oriented, setting up living quarters and staff sections. Spent a week at Special Intelligence School and a few days at Ninth Airforce HQ. Had a few accidents after we got our planes. No one hurt.
Group became operational on May 8 First mission – Escort in to France. As group became more experienced, deeper penetrations were made.
Briefed for missions over France and Belgium. Heavy flak separated the squadron and Bert Friedman and Harry Majewski got lost. No word from them all afternoon and night. At midnight we heard that Bert was OK, that he bailed out over the North Sea and was picked up by ASR, with a broken leg; no word of Harry. An hour later Jerry dropped a 1,000 pounder a few miles away.
Saw a mission off this morning and then lit out for London.
An awful shock on my return. My good friend Dick Truesdell, roommate and poker buddy, had been shot down in a dog fight with 6 FW-190’s. He was last seen heading down in flames. It is possible he bailed out and we were all hoping to hear that he did.
Finally got a jeep for S2. A treat after walking off my legs for months.
Big day. Shaved off my mustache. Got back from London at 1300 and right to work on a court martial. I have duty S2 at group tonight.
Got paid this morning and have a roll big enough to choke a horse. Court marital coming up this PM.
Two more court martials today. Cut and dried AWOL.
Sent $500 home today. Promptly proceeded to lose 15 pounds at poker. Never saw it to fail.
Off OPS today because of laying new runways. Spent the day sorting out equipment. Out with Kelly last night and hit all the pubs between here and Bearsted. Joined forces with 6 RAF pilots and was initiated into their order of the tie chewers. My only green tie, is slightly the worse for wear. Ended up in a pub after hours.
Note: In Ramsgate, England, a new fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Tie Chewers, was born. Sole qualification for membership: a pub customer must allow the end of his tie to be chewed off. DH
Big show today. Our men got a couple of trains and a bridge with bombs and strafing. The 410th lost a man when an AMMO train blew up underneath the squadron while strafing. Lots of tension tonight. Tomorrow may be the day. All personnel restricted, and guards posted at all planes. At 2000, a large formation of B-17’s circled the field, wheels down and 13 of them landed because of bad weather up the line. Dick and I helped interrogate the crews at group. 150 of them at least. We had no place for them to sleep except in their planes.
B-17’s took off for home this AM and our men are on mission dropping frags on AA placements on the beach at Calais.
Took a plane ride tonight. Went up over the overcast at 9,000 ft. and buzzed the clouds. Unimaginatively beautiful.
June 6, 1944 – D-Day!
Planes coming overhead have kept a constant roar in the sky since 2 o’clock this morning. We briefed at 5:30 for top cover on one of the beachheads. History is being made. What a day. Waiting for our 3rd mission to return. On the go from morning to 8 PM. HAGG blew a tire on landing and had to make an emergency landing at Brenzet.
Our CO, Mike Ingelido, destroyed an Me-110 on the first mission this morning. The second mission uneventful. Mike’s 410 is the first plane to be shot down in the invasion area and the press is here already. On the third mission, Knudson claims a probably on a 109. Raine claims a destroyed. Hollingsworth claims another. But Dick Kirwin is NYR. Last seen at 0715 with a 109 on his tail. Heard calling for a homing at 0813. Hope he is OK.
On duty at group tonight and busy as hell preparing the morning mission. Orders changed two hours before TO. Working like the devil these days from 5 AM to 10 PM. Dick Nash is leaving for ATC. Hope to get my captaincy now; ought to know soon.
410th burned up a plane this morning. The 50’s went off with a roar and everyone hit the floor.
Off OPS for bad weather. Dick Nash left for ATC Expect a new officer for S2 soon.
Briefing at 0715 for bombing and strafing on Cherbourg Peninsula. Squadron straggled back singly and in pairs at 1100 and the news was bad. They bombed convoys at low level and caught hell from light flak. Harry Weatherell went down in France. No chance that he got out. Then we heard that Hank Keller spun in just short of Brenzet where Mike was taking him to land. His plane was shot to pieces but he nursed it all the way back and then it must have given up. We heard definitely an hour after that that Hank had been killed. Up to then we had all nursed a hope. Hank was one of the best loved guys in the squadron.
Routine missions. Alternate one hour, 15 minutes, and 5 minute alerts. Had at least 4 air raid alarms at night and heard bombs dropping in the distance.
Group briefed at 0230 for cover over the beachhead. Take off in complete darkness. Went to bed and soon heard an air raid alarm. A peculiar sounding plane was heard over the field for about 45 seconds. At our second briefing at 0715 we learned that it was one of the famous secret weapons of the Germans. A glider bomb. One of 3 which was seen in the vicinity that morning. One of the men from the 411th crashed in the sea just off France this morning. The other pilots think he was the victim of vertigo.
Attended services this afternoon for all the men in the group who are killed and missing. In our squadron alone there are Truesdell, Majewski, Kirwin, Keller, and Weatherell.
No missions today. But what a night. Jerry sent his glider bombs over and every one passed over us on the way to London. The AA was terrific. Tracers and shells lit up the sky for miles around and the din was awesome. The AA and pursuing aircraft shot some of them down.
Rockets keep coming over every so often. English Mosquitos and Typhoons are constantly circling to intercept them. They travel like hell, about 350 miles per hour and the planes have a tough job. One came straight over the field with 4 Typhoons chasing. Suddenly we saw flashes all over it from hits by cannon fire. The Typhoons scattered and the glider went straight down about 5 miles away. There was a huge cloud of smoke and a few seconds later we heard the explosion.
Worked all night at group. Got about 3 hours sleep, with rocket bombs, AA and preparing for missions.
Three missions today. All dive bombing of trucks and troops on Cherbourg Peninsula. Tucker and Maier force landed on ELS in France, both OK. Maier is back already. Saw two rockets get knocked down with AA fire tonight. Quite a sight. One got hit right over our heads and plowed in about a mile away.
Relieved for maintenance and training today. Set out for Hastings with others, about 1500 and looked up a man who was reported to have Scotch for sale. Bought 12 quarts for 3 pounds per. Really had ourselves a time. Three of our bottles are missing.
