An Army Air Corps directive orders the formation (on paper)
of 35 new combat groups. 15 of these are Pursuit Groups.
The 56th Pursuit Group is allocated the 61st, 62nd and
63rd Pursuit Squadrons.
The 56th Pursuit Group is activated when 3 officers and
150 enlisted are ordered to report to the National Guard
armoury in Savanna Georgia.
The new Republic P-47 Thunderbolt makes its maiden flight.
The 56th Fighter Group moves to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Major Davis Graves takes command of the group.
The Army Air Corps becomes the Army Air Force. The 56th
Fighter Group receives its first aircraft. 10 well worn
Curtiss P-36s followed later in the month by three equally
worn Bell YP-39 Airacobras.
To aid the 56th's effectiveness in a series of US Army
exercises, the group receives its first new aircraft in
the form of 10 Bell P-39s.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour earlier
in the day, Major Graves warns the groups' personnel to
be ready to move at short notice.
In order to provide air cover along the Atlantic coast
of North and South Carolina, the 56th Group is split into
three sections. The group HQ and 61st FS move to Charleston.
62nd and 63rd squadrons move to Wilmington and Myrtle
A selection of aircraft are allocated to the group. These
include Seversky P-35s, Curtiss P-36s and Republic P-43s.
Along with these new aircraft more worn P-39s and P-40s
are delivered. Captain
Richard Games and Captain Loren McCollum are tasked with
checking out newly arrived pilots on the various types
of aircraft arriving. This takes place at Wilmington.
56th's aircraft at this time would later be described
by one squadron's Engineering Officer as “an assortment
The anniversary of the group's activation sees a move
to the New York area where the 56th is to provide air
cover for the city.
Group HQ is set up at the National Guard armoury at Teaneck,
New Jersey. 62nd FS make their new home at Bendix Airport,
New Jersey. The 61st FS moves to Bridgeport Municipal
Airport, Connecticut while the 63rd FS sets up its operations
at a new airfield adjacent to the Republic aircraft factory
at Farmingdale on Long Island.
Pilots begin to train on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning,
which the 56th is expected to become the standard aircraft
for the group in the months ahead.
Lt Hubert Zemke arrives at 56th Group HQ in Teaneck. After
serving in both Britain and Russia assisting the respective
air forces in operating the Curtiss P-40, Lt Zemke is
surprised to find that he has been assigned the post of
“Group G-4, Assistant Material Officer”. It
becomes obvious that production of the P-38 Lightning
at that time cannot meet demand and the three squadrons
start to re-equip with the Curtiss P-40F. The
first production P-47B's are produced by the Republic
facility at Farmingdale. Being based so close to the factory
the 56th Fighter Group is an obvious choice to be equipped
with the new fighter.
The Army Air Corps “Pursuit” groups are
re-designated “Fighter” Groups. Squadron designations
The first Thunderbolt is received by the Army Air Force,
and the 63rd FS becomes the first fighter squadron to
fly the new fighter. The 56th becomes the service troubleshooter
for the P-47.
The 62nd Fighter Squadron moves to Newark Municipal Airport.
Operations Officer Lieutenant Robert Knowle becomes the
first fatality on the 21st June. The suspected cause of
the crash is ballooning of the fabric covered control
services and production of these areas switches to metal
covered elevators and rudders.
On the 25th Lt Colonel Graves bales out of a P-47B after
the turbo-supercharger disintegrates and the aircraft
Major organisational changes take place. The Headquarters
Squadron is disbanded and Group HQ joins the 61st FS at
Lt Col John Crosthwaite takes over command of the group
when Lt Col Graves leaves to take command of the New York
Air Defense Wing. The 62nd Fighter Squadron moves to Bradley
Field due to the runway at Newark being deemed too short
for safe operation of the P-47.
The decision is taken by Army Air Force Command to prepare
the 56th Fighter Group for service overseas. The 63rd
FS moves to Bridgeport and joins Group Headquarters and
the 61st FS. Hubert Zemke becomes the new Group Commander.
A few of the new P-47C's are received by the group.
On November 13th 63rd FS pilots Roger Dyer and Harold
Comstock are tasked with checking out a new type of radio
mast due to structural failures of the original type during
high speed dives. From 35,000 feet and flying at over
400 mph the pair dive the P-47s and almost immediately
both aircraft's control surfaces become jammed due to
the effects of compressibility on the airframe. It's only
when the aircraft reach the thicker air at lower altitude
that the pilots are able to attain normal control of the
aircraft. During the dives the cockpit speed indicators
had shown a maximum speed of 725 mph. Faster than the
speed of sound! While in reality the actual speed was
probably more in the region of 500mph the Republic press
office take full advantage of the opportunity to declare
that the P-47 Thunderbolt had broken the sound barrier.
On Thanksgiving Day the 56th Fighter Group is alerted
for movement overseas.
The 56th Fighter Group is ordered to Camp Kilmer, New
Jersey to be ready for the move overseas.
