THE P-51 ERA (1943 - 1944)

Assigned to 318th FS Commander Major James V. Toner, F-51D "00" displays a version of the last paint scheme worn by  Checkertail P-51's with the addition of checkers on the the landing gear doors and the wingtips.


In May 1944, a second aircraft transition took place for the Clan replacing the Groups rugged P-47s with the famed P-51 Mustang accomplishing this while fulfilling their combat requirements. With their new Mustangs, the squadron was able to fly missions farther into enemy territory, and to escort bombers from a pre-target rendezvous point, over the target, and well along the course back to base. This meant that one group flying P-51s would be able to supply the cover that had previously required two or three groups flying P-47s.


Towards the end of May, planning was underway for the Groups next mission, after 24-hour guard was placed around the Commanding Officer’s tent, many in the group knew this mission would not be routine. This talk was only intensified after all pilots and selected ground personnel were asked to take passport size photographs in civilian clothes. On June 2, the mystery surrounding the mysterious mission began coming to light, a flight echelon consisting of ground officers, crew chiefs, and clerks began deploying to a heavy bomber base, as they arrived, they were briefed on their mission, a mission codenamed "Operation Frantic".


Originally named Operation Frantic Joe, the mission was a response to a request to the 15th Air Force by a desperate Joseph Stalin to help the Red Army in its campaign in Romania. In exchange for the Fifteenth's assistance, Stalin would allow American combat aircraft to be based at airfields within the Soviet as during bombing raids German industrial regions in occupied Silesia, Hungary, and Romania. Before it began, the mission was renamed "Operation Frantic" to avoid offending the Soviet premier.


Sixty-four P-51s took off from Lesina and escorted B-17s attacking Debreczen marshalling yards, Hungary. After the attack, both fighters and bombers continued on to Russian bases to complete the first Italy-to Russia shuttle mission of the war. Ground officers, crew chiefs, and clerks went to the Russian bases in B-17s, and there performed the maintenance, operation, and intelligence functions necessary to all missions.


On 2 June 1944 Col Chet Sluder led 64 P-51 Mustangs from 325th FG in the first effort to forward deploy US bombers in Russia and Hungray in a mission titled "Operation Frantic Joe". The P-51B Col Sluder used in that mission was "Shimmy III" a/c #52.


The 318th Fighter Squadron along with the other squadrons of the 325th Fighter Group flew bomber escort missions against Rumanian airfields on 6th and 11th June from the Russian bases. On the 6th of June 1944, 104 B-17s and 42 P-51 Mustangs from the 325th flew a mission attacking the airfield at Galati, Romania, during the aerial battle, P-51's of the Green Dragons  downed six enemy fighters, while losing two of their P-51B's (42-103369, 42-103432). On June 11, all personnel and aircraft of the Checkertail clan returned to their base Lesina, during the mission the Group only lost two of the 234 B-17s it escorted over the German targets, killing nine enemy aircraft in the process.


In the summer of 1944, the Allied bombing campaign began to focus on German oil production. The Clan escorted heavy bombers attacking either crude oil processing plants in Rumania or synthetic plants throughout Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, or Hungary. A second priority was the means the Germans would use to transport the crude, the railroad network, which received a lot of attention from Allied the bombers and strafing fighters. To keep enemy air resistance at a minimum it was necessary to fly an occasional fighter sweep or bomber mission against enemy airfields.


On 28 June 1944, 40 Mustangs of the 325th set out take the fight to the enemy seeking "targets of opportunity" over Bucharest, Rumania. In the fighter sweep mission, the Mustangs faced forty-seven enemy aircraft destroying seventeen, a 318th pilot, F/O Robert H. Brown, led the Group in kills during the mission with three, other Dragon pilots downed another four.


During the 318ths P-51 era, the squadron flew three models of the Mustang, P-51B, P-51C & P-51D's.


What some called "an example of courage and skill" from the members of the 325th occurred during a not so routine mission escorting of B-24s on their way to Bucharest on 31 July 1944. Sixteen of a package of forty-five Checkertail P-51's broke away to face 45 Me-109s and FW-190s heading to intercept the bomber force. The enemy fighters tried to lure the attacking P-51 by performing "Lufbery Circle" a defensive tactic developed by Gervais Raoul Lufbery a French-American fighter pilot and flying ace in World War I.  In Lufbery Circle (also known as Turn Fight or the Knife Fight) where fighters form a horizontal circle so each plane would theoretically protect the plane in front and receive protection from behind, the attacking fighter would be unable to engage a member of the formation without coming under fire himself.