Got a new officer in the section today. 2nd Lt. Thomas Flannery.
Flew 3 missions today. Two dive bombing and one escort. While the last one was out a B-24 crash landed at 2130. The nose wheel collapsed and the plane ground to a halt. Crew members piled out in nothing flat. Heard that they had been shot at near St. Pol. Pilot and top turret gunner killed.
Received call that Lt. Kirwin is safe in an English hospital. Though wounded in right arm, shoulder and leg. Great news.
Some of the pilots took the C-78 to visit Kirwin in the hospital.
Squadron landed in France and operated from the beachhead for 2 missions. I got back from a trip to Hastings with Dr. Mac and Mike. Had a wonderful time. Spent the night as duty S2 in group. Jerry sent over a bunch of rockets and out of about 18 only one got past without being shot down.
Working in the office today when a 20 millimeter shell from a Tempest pursuing a rocket, ripped through the parachute tent next door.
Armed recce from Chartres to Alencon this AM with frag bombs. We hit two trains with 95 cars and strafed 5 times end to end, leaving trains in flames. During interrogation, a B-24 limping home went into a spin and crashed a mile away. The crew bailed out OK. This AM a piece of our own flak whisked by a bunch of us watching a rocket bomb and whanged into the ground several feet away. Several of our men have been wounded that way.
Up at 0400 this morning and over to the tent for briefing. Take off at 0608 with the sun just rising. 2 minutes later the group came back and peeled off to land. Recalled for bad weather.
Up at 0400 again this morning. Had 3 missions and wound up at 2345 with our last report.
Up at 0500 for briefing on escort mission. Dog tired. Weather was PP with scattered rain and heavy clouds. Got all the way to group and found out mission scrapped. Back to the sack. Escort mission this PM.
Supposed to go to Hastings with Mike but all GO passes are cancelled. It is raining and the ground is a sea of mud.
Almost a month has passed and this is the first chance to make an entry. A lot has happened and yet little has occurred of real significance. On July 4th, the advance parties bid a not too sad goodbye to station 419. We arrived at Southampton marshalling area several hours later and settled in Pyramidal tents. Around noon of the 6th , we got word to move again and board trucks for the port. We waited several hours for our boat to dock, sunning on the pier and breaking open the first of a long series of K rations. 0700 saw us installed in a small troop ship by name “Victoria”. Some of us were fortunate enough to get bunks. Others settled in benches, tables, floors, and decks. Laid up just off Southampton all night and joined a convoy early AM. Made landfall about 1200 and an exiting sight it was. Our first glimpse of foreign shores. Hundreds of ships and BB met the eye off the coast. Occasional plumes of smoke inland hinted at continuing battles. Few of us knew where we were. We disembarked in LCI and set foot on the beachhead around 1500, 7/27, wading through a foot of water to a floating dock. A few wrecked landing craft and enemy fortifications were visible, but a clean up job had obviously been underway. With full pack, we labored up a steep hill from the shore and walked 2 miles to our transit area where we pitched our pups and ate K’s. That night the AA opened up with a vengeance several times. I was watching the show from the tent entrance when I heard a hiss of metal and a thump nearby. Another metallic souvenir from the sky.
The evening of the 29th saw us on the move from St. Laurent Sur Mer to landing strip #3 at a point 3 miles west of La Cambe. We pitched our tents in heavy rain on the outskirts of a hayfield on the airfield occupied by the 368th. 3 days later our motor convoy caught up with us and that night I slept on a mattress instead of bare ground. What heaven. We passed 10 days in this manner. Sleeping, eating, by and out of the almighty can, playing cards and sightseeing. On the 19th we moved to our own field to a point several miles WN out Bayeux, LS #13 (A13). The engineers are still carving up the field and pastures into runways and taxi strips. For 2 days it has rained constantly and heavily turning the newly cut roads into seas of mud and slime, clothes and bed rolls into damp caricatures of their former selves. By this time we are fed up with our life of inactivity and lack of diversion. The confines of a pup tent leaves something to be desired as a refuge from the elements. No mail since England. We eat with little variety and have become over intimate with field rations. We are all praying for clear weather so that we can start work. Jerry comes over every night to keep things from getting too dull.
The flight echelon arrived at the base and the ground echelon later that afternoon.
The group became operational and dive bombed bridges on its first mission.
DB mission on vehicle concentrations near Vassay. C/O Perry NYR. Lt. Gradel made one wheel landing.
Perry is back with an exciting tale of evasion. OK except for broken ankle.
Two missions today. 2nd one was to Chartres and group was jumped by 30+ ME-109’s and FW-190’s. Phelps and Hodek got a 109, Peters and Hodges each damaged one. The group got 5 and lost 3 pilots. Not good.
Squadron DB RR train marshalling yard south of Tour destroying 30+ cars and 2 locomotives. Accurate bombing. A P-51 crashed 200 yards from us this afternoon just missing group S2. Spread parts all over the field. The pilot seriously injured.
Air echelon moves out again into A26 at Gonfreville. Set up for operations on the 14th. Swam in the ocean at St. Germain Sur Ay. Gorgeous flat beach. Bought some wine and cognac and got a dozen fresh eggs. Saw a few dead Jerrys on old battlefields and considerable devastation and discarded equipment.
Air echelon ordered to repack and return to A13. Learned that Gil Holligsworth bought it on the 13th . Light flak hit his plane and he was seen to hit and explode. We flew 6 missions on the 15th . Pislak is MIA and Knudson crashed landed behind enemy lines at 1330. By 1930 that night he was washing up in the squadron area having evaded through the lines.
Air echelon arrived at St. James and set up for operations. Went into town that night visiting numerous cafes and talking to the French. Lots of wine and cognac for a change and the town itself is almost untouched.
Flight and ground echelon arrive. No missions today. The country is beautiful in this eastern part of Brittany. Very green rolling fields and hills. The farm houses are more modern and residences often quite attractive. As a result of the rapid evacuation by the Germans, the towns and countryside are relatively untouched and the people very friendly. We are able to buy quantities of vin blanc, vin rouge, vin moussaux, champagne and cognac. There is an abundance of eggs as well. Got a huge stack of laundry done last week for 2 pounds of sugar. We are so far from the front lines now that Jerry no longer comes over at night. Our planes have been flying from 200 to 250 miles to get over enemy lines.