Around the same time the 33rd Service Group also move
to the camp.
The 56th Fighter Group personnel are amongst almost 12,000
troops packed on the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth which
has been pressed into service as a high speed troop transport
ship. Members of the 33rd Service group are also aboard.
After six days at sea the Queen Elizabeth docks at Gourock
The 56th Fighter Group arrives at RAF King's Cliffe in
Northamptonshire. Due to insufficient accommodation being
available the 63rd FS is allocated barrack space at nearby
The first P-47C Thunderbolts arrive at King's Cliffe.
More P-47s arrive throughout the month. Col Zemke is asked
if he would take on an American officer who has been flying
combat missions with a RAF Spitfire squadron. Captain
F. Gabreski arrives at King's Cliffe on the 27th. Arrangements
are made for the 56th to undertake gunnery practice on
RAF ranges. Seven P-47s are temporarily based at Lanbedr
in Wales. Goxhill and Matlaske in the east of England
are also used.
The P-47 Thunderbolt flies its first operational mission
with the 4th FG. American and British media visit King's
Cliffe to see the new fighter for themselves.
The Duke and Duchess Of Gloucester visit King's Cliffe.
this time white recognition bands are ordered to be painted
around the P-47's cowling, rudder, and elevators to avoid
the Thunderbolts being mistaken for the only other radial
engined fighter in Europe, the German FW190. The three
squadrons are allocated code letters. The 61st is HV,
62nd LM, and the 63rd UN.
The 56th move again. This time to Horsham St Faith near
Norwich. For the first time since the early days at Charlotte,
all three squadrons are now based on the same airfield.
The first operational flight takes place when the 56th
provided a flight of four aircraft in a combined operation
fighter sweep with the 4th and 78th group. Pilots are
Hubert Zemke, David Schilling, John McClure and Eugene
The 56th FG flies its first operational mission. A Rodeo
(Fighter sweep) of the St Omer area.
The group meets enemy aircraft for the first time and
sustains its first casualties. Lt Winston Garth and Cpt
John McClure of the 62nd FS are forced to bale out and
become the groups first prisoners of war.
The group flies its first RAMROD. (Bomber escort) covering
B-17s on a mission to Antwerp.
Lt Col Zemke is promoted to full Colonel.
61st FS commander Loren McCollom takes up the newly created
position of Flying Executive Officer. Col Zemke makes
Cpt Francis Gabreski the new squadron commander, deeming
him more suitable to take command than the deputy commander
due to his earlier combat experience with the RAF.
Walter Cook (62nd FS) shoots down an Fw190 to record the
groups first enemy aircraft confirmed destroyed.
The group stages to Manston for a Ramrod to Villecoublay
and is bounced by Fw190s of JG26. Four P-47s are shot
down and ten more damaged. In addition to this another
pilot is forced to bail out after damaged sustained makes
a safe landing impossible. After being blown out over
the sea in his parachute Lt Ralph Johnson is quickly picked
up by a civilian fishing boat and returns to Horsham.
All four pilots shot down are later found to have been
During the action earlier that day, Lt Gerry Johnson spots
a single P-47 flying straight and level being chased by
two Fw190s, one of which is covering the other as it fires
on the Thunderbolt. Diving down to engage, Johnson opens
fire on the Fw190 attacking the P-47 which is still taking
no evasive action.
The enemy aircraft explodes under the Thunderbolt's fire
and Johnson sees the P-47 which it was attacking continuing
to fly straight and level in the direction of Manston,
before the turns and attempts to locate the second Fw190.
Upon landing at Manston himself, Johnson finds another
of the group's Johnsons, Lt Robert Johnson, telling how
a chivalrous German pilot, after continually attacking
his already battle-damaged aircraft, had flown alongside
and saluted him before turning away. Not wanting to “spoil
his glory” (Gerald Johnson's words in his book “Called
To Command”) Gerry Johnson says nothing at the time.
The story of Robert Johnson and Half Pint has since gone
down in 56th FG history, helped most likely due to the
account of the incident in Bob Johnson's book “Thunderbolt”,
written in the 1950s with Martin Caidin. Charles
Clamp and Robert Johnson become the 56th's first recipients
of the Purple Heart.
in the month the group receives orders to prepare to move
8th Air Force Fighter Command tasks the group with responsibility
for the air defence of the US airfields in the area. One
squadron at a time operates from RAF Fighter Command airfields
in Kent while undergoing training for this. The 61st is
the first to spend a week on this duty starting on 6th
The group moves from the comforts of the prewar buildings
at Horsham to the new, and still unfinished Station 365
at Halesworth, Suffolk. The enterprising 62nd FS commander
David Schilling takes possession of the abandoned High
Trees farmhouse and turns it into the squadron headquarters.
It soon becomes known as Schilling's Acres. Nearby Holton
Hall, which has been standing empty, becomes the Officers
The groups first DFC is awarded to Col. Zemke.
The 8th Air Force's “Top Brass” visit Halesworth.
