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flyingscampi
10-27-2004, 03:23 PM
Khotchetsya Pit


JERRY'S FAILURE to come up D-Day was like Harvard failing to show up for the Yale game. Pilots were disgusted. Infantrymen were naturally pleased when they stormed a beach unopposed, but war for fighter pilots, don't forget, was a "grand sport".
Their spirits got a lift when rumor spread of a sensational unprecedented mission, highly secret but near at hand. Everybody knew something was up when Kid Hofer had his trouble with the needle. The medics were inoculating pilots and certain crew chiefs with typhus and other strange shots. Hofer, the boxing champ, who thought it was sport to attack flak towers, who was so eager he slipped off on missions by himself--he just wasn't going to have that needle jabbed in him.

Blakeslee popped it to Hofer where it hurt most. He put him back to flying in a No. 4 position where it was hard to get a bounce on Jerries, he barred him from participating in the secret mission and he forbade him to enter the bar for two weeks.

At this point, Virginia Irwin, of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the most personable and ablest newshen I met, arrived to do a feature story on Hofer, "the last of the screwball pilots." Virginia kept saying that she had heard that the Debden bar had the only potable beer in the U. K. Hofer, with shy reluctance, finally told her that Blakeslee wouldn't let him go in the bar.

"I guess," Hofer said wretchedly, "you'd better go in with the other boys."

Virginia said, "I'll be back in a couple of pints."

It was too much. Hofer went to Deacon and promised to take the needle if they'd let him go into the bar and fly the mission Hofer, with his incapacity for fear and his score of 27 1/2 enemy planes destroyed, was too good a hand to leave behind on the kind of a mission this was to be. Deacon relented.

Maj. Goodson, the jocular, ribald Canadian who spoke Greek, German and French, was to lead 336th Squadron on the mission and he was as elated as Hofer. He always met such interesting people on his trips. For example, when he was in Italy breaking in a new Mustang group, he was asked what kind of plane he flew.

"Mustang," Goodson said, "and you?"

"Lightning."

"And you?"

"Thunderbolts."

"And you?" asked Goodson of a rather silent character.

"Messerschmitts," replied the German prisoner.

On the day before the secret mission was flown, Goodson, a top-ranking ace with 15 destroyed in the air and 15 on the ground and the newspaper sobriquet "King of the Strafers", was leading Shirtblue Squadron deep in Germany near Neubrandenburg Airdrome. Goodson was in unusually high good humor that day because of the impending mission, but also because his girl in Canada, after trying for more than two years, had finally been able to join the Red Cross and was due to land in England in a few days to be with him.

Goodson's squadron circled the drome, saw some planes and tested the flak. Goodson said: "Anybody who wants to go down on this drome, feel free to do so." With that Goodson split-essed and streaked over the airfield, guns blazing. Flak punctured his cooling system and the plane began smoking as the glycol streamed.

Flak, not a German pilot, was bagging another in a long series of outstanding aces-Beeson, Glover, Garrison, Evans, and many more to come. Goodson said over the R/T with curt detachment: "Goodbye, boys. Keep up the good work."

Goodson was too low to bail, so he bellied in and unhurriedly left his ship, as though he didn't care if it did explode. The squadron came down and blasted his plane to keep it from the Germans. The last they saw of Goodson, he had his hands in his pockets, head down, glumly kicking things as he walked towards a wood. The girl from Canada had missed him by three days.

On the morning of the longest day of the year, June 21, Blakeslee briefed the pilots. To the 4th Group and Blakeslee had come the distinction of being picked to escort Forts on the pioneer Britain-to-Russia shuttle mission. Blakeslee, who had begun his career in Spitfires that could stay aloft for an hour and a half, was now going to lead single-seater fighters the 1,600 miles from Debden to a dot on the Russian Steppes, engaging any Jerries that might appear along the way. It was an aviation milestone; the War Department ordered a classified newsreel made of the historic briefing.

