[Lone Sentry: Fly, Seek, Destroy: The Story of the XIX TAC] [Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
Fly, Seek, Destroy: The Story of the XIX TAC
[ booklet text only ]

[Fly, Seek, Destroy: The Story of the XIX TAC]
"Fly, Seek, Destroy: The Story of the XIX TAC" is a small booklet covering the history of the XIX Tactical Air Command. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944-1945.

This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air and Service Forces in the European Theater of Operations, to be issued by the Stars and Stripes, a publication of the Information and Education Division, Special and Information Services, ETOUSA... Major General O.P. Weyland, commanding the XIX Tactical Air Command lent his cooperation to the preparation of the pamphlet, and basic material was supplied to the editors by his staff.

his is a story about the officers and enlisted men who have made our tactical air command one of the most powerful weapons in the Battle for Germany. Without their hard work, courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice, joint air-ground operations could not have achieved their present high degree of effectiveness.

The record of the XIX Tactical Air Command represents one of the greatest chapters in the History of Air Power and I am proud of and grateful to every individual in my command who helped this story come true.

O.P. Weyland
Major General, Commanding


ECEMBER, 1944: Bastogne becomes the American rock of defense in Belgium as German forces in a great counter-attack lunge for the Meuse River. XIX TAC joins the 101st Airborne Division to form an unbreakable ring around the town. Enemy forces, under the impetus of their initial breakthrough, surge forward many miles through thinly held American lines. But Bastogne never is taken.

Hovering constantly above the beleaguered town, XIX TAC Thunderbolts keep the desperate Germans at bay, abort attempts to infiltrate the Bastogne ring, burn fuel stores and supplies, take heavy toll of enemy troops and transportation.

Never have air and ground cooperated in such unison. For ten days the 101st holds the pivotal road center of Bastogne while German armored columns vainly try to crack through. Every large enemy effort is headed off and blunted by XIX TAC.

During the first days of the Battle of the Bulge, XIX TAC hangs a deadly net above the German spearheads. Roads are littered with wrecked equipment. Towns overrun by the Germans are bombed and set afire. When fog comes to shroud the battle area on Dec. 28, Von Rundstedt's drive has lost its momentum. Initiative passes to the Americans.

This is reiterated proof that close air-ground coordination pays off.

New Year's Day, Maj. Gen. Anthony G. McAuliffe, (then Brig. Gen.) Commander of the 101st's heroic stand at Bastogne, visits the XIX TAC "Raiders" group. To its new commander, Lt. Col. Leslie R. Bratton, of Hastings, Neb., he expresses his appreciation:

"If it had not been for your splendid cooperation we should never have been able to hold out. We were able to hold the vital road junction at Bastogne with your aid. I thought flak in Holland was bad, but the stuff your boys few through here was much worse."

The next several weeks see Nazis being squeezed slowly from the salient and driven back towards the Siegfried Line, while XIX TAC chews away at German attempts to reinforce and resupply forward elements.

The crescendo of destruction is reached when XIX TAC again upsets the German cart on Jan. 22. Attempting a daylight withdrawal, Germans clog roads between Prum and Vianden and along the Our River. They stream eastward in ten mile-long columns, vehicles lined bumper to bumper.

Concentrations are spotted early in the day by an army liaison cub pilot. Relays of Thunderbolts race to hamstring the massed traffic. Diving through breaks in the clouds, Thunderbolts hammer long columns of trucks, tanks, self-propelled guns, horse-drawn vehicles.

For eight hours fighter-bombers punish German convoys. By nightfall destruction totals are greatest in XIX TAC history. Destroyed are 1179 motor vehicles; more than 500 others, damaged. Close behind rampaging fighter-bombers, advancing American troops move towards the Siegfried Line. Bastogne and "The Battle of the Bulge" are history.

Bastogne adds another bright chapter to the story of XIX TAC. Ahead are other chapters. XIX TAC also could look back on a story—a story of important and significant tasks well done.


UGUST, 1944: Gen. Patton's crushing right hook opened the way toward Paris. Punching ahead 20 to 30 miles a day, the drive exposed and weakened his right flank. To XIX Tactical Air Command went the task of protecting a whole army's flank.

Successful execution of this bold plan was a vitally important tactical victory, underscored by the surrender of 20,000 enemy troops. For the first time in history, an entire army capitulated to an air command as well as to a ground unit.