General Hoyt, Colonel Auton, Major Burley and Captain
Rathbone preside over the first presentation of combat
awards to the group.
America's top scoring fighter ace of WW1, Cpt Eddie Rickenbacker
visits Halesworth and addresses the gathered personnel.
Todays Ramrod to Gelsenkircken sees the first use of drop
tanks by the 56th Fighter Group. 200 gallon “ferry
tanks” are used. The tanks prove to be unstable
and due to their inability to be pressurised are of no
use at high altitude.
During the second mission of the day, supporting the B-17's
returning from the epic Schweinfurt/Regensburg mission,
the 56th is able to fly further into occupied Europe than
before and surprise the German fighters. In the ensuing
battle the 56th claims 17-1-9 (later ammended). 12 pilots
claim victories and 3 of the 56th pilots are lost. One
of the German pilots killed that day is the commanding
officer of II/JG26, Major Ferdinand “Wutz”
Loren McCollum is transferred to the 353rd FG and assumes
command. David Schilling takes over as Deputy CO of the
56th and Cpt Horace Craig moves up to become 62nd FS Commander.
Captain Gerald Johnson destroys an Fw190 to become the
group's first ace (later disputed in a reassessment of
Schilling leads the group for the first time. Today's
mission is recorded as being the last using the 200 gal
25th August 1943
Work commences on the installation of fusalage shackles
on the P-47s to enable the use of pressurised 75 gallon
Eighth Air Force Commander Ira C Eaker visits Halesworth.
News reporters interview Cpt Gerald Johnson for an article
on Fighter Aces.
Maj Phillip Tukey is transferred to 8th Fighter Command
as Operations Officer. Cpt Sylvester Burke assumes command
of the 63rd FS.
Walker Mahurin and Frank McCauley become the groups first
recipients of the Silver Star.
“Hub” Zemke scores his 5th victory to become
The group flies then longest mission yet flown by Thunderbolts
when it escorts bombers on a raid on Frankfurt. Group
claims are 15-2-1.
Schilling scores his 5th victory to join the ranks of
8th Air Force Aces.
Glen Schiltz of the 63rd FS receives the first DSC awarded
to a member of the 56th.
Col Zemke is award the British DFC.
Col Zemke temporarily hands command of the group to Col
Robert Landry when he returns to the USA for a lecture
tour. During preparations for this Zemke had convinced
8th Air Force command that a documentary film would be
a better aid in understanding how fighter missions were
operated. The resulting film was called “Ramrod
To Emden” and today provides a great insight into
the 56th at that time.
The group scores 6-0-3 during a Ramrod to Munster and
becomes the first group to score 100 victories.
Robert Sheehan of the 63rd FS fails to return from the
mission today. He evades capture and later becomes the
group's first pilot to successfully return to the UK.
HQ 56th FG and 33rd Service Group combine to form Station
The group flies its first fighter-bomber mission using
On a Ramrod to Bremen the 56th uses the 108 Gall drop
tanks for the first time. With a score of 23-3-9 the 56th
sets a new ETO record. Prior to take off, Lt Christensen's
pet cat “Sinbad” was found in the parachute
store. As the pilots attempted to chase him out, he jumped
from parachute to parachute. On return from the mission
it was discovered that every pilot whose parachute Sinbad
had settled on scored a victory that day. After that day,
Sinbad moved into the parachute store, with Schilling
supplying a comfortable pillow and a saucer of milk.
Cpt Gerald Johnson is temporarily transferred to the recently
arrived 365th Fighter Group to assist in the group's entry
Another high scoring day for the 56th with claims of 17-0-6.
this month P-47s begin to be flown to Wattisham to have
the new paddle blade propellors fitted.
Today's Ramrod was the first mission when all of the groups
P-47Ds used the paddleblade propellers.
For the first time the 56th puts up an A and B group on
a single mission.
A first anniversary of the 56th Fighter Group's arrival
in the ETO.
Major James Stewart takes command of the 61st FS
Col Zemke returns to Halesworth and resumes command of
the group. During his absence the group had been offered
the new P-51 Mustang but Col Landry refused, prefering
to continue to use the P-47. A decision no doubt influenced
Maj. Gabreski becomes Deputy Flying Executive and Operations
A new tactic is tried by the 8th and the 56th flies its
first “Bouncing Squadron” Mission.
After being shot down on November 7th 1943, Robert Sheehan
returns to the ETO.
On todays Ramrod mission the group files claims of 16-1-6
and scores its 200th victory which it dedicates to President
Roosevelt on his birthday.
Horace Craig becomes the first pilot in the 56th to complete
his 200 hour tour of duty.
Leroy Schreiber takes command of the 62nd FS.
11th February 1944
The new commander of the 8th Air Force, General James
Doolittle lifts all restrictions on ground strafing. The
pilots were now free to look for targets of opportunity
after being released from their bomber escort, a move
that was very popular on all levels. The same day Col
Zemke opens the group's strafing account destroying an
Me109 on the ground.