Blakeslee was impatient with any kind of affectation, but for this occasion he was wearing a white scarf. Holding the wand to the glazed briefing map, Blakeslee began in a voice which the sound recorders said sounded like something like Gable's:

"Now look, before we all get excited about it, I'll say the whole trip is about 7 1/2 hours. We've done 'em that long before. We'll be throttled back, so Christ, we could stay up for eight hours. There'll be 1,001 bombers acting as diversion for our 104 bombers!"

The pilots roared at this, but it was a reasonable arrangement. It was 15 days after D-Day and it was desirable to do all things possible to destroy the German will to resist. The demonstrated ability of Allied bombers to shuttle between Russia and England with fighter escort was calculated to daunt the Germans. Further, it would have a favorable effect on Russia. But it would all boomerang if the attempt were thwarted by German fighters. Hence, 1,001 bombers were sent over Berlin to occupy the Jerries while 104 bombed an oil refinery south of Berlin and shuttled on to Russia.

"We'll take the bombers up to the Russian frontier," Blakeslee continued. "From there it's 258 miles to base. We should be met by Russian fighter planes--Yaks. I'll be leading with 336th Squadron."

"On the way to Russia-we will not--we will not--do any fighting on the way over. You will not drop your tanks. If you're attacked, go into a turn with 'em. If for any reason you should have to drop tanks around Berlin--you've had it. You'll have to return to Debden.

"I want to land 68 aircraft at this place (pointing). You're safe here if you're not straggling. The Russians are sensitive to stragglers. Several reconnaissance craft were shot up recently. You don't have to worry about Russian fighters over 15,000 feet-- that's their ceiling.

"If you have to identify yourself, it will be don't by rocking your ship three to five times and dipping your right wing three to five times. They've got a homing station here, but they may as well shove it up their--. It only has a radius of 15 miles.

"Once we make rendezvous with the bombers, there will be absolutely no radio conversation. If you see a man's wing on fire-just be quiet, he'll find out about it himself after a while.

"Let's make a pretty landing, a pansy landing, bang, bang, bang. We want to make the thing look like a 7 1/2 hour trip is nothing to us. There are no replacements, so if you crack up your plane, that means you probably stay in Russia for the rest of the war.

"For Christ's sake, no landing errors. The Russians shoot the men who make mistakes--when in Russia do as the Russians do.

"No one will take a gun. If you're forced down--a gun is a death warrant. No guns at all. I don't know whether I'd even let them catch me with a knife. Too much like a weapon. Now these guerillas are trying to recruit men to fight with them. If you're captured by them, throw up your hands and do as they say, but tell them, politely, no you're a pilot and fight differently from them. They're almost savage, so if they insist, you'd better be still."

The pilots were raptly intent as Blakeslee wound up: "No one will abort because of lack of oxygen. You'll be at 15,000 feet. You don't need it. You have no business in the 4th Group if you have to have oxygen at 15,000 feet. If you get dizzy, go down under the bombers for a while. Over Russia we will be over 1,000 feet and below 6,000 feet. If your glass elbows break (gas line on wing drop-tanks), pull off to the side, have them fixed and catch us.

"One more thing. If you've got to drink while you're there, for Christ' sake, don't get drunk. Be careful how you appear to the Russians with your crew chiefs. None of this 'okay, Joe' stuff. You treat Russians officers like brother officers--or rather, not like brother officers."

He grinned and wound up: "This whole thing is for show. That's why everything must be pansy. Cheers."

Crew chiefs and mechanics were to go along on this mission as gunners in the bombers in order to service the Mustangs when they sat down in Russia. For two years the crew chiefs had had only the second-hand thrill of watching the planes take off and return. Many were rebellious at their remoteness from the dangers their pilots faced and belittled their own part in the war; they were all eagerness. Others went because they were soldiers. The only non-flying officer to go was the group intelligence officer, Maj. Baldwin M. Baldwin, a resident of Reno. Baldwin, a splenetic, snarling man with a thyroid expression, was a rich man's son whose civilian career had been management of his father's California fortune. Baldwin and his I. O. factotums kept close to the isolated Group Intelligence building, from which Baldwin carried on a sort of guerilla warfare against Lt. Col. Clatanoff, the ground exec. Clatanoff, able, tactless and domineering, forewent few opportunities to harass the thorny Baldwin clique. Each was out to get the other, and most personnel wished both of them good luck in their aims.