Flew a very complicated mission this afternoon, dropping propaganda leaflets over German lines at 4 different points.
Flew 2 sweeps NE of Paris strafing trucks, tanks and trains. The 411th lost Col. Bennink.
No flying since the 27th due to bad weather. 2 missions went to Brest for DB German positions and the 2nd takeoff, Kirwin failed to get off and plowed into 2 hedgerows tearing off his wheels and belly tank which then scorched a path for several hundred yards as it tumbled. The plane came to rest burning furiously but the fire fighters were quick on the scene and chopped him out. Dick was taken to the hospital with 2nd and 3rd degree burns of face and shoulder.
Mission to Verdun. 300 miles each way. Rough. One in the AM and one in the PM.
Mission to Brest scrapped. Each change means completely new maps and courses to be prepared.
Took 2 CIC Lts. Down to “K” to investigate possible sabotage. Part of newspaper found in oil lines of plane.
Mission to Brest this AM to bomb under directions of GC stations. Mike’s prop went out and he made an emergency landing at Morlaix.
Over the field, when planes were circling to land, we had a tragic accident. Blue 2, Lt. Boyd, was crossing under the flight to go into echelon and pulled up too close to Blue 3, Lt. Hodges. His prop chewed the tail off #3, which snapped up and back and plunged into the ground doing snap rolls all the way. #2 spun down right under him. Neither man got out. Boyd was very new in the outfit and a fine chap. Hodges, ironically enough was supposed to be on leave but had refused to go because he wanted to get more flying time.
In the afternoon, Les Hough and I went to Morlaix in the C-78 with 3 mechanics to repair Mike’s plane. It was my first plane ride in France. We looked over Mt. St. Michel from an altitude of 50 ft. Its medieval splendor rising out of endless mud flats brought had a fairy tale quality. Then I took over the controls and flew to our next strip, gaining confidence each minute. We landed at Morlaix and found a huge gallery awaiting us. It was Sunday, which explains everything. Tous Les Dimanches Les Francaises Marchentaux Champs D’Avions. There were at least 500 people lining the end of the runway. Old, young and tiny. And the girls! More attractive women than I have seen in ages. Well dressed. We left with much regret because the P-47 had already been fixed and had left before we arrived. I took over the controls when we were airborne and climbing above the clouds at 5000 ft., I swooped and dove and banked and buzzed the clouds all the way back. It took an hour and 10 minutes – all too short. Ate in Le Ferre that night. Veal, tomatoes, potatoes, 2 fried eggs and a bottle of wine. An improvement over spam. We stayed over after hours at the café Salmon, sort of a speak easy, but foolishly left the jeep parked outside and the MP’s kicked us out at 10:30 PM.
Memories of St. James. Egg omelets and beef steaks at Maries in LeFerre and St. Georges … supper and wine at M. LeMonniers in St. George with Arnique (19), Noille (18), Marie Therese (19), and DeDe (12)… checkers, billiards, singing, and cards till late at night … Phil King and I doing the town speaking French all night … the beauty of the countryside around St. James … a visit to the US Cemetery at St. James where the dead from Brest were buried. French men and women putting flowers on the graves and weeping as the negro burial detail placed bodies in new graves, all the while joking and singing … Madame LeSeneschal of St. George, a stout old lady of 68 whose love for Americans was as sincere as her wine was good … How when she related the story of an allied aviator who crashed near town in 1943 she was forced to stem tears which rose in her eyes; 2,000 people filled the little church in St. James for the burial service, coming from miles around; the Germans did not interfere … Great News! Dick Truesdell reported to be safe in Paris. Mike and Col. Schwartz take the C-78 and bring Truesdell back to the outfit on the 16th … meeting him as he stepped down off the wing … the same old Dick, husky and healthy after living with the French since the 13th of May, evading the Boche … the binge we went on in St. James to celebrate … finally adieu to St. James as Carton and I set out at 8 PM Sept. 16 … driving until 3:30 AM to reach Paris … the Eiffel Tower looming in the blackness … five hours hurried sleep and then on to Rheims … In Rheims we found a nice double room at the Hotel Cecyl, left our clothes there, took a hurried look at the Cathedral and drove out to the field. What a mess. Barracks blown to kingdom come and hangars blasted and gutted with broken Jerry fighters everywhere, JU-88’s, 109’s, 190’s, 217’s and trainers. We promptly arranged to get hold of a flyable FW190 from a Col. In the TCC by arranging with two French workmen to supply paint, gas and oil. The two Frenchmen were forced to work on the field during the German occupation and stayed behind when they left. The next day we got our tails reamed out by a major and the plane was taken back. We informed Col. Schwartz of the situation. A few telephone calls later, the 190 was ours.
Phil King and I discovered our “castle” after interviews with the Town Major and Mayor. What a place. 50 rooms, 18 baths, huge garden, garage, gardener’s house and all. We signed the papers and had a house warming there on the 20th . Took Marcell over and discovered she was the only gal. She was quite a hit. Wednesday morning, the 20th , Jim and I watched Captain Fitz take off to Paris. He never arrived. Nobody knows what happened.
Took a trip to Neufchatel and Guignicourt to requisition Jerry furniture for offices. We found abandoned houses full of tables, desks, desks, chairs, and cupboards. As Jim and I were nosing around, the Mayor came steaming up. He was short and sported a toothbrush mustache, complete with a beret and a black smock. We explained our needs and the town was ours. He bustled around like an old hen and showed us every house in town used by the Boche, saying “Tout est a vous, si vous voulez.” We loaded our trucks and then joined M. Boyer for dinner. His wife was charming. We had fresh tomatoes, huge omelets, bacon, bread, 3 kinds of cheese, carrot cake, cabbage, and finally a bottle of champagne. We talked of home, family and war. We thanked them profusely as we left and Me. Boyer said “I want to kiss you.” She took us both and did so. A poignant moment.