In another first for the 56th, the group adopts coloured
cowlings on its P-47's. Using the old squadron colours
from 1942 the 61st FS cowlings are painted red, 62nd yellow,
and 63rd blue. A few weeks later, the red cowling would
be adopted by the group as a whole with the squadron colours
moving to the rudders, the exception to this being the
63rd FS who didn't adopt the coloured rudder until later
in the summer.
Maj Gerald Johnson returns to Halesworth from the 365th
FG and takes command of the 63rd FS. Maj Burke is transferred
to 2nd Bomb Division Headquarters.
The Ramrod to Leipzig today sees the first use of the
new 150 Gal drop tanks by the 56th.
The 61st FS becomes the first squadron in the ETO to score
100 victories. Up
until the middle of this month the 56th had been known
as Zemke's Avengers. During the later half of February
the “Stars And Stripe” journalists coined
the phrase “Zemke's Wolfpack” by which the
56th will be forever known.
The 8th launches it first mission against the Berlin.
Today's attempt was largely abortive.
The bombers raided Berlin and todays raid produced the
largest air battle yet seen over Europe. 81 fighters were
claimed by the American fighter groups. 11 of these were
credited to the 56th.
Target Berlin once again and the 56th sets another record
with claims of 27-2-9 air and 2-2-5 ground, passing the
300 destroyed mark. Walker “Bud” Mahurin becomes
the top scoring ace in the ETO. The 56th loses 5 pilots
today. 3 are killed and 2 become prisoners of war.
“Brass Hats Day” at Halesworth when the top
USAAF officers visit. Lt Gen Spaatz, Lt Gen Doolittle,
Maj Gen Kepner and Brig Gen Auton are in attendance, and
Col Zemke is awarded the DSC.
Robert S Johnson overtakes Mahurin to become the leading
ace in the ETO and is promoted to Captain.
For the first time the 56th is able to dispatch A, B,
and C Groups for today's Ramrod-Berlin.
27th March 1944
A bad day for the 56th when two of its leading Aces are
among the four pilots who fail to return from todays mission.
Walker Mahurin is shot down by the rear gunner of the
Dornier he is attacking. Gerry Johnson was hit while strafing
and bellylanded his P-47. While attempting to land and
pick Johnson up, his wingman Lt Everett hit a tree and
damaged his P-47 so badly that he crashed into the sea
off the coast of France and was killed. While Gerry Johnson
and the fourth pilot lost that day, James Fields became
POW's. “Bud” Mahurin evaded capture and returned
to the UK some weeks later.
2 B-24s collide during their group formation and crash
at Henham, a few miles from the 56th's base at Halesworth.
During rescue operations the bomb load of one Liberator
explodes and 6 men from the airfield are killed. Among
them are 62nd FS ace Stanley “Fats” Morrill
and enlisted man Benny Cala. Also lost are Sgt Joseph
Trembly of the 33rd Service Group, Lyle Densmore and Richard
Weigland of the 2010th FF/Plt and one member of the 1181st
MP unit, Tennys Wilcox.
Today saw the first strafing sweep of enemy airfields
but no claims were made.
Major Gabreski takes command of the 61st FS. James Stewart
is transferred to 8th Fighter Command.
Despite scoring 17 kills during todays mission it was
a bad day for the group when the 62nd lost its popular
commander Maj Leroy Schreiber. Charles Harrison and Dick
Mudge also failed to return with Mudge becoming a POW.
Maj Lucian Dade is transferred from Group Headquarters
to take over command of the 62nd FS.
18th April 1944
The last mission flown from Halesworth.
Lt Col Schilling led A group and B group was led by Maj
Lamb. Upon breaking escort both groups landed at the 56ths
new base. Station 150 at Boxted, Essex.
breaking escort from the bombers the 56th strafe Thalheim
airfield resulting in claims for 14-0-15 (ground)
sees the first recorded mission under the RAF Type 16
first dive bombing mission sees 24 P-47s each carrying
twelve 20 pound M41 fragmentation bombs and depositing
them on an unidentified airfield near Paris due to the
primary target of Orleans/Bricy airfield being covered
During April a ground officer of the 56th became an “Ace”,
on paper at least. The group's Air Inspector, Maj Wilbur
Watson had begun collecting the thirteenth kill from the
group's top scoring pilots. This unusual practice had
started when Robert Johnson had donated his thirteenth
kill to the “desk weenie”. Lt Col Schilling
donated his thirteenth and so did Maj Gabreski and Cpt
Joe Powers. When Col Zemke destroyed four enemy aircraft
on April 15th he in turn donated his 13th kill and Watson
became the group's “Desk Ace”.
Around this time the amount of pilots finishing their
tours led to an acute shortage of pilots amongst
some of longer serving Fighter Groups. More Polish pilots
were persuaded to join up with the Polish contingent
in the 61st FS and volunteers were sought from 8th Bomber
Command with six of these coming to the 56th at Boxted.