There was little in Baldwin to generate warmth in others, but officers and men wished him well because he was perhaps the only paddlefoot at fair Debden who did not fear Clatanoff and did not hesitate to grind his teeth in Clatanoff's face. Both were able men in some respects and Baldwin had fashioned a model intelligence set-up. He was about to be rotated home for a discharge and he wanted some action before he left. Specifically, he wanted to win an Air Medal for his children. He said: "I don't mind telling you, this trip scares hell out of me, but I want to do it for my children."

*For roster of officers and men participating, see Appendix. The ground personnel received a brief instruction in aerial gunnery, were equipped with chutes, dinghies, candy, cigarettes and toilet paper. As Blakeslee hastened from the briefing to his plane, we saw the engaging spectacle of a full colonel carrying two rolls of tissue.

The whole field turned out to see the 68 Mustangs take off, though their destination remained, theoretically, a top secret. Blakeslee had an alternate plane ready so that if for any reason WD-C developed engine trouble, he could land and take off again in the other craft. As he was being strapped into the cockpit, packed with dress clothes, cigarettes, tissue, etc., he was examining his Very pistol. A photographer's flash bulb exploded and Blakeslee virtually broke the safety belt.

He carried with him no less than 16 maps to get to the place where no other Allied craft had flown. As he cranked his plane off, he looked quizzically at the men clustered about him. Nobody ever knew for sure what the inscrutable Blakeslee was thinking, but his expression appeared to read: "Don Blakeslee and the 4th Group are about to do it again."

Blakeslee and his No. 2 were first off. They took most of the runway as the drop-tanks for the trip weighed 108 pounds. Near the end of the runway they pulled the stick and were airborne over Mr. Kettley's farmhouse. The wheels were sucked into the ship bellies and they banked left, circling until the other 66 craft got up. Blakeslee set course over the field in a rain and was off for a dot in the wilds of Russia.

On the way across Germany Blakeslee was unable to see the ground through the cloud layer; a cloud layer, he thought, wasn't going to help him find the roost in the Ukraine. They passed south of Berlin as the 1,001 bombers assaulted Berlin in the diversionary attack. An unusually intense flak barrage came up, one of the heaviest the 4th ever experienced. Lt. Grover C. Siems, Jr., of Woodside, N. Y. squeaked: "I'm hit, Deac!"

The flak had turned him over like a flapjack and he was flying upside down. A squadron of planes from the 352nd Fighter Group flew with the 4th.

Bombers and fighters entered Poland and dropped their wing tanks. Goodson, shot down the day before, was still at large in Germany and, he said after the war, the sound of the planes going to Russia without him drove him wild.

Having met the bombers at the appointed time and place, it began to look like an uneventful trip. What the pilots didn't know until Goering disclosed it after the war, was, that a Heinkel bomber had slipped into the formation unobserved and was flying along in formation with the Forts.

Near Warsaw 10 to 15 black-nosed 109s made a head-on attack on the bombers. Five of them were shot down for the loss of one. One of the bombers were shot down, the one in which Goodson's crew chief, S/Sgt. Robert L. Gilbert, of Saginaw, Mich., was flying as waist gunner. Gilbert bailed and stayed on for some weeks fighting in the company of Russian guerillas.

At 7: 15 p.m. Blakeslee looked apprehensively at his watch, at the time table strapped to his leg and at several of his 16 maps. The group had parted with the bombers, which were to land at Poltava. The 1,600 mile flight should be ending in 20 minutes. Fuel was getting low and pilots began considering that bailing out over these wilds would be rough as the well known cob. Suddenly a volley of flares came up, fired by the Russians. Lt. George H. Logan, Jr., of Montclair, New Jersey, flying on Blakeslee's wing, saw the Colonel rapturously throw his 16 maps into the air. He turned towards Logan and blew kisses at him. Blakeslee, the man who boasted he couldn't fly a course in the link trainer and never went near one, had flown 1,600 miles and found the camouflaged airdrome as though he had a rope tied to it. Blakeslee jubilated over the R/T: "The end of a perfect show."

