A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 56th FIGHTER GROUP

20th November 1940
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.


14th January 1941
The 56th Pursuit Group is activated when 3 officers and 150 enlisted are ordered to report
to the National Guard armoury in Savanna Georgia.

6th May 1941
The new Republic P-47 Thunderbolt makes its maiden flight.

Late May 1941
The 56th Fighter Group moves to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Major Davis Graves takes command of the group.

June 1941
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.

October 1941
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.

7th December 1941
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.

10th December 1941
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.

Late December 1941
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.
The 56th's aircraft at this time would later be described by one squadron's Engineering Officer as “an assortment of junk”


January 1942
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.

February-April 1942
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.

March 1942
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.

15th May 1942
The Army Air Corps “Pursuit” groups are re-designated “Fighter” Groups. Squadron designations follow suite.

26th May 1942
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.

June 1942
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 catches fire.

July 1942
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.

September 1942
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.

November 1942
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.

December 1942
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.


6th January 1943
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.

12th January 1943
After six days at sea the Queen Elizabeth docks at Gourock in Scotland.

13th January 1943
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 RAF Wittering.

25th January 1943
The first P-47C Thunderbolts arrive at King's Cliffe.

February 1943
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.

10th March 1943
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.

29th March 1943
The Duke and Duchess Of Gloucester visit King's Cliffe.

Around 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.

5th April 1943
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.

8th April 1943
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 O'Neill.

13th April 1943
The 56th FG flies its first operational mission. A Rodeo (Fighter sweep) of the St Omer area.

29th April 1943
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.

4th May 1943
The group flies its first RAMROD. (Bomber escort) covering B-17s on a mission to Antwerp.

8th May 1943
Lt Col Zemke is promoted to full Colonel.

9th June 1943
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.

12th June 1943
Walter Cook (62nd FS) shoots down an Fw190 to record the groups first enemy aircraft confirmed destroyed.

26th June 1943
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 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 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.
Later in the month the group receives orders to prepare to move again.

July 1943
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.

8th July 1943
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.

19th July 1943
The groups first DFC is awarded to Col. Zemke.

20th July 1943
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.

29th July 1943
America's top scoring fighter ace of WW1, Cpt Eddie Rickenbacker visits Halesworth and addresses the gathered personnel.

12th August 1943
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.

17th August 1943
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” Galland.

18th August 1943
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.

19th August 1943
Captain Gerald Johnson destroys an Fw190 to become the group's first ace (later disputed
in a reassessment of combat claims)

23rd August 1943
Schilling leads the group for the first time. Today's mission is recorded as being the last using the 200 gal “Bathtub” tanks.

25th August 1943
Work commences on the installation of fusalage shackles on the P-47s to enable the use of pressurised 75 gallon drop tanks.

17th September 1943
Eighth Air Force Commander Ira C Eaker visits Halesworth.
News reporters interview Cpt Gerald Johnson for an article on Fighter Aces.

30th September 1943
Maj Phillip Tukey is transferred to 8th Fighter Command as Operations Officer.
Cpt Sylvester Burke assumes command of the 63rd FS.

1st October 1943
Walker Mahurin and Frank McCauley become the groups first recipients of the Silver Star.

2nd October 1943
“Hub” Zemke scores his 5th victory to become an Ace.

4th October 1943
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.

10th October 1943
Schilling scores his 5th victory to join the ranks of 8th Air Force Aces.

15th October 1943
Glen Schiltz of the 63rd FS receives the first DSC awarded to a member of the 56th.

16th October 1943
Col Zemke is award the British DFC.

29th October 1943
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.

5th November 1943
The group scores 6-0-3 during a Ramrod to Munster and becomes the first group to score 100 victories.

7th November 1943
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.

21st November 1943
HQ 56th FG and 33rd Service Group combine to form Station Headquarters.

25th November 1943
The group flies its first fighter-bomber mission using 500lb bombs.

26th November 1943
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.

29th November 1943
Cpt Gerald Johnson is temporarily transferred to the recently arrived 365th Fighter Group
to assist in the group's entry into combat.

December 11th 1943
Another high scoring day for the 56th with claims of 17-0-6.
During this month P-47s begin to be flown to Wattisham to have the new paddle blade propellors fitted.


4th January 1944
Today's Ramrod was the first mission when all of the groups P-47Ds used the paddleblade propellers.

11th January 1944
For the first time the 56th puts up an A and B group on a single mission.

12th January 1944
A first anniversary of the 56th Fighter Group's arrival in the ETO.

13th January 1944
Major James Stewart takes command of the 61st FS

19th January 1944
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 by Schilling.

20th January 1944
Maj. Gabreski becomes Deputy Flying Executive and Operations Officer.

24th January 1944
A new tactic is tried by the 8th and the 56th flies its first “Bouncing Squadron” Mission.

25th January 1944
After being shot down on November 7th 1943, Robert Sheehan returns to the ETO.

30th January 1944
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.

3rd February 1944
Horace Craig becomes the first pilot in the 56th to complete his 200 hour tour of duty.

9th February 1944
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.

15th February 1944
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.

19th February 1944
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.

20th February 1944
The Ramrod to Leipzig today sees the first use of the new 150 Gal drop tanks by the 56th.

22nd February 1944
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.

4th March 1944
The 8th launches it first mission against the Berlin. Today's attempt was largely abortive.

6th March 1944
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.

8th March 1944
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.

14th March 1944
“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.

15th March 1944
Robert S Johnson overtakes Mahurin to become the leading ace in the ETO and is promoted to Captain.