This PM we hear that the planes are due to arrive and as I write this, they are peeling off to land. The vacation is over.
The weather has been bad. Rain almost daily with heavy cloud cover. Missions to Germany have been largely train busting.
On the 25th Jim Carton was 24 yrs. old so we had a party at the Lion D’Or in Rheims. On the 26th Jim got his promotion so we celebrated again. On the 27th I was 25 and we had a quiet celebration before an open fire at the house. On the 28th I got my promotion. Guess what we did? This is some town. The cafes are large and garish with orchestras playing real American swing and plenty of “belles jeune filles.”
Big news. Orders have been cut for rehabilitation of combat pilots. Two names from our squadron, Walt Knudson and Captain Fitzgerald. Poor Fitz missed out by exactly 12 days. Our new car is running well now. Jim and I have liberated a convertible Peugeot with leather upholstery and automated gear shift.
Getting sick of waiting for things to happen. The weather has been terrible for operations with much idle time. Play lots of poker, putter around the car, write a few reports, and work our arrangements for our living quarters in Bethany.
On today’s mission, Breuer and Gradel were NYR, but both were OK. Gradel was hit by flak and bailed out, catching his foot in the cockpit. He didn’t get out until 500 ft. Breuer landed west of Charleville because of mechanical trouble.
Mission to Siegburg to hit river traffic. 8 planes went down to bomb barges, NW of Koblenz. Bates leading, sent Gautier, Tucker and Wierdsma to investigate bogies. Squadron finished bombing when Gautier called in “bandits” and turned to attack. The last man to start his run went down and dropped his bombs then climbed to the fight. The bandits were at 20,000 ft. and broke down causing a great rat race. Before the fight was joined however, King and McCorkle saw 3 bandits pouring down out of control, 2 explode in the air and 1 pouring black smoke crashed and exploded. Another bunch of 50+ bandits at 30,000 ft. fed strings of 4 and 6 planes into the Melee. The dog fight lasted 5 to 8 minutes with planes all over the sky. Cap Bates had a FW-190 make a head on pass at 300 ft. on his back, flash by and go straight in. A few seconds later in shaking a 190 off his tail he hit a tree on a hill damaging his wing. Hagg broke down and shot the enemy off his tail. Final score was Bates 1 destroyed, Cooper 1 destroyed, 1 probable, Polanski 2 destroyed, Hagg 1 destroyed, King 2 destroyed, McCorkle 1 destroyed, Blue flight 3 destroyed. Total count 11-1-0. Blue flight is missing, Gautier, Tucker, Wierdsma. Jones and Pilch NYR, believed OK. Jones returned an hour later after gassing up at Amiens.
Gautier was complaining yesterday about flying 58 missions without seeing a Jerry. Today he made up for it by leading his flight of 3 into attack. His flight accounted for 3 Jerrys before the rest joined the fight.
Teddy Pilch returned OK and we have heard that Bill tucker is in an allied hospital with a leg injury. Only George and Bob left unaccounted for.
Notes on Gradel … he hit the ground the same time as his plane, which was only 500 yards away … doubled up, hit head on knees … asked first Frenchman if he was in friendly territory … then lay down for 15 minutes to unwind … crowd of farmers began to gather … soon over 100 … girls began to kiss him … people crowding to shake his hand and ripping souvenirs form the plane … guns being carted off in a wheelbarrow … he was taken to town and given cognac and beer for his nerves … school called off and 75 kids trooped up with flowers shouting “long live the American pilot”; everybody taking pictures of the first live pilot they had ever seen. Some old man worked till late at night to develop and print the films for Gradel and he now has photos of himself beside his plane with and without the girls, in town, debonair with new scarf and cane for injured leg.
Holding down a chair in the office this AM. Hear Paris is wonderful. Left base 3 PM Sunday arrived CPM. Booked rooms in Hotel Monthorlon and went direct to the famous Montmartre section. Took in almost all the places, luxurious and shabby. The hot spots with orchestra are clip joints, 90 francs a shot. Bars remain open until 2 AM. Home to bed after many encounters with ladies of dubious respectability. Very amusing, though uninteresting to us. From many sides would come the pidgeon English “Hallo Babee, I luff you.” “Hallo Darrleeng”. “You go with me, no?”
Next day got the car out of the garage and drove to Arc de Triomphe from there to Eiffel Tower and Trocadero. Then to officers mess at St. Augustine Place. Toured a number of fine cafes along the Champs Elysees. Hunger became evident and we finally hit the military and civilian workers women’s mess. After brief consultation with a Lt. Rhoda, we sauntered back to the kitchen and were served the most delicious meal in France. Mashed potatoes, peas, turkey, cranberry sauce, chocolate cake and coffee. We each had 2 full meals. Afterwards, we did a little tactical reconnaissance. We danced and wined at a delightful club with a piano player. We cleared out at 1 AM and started for Rheims. Began to rain slowing our progress considerably. 3 hours later we were passing Epernay , 30 miles out from our destination when the rear tire blew and there we were without a spare or a lug wrench. We kept on and lurched for 5 miles at a snails pace. We check the wheel and saw that we were stripping the bolts, so we took off the tire and crept on the rim. A nerve racking journey. Rain pouring down and a raw wind buffeting the car. We dragged into Rheims at 6 AM with the wheel clanking on cobblestone streets.
I moved into the chateau last night and took a double room with Duke Harris. Had a hot bath in the adjoining bathroom, the first since June 23 at Hastings.
Big party at the chateau tonight. 30 French girls from the towns best families and 6 American nurses. Got to bed at 6 AM.
Duke Harris rejoined the squadron after belly landing in Belgium after yesterday’s mission.
Two missions cutting rails north and east of Aachen. Glenn Noyes NYR from the last mission, but believed down safe in France.
Little has occurred in the past 11 days. Flying kept down by the weather; rain and overcast all the time; mud everywhere. The big news is that we are to move again. We hate to leave this set up. Our new field is 20 miles SE of Brussels.
Crossed the border into Belgium on the 22nd , just south of Dinant. Beautiful drive along Meuse River Valley. Houses trim and substantial. New field has two large concrete runways, far better than the soggy grass strips at Rheims. Louvain nearest big town, 7 miles from field.