It was either 7:35 or 7:36. If it was 7:35, as Blakeslee always insisted: then the group had arrived on the minute of the E.T.A. (estimated time of arrival). Deacon, however, always insisted that the group was one minute late.


The Mustangs roared low over the up-looking Russians. In sections of four they honked up in steep port banks, pressed the button to let the wheels down and bounced across the taxi strip at Piryatin. Sixty-six of the original 68 planes landed, of the missing two, one had been shot down and the other was flown by Kid Hofer, who, as usual, was off on a show of his own. Nobody worried when the teletype reached Debden asking for the number markings on the Kid's kite. He had landed at Kiev and the Russians were checking to see if he were a masquerading German.

The Russians hurried to Blakeslee and presented a large bunch of flowers. Whereupon, he was whisked off to Moscow to make a broadcast to America. Maj. Pete Mahan, of Montgomery, Ala., had been sent ahead by Spaatz to make the arrangements. The AAF was resourceful that way.

The pilots stepped out on the wings, surrounded by chattering, cheering Russians. The Russian mechanics had never seen a Mustang, so all they could do was polish them, and this they proceeded to do with a vengeance. One picked up a Very pistol, fascinated. The pistol went off and the flare exploded on the canopy of a Mustang. Two Russian officers, one clutching a pistol, ran up and dragged the non-plussed Russian G. I. off. Deacon later talked them out of executing the oaf, but next day he was sent to the front.

With Blakeslee gone to Moscow, the Deacon was pretty much the chief cook, a role to which he took as a duck to the water. A Russian officer in a white helmet came to Deacon's plane, all smiles and cordiality. In the siege of Stalingrad he had been one of those fabulous airmen who had flown over the German- held part of the city and cascaded hand grenades down from a fragile Tiger Moth, a deadly but fantastic operation. More officers drove up in a '32 model Ford. Deacon couldn't get off the wing of his ship for saluting and being saluted.

"Kommandante, kommandante?" the Russians jabbered. Deacon got out his phonetic spelling card.

"Da, da," Deacon replied. What was needed was food and a bath. He perused the card. It was full of such as how to say in Russian, "Where is the Soviet front?", "North, South, East, West" and "I am wounded", etc. But nothing about how to ask for food and bath. Nearest Deacon could find was, "I am thirsty". It was a fatal selection.

"Khotchetsya pit," quoth Deacon in phonetic Russian. "Da, da. Schnapps, schnapps?" asked the Russians, quivering to please.

"Da, da," answered Deacon. The Russian gestured the question whether he also wanted schnapps for all the pilots with him.

"Da, da."

They made off to the hospital to freshen up, Deacon proceeding with the high Russian brass in a Ford, the Junior Birdmen following in a Studebaker. Lt. Donald Malmsten, of Eurwell, Nebr., found what he thought was a latrine and proceeded. Some Russian nurses inadvertently walked in, put their hands to their mouths and tittered as they retreated. Malmsten was using a wash sink.

Comrade the Deacon and his fellow flyers were ceremoniously led to the banquet hall as the sun set on Russia. The hosts brought him a great bunch of red roses and the Russian soldier kissed Deacon full on his lips, as they do in Russia. A balalaika orchestra played American tunes, the pilots dancing with the Russian men as well as the women, also customary. There were more floral offerings as pilots and hosts sat down to banquet. The piercingly hot vodka was drunk in toasts; you swallowed the full glass of white fire at one fell gulp, then placed the glass on the table upside down. They toasted Marshal Stalin, President Roosevelt, the death of Germany--each with a full glass of white fire. Eyes took on an oyster murkiness, tongues thickened. Deacon saw how things were shaping up and he said, as might a captain abandoning a sinking vessel: "Hey, fellas, eat all you possibly can--thish stuff is pow'ful potent."