A resistant chain of air armor had been thrown above the Loire River bounding the long flank. To the command's tactical reconnaissance group fell the job of locating sizable concentrations. Attacks were snuffed out as soon as they were planned by thorough drubbings from the air. Gen. Erich Elster's hapless Huns, harried by French Forces of the Interior, finally were cut off from Germany by the junction of the Seventh and Third U.S. Armies.

With cessation of terrorizing air attacks as the primary condition of surrender, Gen. Elster threw in the towel to Maj. Gen. Robert C. Macon of the U.S. Ninth Army and to Maj. Gen. (then Brig. Gen.) O.P. Weyland of XIX TAC Sept. 16. This was concrete acknowledgement that an "idea"—close air-ground cooperation—had paid off.

Surrender to Gen. Weyland was the payoff of more than an idea—it was the logical conclusion of ceaseless training, of the will to win. It was the angry answer to an arrogant challenge. It was the reply of mechanics working in the winter with numbed hands on delicate engine changes, of tense, steel-nerved pilots who matched front-line GI Joe for guts, of paper shufflers in specialized office machinery, of responsibility-ridden CO's—all contributing, all necessary to the big show at the Loire.

Surrender was the highlight. Back of it was a victorious history. Each GI and officer contributed to a holocaust unequalled in aerial warfare history. They were important parts of a new, powerful weapon. Destroyed in 10 months were 1351 enemy aircraft, 15,501 motor vehicles, 1743 tanks and armored vehicles, 1708 locomotives, 10,561 rail cars, 1642 horse-drawn vehicles, 1194 gun positions, 270 vessels and barges, 255 bridges, 118 fuel and ammunition dumps.


ACK in late 1943 (the "Mild and Bitter" era) the real significance of "tactical air command" was envisioned by only a few imaginative military men. The man in the street and the GI on the ground knew little of the paralyzing power of the air-ground machine. Yet now, one year later, the tactical air weapon has been developed to peak efficiency, is acknowledged as a vital factor in all large military operations.

Development of the weapon is not only the story of the tactical air commands of the Ninth Air Force alone. It symbolizes the entire Allied war effort. The effective character of the present organization is due to unprecedented inter-service cooperation, to adequate supplies and, above all, to imagination and foresight of frenzied organization, speculation and experimentation during pre-invasion months.

A broad outline of the tactical air command "idea" was conceived and developed by top drawer Washington military planners in 1942 and 1943. It was practiced in maneuvers by units training in the States. Basic techniques were improved during the victorious North African campaign. Now, under the impact of battle experience, the form of the weapon still is changing. Early in the war its general pattern was hammered out, in many respects almost literally, for today's air-ground organization is the happy result of a well-balanced debate between the ardent disciples of Billy Mitchell and those of Hannibal.

A blueprint of the "idea" landed in the pre-invasion workshop that was England in 1943 where the welding and fusion began. The VIII Air Support Command's 1st Fighter Division (provisional), largely composed of 44th Bomb Wing personnel fresh from the States, began experimenting with air-ground tactics at Aldermaston Court, near Reading, Berkshire. Key personnel from the IX Fighter Command then emerged from the sands of North Africa to add battle experience to the testing ground.

Careful plans were laid for direct cooperation with an army in the field. Growing rapidly, the command soon split into two units: IX Fighter Command, which went to Middle Wallop, and IX Air Support Command, later the XIX Tactical Air Command, which returned to Aldermaston. IX Fighter Command continued and integrated the activities of the two tactical air commands until late July, 1944.

Gen. O. P. "Opie" Weyland took over the XIX Tactical Air Command Feb. 4, 1944. Not long after, the command was given two wings and seven groups for training and fighting—to the great relief of GIs and officers who had been spending weary weeks guiding non-existent planes around the skies, plotting hypothetical targets and forever moving very real tents and equipment over English countryside.

Grueling cross-channel operations, which were to form such an important part of the softening-up process, began April 13, 1944, when seven fighter-bomber groups and their wings settled down at advanced bases in Kent. Four of the groups had been flying long-range bomber escort from bases in East Anglia, the other three were straight from the States. They played hell with enemy rail and motor transport, participated in semi-strategic bombing, helped with the planned isolation of the enemy south of the Seine River by bombing rail and road bridges. Their command of the air was demonstrated by the destruction of 176 enemy planes (115 in the air) during the Luftwaffe's periodic bursts of energy prior to D-Day.