Captains Robert Johnson and Joe Powers were moved from
the 61st to the 62nd FS
to boost the gap left by pilots returning the USA.
Mahurin visits Boxted after evading capture when shot
down in March. He later returns to combat in the Pacific
S Johnson scores two victories today and beats Eddie Rickenbackers
WW1 score of 26 to become the highest scoring pilot in
the ETO with 27 confirmed kills.
mission sees the 56th sweeping ahead of the bombers instead
of the usual closer support in an attempt to disrupt the
Luftwaffe fighters forming up for their preferred head
on attacks. Known as the “Zemke Fan” the new
tactic results in claims of 18-2-2. Lt
Robert “Shorty” Rankin scores 5 victories
and the 56th passes the 400 destroyed mark.
The 56th Fighter Group is awarded a Distinguished Unit
Citation for its performance in combat during the period
20th February to 9th March 1944. The
first three P-47D-25s arrive at Boxted. The new Thunderbolt
features a “bubble” canopy giving much better
all round visibilty than the original “Razorback”,
and larger fuel capacity. The
first of the new “Superbolts” goes to Hub
Zemke, with the others being allocated to Gabreski and
Ramrod to Brunswick sees the debut of the new “Bubbletop”
P-47 with the 56th.
mission to Hassalt in Holland sees the 56ths first attempt
at “glide bombing”. 24 P-47s carrying 46 500lb
bombs between them attacked a railway bridge from varying
heights and dive angles.
Robert Lamb finishes his tour of duty and Capt Donald
Goodfleisch takes command of the 63rd FS.
a glass fronted P-38 “droopsnoot” Lighting
fitted with a Norden bombsight and Lt Ezzel of the 20th
BG as bombardier Col Zemke leads 24 Thunderbolts on a
bombing mission. 16 of the P-47s carry 1000lb bombs under
the fusalage while the remaining 8 fly top cover. The
rail bridge at Chantilly is destroyed.
with 500lb bombs the P-47s of the 56th carry out another
“Droopsnoot” mission led by Col Zemke. The
target today is an airfield at Gutersloh which is attacked
with excellent results. In a further attempt to ease the
of experienced pilots due to so many finishing their 200
hour tours the duration is increased by 15 missions.
The group's aircraft are ordered to be painted with
18 inch wide black and white bands around the rear fuselage
and on the top and bottom surfaces of the wings. Nobody
is allowed to enter the base at Boxted and any visitors
56th flies eight missions in support of the Allied invasion.
First take off is at 03.36hrs
56th flies another 8 missions today and claims 12-1-4.
pilots fail return. Two of these, W. McClure and E. Bennett
of the 62nd FS evade capture.
the month the 56th flies extensively in support of the
Allied invasion forces. A combination of the type of mission
flown, mostly dive bombing attacks, and bad weather over
the continent, coupled with the Allied supremacy over
the area keeps air kills by the 56th lower than might
have been expected during this period of action.
56th celebrates Independence Day by becoming the first
fighter group to pass the 500 destroyed mark.
“Gabby” Gabreski destroys an Me 109 bringing
his score to 28 confirmed kills making him the top scoring
fighter pilot in the ETO.
Fred Christensen scores 6 victories in one day. All the
aircraft shot down are JU52 Transports.
his return from leave Joseph Egan begins his second tour
and takes over command of the 63rd FS. Only
two days later he is killed in action. Harold
“Bunny” Comstock takes over command of the
his bags packed Francis Gabreski is due to leave Boxted,
along with James Carter and begin his leave in the USA.
The day's mission, a Ramrod to Russelsheim appeals to
Gabreski and he decides to fly one more mission. His 166th.
After leaving the bombers the 61st FS seek out targets
of opportunity and strafe Bassinheim airfield. Streaking
low across the airfield Gabreski gets just a little too
low and hits the ground with his propeller which results
in having to make a belly landing just outside the airfield
After a short period on the run Gabreski is captured and
spends the remainder of hostilities in a POW camp. Gordon
Baker takes over command of the 61st FS.
“droopsnoot” mission with Schilling leading
35 P-47's and Col Zemke flying the P-38 the group take
off at 18.20. Each P-47 carries a 150Gal drop tank filled
with oil, with the targets including a fuel dump at Fournival.
The group is warned of an impending attack and jettisons
the tanks. When the attack fails to materialise they content
themselves with strafing the original targets.
P-38 is hit by flak over Montdidier and he returns to
Boxted minus the starboard propeller. On
landing the P-38s brakes fail and Zemke ends the mission
in a field at the end of the runway.
month's missions continue to consist mainly of dive bombing
and strafing in support of the Allied invasion.