We moved into Villa of Oeuvre Nationale de L’Enfance, 2 days later. The villa was used by Jerry to quarter pilots in the early stages of the war, then English women trainees, now us. The large building looks like a hospital. Tile floors and walls in many places. Bad furnace and bulky water pump. Management responsibility given to me. Constant problems of supervision – water, heat, electricity, and supervision of help. Terrible weather and little flying. Bought new shotgun in Jodoigne (12 gauge double barrel). Went hunting near the villa. Missed a pheasant and two rabbits.
Went to a dance at Dongelberg. The old country café was jammed to the eves with farmers, music by a mechanical accordion with the roar of a calliope. Not 2 inches of extra space on the dance floor. Young children, old men, young men, girls, and old women all dancing, shoving, pushing, whirling. First sight of the Belgium custom of men dancing together. Pairs of young men tearing around like mad. Costumes were mostly work clothes.
Had dinner at the home of Me. And M. Dupont at Jodoigne. M. Dupont was the gunsmith who sold me the shotgun. It was a memorable meal. Hard boiled eggs stuffed with nuts and mayonnaise and lettuce. 2 big bowls. Bowl after bowl of crisp golden fried potatoes. Warm applesauce. Roast partridges one a piece, done to absolute perfection. 5 bottles of 22 year old red wine. Cake and coffee. Congenial and friendly company.
More hunting today. The woods near the Chateau are full of pheasants and rabbits.
Weather has been terrible and flying held to a minimum. Have been hunting several hours daily. Shot 2 cocks and a hen yesterday. Had to kick them out of briar patches in the woods. Hard work but good sport. Occasional trips to Louvain at night for dancing and merry making. Pretty girls are rare. Took the pheasants to local butchers and gave them to local family for cooking. Had another fine meal with the Duponts. On the 15th , Don Nielson and Harold Phelps left for home. The old guard gives way to the new. Pete Blate leaves group S2 for 29th TAC today. And Col. Schwartz joins him. Visited the orphans in the morning and played piano for a while. Great medicine for inactivity. The children crowded around the piano, clutching at me, touching, trying to get closer. Starved for love. Very cute children. One little girl, about 3, plump, blue eyes, hair cropped almost down to the scalp did a toe dance to Nola. Then came over and sat in my lap. Her name was Monique and I had a fight on my hands to leave.
Played poker last night. Won 13,000 francs. Aroused from the sack at 05:30 AM for early briefing. Q-day had dawned; the awaited big offensive push of the 9th Army to reach and cross the Rhine in the area of Düsseldorf and Cologne. There will be much work for the squadron. The first mission is the throw napalms and 500 pounders in the small town of Schielden.
Yesterday’s mission, an armed recce from Cologne to Munchen and Julich saw both Red and Yellow flight leaders hit by flack. Jay Garner lost his vertical stabilizer but nursed the plane back to Heeren and bailed out. He was picked up by our troops two minutes later. Had he been heading toward Germany he would be gone today since he could not turn the plane. Lloyd Burg was hit in his DB run and also bailed out over Heeren. He too was picked up.
Tom Brown was hit on the 16th while carrying napalm. Plane was on fire from wingtip when he bailed out several miles in Germany near Schlieden. He was seen to be beating flames on the way down. We all hope he is OK.
Mike Ingelido, our squadron CO left for 2pth TAC. Col. MacCarthy is the new CO.
Thanksgiving. Usual mud, rain and grey skies. 8 o’clock briefing but no time over target expected because of weather.
Had dinner at Jodoigne with the Duponts Tuesday night. Poached eggs on circular toast with liqueur sauce. Three roast pheasant, salad, fried golden brown potatoes, 4 bottles of 22 yr. old red wine, custard, and jelly, bottle of Epernay champagne. Ate until bursting out the ears. Tom Price went along this time. We ate from 6:15 to 9:30 PM.
Wednesday night appointment with the secretary of the commune for dinner. A bottle of old red wine first at the tram station stop where the secretary lived then a quarter mile through the black rainy night to the farm of M. Badert. I was greeted by his young daughter, Marie, a pleasant surprise. 2 more surprises in the form of Manon, a cousin from Philippeville and Olympe, a neighbor. All 3 were youthful and lovely. M. Badert was tall and tired. A 70 yr. Old man with a grey mustache. He spoke little but his face wrinkled with many smiles. He said I was the first American to honor him with a visit. The girls kept the evening alive with constant teasing. Had to eat 3 times as much as everyone else and drink the same to keep everybody happy. Olympe had a lovely voice and sang songs after dinner. In turn I sang a song for them. Then dancing with all three girls in turn. I was worn out. The evening ended at 11:15 PM and they begged me to return. I walked back to the road with the secretary and then hitched a ride to the Chateau.
A.J. Garner left for the states. A parachute landing had injured his pelvis.
I heard several weeks ago that the Baron and Holly were both POWs. Good news.
Cap Bates leaves for England.
Took a day off in Namur and had a fine time. Bought a lace collar for Ma for 375 francs. Les Hough and Lloyd Burg are leaving for the states. Both are captains and well deserved. Raine has his orders and is waiting for Kenny’s to go through. Peters declined orders to wait for captaincy. Almost all of the old crowd is gone. It will be a sad day when the last one leaves.
Raine and Kenny left. Parsons is now waiting for Swanson and they will leave. Little flying due to weather. Left for Namur last Saturday, accepted an invitation from Walter Lowrie, Town Major, a US captain, to attend a big ball. 17 piece negro orchestra, huge ballroom in Bishops old place. Beautiful women, wine, etc. Waited 4 hours the next morning for return transportation, which failed to appear so went out with Michelle. Returned to the base Monday afternoon to find that the water pump was out of water again.
Playing lots of bridge and poker to fill time. Won 1000 francs at bridge last night. No water today, plumber working. I put Sgt. Joe Ash in for a bronze star today.