AWNING pilots climbed into their Mustangs and Thunderbolts each day when the first sunlight stretched across the channel, often flew three or four missions lasting until dark. Ground crews on hand to refuel, rearm and repair, sweated out each mission and worked late in blacked-out hangars to have every possible plane ready for action the following morning.

The phase was keynoted by "Liaison and Learning." EM and officers went to RAF operational centers to learn what the English had found out and to coordinate their activities with the greater overall invasion plan. Simultaneously, others trained and planned with ground officers of units later to be part of the air-ground team.

Reconnaissance planes of the command flew for months over the heaviest flak defenses in the world to photograph every detail of the invasion coast. The mission was as dangerous and as important as that of fighter-bombers.

"There is nothing more frustrating," said 1st Lt. Clyde B. East, of Chatham, Va., a recce pilot, "than riding over the stuff someone below you is throwing up and not being able to do more than take pictures of it. What I wouldn't have given for one big bomb!"

At last final plans were completed. The highest pitch of air blows reached, the time had come!


ARLY the wet morning of June 6, fighter-bombers roared down runways while it still was so dark pilots could not see the control towers. They flew that day and during the next days of assault in continuous, successful beach patrols to keep Allied troops free from air attacks. Within a short time the angry eagles also were clawing enemy troops and transports with destructive armed reconnaissance missions.

The groups moved to the continent as soon as strips were prepared—often while possession of the field itself still was in violent debate. One Thunderbolt group, commanded by Col. Morton D. Magoffin, of Deerwood, Minn., actually had to reverse its traffic pattern because of enemy flak positions. Weary pilots, along with everyone else at the base, spent unhappy nights diving into foxholes while Allied and German artillery exchanged blows. "Close air cooperation" probably never before had been so meaningful to the participants.

S/Sgt. Wade W. Frazee, of Oakland, Md., an armorer, had a narrow escape while on the job one afternoon:

"I was on the wing of a P-47 loading ammunition when three ME-109s came down low and made a strafing pass. Ack-ack boys crippled one flying about 300 feet over me. It crashed down the runway. I just stood there on the wing until what was happening dawned on me. I hit the foxhole until it was all over, then went back to get the Thunderbolt ready for its next mission."

Incidents like this didn't prevent Sgt. Frazee from servicing his plane's guns so well they fired 25,290 rounds without a stoppage.

Units to come in later assault waves (July and August) had been given something other than warm beer and Piccadilly Circus to remember England: flying bombs. Many units were located just under the "main highway" for V-1's, and pilots gained grim satisfaction in destroying them while returning from missions.

Nightly bull sessions under canvas were something like this:

"Here comes another!"
"Hell, no! That's an airplane."
"Oh, yeah? I never heard an airplane that sounded... Oh-oh, it stopped."


"Well, there it went. I'll bet that was five miles away."
"Five miles! That wasn't an inch over two miles. Why, the one just before this sounded..."

HE command's advance echelon came to France July 2, and moved to Nehou, joining Third Army Headquarters to plan for the job ahead. At last the "idea" and weapon had finished the "Plans and Training" phase. Groups, wings, command headquarters, all were prepared to give air cooperation to an army in the field, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's Third.

That was one week after the famous "Operation Cobra" in which a good portion of the whole Allied Air Forces participated. American troops massed along a line from St. Lo westward through Periers and Lessay were being held up by a lack of maneuverability and by terrain well adapted to defense. "Operation Cobra" was an all-out air attack on enemy positions in one small sector south of the Periers-St. Lo road followed by an all-out infantry-armor drive. Heavies, mediums, and fighter-bombers made their bomb-runs in waves. Group pilots reported "planes at all possible levels."

"For a while," commented Lt. Col. Frank S. Perego, of Canandaigua, N.Y., "it looked as if we would have to signal with our arms in order to make a turn."

IR blasting shook the Nazis down to their socks. Rapid tank columns finished demolition of the tottering hedgerow line. One week after the epoch-making attack, Third Army and XIX TAC began the razzle-dazzle end run that was to reach the enemy's ten-yard line one month later.

As Gen. Patton's armor coiled south and east towards Rennes, Nantes, and Laval, enemy air opposition was so weak planes could fly 30 miles ahead of the armored spearheads in search of targets. Often air activity was halted by low rain clouds, but, weather permitting, groups flew as many as five missions a day—some squadrons averaging as much as 11 hours and 45 minutes aloft.