Gen Griswold at 8th Fighter Command informs Col Zemke
that he wants Lt Col Schilling to take over command of
the latest fighter group to arrive in the ETO. The 479th
FG based at Wattisham and flying P-38s who had just lost
their commanding officer over France. When informed of
this, Schilling's reaction was most unfavourable and he
is reported as having expressed his feelings on the matter
with a succession of expletives. Nobody in the 56th was
more surprised than Schilling when Zemke, having predicted
Schilling's reaction and already having made the decision
in his own mind, announced “Ok Dave, You take the
56th and I'll take the 479th!” After
receiving official approval from 8th Fighter Command,
Zemke addresses personnel in the Number 1 hangar at Boxted
before leaving for Wattisham.
Col David C Schilling takes command of the 56th Fighter
Group, leading his first mission as Group Commander at
04.46 on a dive bombing mission against the marshalling
yards at Charleville.
Dade becomes the new Deputy Group CO. Mike Quirk takes
command of the 62nd FS.
Schilling leads the group in their first use of wing mounted
M10 rocket launchers. The target is marshalling yards
at Braine-le Compe. Two of the P-47s were fitted with
the rockets while the rest carried a mixture of 250lb
bombs, 500lb bombs and 260lb fragmentation bombs.
rockets were again used by some aircraft in another raid
on railway related targets. Results were inconclusive
regarding accuracy and the rocket tubes were found to
affect drag and stability on the aircraft.
V1 Doodlebugs pass over or near Boxted with one exploding
less than two miles away and having the audacity to interrupt
a talk being given outside number 2 hangar by Lt Col Schilling!
bombing and strafing continue to form the vast majority
of missions flown by the group culminating in missions
supporting Operation Market Garden. During the previous
few weeks two enterprising 41st Service Squadron S/Sgt's,
Thurman Schreel and Charles Taylor, had been working in
their spare time converting a War Weary P-47D-11 into
a two seater. Christened "Category E", the "Doublebolt"
as it was also known makes its first flight on September
10th with Lt.Col Schilling at the controls. Its main use
is as a liaison aircraft and some groundcrew also take
the opportunity to experience a flight in a Thunderbolt.
target today was the marshalling yard at Amersfoort couple
with Flak-Busting in support of the Airborne Operations.
Over the target Lt Col Schilling was hit by flak but managed
to get back to Boxted in his damaged P-47 “Hairless
Joe” and crash landed when the starboard undercarriage
Flak Busting-Holland - the costliest mission in the
history of the 56th Fighter Group. Sixteen pilots failed
to return. Of the returning P-47s, 15 had suffered battle
damage. Of the sixteen pilots who didnt return, 8 had
bailed out or force landed in Allied held territory, 3
were wounded and returned to the USA, 1 was killed when
belly landing his stricken P-47, another was known to
have become a POW and 3 were posted missing. 3 of the
56th pilots, G.Stevens; E. Raymond; and T. Edwards lost
their lives that day. For this mission the 56th Fighter
Group was awarded its second Distinguished Unit Citation.
22nd September the groups missions for the rest
of the month consisted of Rodeos and Ramrods. There are
not thought to have been any complaints from the 56th
Dade returns to the USA on compassionate leave and Maj
Baker takes over as Group Flying Executive Officer. Donovan
Smith assumes command of the 61st FS.
missions continued as Septembers ended with all but two
of the missions flown that month being Ramrods.
the Ramrod to Gelsenkirchen Major L Smith, leading the
group is reported to have used the 62nd FS as flak decoy
for the bombers.
start of the month sees the 56th claiming their first
victory against the new German Me262 Jet. The “kill”
was shared between the 56th and 352nd Fighter Groups.
Ramrod missions continued throughout November along with
a small number of strafing/dive bombing missions. The
end of the month saw the British MEW (Micro Early Warning)
system moved to the continent and the 56th found itself
flying more missions under MEW control in an attempt to
seek out and destroy the Luftwaffe.
the missions flown this month by the 56th were under MEW
fighters of the 8th claim 32 enemy aircraft shot down
with the 56th accounting for 11 of these.
a succession of vectors onto friendly aircraft by MEW
control,the 56th strafes the airfield at Neuberg resulting
in claims of 14-1-12 (ground). However the biggest adversary
the 56th faced this day was the weather. By
22.10, when the first report was sent to Wing HQ, of the
49 aircraft despatched by the 56th that day, 4 were early
returns and 21 had not yet returned. While it was known
that some of these had landed at Allied bases on the continent
to refuel, 9 were later found to be wrecked through bail
outs or crash landings. The only casualty that day was
Maj Hall, who was injured when landing in his parachute
in Brittany. It took four days for all the pilots to return
to Boxted with the exception of Hall who was in hospital
A historic day for the 56th and Col Schilling. Anticipating
that the break in the weather would encourage the Luftwaffe
to be up in force supporting the German counter offensive,
the 56th, under MEW control, was over the Bonn area. After
spotting no less than three German formations Schilling
asked MEW control why they hadn't spotted them he was
told “Don't worry, stay on original vector for bigger
game at 22'000 to 23'000 feet”. The “bigger
game” turned out to be two huge formations of Fw190s,
estimated to be around 250 in total. Outnumbered by five
to one, but with the advantage of height and surprise,
Schilling ordered the 61st and 63rd squadrons to attack
one formation while he led the 62nd to hit the second
the battle that ensued, ranging from
26'000 feet to ground level, the 56th destroyed 32 fighters
confirmed, one probable and fourteen damaged. At the briefing
before the mission Schilling had informed the pilots that
the 56th had been responsible for 25% of the 8th Air Force
victories. On this day however, the 56th accounted for
over 50% of the enemy aircraft to fall that day. They
not only created another group record but took the 56th's
total to well over 800 aircraft destroyed. 3 of the 56th's
pilots failed to return and two of these were killed.