Glasses up, glasses down, quickly filled by alert waiters. Lt. Jack Simon, of Long Beach, Calif., slipped a glass of water in a Russian colonel's place. On the next toast, the Russian drained the glass. The blandness of the water was fire in his mouth. He spat the water out and rolled his eyes ominously, if not with intent to liquidate, at the innocent waiter.

Presently it was made known to Deacon, as the leader of the squadron, that the Russian general was prepared to receive him in his quarters. With Capt. William E. Hedrick, of Denver, Cole., on his left in tight aide-de-camp formation, Deacon was led to the General, who was seated with his staff. The Russians popped to with a twang and saluted the American and his aide. Deacon returned the salute. More food, more vodka toasts and Deacon was held up only upon the thin reed of formality.

Deacon handed the Russian general, who had been chief of air operations at Stalingrad, an American cigarette. The general handed Deacon a Russian cigarette. Deacon signed a $5 bill and handed it to the general. The general handed Deacon a 100-rouble note. Blakeslee had said put on all possible military dog, so Deacon thought he'd better carry on as long as it gratified the Russian.

Accordingly, Deacon took off his belt, a beautiful silver-buckled cowboy belt specially fashioned for him in Oklahoma. This he proffered to the general. The general's eyes widened; he and his staff popped to with a twangy-twang-twang, Deacon wondered if he had committed some sort of a Asiatic faux pas. He and Hedrick stood at attention opposite the rigid general and his retinue. Whereupon, the general removed his own belt, kissed it and handed it to Deacon. Deacon kissed it and strapped it around his pinks.

Deacon and the general kissed goodnight, as staunch allies do in consonance with Russian folkways. The C.O.'s straw bed was given to the Americanyetss flyer, whose military punctilio and vodka swilling above and beyond the call of duty, had endeared him to his hosts. Next morning the pilots discovered that in Russia every day started with a haircut and shave. Deacon gave his barber a cake of Palmolive snap which the barber handled as though it were a hunk of platinum from the Urals, frugally shearing flakes off with a razor.

The Heinkel bomber which had flown for a time unseen in the Fort formation on the way to Russia had returned to its German base and the pilot reported where the Americans landed. The German's tailored a bombing attack. On the second night the Luftwaffe sent a fleet of bombers, which destroyed a very large portion of the Fort squadrons, and some Ju 88s to strafe and bomb the fighter bases.

Deacon was standing in front of his tent relieving himself when a flare illuminated the camp. Forty-mm. cannon whizzed through the tents.

"Jesus H. Christ, they're strafing us!" bellowed Deacon.

Not so. It was Russian anti-craft coming from the low ground over which the tent-site looked. Most ran to cover, but others could only hop as their feet were in sleeping bags. Deacon grabbed his boots and hat and, along with the others, took a running jump into some holes. They quickly discovered that the holes had been dug for purposes other than shelter. But none stirred.

The attacks of the German fighter bombers continued and Deacon got permission from the Russians to set up an interception system. The Russians were delighted with the ingenuity displayed in removing some crystals from Mustang radios and installing them in the control tower radio. This change of crystals placed the ground radio and the Mustangs on the same frequency. This made it possible to direct the fighters from the ground as they sought the raiders.

Deacon, acting as controller, scrambled a section of four Mustangs to 4,000 feet as soon as Russian spotters phoned in a flash that some Ju 88s were heading for the field. Trying to interpret the Russian's English and their gestures, Deacon feverishly dead-reckoned where the 88s could best be intercepted and gave the Mustangs a call on the blower: "Nuthouse here. Bandits coming in at angels four. Vector 260. Vector two-er-six-er-zero. Over."

"Roger. Out."

The section missed the 88 and it came streaking across the field and was nailed by a Russian Yak. Another attack was made and this time, though no kills were made, the attack was beat off.

Deacon and the other pilots were eager to arrange a show wherein they would fly to the German base, which was loaded with aircraft, and beat it up. The Wolf pack was crowding the 4th again for first place and this appeared a likely opportunity to take a long step ahead. But despite the most importunate entreaties, the Russians would not permit the Americans to launch the attack, explaining: "You are our guests. We protect you. If you did this, Goebbels would say you had come to fight for us."