The Breton Peninsula overrun in a few days, the bulk of the air and ground power wheeled and headed towards Paris. Some units were assigned the job of clearing out stubborn pockets in the ports. St. Malo surrendered Aug. 17. An ultimatum had been sent to the colonel in command, and while a squadron of Thunderbolts weighted with 500 pound bombs hovered menacingly overhead, he read "...the planes now over your forts will begin to dive-bomb."

The white flag was run up. P-47s and bombs went off to hit targets elsewhere.

Brest continued to hold out. Because of the call for air cooperation there and because of the advance on Paris, the command was forced to attack simultaneously on fronts 350 miles apart. Effective operations under these conditions demonstrated the flexibility of Allied air power. They were also a tribute to the harried operations sections in the command, wings, and groups.

In one of the attacks on Brest, a squadron of Thunderbolts led by Lt. Col. Joseph L. Laughlin, of Omaha, Neb., now commanding the group then under Col. Magoffin, spotted a concentration of enemy shipping in the harbor. Slipping through a small hole in the clouds, Col. Laughlin destroyed a light cruiser while other Thunderbolts damaged a destroyer and 14 additional ships. It was one of the few cases in which fighter-bombers have destroyed a warship of cruiser class.

Armored columns often raced so far ahead of the general advance that one of the important functions of fighter-bomber pilots was to report positions of our own armored spearheads. In this fluid situation Air Support Parties from XIX TAC attached to units of the Third Army proved indispensable in effecting the smooth cooperation between air and ground that was to become classic. They rode close to the heads of columns to identify strongpoints that sometimes were only a few hundred feet away and then watched fighter-bombers pulverize them.

One Tactical Air Command GI was pinned down by German machine guns spitting fire from hedgerows on both sides. While bullets tore into his trailer he called to a squadron of Thunderbolts overhead. In a couple of minutes both sides of the field were "policed up" by 96 machine guns.

A patrol was completely cut off by a German counter-attack. A call for "all available aircraft" not only freed it but caused the complete rout of the enemy counterthrust.


ANY complications of air cooperation could not have been anticipated. Gen. Patton's army drove so rapidly that XIX TAC sections in charge of operations had to get larger-scale maps to keep track of columns that ran off more detailed maps. Pilots had to check their well-conditioned impulses to blow up every bridge. Wrecked bridges in this type of warfare only served to slow progress of the troops. Front lines and "bomb lines" moved so fast that greatly extended communications sometimes made keeping situation maps up to date impossible. Long planned systems for rapid identification of ground units from the air were put into effect.

Capture of Gen. Elster's army climaxed the drive. Although credited as a great accomplishment it did not overshadow other fighters whose work all over the front vied with the river roundup in importance.

To the north fighter-bombers increased the destruction and congestion in the Argentan pocket where retreating German vehicles were jammed. Rocket-bearing fighters from Col. Anthony V. Grossetta's Thunderbolt group roared up and down the columns in search of tanks. In one mission they reported rockets blew open and destroyed 17 Tiger and medium tanks. Later in the day 13 more thick-skinned tanks were punctured and left burning by the same pilots.

In from a squadron mission which had destroyed hundreds of vehicles, 1st Lt. John A. McNeely, of Cleveland, Ohio, said, "It would have been hard to shoot at the road in any place and not hit a German car or truck. We followed the roads right down, over hills and around corners until we ran out of ammunition. When we looked back, fires were flickering all along the roads."

Spotting a few Germans in a field, another squadron of Thunderbolts from the group commanded by Col. Robert L. Delashaw, of San Antonio, Tex., buzzed low for a strafing attack. Just before making their pass they saw nervous Nazis waving white flags. As the P-47s roared over their heads other jittery Germans joined the first few. In a matter of minutes there were about 400, all frantically waving white cloths. Guarded by relays of cocky Thunderbolts, they formed columns of fours on the road and trudged off to Allied lines. The pilots radioed the nearest fighter control station to pick up the prisoners.

