P-51D/K Mustangs Over the Third Reich

On 14th January 1945 the weather over the continent was unusual for the time of year: CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited).

The U.S. 8th Army Air Force (8th AF), recently freed from its involvement in fighting off the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, took the opportunity to mount a major air raid against the heartland of Germany. A massive aerial armada of 911 four-engined bombers, escorted by 860 fighters, thundered on through the crystal-clear blue skies, five miles above the snow-covered landscape, bound for oil refineries and factories, highway bridges, and marshalling yards. The oil depot at Derben, located west of Berlin, where the Germans had reportedly stored 180,000 tons of fuel, was the target assigned to the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 13th Bomb Wing. The bombers’ escort consisted of 58 Mustangs of the 357th FG (Fighter Group), led by the unit’s CO, Col. Irwin H. Dregne. Twenty-two-year-old Capt. Leonard ‘Kit’ Carson, a flight leader with the 362nd FS (Fighter Squadron) was the group’s ranking ace. On that memorable day he flew his personal P-51K-5-NT (s/n 44-11622) coded “G4-C” and named Nooky Booky IV:
“We hadn’t been in escort position for more than 30 minutes when the enemy force was seen pulling condensation trails as it approached from Brandenburg. They were coming at us out of the sun at about 32,000 feet.

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Switch to internal tanks, punch the red button on top of the stick and watch them drop; 116 wing tanks streamed fuel into the stratosphere from their broken connections as a prelude to the clash. It was a reassuring sight to the crews and gunners in the Forts below. They knew we were spring-loaded and ready to go. Flick on your gun and camera switches. It all took five seconds.
The head-on rate of closure was fast. The opposing force numbered about 60 Me 109s flying at 32,000 feet as top cover for 60 Focke-Wulf 190s at 28,000 feet, which was the main attack group. The 190 group was spread out in the anticipated ‘company front’, flying six or eight abreast and several lines deep. Both fighter forces drove home the attack. We had not been pulling contrails at our altitude so they had no idea of our actual strength. The odds were 2:1 in favor of the Luftwaffe. My squadron and the one on the left flank met the FW 190s head-on. Col. Dregne attacked the Me 109s with his high squadron. Our position and timing were perfect but we couldn’t completely stop the first assault. Nothing but a brick wall could have.
‘Hot Shot Charlie’ (2/Lt. John F. Duncan, Carson’s wingman – author’s note) had kicked his Mustang about four wing spans out to my right where he could see me in his peripheral vision and watch the 190s come in. He was waiting for my first move. We both fired as we met them. Just a half second before the first wave passed, I hauled it around at full power in a steep, tight chandelle to reverse course and attack from the rear. At this point our three squadrons broke up into fighting pairs, a leader and a wingman. I closed to about 200 yards on a Focke-Wulf and fired a good burst, getting strikes all over the fuselage, and closed the range to about 50 yards. No long range gunnery here. Just shove all six guns up his butt, pull the trigger and watch him fly apart. I hit him again and he rolled to the right and peeled down and started a series of rolls that became more and more violent. He was smoking badly and the ship was obviously out of control. I pulled up and watched him fall. The pilot did not get out -in fact he didn’t even release his canopy.

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