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 Beach respectively.
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
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
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”.
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
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 Bridgeport.
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
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
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
Due to insufficient accommodation being available the
63rd FS is allocated barrack space at nearby RAF Wittering.
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
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
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
by a civilian fishing boat and returns to Horsham. All
four pilots shot down are later found to have been killed.
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
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
him before turning away. Not wanting to “spoil his
glory” (Gerald Johnson's words in his book “Called
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
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 July.
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 Quarters.
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
preside over the first presentation of combat awards to
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
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
Loren McCollum is transferred to the 353rd FG and assumes
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 combat claims)
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
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
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 into combat.
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
P-51 Mustang but Col Landry refused, prefering to continue
to use the P-47. A decision no doubt influenced by Schilling.
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
very popular on all levels. The same day Col Zemke opens
the group's strafing account destroying an Me109 on the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 by cloud.
During April a ground officer of the 56th became an “Ace”,
on paper at least. The group's Air Inspector, Maj Wilbur
had begun collecting the thirteenth kill from the group's
top scoring pilots. This unusual practice had started
Robert Johnson had donated his thirteenth kill to the
“desk weenie”. Lt Col Schilling donated his
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 dearth
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
on the top and bottom surfaces of the wings. Nobody is
allowed to enter the base at Boxted and any visitors are
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.
two days later he is killed in action.
“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 perimeter.
After a short period on the run Gabreski is captured and
spends the remainder of hostilities in a POW camp.
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.
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!”
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
on a dive bombing mission against the marshalling yards
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
with Lt.Col Schilling at the controls. Its main use is
as a liaison aircraft and some groundcrew also take the
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
and crash landed when the starboard undercarriage leg
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 pilots.
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.
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.
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 in France.
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
to attack one formation while he led the 62nd to hit the
second formation. In
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
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
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 Claus.
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
63rd FS also decided on a disruptive pattern using two
shades of blue. All the aircraft retain unpainted lower
The group's first high level bombing mission under MEW
Flying the last mission of his second tour today is 61st
FS commander Donovan Smith. James Carter takes over and
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
are 31-9-7 while the fighter groups combined total is
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 this mission.
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
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
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
have been overcome and the last P-47Ds are withdrawn from
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
51 P-47s leave Boxted and 5 abort with engine problems.
2nd Lt Frank Aheron, flying the P-47M which had originally
been claimed by Col Schilling as his personal aircraft
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
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.
9th April 1945
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
Total claims by the 56th for the day are 2-0-1 air and
The second anniversary of the group's first combat mission
sees the 56th head out over Europe on its 458th combat
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
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
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
of the 56th are on their way back to the USA before the
In late May the group is alerted for a possible move to
Augsberg Germany for Occupation Duties which is later
A 63rd FS P-47M is specially painted for a USAAF Exposition
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
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.