Schilling destroyed 5 enemy aircraft in this action and
was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster to his Distinguished Service
Cross and a commendation for “outstanding heroism
and splendid leadership.” Later that day Schilling
attended a party at a Colchester Officer's Club for children
whose fathers were prisoners of war... and played Santa
Harold Comstock led his 130th and final mission of his
second tour although he retained command of the 63rd FS
for another three weeks.
The 56th begins to receive the new P-47M model. The 56th
is the only group to fly the M model operationally and
the group's individuality is furthered by each squadron
adopting a unique paint scheme for its aircraft. The 61st
FS aircraft wore all black upper surfaces, the 62nd FS
aircraft took on a green/grey disruptive pattern while
the 63rd FS also decided on a disruptive pattern using
two shades of blue. All the aircraft retain unpainted
The group's first high level bombing mission under MEW
control. Flying the last mission of his second tour today
is 61st FS commander Donovan Smith. James Carter takes
over and becomes the last combat commander of the 61st
FS. Today's mission also turns out to be Col Schilling's
last combat flight.
Celebrations at Boxted mark the 2nd anniversary of the
group's arrival in the ETO.
A heavy overnight snowfall causes problems at many of
the 8th's airfields which will hamper operations over
the next few days. Despite the weather 900 heavy bombers
are able to carry out their missions.
In clear skies over Europe the depleted Luftwaffe comes
up to take on the “Mighty Eighth”. Seven of
the “heavies” are lost and 5 more damaged
to badly to be repaired. 293 others receive varying degrees
of damage. The bombers' claims today are 31-9-7 while
the fighter groups combined total is 155-0-25. The 56th
accounts for 19-2-1 on its mission today which also sees
the first mission to feature the new P-47M. Capt Williamson
is the 56th's top scorer today with 5 confirmed, taking
his total to 15.5. He would later be awarded the DSC for
Paul Conger takes command of the 63rd FS.
More changes in the command structure as Felix Williamson
assumes command of the 62nd FS. Leslie Smith moves up
to Deputy Group CO. Biggest change in the 56th is Col
Schilling's transfer to the 65th Fighter Wing.
Lucian Dade becomes the new 56th Fighter Group Commanding
January the 61st FS becomes the first of the group's squadrons
to convert to the P-47M. Engine and ignition problems
begin to plague the new fighter, preventing the 61st from
flying any missions in the M during January and early
February. Having transferred out its old D models, the
61st was reliant on using P-47Ds from the other two squadrons.
The workload for the ground crews at this time was particularly
heavy, especially for the 62nd and 63rd squadrons.
The 62nd FS begins to convert to the P-47M but unlike
the 61st it retains some of its D models.
Inspection of a P-47M which is crash landed by George
Bradley after an engine failure reveals the cause as another
case of a cracked ignition harness, and replacement of
the existing harnesses with a new neoprene cased one commences.
The fault was very similar to what had been experienced
over two years before with the earlier P-47 types.
The 63rd FS starts its own conversion to the P-47M and
also retains many of its P-47Ds while the group continues
to experience trouble with the new arrivals.
More engine problems with the P-47M, traced to split poppet
valve diaphragms in the Bendix carburettors, lead to all
67 of the aircraft currently at Boxted being grounded.
Engineers from Bendix are able to manufacture replacement
gaskets using British materials and all aircraft were
modified with 24 hours. The group's operations were affected
by the P-47M's unreliablity and most of the 14 missions
flown that month were only 2 squadron missions using the
62nd and 63rd squadrons P-47 Ds. A frustrating time for
all, although by the end of the month it is believed that
all the problems with the new model have been overcome
and the last P-47Ds are withdrawn from Boxted.
For the first time the 62nd FS fields an all P-47M formation
for today's Ramrod-Aschaffenberg. However, 6 of its 14
aircraft experience engine problems, mostly involving
loss of power, and return early.
Today's area support over the Hamburg area sees all three
squadrons airborne on a mission for the first time in
a month. 51 P-47s leave Boxted and 5 abort with engine
2nd Lt Frank Aheron, flying the P-47M which had originally
been claimed by Col Schilling as his personal aircraft
in January, is killed during a training flight. Piston
failure is found to be the cause.
Another oil loss related engine failure causes 2nd Lt
Alfred Bolender to make an emergency landing in Belgium.
61st FS pilots Luther Hines and Richard Tuttle are killed
following a collision during a training flight.