DB mission to Muntz to destroy gun positions. Bombing finished, squadron formed up for return. HF burst tore a right wing and fuselage of Reuter’s ship open and set the plane on fire. Squadron discovered him heading West, losing altitude, but otherwise OK. 15 miles north of Maastrich, he removed his helmet, open canopy and tried to bail. Pete said he must have released the control too soon, because the plane went into a slow spin on its back and Reuter never got out.
Bad weather again. Swanson leaves tomorrow. Laying plans for trip to Paris over Christmas.
Tom Flannery took the briefing at 0700. I was aroused from the sack at 0900 when the mission was ready to go. Saw them off and drove to Hoegaarden to requisition some coal.
Returned to find Red Alert in progress. All wore helmets and arms. Reported heavy German air activity today. Bombers reported south and north of us. Listening to RT. Heard Butcher call in “3 109’s below us, let’s go”. A few seconds later an excited voice broke in “I got him, he’s on fire”. Much radio chatter all morning. Bandits all over. 2 alert flights from each squadron scrambled. On return of squadron, Jones and McCaffrey shared in probable destruction of 190 and Maier and Mac shared a destroyed 109.
Morning mission joined dog fight south of Duren with the 404th Group and 30+ 109’s and 190’s. within 4 minutes Peter shot down a 109, Martin another, and Bill Miller chased one into the overcast and caught and shot him there. There were 3 down and no losses. Heard this afternoon that Buss was missing in action from the 411th . He and his wing man mixed it with 4 190’s.
First real news of progress of Jerry’s counter offensive. Made with American equipment and uniforms in Luxembourg area. The attack was in great force and pushed deep into Belgium, 18-20 miles south of Liege. All units were alerted instantly and leaves and passes were cancelled. No Paris yet. Paratroopers were dropped north of Maastricht as well. We carry arm all the time and have plans for evacuation.
Situation more stable with clarification of the fighting front. We hear that American prisoners have been shot after interrogation. For 2 days we have been blanketed with dense ground fog keeping all planes on the ground. Jerry troop movements remain hidden. British armor units dug in along route from Louvain to Namur. Weather is getting everybody’s goat.
Dawn foggy and cloudy again, with indications of clearing. Germans still advancing slowly south of Liege. Heard this morning that Lt. Pisklak was PW.
Retreat to Jodoigne … events of last night worth relating. Jerry advance in south Belgium culminated in a first class scare last night. Plans have been laid for evacuation of the airstrip and living quarters in the event of a German breakthrough to the north of us, or a paratroop attack. All personnel are partially packed and equipment is ready for shipment or destruction. 8 o’clock, squadron went to a party at Poupiniere with Bowles, Flint, Silbernagel, Damico, Farrell, and Hall. We talked, sang and drank until 11:15 PM. Bid our fond farewells and wound our various ways up the black driveway to the Chateau. Some being more various than others, the degree of sobriety being the determining factor. I being among the more sober elements, was challenged by the guard. We gave the password and proceeded to home in on our sacks. Noting an undue amount of confusion for that hour in the form of men tearing up and down the stairs some with bed rolls, all armed, we buttonholed one for explanation. The drift of the answer was that an alert had been called for paratroop attack. I donned my helmet and pistol and went to operations where I found Major Egan giving instructions to a gathered group. We were to r/v at a bombed out bridge in Jodoigne if an attack was made here. The alert flight was to be available for ferrying planes to A73, others for demolition, others for defense.
With parting words “go to bed”, but sleep with your clothes on” the meeting broke up and we left. I drew extra rounds of 45 AMMO and went to bed. 15 minutes later the door slammed open and Sgt. Walace called the alert. I snapped on my pistol, donned helmet and flying boots and returned to S2. Trucks roared in the darkness taking alert pilots to the field. Officers and men dispersed around the countryside. Sgt. Gentile and I stood by with fire bombs to destroy classified material and exit by window. We sat in the big room dark except for the one blacked out bulb awaiting developments. Then the alert was lifted. Our valiant troopers straggled back from the fields and all hit the sack with a sigh of relief, full clothed once more. The only casualty, Sgt. X, valiant chauffeur of a squadron CO suffered from a bad case of nerves.
Up at 0700 for a briefing. The first flying day out of 5. Damico leaving for 29th TAC today.
Ground situation looks better now, or troops holding in the North and West. Mission today – bomb A/F. Before mission landed, I left for Maastricht, Holland, with Damico. Arrived there 1700 and greeted Mike, Blate, and Schwartz. Went to dinner and returned to war room for briefing. Heard the 412th got 7b planes that afternoon. King 2, Cooper 2, Walsh 1, Noyles 1, Burns 1 and 1 probable. Great show. Bernie Distler bailed out over Aached, in our territory. Two NYR from the 411th who got 6 and 2 NYR from 410th who got none. Rudolph is NYR another old friend from Norfolk. Watched war room in operation for an hour or so. Fascinating. Bunked in for the night at Mike’s hotel.
A/R Stavelot area. Results nil. Poor bombing. McCutcheon NYR from 410th . Hit by flak and bailed out.
Christmas Eve – not a bit festive. Spent 15 minutes trimming Tom Price’s mustache. Had a few gins and went to bed at 2130. Bill Miller came in to see me at 2200. We talked about post war skiing and hunting for hours. Bill plans to get married when his tour is up in just 20 hours. Finally, about ten of us got up and had a bang up party together.
Christmas Day. A great flying day but a truly sad Christmas. The morning mission went on A/R to St. Vith and destroyed 20 trucks and 1 armor car. Afternoon mission the same area. Tom was on duty so Duke, Price, and I went hunting, returning at 1700 for supper after good sport, but met Tom in the mess hall and asked how the mission went. “Fine” he said, “but we lost Miller”.
My heart dropped beats as I asked, “Bill or Frank,” but I knew the answer before it came? “Bill,” he said, “he went in with his bombs north of St. Vith, there was practically no chance that he got out.” Bill was gone. The nicest little guy I ever want to know. I ate a little supper in silence and went to my room and cried.
All quiet on the western front or relatively so. Last week featured a few stray bombs. Jerry dropped a few frags on the field over night and a 190 strafed Hogarten during the full moon with a total casualty of one seriously wounded pig.