The Debden mechanics, who had experienced the thrill of seeing their Mustangs beat off the attack en route to Russia, got the ships in shape and after five days, during which the Russians extended the utmost cordiality to the Americans, the Mustangs took off on the next leg of the triangle mission. They flew from Russia to Italy. The bombers pasted an oil refinery at Drohobycy, Poland on the way. No German attacks were made and the 4th broke escort at the Yugoslavian coast. Mustangs of the 15th AF, based in Italy, came in to provide withdrawal support for the bombers. Not knowing anything about the D-Day zebra stripes painted on the Eighth AF planes, the 15th AF pilots made attack gestures, but no shots were fired. The group landed at Lucrera near Foggia.

One day Deacon started out to see his brother, Sgt. Bill Hively, of Columbus, Ohio, who was stationed with the AAF on Sardinia. Accompanied by Siems, they developed engine trouble on the way and landed near the Anzio beachhead amid the 109 and 190 wreckage.

"Say, Grover," said Deacon as they taxied, "you don't think--"

"Think what?"

"-They forgot to clear the mines here?"

"What!"

With that they taxied back, taking great care to follow the same path out. On Sardinia, Deacon was told that his brother was on location about 30 miles away at a direction finding post atop a mountain crag. Because of the elevation of the mountain and the winding road leading to it, Sgt. Hively and his three friends could see a car coming up the mountain for an hour before it arrived, but they weren't looking this time.

Most of the population of Bosa, men, women and children, followed Deacon and Siems as they sought out Sgt. Hively in a wine emporium. The village was ancient and Deacon walked over dusty cobblestones up one alley, turned left, turned right, then into a still narrower alley and up some steep stairs. Deacon kept his head down as he mounted the creaking stairs that Sgt. Hively saw only that it was an officer. To his companions, the sergeant said, "Okay, pop to." Deacon got right up in his brother's face and abruptly lifted his head.

"Me older brudder!"

"Me younger brudder!"

Deacon always said that the thrill of this meeting with his brother surpassed any other of his life as combat pilot.

Sgt. Hively sent for the mayor, and with the entire ambulatory population following, they repaired to what appeared a garage. The mayor of Bosa, Sardinia opened the portals and there stood cask or, cask of wines, the dust on which was older than the oldest peasant in his entourage. Deacon and Siems did their duty with the wine, as with the vodka. For the sake of the mayor and his constituents, Deacon and Siems gave the place a dust-swirling buzz job.

Kid Hofer, having talked the Russians into servicing his plane at Kiev, took off with Lt. Willard (GI) Gillette, of Homeward, Kans., and Lt. James F. Callahan, Inkerman, Pa., with a view of rejoining the group in Italy. Hofer was not the best of navigators and the other two pilots became anxious.

"I'm flying 280"," Hofer said.

"You're wrong," said Gillette. "See you later."

Gillette left Hofer and started out on a new heading. He made Italy; Callahan landed on Sicily; Hofer, on Malta. But they got to Italy in time for the next mission.

Now the spirited, swashbuckling hot rocks of the 4th were never once accused of even false modesty, and presently, in between swims in the Adriatic and visits to Rome, they pointed out to the 15th AF pilots that they were having the edifying experience of associating with the hottest outfit in Eighth AF, and probably any other.

The 15th AF pilots took about as kindly to this swaggering as you would suppose. They said: "If you're so keen, why don't you Show us?"

To which 4th pilots responded, "Cheers, friends, that's what we've been waiting for you to say." It was thereupon arranged that next day (July 2), the 4th would go along as part of the fighter escort for the 15th AF bombers attacking targets in Budapest, capital of Hungary. So the fleet started out for Budapest on the mission, in which the 4th was to exhibit the fashion in which the masters clobbered the wily Hun.