22nd March 1944
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.

29th March 1944
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.

5th April 1944
Today saw the first strafing sweep of enemy airfields but no claims were made.

13th April 1944
Major Gabreski takes command of the 61st FS. James Stewart is transferred to 8th Fighter Command.

15th April 1944
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.

24th April 1944
After breaking escort from the bombers the 56th strafe Thalheim airfield resulting in claims for 14-0-15 (ground)

27th April 1944
Today sees the first recorded mission under the RAF Type 16 radar control.

28th April 1944
The 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 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.

5th May 1944
Walker Mahurin visits Boxted after evading capture when shot down in March. He later returns to combat in the Pacific theatre.

8th May 1944
Robert 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.

12th May 1944
Today's 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.

16th May 1944
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 Dade.

19th May 1944
The Ramrod to Brunswick sees the debut of the new “Bubbletop” P-47 with the 56th.

22nd May 1944
A 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.

27th May 1944
Maj Robert Lamb finishes his tour of duty and Capt Donald Goodfleisch takes command of the 63rd FS.

30th May 1944
Flying 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.

31st May 1944
Armed 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.

5th June 1944
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 are detained.

6th June 1944
D-Day.
The 56th flies eight missions in support of the Allied invasion. First take off is at 03.36hrs

7th June 1944
The 56th flies another 8 missions today and claims 12-1-4.
5 pilots fail return. Two of these, W. McClure and E. Bennett of the 62nd FS evade capture.

Throughout 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.

4th July 1944
The 56th celebrates Independence Day by becoming the first fighter group to pass the 500 destroyed mark.

5th July 1944

Francis “Gabby” Gabreski destroys an Me 109 bringing his score to 28 confirmed kills
making him the top scoring fighter pilot in the ETO.

7th July 1944
Capt Fred Christensen scores 6 victories in one day. All the aircraft shot down are JU52 Transports.

17th July 1944
On 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 squadron.

20th July 1944
With 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.
Gordon Baker takes over command of the 61st FS.

25th July 1944
Another “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.
Zemke's 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.

August 1944
The month's missions continue to consist mainly of dive bombing and strafing in support of the Allied invasion.

11th August 1944
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.

12th August 1944
Lt 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.

13th August 1944
Lucian Dade becomes the new Deputy Group CO. Mike Quirk takes command of the 62nd FS.

15th August 1944
Col 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.

17th August 1944
M10 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.

31st August 1944
Seven 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!

September 1944
Dive 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.

17th September 1944
The 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 leg folded.

18th September 1944
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.

From 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.

26th September 1944
Lucian 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.

October 1944
Octobers missions continued as Septembers ended with all but two of the missions flown that month being Ramrods.

25th October 1944
During the Ramrod to Gelsenkirchen Major L Smith, leading the group is reported to have used the 62nd FS
as flak decoy for the bombers.

1st November 1944
The 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.

More 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.

December 1944
All the missions flown this month by the 56th were under MEW control.

2nd December 1944
The fighters of the 8th claim 32 enemy aircraft shot down with the 56th accounting for 11 of these.

4th December 1944
After 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 in France.

23rd December 1944
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 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 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 Claus.

30th December 1944
Maj Harold Comstock led his 130th and final mission of his second tour although
he retained command of the 63rd FS for another three weeks.


3rd January 1945
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 lower surfaces.

5th January 1945
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.

6th January 1945
Celebrations at Boxted mark the 2nd anniversary of the group's arrival in the ETO.

10th January 1945
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.

14th January 1945
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 this mission.

20th January 1945
Paul Conger takes command of the 63rd FS.

26th January 1945
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.

27th January 1945
Lucian Dade becomes the new 56th Fighter Group Commanding Officer.

During 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.

3rd February 1945
The 62nd FS begins to convert to the P-47M but unlike the 61st it retains some of its D models.

9th February 1945
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.

17th February 1945
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.

26th February 1945
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.

4th March 1945
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.

5th March 1945
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 problems.

11th March 1945
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.

12th March 1945
Another oil loss related engine failure causes 2nd Lt Alfred Bolender to make an emergency landing in Belgium.

13th March 1945
61st FS pilots Luther Hines and Richard Tuttle are killed following a collision during a training flight.

14th March 1945
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.

15th March 1945
Another engine failure results in the death of 63rd FS's Lt Willard Scherz.

16th March 1945
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.

A 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!

April 1945
The first week of April sees the 56th back on familiar duties escorting bombers.

4th April 1945
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 seat.
The radar fails to operate correctly and the mission is uneventful.

10th April 1945
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.

13th April 1945
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 63rd FS.

“King 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.

2 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.

21st April 1945
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.

25th April 1945
The 8th Air Force flies its last mission of the war.

1st May 1945
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.

The “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.

June 1945
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.

August 1945
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.

1st August 1945
An Open Day is held at Boxted for members of the local population to see what had been happening in their Parish.

14th August 1945
Following the dropping of the Atomic bombs, Japan surrenders. 14th August is declared V-J Day. The war is over.

9th September 1945
The 56th is officially transferred to Little Walden.

14th September 1945
The last P-47s leave Boxted and are flown to Speke, Liverpool to await scrapping.

15th September 1945
The last personnel leave Boxted and the airfield is returned to RAF control.

11th October 1945
The last of the officers and enlisted men board the Cunard Liner Queen Mary and head across the Atlantic for home.

18th October 1945
At 23.59 the 56th Fighter Group and its associated support units are inactivated.