Weather turned cold – heavy frost blankets the trees and grounds.
Jan. 1, 1945
Weather much improved. Now with ground frozen solid and blue skies. Jerry is showing his hand in our area for the first time since we hit France. Night bombers pass over every night. A 190 scared the daylights out of us two nights ago. I was awakened at 0200 by a flying bomb explosion just in time to hear an enemy aircraft start a dive on the Chateau with a whine and a roar and a swoosh he went over the roof. Scrunched in the sack I waited for the machine guns and the bomb, but none came. I heard him strafe in the distance. Coming home from a dance at Dongelberg, New Year’s Eve, a JU188 passed me within quarter of a mile 200 ft. up. I got a perfect view because the moon was so full and the night was clear. We heard that Brussels and St. Trond had been bombed. Maps found on two captured pilots were marked with directions to our field. A truck and a jeep were strafed near Louvain and fighters strafed the town itself. We expect trouble nightly.
Received A2 report confirming the fact of a mistaken attack on St. Trond. The target was A89. Took a ride in the 2 seater P-47 yesterday.
No flying for a long time. 7 inches of snow, biting cold weather, ground fogs make a bad combination. Kelly and I have been dating 2 girls from Charleroi who are visiting in Louvain. We flew a mission yesterday and clobbered a M/Y at Siegen. John Eiser was hit by flak and bailed out 15 miles east of Bonn. He had over 200 hours. A real tough break. He was the fourth of the quintet of Mather, Brown, Reuter, Miller, and Eiser to hit bad luck.
Buzz bomb landed nearby.
Little of interest recently. Snow storms and freezing weather keep planes on the ground. Drove to Stavelot yesterday to search for autos. Fierce snow storm made traveling difficult. Slid into ditch just outside of Spa, pulled out by heavy truck. We contacted Reynold’s brother in the infantry and scoured Stavelot for cars. The front lines are now only 6 miles from Stavelot. A few dead Germans and knocked out tanks are all that remain of a fierce battle. Spent 8 hours in the jeep. Plenty tired. Had a good filet in Louvain Friday, salad and champagne then to the sack. Heavy enemy air activity reported in the area today.
Little to record. Started flying pickle barrel missions a while back. Blind bombing under ground control. Designed to overcome the handicap of bad weather. Supposed to be accurate, but results are unobserved because of clouds. When Perry left for the ZI he had the most flying time in missions of any pilot in the group.
The squadron had a party at the hotel Ratterman in Louvain on the 30th . A good affair but poorly timed. Few of us had money or liquor at the end of the month and the day was the coldest we had seen. I arrived early to make final arrangement and almost froze to death. Poured down a half bottle of cognac and hardly felt it, but succeeded in surviving. There was a good band and all had a good time. I met a very pretty girl, Ann Lamin and made a future date.
Buzz bomb activity quite heavy these days.
Joe Walsh was lost a few days ago. Leading the squadron into Germany his plane was bracketed with 4 bursts and blown apart.
Pop Zlaten hit by flak in D/B run over M/Y traffic. Called in that his ship was on fire. Never seen again. This is the 2nd loss of the room in a week. We all got good and drunk that night.
Tom Price has finally made it. Has been sweating out his orders for 2 months. Shook hands today as he left for the ZI. Ut of the original group, the only ones left are Maier, Kelly and me. Good news this PM, that Bob Wierdsma is at PW. Gautier is buried in Germany. His recommendation for DSC was bounced by 9th AF with a suggestion that he be submitted for a medal of honor.
Yesterday was like spring at home with warm afternoon sun. We all basked for hours.
A group party at Tierlemont yesterday night in the Beauxarts Café. Huge dance floor, chandeliers and mezzanines. Chanpagne galore from Rheims for a party for Phil King. 20 girls for 125 officers. There was relatively little breakage and a few minor fracases with our ever present pugilists.
Clear weather for the first time in ages. Flew 2 missions.
Dawned clear and bright yet wonder of wonders no briefing. Consternation reigned. Checked in group OPS and found top secret mission on the planning board. Green and red lines swinging NE up and out of Belgium and deep into Germany. Secrecy surrounded all preparations, rather overdone. Briefing at 10:30 long and complicated. 4 squadrons R/V with medium bombers to hit separate targets. Escort and DB both. Huge operation employing 1st TAF and 2nd TAF RAF 9th AF, 15th AF. Every available plane is taking to the skies to blast communication nerve centers far behind the lines. The big push is not far behind.
0615 briefing. 8 ship missions just over the BL in direct support of our troops. The drive has started. It was a 5 mission day, 3 off in the morning after a few words with squadron and group Cos. I made arrangements to fly with the 4th mission in the 2 seater scheduled TO 1330. Dave King, pilot. We took off 5 minutes late and caught the squadron as it was setting course. Flew over Aachen while the squadron bore left. And it was a terrible sight. The whole huge city lay gaunt and naked, blasted to the ground. Whole blocks evaporated to shells. Gutted houses and thousands of shell holes bore testimony to the fury of prior attacks. Joined the squadron as it was orbiting Aldenhoven waiting for a target from the 29th division. Below us the Rohe river marked BL and we could see the artillery flashing on both sides. Smoke and fires were visible everywhere on the German side. 2 great smoke screens were covering he crossing of our troops near Julich and further north. Circling at 8000 ft. it was hard to translate the flashes and smoke below into terms of fierce struggle and sudden harsh death. P47’s were all over the sky. In turning, we lost our squadron so we turned towards Cologne to see what was happening there. Dave kept the plane in constant evasive action though the flak was not heavy. Every minute or so 4, 8 or 12 black puffs would blossom near some group of fighter bombers, which seemed to be everywhere. Right, left, front and behind, P47s in string were starting their screaming dives to targets below. From 10,000 ft. one after the other put his nose down almost vertically and roared through the clouds out of sight. We could see the flak blinking, the strikes of the strafing guns and the flowering of the bombs. Over one little town, the flak spread a solid carpet of white puffs at about 5.000 ft. At our altitude, flying alone, and taking evasive action, we were not bothered by flak. Only once did a battery bother to open up on us. Bursts appeared off our right wing 100 yards away. Over the radio we could hear Bill Mather talking with the 29th about targets. They bombed a fortified town to the south of us. We headed home and joined up with the squadron in time for the peel off.