IR opposition grew as TAC planes stabbed at numerous German airdromes ringing Paris. Occasionally Mustang and Thunderbolt pilots were diverted from dive-bombing and strafing attacks by formations of enemy fighters. But the enemy gained only temporary diversion by these attacks. Nazi losses invariably exceeded the number they shot down. The battle for Paris airfields was climaxed Aug. 25, 1944, when the crack Pioneer Mustang Group commanded by Col. George R. Bickell, of Nutley, N.J., shot down 36 fighters, destroyed 13 more on the ground.

The main show still was ground cooperation; the weapon worked more smoothly every day. Gen. Patton presented the Bronze Star to Gen. Weyland for meritorious service with this commendation:

"The superior efficiency and cooperation afforded this army by the forces under your command is the best example of the combined use of air and ground troops I have ever witnessed.

"Due to the tireless efforts of your flyers, large numbers of hostile vehicles and troop concentrations ahead of our advancing columns have been harassed or obliterated. The information passed directly to the head of the columns from the air has saved time and lives.

"I am voicing the opinion of all the officers and men in this army when I express to you our admiration and appreciation for your magnificent efforts."

LOSE liaison between army and air command kept XIX TAC headquarters on the move. Weary GIs packed and unpacked tons of maps, radios, papers, and miscellaneous equipment nine times in the trek across France. Harassed M/Sgt. Thomas F. Quealey, of Brookline, Mass., who had repeatedly pitched and struck numerous administrative tents and the large "circus tent" used for combined operations snapped, "We're not only mobile, we're portable!" Chairtroopers suspected that some day they would reach a town before Gen. Patton's armor.

Communications, strained to the breaking point by the rapidity of the advance, was one of the greatest problems. While each move of Army's headquarters brought it in closer contact to its elements, the contrary was true of XIX TAC. Demands for ground cooperation had scattered the groups over a large section of central France. In 30 days communications men networked all of Brittany, most of the area between Paris and the Loire River, and 140 miles beyond. Altogether, more than 500 miles of main trunk telephone lines were laid by the hard-working communications teams.

Crews stringing lines to Air Support Parties at the front shared the misery of the infantry. They not only dodged shells and snipers but also took prisoners. When rapid communications were necessary, they worked 18 to 20 hours a day setting up new lines, repairing old ones.

Not content with merely doing their job, these men also devised new ways and means of improving communications. T/Sgt. Fred W. Warden, of Venice, Calif., developed a method of rewiring radio circuits that permitted transmission of homing signals to pilots on all wire channels, increased accuracy of transmission, and lengthened the range of transmission over 150 miles. Sgt. Warden was awarded the Bronze Star.

The wings did a great deal in these days of difficult communications. Stationed at fighter-fields, they maintained vital intergroup and ground-air coordination. The Army or Ground Liaison Officer also contributed much to their coordination. The GLO made certain that pilots always were well briefed on the latest positions of friendly troops.

Important functions were carried on through the wings: operations reports from groups to command headquarters, field orders from command to groups, the abundance of routine paper work that is one of the unromantic but essential functions of any large military unit.

Groups often moved onto airfields in the wake of evacuating Germans. Usually they spent more time repairing their own bomb damage than anything the fleeing Nazis had been able to destroy. Control towers were erected on the edge of bomb-pocked runways; complicated repairs were made in the open because hangars had been blown up: functions of personnel, intelligence, operations, plans and training and supply sections often had to be kept at the usual high level of efficiency in the midst of the most primitive field conditions. War-weary typewriters rattled out detailed reports by flashlight while persistent rains helped keep the situation fluid.

Airdrome squadrons, normally the first Air Force units to reach an advanced landing strip, often performed near-miracles in speedily rearming and refueling fighter and recce aircraft and in repairing damaged planes. Little known even in the Air Force, they came into their own during the sweep across France. To them must go a large share of the credit for the mobility of XIX TAC groups.


HE offensive swept by Paris and stopped only when troops of the Third Army had occupied Nancy and had come within shelling distance of Metz. Here, the swollen Moselle River their moat, the ancient citadel of Metz their pivot, the Germans made a stand. During the next months Third Army consolidated, regrouped and resupplied for the drive into Germany itself. With XIX TAC it continued to polish that deadly weapon—well knit air-ground attack.

Continual overcast and rains prevented a bang-up overture for the "Twilight of the Gods," but given the slightest chance Thunderbolts and Mustangs pounded the concrete Maginot and Siegfried Lines. More important, they aided the attrition phase of the Battle of Germany.