Everything snafued from the start. The 15th AF pilots were maliciously pleased as they heard 4th pilots on the blower calling Horseback to say they had to abort on account of motor trouble. The planes were malfunctioning because they were unequipped with the dust filters necessary in the Mediterranean theater and because the nozzles on the belly tanks were of different size and were starving the cylinders. Thus, by the time the bombers and fighters reached the river separating Buda from Pest, the 4th was more the size of a squadron than a group. 334th Squadron, for example, had but eight planes left.

The 4th had been assigned the "free lance" type of support, which meant they were not encumbered with protection of any one box of bombers, but were free to roam in search of enemy fighters. They were weaving high above the bombers and other fighters, but the flak came up fiercely.

"Just like back home," said Blakeslee. He decided that no Jerries were coming up and was leading two of the squadrons down in search of ground targets for strafing. Just then Deacon shouted: "Pectin leader to Horseback--here comes the Luftwaffe!"

It did look like it, with between 50 and 60 Me 109s coming in to smack the bombers at 30,000 feet. All that stood between them and the bombers were 20-odd Mustangs. The boasting mood was gone now. The 4th made frantic calls to the 15th AF pilots below to come up with some help. Whether the S.O.S. was unheard or ignored the result was the same: the 4th was left on its own. Pilots who dived after the 109s would bawl: "The bastards are down here flying formation!"

The 109s pulled a ***** which nullified their numerical advantage. They turned their backs to the fighters to launch the attack on the bombers. Emerson found a 109 flying along with a section of Mustangs. As Emerson attacked, the 109 went into a steep climb. Emerson had the pieces flying when his fuel feed failed; he stalled and spun out. But the Jerry came spinning down with a wing off

Blakeslee downed one. Capt. Frank Jones, of Montclair, N. J., who always flew with a teddy bear in his cockpit, got another, but his roommate, Lt. George I. Stanford, of Southport, Conn., was shot down. Shel Monroe and his section pitched in to break up a formation of some 25 of the 109s.

Deacon got on the tail of another 109 and began blasting. At the same time a 109 was blasting Deacon; Siems was blasting that one; Siems was being blasted; Hedrick was blasting that one; and yet another in this deadly tandem was blasting Hedrick.

The 109 at which Deacon was firing exploded after a four- second burst, but the one on his tail was pumping cannon shells into his Mustang. One exploded the glass canopy over Deacon's head. His right eye was bloodied and he lost control of his plane. Despite this wound in one eye and blood-dimmed vision in the other, Deacon rejoined the fray and shot down two more 109s, for which he was awarded the D.S.C.

A cannon shell ripped into Siems' shoulder and took away part of his neck and chin. Gasping with pain, Siems managed to get his craft back to Italy and landed in the middle of a vast bomber drome at Foggia. Nobody saw him land. Sitting helplessly on the ground in his cockpit, filling his flying suit with blood, Siems failed to get control tower on the radio, and he was too badly wounded to walk. Fearing he'd bleed to death, Siems flipped on the gun switch and began firing his guns. He was never told whether it was the sound of the firing or the tracers flying over the buildings which brought help.

Despite the numerical odds, the attack on the bombers was largely frustrated. When Blakeslee counted noses back in Italy, however, he found that Hofer was among the missing. Little thought was given to it at first as it was logically assumed that the Kid had simply goofed-off somewhere on the deck by himself. Probably in a couple of hours he would return, or phone up from Cairo or Shangri-la, or somewhere. But he didn't. How, when and where nobody ever learned, but Kid Hofer, "last of the screwball pilots", was killed over Budapest. The Budapest mission was the frolic from which Hofer didn't return.

Weeks later the Germans reported through the Red Cross that Hofer had been identified by his dog tags and was buried in Hungary. It was the end of one of the AAF's most colorful, engaging fighter pilots, the end of an almost fantastic career which began when he entered the RCAF enlistment office in Windsor by mistake. He had destroyed 27 1/2 enemy aircraft-- perhaps he got one or two more before being shot down--and had been the first flight officer in the E.T.O. to qualify as ace. He was a vividly smiling boy who appeared to have no appreciation of danger, one who joyously romped about the deadly skies over Europe with a "Gee, ain't the Alps pretty" and a "Let's go clobber 'em!"