Venlo, Germany. Back to tents, fresh air and exercise. Moved here on the 14th . Made a last swift recce of Brussels with the directress’ car on the 13th . Said a tearful goodbye to Ann the previous Saturday. Flew to our new field in the 2 seater. Large airfield, large taxi ways, fine hangers, with tops all blown off. There are a few buildings but all in good shape for OPS. Set up S2 and camp in pine woods at the south edge of the field. Wood floors for tents. Liberation trips to nearby towns of Hinsbeck and Libbrich yielded beds, mattresses, chairs, rugs, lamps, pictures, lumber, auto, motorcycles, etc. Made a recce to a small town on the Rhine River south of Dusseldorf, just across the river from the Jerrys. Watched the lines from an OP, which we learned is tomorrow. We support the 79th division in a crossing at Orsey.
Briefed before dawn to cover the bridgehead area. 8 planes bombed. Learned that 600 guns laid down 6 hour barrage last night in our area alone. The British jumped the river at 3 spots. It is impossible to tell what is happening below for the smoke and fire. Duisberg is under constant shelling. Squadron bombed railroad trains considerably east of the crossing.
The Group stands 1st in 29th TAC and 5th in the 9th AF for airplanes destroyed. The 412th is the highest scorer of all TAC squadrons. We are still up to our ears in encounter reports.
Got my motorcycle running yesterday and ran around for an hour until the rear tire went flat again.
Lost another of my tent mates today. Ward Hutto still MIA after his flight was bounced by 4 190’s over Dinsliken. Anctil was hit by enemy aircraft and bellied in this side of line. OK except for a slight concussion from the crash.
Return from Brussels yesterday after 3 day pass to find that Jim Carton and I are in hot water for leaving one night before the pass started. Keeping our fingers crossed about the outcome. Had a marvelous time, spent one night at the “Trois Sapins” AND 4 in Brussels. Civilization was great.
Found Jack Kelly had gone home while I was away.
Weather improved – flying again. Bob Anctil bailed out yesterday for engine trouble just west of Hilldeshein, got back OK. Our missions now are similar to those we flew from St.James. Long trips over friendly lines to the front. The BL is up to Hanover now. Operating from Venlo we are handicapped. In several weeks we will be moving to Lippstadt but hate to leave the officers club which we built during a spell of bad weather. Blue ceiling, yellow walls, blue carpet, comfortable chairs, sofa, large bar, stove, running water, dance floor, and voluptuous murals. We held our first party last night with 12 nurses and several RC girls. Everyone in class A dress and the liquor ration had just arrived. A wonderful brawl. And this morning, thanks to a ground fog, we all slept until 1100.
Good news. An escaped PW passing through reports that Hutto is OK. Saw him 8 days ago in a PW camp. Eiser also a PW and Pop Zlaten is at TAC waiting to be returned.
Lippstadt, Germany. Arrived the 18th . Living in brick barracks with radios, carpets, bedspread, pictures, etc. Air war is about over. No mission since arrival. Just standby. Rumors rife. E. Peters blew off fingers from a hand while dismounting a 20 millimeter shell in his room. McGinley was in the room but was uninjured, Rushed Peters to the hospital, he’s OK but through with flying now.
Flew one mission to hit shipping near Kiel yesterday morning. Last night the big news interrupted a poker game. The Germans are surrendering all forces in the north. Loud yells rang through the barracks and everyone drank a celebration toast. Reserving the big celebration to capitulation of the last army in the south. This AM a FW190 landed at the base and the pilot gave up. The pilot was stationed in Denmark and having received orders to fly to Norway, packed suitcases, food and decided to fly to his home in Dussledorf. A blond kid, 20 yrs. Old, but looking younger, rank of private. After interrogation by group he made the surprising request “can I go home now?” He was unceremoniously bundled off to headquarters for further interrogation.
VE day. Long awaited but relatively unexciting, probably because the initial exuberation spent on 2 prior days. Woke up yesterday morning to learn that TAC had sent advance knowledge of unconditional surrender. It was all over. Few of us felt excited, expecting it too long. Squadron formation at 10 hundred. Major Lavelle announced a period of drill for everyone – a wet blanket to our good spirits. 5 Minutes later we marched in formation to the day room where 5 kegs of beer awaited consumption! Scotch, gin and bourbon appeared as well and most of us were clobbered by noon. Ate dinner, took a nap for 4 hours and finished the day off with a game of baseball and bridge. Churchill gives us the formal ending to the long struggle. Where to from here?
Have since moved to R10 at Illesheim and embarked on training program. Good dull period. Rumors and speculation run wild. We figure we will be on the way to ZI or CBI within the month; First 9th AF group to move out of the theater.
The unit is getting hotter. Looks like the states. Pete had a jeep accident and tore up his right arm. Group received the Presidential Citation.
Still sitting in the ETO. Left Illesheim on the June 22 and arrived camp NY near Rheims 4 days later. A rough trip in box cars but it was good to get out of Germany. Spent several weeks at the camp doing nothing, visiting Rheims a few times. We moved to Camp Phillip Morris on July 10. Sailed from LeHavre on July 13 in channel steamer “Marine Wolf” and landed Southampton that night. Sent to Camp Barton Stacy. Passes started the 15th and started commuting to London on 24 hour passes. We could leave at 1700 one day and return at 0130 the next. Report to camp, sign in, shave, sign out, and catch the 1700 train back. 4 hours traveling time each day but loads of fun. The lights are on in London, good food, good lodging, good entertainment. Stayed at Grosvenor House, Strand Palace and Cumberland Hotel. Met a lovely girl just before we were scheduled to ship out. Worse luck.
Arrived in the states at Hampton Roads, Camp Patrick Henry.
Fort Dix, New Jersey. Discharged from the Army Airforce following the Japanese surrender.
W. Philip Van Kirk
W. PHILIP VAN KIRK
100 MAMARONECK AVENUE
MAMARONECK, N.Y. 10543