Twice, during bitter fighting around Chateau-Salins, east of Nancy, squadrons took off under forbidding conditions to answer an Army call for help. Crushed were dangerous German tank counter-attacks.

Gen. Patton wrote to Gen. Weyland in part:

"...I feel that special emphasis should be placed on the truly heroic action of the 509th and 510th Fighter Bomber Squadrons which on Sept. 24, in support of the 4th Armd. Div., took off in unflyable weather, uncertain whether or not they could ever land. These units intervened at the critical moment of a tank battle, and by their skill and daring very materially assisted in the defeat and destruction of the enemy."

Sometimes unpredictable weather crossed pilots by closing in on emergency airfields all along the front where XIX TAC aircraft were scattered. Despite hostile elements, fighters went aloft tuned like Swiss watches. Skill, ingenuity, and mechanical craftsmanship of GI artisans of the flight line cannot be overrated. Working under arduous conditions ground crews made miracles S.O.P.

As groups leaped across France in nomadic fashion, even clearing cow pastures was necessary to set up airstrips as close as possible to the front lines.

HE sudden flood which lapped over the Pioneer Group was one of the special events staged by Mother Nature on the road to German frontiers. Swollen by weeks of steady rain, the Marne River and its adjacent canal broke cross-country and almost inundated the group. The resulting scene must have resembled the famed trek of George Rogers Clark and his men across the flooded Ohio plains in early American history.

The modern "pioneers" waded waist deep in swirling waters to recover equipment, paddled around in dinghies and hastily improvised rafts, and finally navigated amphibious jeeps generously loaned by the ground forces.

Taking this amphibious operation in stride, a few days later, Dec. 1, the group knocked down three planes over Karlsruhe to celebrate its first anniversary of combat. A year before it had been the first to fly the new long range P-51 B Mustang on escort duty with heavy bombers over Germany.

It was on one of these early long range escort missions that Col. James H. Howard, of St. Louis, Mo., then a squadron commander and later the group's commander, won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Single-handed, he engaged a formation of more than 30 enemy fighters which swooped down on a box of Fortresses. Keeping, them at bay by superb flying, he destroyed three and prevented enemy fighters from getting at the bombers. Conservative Col. Howard, who was a "Flying Tiger" ace in China, claimed only three, but the heavy bomber crews thought the figure was closer to six.

On Aug. 24 the Pioneer Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation "for outstanding performance in combat against the enemy," their efforts "being instrumental in the successful development and execution of long range protection of heavy bombers."

XCEPT for local salients the Third Army front during October resembled an elongated S. Stretching from Thionville behind Metz, across the Moselle River, it curled several miles before Nancy to the Seventh Army front.

Ahead were Germans, entrenched in the commanding positions of the hills and ridges of Lorraine to set up house apparently for the winter. These well-chosen positions of vantage were ferreted out by vigilant recce planes, then accurately blasted by fighter-bombers.

Thunderbolts and Mustangs slipped down between the hills to jab at front line troops and artillery positions. Like angry bees they buzzed German soldiers into a perpetual foxhole to foxhole hop-skip-and-jump.

Mere sight of a plane was enough to send the enemy scrambling for his foxhole, but even these places of refuge were far from safe when fighter-bombers hit at almost vertical angles. Thousands of Psychological Warfare leaflets were released by Thunderbolts and Mustangs, urging Germans to trade Hell, Hitler and Himmler for the safety of American PW cages.

Closer to Germany, behind the rugged terrain of Lorraine, fighter-bombers swept over the Saar Valley, Siegfried Line defenses across the Saar River, and the Rhineland, always alert for enemy troop movements by rail or motor transport. Pilots bombed targets, then strafed until ammunition ran out.

As the Third Army rolled back the borders of German-occupied territory, fighter-bomber attacks were intensified. An ordnance survey showed Thunderbolts and Mustangs now were using five times as much ammunition per sortie as they did from D-Day to the St. Lo breakthrough; twice as much as they expended during the closing of the Falaise-Argentan gap.

Few German targets escaped. Statistics revealed that there was less than one gun stoppage for every 5500 rounds of ammunition fired. GI ingenuity had much to do with this fine record. An ammunition booster developed by S/Sgt. Albert Braun, of Natrona, Pa., produced a record in his group of 6800 rounds fired per plane without a stoppage. Sgt. Braun's invention prevented gravitational pull from disrupting flow of ammunition to a plane's guns when the pilot pulled out of a steep dive. Braun, a veteran of 20 years' service in the Air Force, also is credited with modification of the gunsight now in use by his group. He was awarded the Bronze Star.