The action over Budapest had swept the group score past the 600-mark and already the pilots were talking of the party that would be thrown on their return to Debden. Under treatment for his face wounds, Deacon chafed at remaining behind in an Italian hospital when the others left. But the medics kept him confined and Blakeslee forbade him to fly with his injury.

The group did one more show, taking the bombers on an uneventful mission to the marshalling yards at Arad, Rumania, and prepared to fly back to England on the third leg of the triangle. Meanwhile, Deacon encountered a doctor in the hospital who had studied under his father at John Hopkins. Deacon induced his father's whilom protege to take him to the eyesight surgery room. He memorized the chart and thus was able to pass an eye test next morning. But Blakeslee was adamant: "You're grounded, Deac."

When the day came to leave, Deacon, abetted by Col. Ben Kelsey, of Waterbury, Conn., a widely known test pilot, sneaked out of the hospital on the pretext of seeing the group off. He hitch-hiked a ride to the drome in the pickaback P-38 and arrived just before take-off time. Hiding from Blakeslee, Deacon confided to his squadron that he was going to stowaway on the flight.

"Now listen," Deacon said to Shel Monroe, "I'm going to fly on your right so I can use my good eye to keep from ramming you. If we get in a fight, don't anybody get excited and go saying 'Deacon' on the R/T. Don would clobber me."

On July 5 the group crossed over Corsica and made rendezvous over the Mediterranean with the bombers, which were to bomb railroad yards in France along the route from Italy to England. No fighters appeared and the group was relieved by the Wolfpack, over Chauearoux. Every one at Debden turned out to receive the returning pilots, Blakeslee having announced their arrival over the R/T. The pilots raced low across the hangars at the end of the famous mission, but they were too worn out for the stunting one expected.

Over a beer, someone idly remarked to Blakeslee, "Deacon landed in front of you."

"Oh, no," Blakeslee corrected, "Deacon is in Italy in the hospital." Blakeslee turned and saw Deacon. His eyes snapped, but he shook his head resignedly and smiled, "Deacon, I don't know whether to court-martial you or give you a medal."

Next day Blakeslee and Deacon journeyed to London for some high octane relaxation after the arduous mission, which had taken them in a great 7,000-mile triangle from England to Russia to Italy to England. It was mid-July and the buzz-bomb bombardment of London was at its height. Thousands were evacuating London to escape the devastation, which arrived at five-minute intervals on cloudy days. The siren sounded, there followed the unforgettable throb of the bomb coursing just over the rooftops trailing orange flame and you held your breath to see if the motor would cut off before it passed over. It was in this explosive inferno that Blakeslee and Deacon sought rest and recuperation. They rented several furnished flats in the Mayfair district and stocked them with enough spirits to float a PBY. On the third day, Deacon liked to relate, he came to in Marble Arch Pavilion, the feature being Danny Kaye in Up in Arms. Deacon guffawed at a sequence. He felt a hand on his shoulder-Blakeslee's. In the worlds largest city they had become separated, but had ended up in the same place, the same as on D-Day in the overcast.

Fulc_159th
10-27-2004, 04:45 PM
Wonderful story, thanks for posting this http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif

horseback
10-28-2004, 08:36 AM
Next time, how 'bout mentioning that you're sharing a chapter from Grover C. Hall's "1000 Destroyed; The Life and Times of the 4th Fighter Group" so that others can go buy and read the rest of this excellent book?

cheers

horseback

BSS_Goat
10-28-2004, 09:11 AM
Very long but interesting, Thanks

El Turo
10-28-2004, 11:19 AM
Hey! A big woot for the 4th!

Gratuitous plug? Hehe..

4thfightergroup.com (http://4thfightergroup.com)

flyingscampi
10-30-2004, 04:14 AM
Horseback has a point, I should have mentioned where I got it from, bit tired when I posted :/

http://home.earthlink.net/~johnrlove/1000_destroyed/

And I'll order the book for the collection http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif