The History of the 514th in Brief

Page 5

O n two other occasions during October, the fighting 514th, conforming with the "Seek," "Attack," and "Destroy," motto of the 406th Fighter Group, accredited itself nobly in battle. The first came on 20 October 1944 when a long train loaded with vehicles was heavily strafed in the neighborhood of Bad Kreuznacht, Germany. Unfortunately the weather closed in to prevent a repeat mission over the same area.

Couple of days later, 22 October 1944, an armed reconnaissance flight revealed two trains of 50 or more cars containing half tracks and trucks in sector of Hagenau, Germany. After several excellent bombing runs, our blue-nosed "Bolts" returned to strafe the long column of cars with deadly effect. Discounting the precariousness of returning to a target after the first attack, our intrepid pilots neglected customary tactics to make eight more passes over the crazy kilt disorder of railroad cars to make sure of positive destruction. This time display of valor was considered extraordinary since the target was well camouflaged. Photographs of the burning pyre disclosed only a mass of twisted steel lying beneath a long curling plume of smoke.

Willing self-sacrifice, courage and zealousness on the part of our flyers proved expensive once again when Lt. C.W. Frederick was reported "KIA." He was engaged in an armed reconnaissance mission near St. Mihiel, when downed by anti-aircraft fire.

Still governed by abominable weather during the month of November, our "Raiders" were grounded for all but 11 days. Although considerable progress was made by ground forces in our sector, as indicated by the capture of the powerful bastion of Metz and the city of Strasbourg, it was the opinion of the entire organization that a golden opportunity to keep the stone rolling was being stymied by nature herself. However, what few missions were flown proved quite successful. In particular were several flights in the vicinity of Waldwisse, Germany, where American columns were being harried by stubborn resistance.

A new weapon in the form of "Napalm" or more commonly known as "fire bomb" made its initial appearance along in this period. Though still in its experimental stage as far as we were concerned, this new incendiary concoction had proved its esteem from the beginning. Its telling effect was revealed convincingly on both missions of the 19th, when horse-drawn and motor convoys were attacked and virtually destroyed. The first convoy, overtaken near Aboucourt, consisted of horse-drawn artillery and motor trucks, and although it was estimated that 35 vehicles had been annihilated, actual count made on photographs taken at the scene showed over 50 pieces destroyed or rendered useless. The latter part of the month, all missions were of the close support type but in majority of instances actual observation of results was prevented by poor visibility due to clouds and haze—a condition prevalent during winter months on the continent.

Stuck in the Mud Bomb Service truck and trailer, loaded with
munitions, has difficulty
navigating through deep mud.

In the background of the numerous deeds accomplished by flying personnel were the remarkable feats and obstacles hurdled by line crews. Operating under most adverse conditions, with cold, rain and mud as contributing factors to personal discomfort, the crews kept the ships in good condition and guns and communications apparatus operational. Mud, in particular, was a thorn in the sides of both ground and flying personnel.

In spite of comparative laxity in combat activity, our roster was diminished by the loss of two more airmen. The first to leave our ranks was Captain N. Lewin-Epstein, capable and fearless flight commander, who, just a few days hence returned from a hectic tussle with the enemy with 4-1/2 feet of his left wing completely shot off. Captain Lewin-Epstein was one of the original cast, joining us in the U.S. Second contribution to accuracy of German gunners was Lt.  R.J. Armstrong.

The weatherman's predictions for the month of December were not very inspiring. According to his calculations we could only hope to eke out four days suitable for flying. However, later developments, with the good grace of God, put us through the most hectic period since the momentous invasion of France. We toiled along intermittently in the early days, lending much sought support to the Third Army by attacking enemy motor transportation, rolling stock, communications and troop concentrations until the 17th day of the month. It was on this day that the heretofore retreating German army rebounded with unexpected fury in all-out counter-attack. From reports reaching us, the "Battle of the Bulge" was reaching critical heights. General Von Rundstedt's fanatical troops were overrunning our installations and taking heavy toll of our Armies. Ground crews and pilots alike "champed at their bits" for a crack at the inspider Wehrmacht, but the weather was totally unsuited for any air operations.

Finally on 23 December 1944, heavily overcast skies cleared sufficiently to allow the 514th and other elements of the 406th Fighter Group to soar into the skies in an attempt to stem Von Rundstedt's audacious drive. By this time, the III and VIII Corps of the First Army were reeling back from the crushing momentum of the German salient, which, incidentally, was being assisted by the rejuvenated Luftwaffe. At long last, anxiety of our pilots to meet the Luftwaffe in large representation would be fulfilled.

This opportunity came into view on the first mission of the day a few miles east of Trier, Germany. Captain Bedford R. Underwood, leading on that particular occasion, sighted much to his surprise, 12 ME-109s. Calling them out to his followers, he then led them into the fray unhesitatingly. A furious dog fight ensued for several minutes and when the smoke of battle cleared, we had destroyed six ME-109s, were credited with two probables and three more damaged. Our losses were two pilots missing and one wounded.

Going down before the onslaught of German air opposition in this wild melee of aircraft were Lt. M. McLane and Lt. D. Price. Meantime Lt. M. Jones, wounded in the fracas, managed to return to home base safely.

With favorable weather as an important asset, our Thunderbolts flew tirelessly from morning to night in the next five days, compiling 30 missions. Principal assignment during this period was the village of Bastogne, Belgium, where the 101st Airborne Infantry division was completely encircled by the enemy. Hovering constantly above the beleaguered town, our trusty Thunderbolts kept the desperate Germans at bay, aborting attempts to infiltrate the Bastogne ring; burned fuel stores and supplies, and in short, made heavy in-roads into German troops and transportation.