N October the P-61 Black Widow added "Intruder" missions to its nightly patrols. Prowling over Germany as soon as darkness fell, it seasoned with deadly spice the day's bill of fare provided by P-47s and P-51s.

These "fly by nights," powerful as medium bombers, equipped with radar devices, bristling with firepower, pounced on enemy rail and motor traffic. Germans who had heretofore ventured out under cover of night in comparative safety now were faced with unrelenting round-the-clock strafing attacks.

This day and night mauling gave the Germans "50-caliberitis." Occasionally they tipped their hands to Thunderbolt and Mustang pilots. One jittery German flak battery let fly at a flight overhead. Investigation disclosed a tank detraining point hidden by trees and a string of flat cars from which tanks were being driven off into the woods. Thunderbolts soon destroyed eight tanks, 20 freight cars, the locomotive and unloading ramp. As a gesture of gratitude, strafing and destruction of the ten flak positions along the tracks were saved for last.

Small wonder that German soldiers plodded into PW cages muttering "Jabos."


NEMY air activity was sporadic and almost nil close to the front lines. The Luftwaffe usually was cautious and unaggressive, seldom seeking combat. The reluctance to fight was hard to explain. Once, more than 20 ME-109s circled above a flight of four Mustangs strafing rolling stock on the deck but showed no signs of wanting to break up the party.

Meanwhile, units of the Third Army had entered Fort Driant, most formidable of outposts guarding Metz. Thunderbolts, in what was termed by Third Army as "one of the closest air-ground missions of the war," bombed pillboxes and emplacements at the Fort's entrances to breach the way for infantry. Later that same day, Oct. 3, the versatile Thunderbolts scattered an incipient German counter-attack in the area.

Active all along the front, Third Army sometimes made unusual requests for air attack. Blowing of the Etang de Lindre Dam, east of Dieuze, was one of these. XII Corps had advanced past Nancy to the Seille River. One division had made the crossing and was in danger of isolation from Corps if Germans loosed the Lindre Dam waters into the Seille River valley. To snatch this threat from German hands, XII Corps commander requested XIX TAC to breach the dam, the resulting flood to be controlled by front-line engineer battalions.

ECAUSE precise, pinpoint bombing was required, Thunderbolts supplanted medium and heavy bombers. For the first time in this Theater fighter-bombers were assigned such a mission.

On the afternoon of Oct. 20, Col. Joseph L. Laughlin led two especially briefed squadrons in the assault on the dam. Wheeling out of murky Lorraine skies at 7000 feet, Thunderbolts howled down to within 100 feet of the dam's surface to drop their 1000 pound bombs, then dived through the intense flak again to strafe enemy gun positions.

Later that afternoon another squadron returning to the dam found water pouring through a shallow 50-foot gap near the top. The Seille River had risen four feet. Two days later all but the center of Dieuze was under water, and the flood had gone 12 miles beyond the town.

A spokesman for XII Corps said the blowing of the Lindre Dam and preventive flooding of the Seille River contributed to the success of XII Corp's offensive launched two weeks later. So successful was the flooding that Corps was able to combine local offensive preparations against enemy lines where the Seille had inundated them in the vicinity of Dieuze. XII Corps was ready for the big offensive.

This was the background of the drive on Germany, launched Nov. 8.

Despite low clouds and icing conditions, fighter-bombers flew two and three missions that day punishing air-fields, marshalling yards, troop concentrations and artillery positions. Silver Thunderbolts struck at the enemy's most vital nerve centers in the first air blows of the day. Eight German CPs were destroyed or damaged.

At Peltre, two miles east of Metz, Thunderbolts bombed and strafed the CP of an SS Panzer Grenadier Division, completely destroying the buildings housing the G-2 and G-3, killing most of their occupants. Prisoners taken by ground units admitted the attack caused great confusion just as the American offensive was beginning to roll.

Pilots worked closely with ground controllers to remove troublesome enemy obstacles and on-the-spot targets. Reconnaissance planes scoured the area, calling out targets invisible to ground forces. As one Air Support Party officer, Capt. Albert G. Kelly, of San Jose, Calif., put it, "When we needed air, it was there." This was probably the best description of air-ground coordination.