2nd Lt Earl Townsends P-47M develops an oil leak during
today's Ramrod. While returning to Boxted the aircraft's
engine fails while still over the North Sea and while
bailing out 2nd Lt Townsend is believed to have struck
the aircraft's tail and is killed.
Another engine failure results in the death of 63rd FS's
Lt Willard Scherz.
Once again all the P-47Ms are grounded.
War Weary P-51 Mustangs are sent to Boxted. Pilots reluctantly
begin transition training while ground crews, Republic
technicians, engineers from Pratt and Whitney and 8th
Air Force Technical staff renew their efforts to solve
the problems with the P-47M.
One crew chief notices that it's becoming easier to pull
the propeller of his assigned P-47M through, and compression
tests are conducted with telling results.
stripped down engine revealed that rust was present on
the iron piston rings and that on engines with low compression
readings oil was being pumped up the breather line increasing
the pressure and causing failures. The cause of the rust
being traced to inadequate protection against the salt
water atmosphere of the Atlantic crossings. It was decided
to change all engines in P-47Ms with less than 50 hours
engine time and over three quarters of the group's aircraft
received new engines.
9 days after the group was taken off operations, the P-47M's
problems were finally resolved and the group returned
to operational duty on March 25th. Much to the ground
crews', and many of the pilots' relief, the Mustangs left
Boxted. The Wolfpack was back in business!
The first week of April sees the 56th back on familiar
duties escorting bombers.
After combat during the Ramrod-Perleberg, Lt Edmond Ellis
and Lt Charles Raymond land at the recently occupied airfield
of Euskirchen to refuel. This was the first intentional
landing by Wolfpack's pilots on German soil.
After being fitted with airbourne radar the group's "Doublebolt"
sees a return to operations with Lucian Dade in the pilot's
The radar fails to operate correctly and the mission is
Maj James Carter leads the 56th on a Fighter Sweep in
the Berlin area and strafes a selection of airfields.
Werder airfield is the hardest hit with between 25 and
30 Luftwaffe aircraft left in flames after the P-47s strafing
runs. Total claims by the 56th for the day are 2-0-1 air
and 45.5-0.53 ground.
The second anniversary of the group's first combat mission
sees the 56th head out over Europe on its 458th combat
mission. A Freelance mission finds Eggebeck airfield in
Denmark occupied by approximately 175-200 enemy aircraft.
Strafing attacks over the next 70 minutes by the 63rd
FS followed by the 62nd and 61st result in claims of 95-0-95
with the loss of only one pilot, Lt W. Hoffman of the
Of The Strafers” that day is Lt Randel Murphy of
the 63rd FS who sets a new ETO record with 10 confirmed
ground kills and 5 damaged. When the 56th left the area
smoke from around 100 fires had risen to nearly 1000ft.
years after beginning operations the 56th saw its total
of enemy aircraft destroyed pass the magic 1000 mark,
and dedicated its achievement to President Roosevelt who
had passed away the day before.
A group heads for the Saltzburg area on a Ramrod and when
the bombers abort join up with the B group on a Freelance
Mission in the vicinity of Munich. The mission is uneventful
and the last P-47 lands at Boxted at 14.35 bringing the
56th Fighter Group's last combat mission of WW2 to a close.
The 8th Air Force flies its last mission of the war.
1st Lt Zychowski is killed during a training accident
near Tiverton in Devon.
8th May 1945
V-E Day. The end of the war in Europe.
Group Chaplains lead the 56th Fighter Groups personnel
in prayer and Lt Col Dade reads congratulatory speeches.
The enlisted men celebrate that night with free beer in
the “Little Wheels” club.
“Points System” comes into effect and having
been overseas since January 1943 many of the original
members of the 56th are on their way back to the USA before
the month ends. In late May the group is alerted for a
possible move to Augsberg Germany for Occupation Duties
which is later cancelled.
A 63rd FS P-47M is specially painted for a USAAF Exposition
in Paris. The aircraft proudly displays the legend, "Zemkes
Wolfpack. 56th Fighter Group. Over 1000 E.A Destroyed".
Following his release from captivity Col. Zemke happens
to be in Paris at the time, and is "surprised - and
greatly moved" to discover that the P-47 on display
carries this tribute.
Lt Col Dade is transferred to a staff position in Paris
and Lt Col Donald Renwick becomes the Commanding Officer
of the 56th Fighter Group.
An Open Day is held at Boxted for members of the local
population to see what had been happening in their Parish.
Following the dropping of the Atomic bombs, Japan surrenders.
14th August is declared V-J Day. The war is over.
The 56th is officially transferred to Little Walden.
The last P-47s leave Boxted and are flown to Speke, Liverpool
to await scrapping.
The last personnel leave Boxted and the airfield is returned
to RAF control.
The last of the officers and enlisted men board the Cunard
Liner Queen Mary and head across the Atlantic for home.
At 23.59 the 56th Fighter Group and its associated support
units are inactivated.