P-51B/C Mustangs Over The Third Reich

On 6th March 1944 the day dawned murky and cloudy. It was hardly a surprise for this season of the year in England.

Despite heavy overcast clouds stretching over most of the continent, an aerial armada of 730 American four-engined bombers, escorted by 801 fighters, boldly took to the air. Their target was Berlin, the capital city of the Third Reich. The American formation was spearheaded by Mustangs of the 4th Fighter Group, the ‘Debden Eagles’, led by Col. Donald Blakeslee. Their task was to fend off German fighters, known in radio code as ‘bandits’. Cpt. James ‘Goody’ Goodson, who on that day was in charge of one of the group’s three squadrons, recalled:
“I had just identified Magdeburg on my left, when I saw the bomber fleet ahead. Although we had seen their contrails for some time, now we saw the flashes as the sun glinted on their canopies, and then the small black forms of the different boxes gliding majestically through a few flak puffs towards their target. We caught up with them on schedule and started to weave over them; but almost immediately we saw that the forwards elements were under attack, and the R/T reports were coming in: ‘Bandits at 12 o’clock’ ‘Millions of them at 1 o’clock!’
Blakeslee led the Group into the attack. He was heading for a gaggle of attackers ahead of us which seemed to include Ju 88s firing rockets. As the speed built up in a dive, the slight curve of the attack brought my squadron lower and closer to the bombers. Glancing towards the nearest group, I saw they were about to be jumped by some ten 109s. We were in a good position and had the speed. A quick look behind indicated that we could get in a quick attack and break back up to join the rest of the Group before the top German cover could hit us.

bl01   z1

I told Blakeslee I was taking my squadron down, and increased the angle of the dive almost to vertical to pick up the speed necessary to close faster with the 109s before they could reach the bombers. I still had time to check behind to see that the squadron was following and that there was nothing on our tails. Then I saw about thirty 109s starting down after us. I figured with our speed we could still make a good attack and a quick getaway. I told the squadron to make a hard break right after hitting. Then I pulled out of the dive to come up under the gaggle of 109s. We were closing very fast, but I forced myself to keep looking behind. I picked out my 109, and bored in until I could see black crosses. I had found this to be the best way to judge my range if the target was not yet alerted and if I wanted to be sure of a kill. The 109s were close to the bombers and concentrating on their attack.
I got hits on mine as soon as I opened fire, and more hits and flashes with each burst. When I broke hard to avoid ramming him, I saw him spiraling down, smoking and with flames along a side of the fuselage. I often see that scene in my mind’s eye. Somehow there is something terribly stark about that cold combination: gray fuselage, black cross, black smoke, yellow-and-red flame. It is brought back to me every time I see the black, yellow and red of the German flag.

bl01   z2

By now we were in the thick of it with planes everywhere. My plan had been to pull up around in a hard break to come in behind the last section of the squadron to protect their tails, and I guess that’s more or less what happened. I checked and found my three wingmen still with me, and then almost immediately saw a 109 on the tail of a P‑51. I dived, pulled in behind and below and soon had the German fighter in my sights. I was lucky that he was concentrating on his attack. Again my first burst hit him, but almost immediately a piece flew off his plane and loomed up in front of me. I threw the stick into the corner, but not soon enough to avoid the piece of fuselage from the German plane. I felt a jerk and heard a chunk as it hit my propeller.