German troops and convoys withdrawing from Metz to avoid encirclement by Third Army pincers were pounded unmercifully by Thunderbolts. Bombs, rockets and bullets poured into Nazi columns from Metz east to the Rhine. Fighter-bombers ran up great totals of destruction.

First Lt. Arnold Mullins, of Big Shoals, Ky., flying with the group commanded by Lt. Col. J. Garrett Jackson, of Altus, Okla., commented, "There's as much stuff on the road as there was at Avranches only here it's not packed as tight as it was there. At the end of the day I could see fires scattered all the way from the front back to the Rhine."

Thunderbolts and Mustangs destroyed 570 motor vehicles, 141 locomotives, and 630 railroad cars, besides 21 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground, during Nov. 17, 18, and 19.

This was the tempo of XIX TAC's activities in November. Planes were sent aloft on 18 days, 13 more than the weatherman would have settled for at the beginning of the month.

Taking off from rain-soaked fields, often so muddy it seemed impossible for fighters to wrench their 1000 and 2000 pound bomb loads from the ground, pilots flew through heavy clouds, rain, snow, and with "just enough visibility to see the flak."

Some pilots forsook available leaves to visit front lines. First Lt. Richard H. Parker, of Portland, Ore., and 1st Lt. Francis "Buzz" Norr, of Tremonton, Utah, examined the wreckage in a wooded area they had bombed and strafed the day before. They talked things over with tankers and doughfeet they had supported all the way across France. They found that there certainly was a basis for "mutual admiration societies."

S December rolled around XIX TAC fighter-bomber and recce groups moved closer to the German border. Third Army broke through the Maginot Line and entered the Saar Valley to assault Siegfried Line defenses across the Saar River.

Fighter-bombers of XIX TAC spearheaded the advancing infantry and armor ranging ahead of front lines to batter German positions and potential counter-thrusts. In a message to Gen. Weyland, Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy, XII Corps commander, said:

"I wish again to express my appreciation for the outstanding part contributed by units of your command in supporting the successful attack of the XII Corps on the Maginot Line."

Two Thunderbolt groups, commanded by Col. Laughlin and Lt. Col. Jackson, were singled out for particular praise. Col. Jackson's group attacked enemy gun and troop emplacements holding up the 26th Division on the far side of the Saar River. This attack enabled the 26th materially to enlarge its bridgehead.

Later in the day, Col. Laughlin's "Maulers" took timely action on a strong counter-attack on the 35th Division. The "Maulers" aided the 35th in stopping the German tanks dead in their tracks.

Even as XIX TAC fighter-bombers tore into Siegfried Line defenses along the Saar River, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt launched his counter-offensive through the Ardennes Forest. With typical speed and flexibility the fighter-bombers turned their noses northward where enemy columns, moving under cover of fog and heavy overcast, headed for the Meuse.

Thunderbolts routed German armored spearheads, cut roads and rail lines behind the forward columns, pummeled troop concentrations. In the five days of Dec. 23 to Dec. 27 alone, XIX TAC flew 2856 sorties, knocking out 206 tanks and armored vehicles, destroying 1921 motor vehicles.

A three-way squeeze forced the Germans back from their salient. Ground forces hit the bulge from north and south. Fighter-bombers hit ceaselessly from the air.

IR-GROUND teamwork, a weapon forged and polished in battle from Normandy's beaches, through Avranches, along the Loire, past Paris, across the Moselle, over Metz to the German Saar, reached new heights of effectiveness in the Battle of the Bulge. Long months across France and into Germany had fashioned an air-ground team which would acquit itself well in the campaigns ahead.

XIX TAC's story is of the men who made its achievements possible. But further tasks lie ahead.

Gen. Weyland in his message to the command on its first anniversary, Dec. 11, 1944, indicates the spirit of the XIX Tactical Air Command:

"There will be many tough days ahead. We must not relax now. I call upon each and every one of you to continue to do a superb job and not to give the enemy a moment's relaxation. We must continue to 'fly, seek and destroy' the enemy wherever we may find him."

Printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, Paris
Photos: 9th U.S. Air Force

[Back] HOME  

Questions and comments welcome: info@lonesentry.com.
Original Content Copyright 2003-2006, LoneSentry.com. All Rights Reserved.

Web   LoneSentry.com

Web   LoneSentry.com