The P-51s dived through the circle and fought furiously destroying eighteen enemy fighters with 1 probable kill and 12 damaged.  At the end of the fight, the Green Dragons proved to be a formidable foe, the 318th scoreboard for the mission sixteen kills. 318th pilot Lt. Harry A. Parker with four Me-10 kills (and six fighters damaged) Lt. Benjamin H. Emmert with three Me-109 kills (and five fighters damaged) , Lt. Phillip Sangermano with three Me-109 kills, Lieutenants John Reynolds, William Pomerantz, and Vernier A. Goodman each with two kills apiece.


On 23 August 1944, the Group was assigned to escort B-24s of the 461st BW on their way to bomb the Markersdorf Airdrome, St. Polten, Austria. During the mission more than seventy ME-109s attacked the formation between Lake Balaton and the target, the 318th met the enemy scoring nine kills.  On the next day in a flight of 40 German aircraft, the Clan encountered a familiar foe, a captured P-51, painted black with yellow stripes around the wings. The attempt to confuse the Dragons did not work, Lieutenants Harry A. Parker and Paul M. Wipperfurth each killed one ME-109 apiece, and 318th Ace Lt. Robert H. Brown would bag his seventh and last kill, a FW 190.


In a 5 November 1944 mission, after an escorting B-17s to the Venna Florisdorf oil refineries on 5 November 1944, eight ME-109s engaged a flight of Checkertail P-51s in the skies around the southern edge of Lake Balaton. Green Dragon pilot Capt Oscar "Ockie" J Rau received a kill on his first match-up with a ME-109, but his day had only just begun.  After his first engagement, Rau noticed that his flight leader was in battle with three ME-109s, as he arrived on scene, he engaged and downed one of enemy airplanes. He then went after the second of the three aggressors and won the battle getting him kill number three. A moment later, Capt Rau's wingman was in trouble, the Captain moved to keep the bandit of his partner's tail, and downed number four. During the fight Lt. Bob Newell and Maj Norman L. McDonald (an Ace that would later become the 318th Commander) each received one kill apiece.


For his for extraordinary heroism and unquestionable valor in aerial combat,  Lt Oscar J Rau was The Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army, for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force. 


SHU-SHU P-51D # 59 flown by 318 Commander Maj. Norman McDonald displays a smaller version of the 325th FG markings found on their P-51's. During his assignment with the 318th, Maj. McDonald added four kills to his seven kills earned with the 52nd Fighter Group making him a Double Ace.   


During the lengthy stay at Lesina Airfield, command of the 318th changed hands three times. Captain Roy B. Hogg succeeded Lt. Col. James V. Toner, Jr. on 8 May 1944, who was appointed as Deputy Commander of the 325th Fighter Group. On completing his tour of missions, Captain Roy B. Hogg was followed by Major Sheldon W. Farnham who assumed command on 23 July 1944. The command was changed again when Major Sheldon W. Farnham was transferred to Group operations on 26 November 1944, and Major Norman L. McDonald was placed in command.


The 318th remained at Lesina longer than at any other base. Many things occurred during the more than 11 months spent there, but it will best be remembered for very rainy conditions that made life miserable, and sometimes dangerous operationally considering that the muddy runway was built on a hillside.


Early in March 1945 the 318th moved again by air to Rimini Airdrome at Miramare, Italy. Living conditions were much improved for the squadron; with squadron personnel living in abandon buildings instead of the usual, US Army issued tents. Squadron billets, surrounded by the town and was very close to the Adriatic Sea, was located a good distance from their airfield. To help personnel move between the living quarters and the airfield, an hourly bus service was established.


On a 14 March 1945 escort mission, one P-51 experienced oxygen system problems and was forced to pull out of formation, piercing the clouds, he was met by four ME-109s on the prowl. After hearing the call for assistance, a large portion of the flight dropped down to help their comrade, one pilot, Lt Gordon H McDaniel found a line of eight or nine ME-109s. McDaniel began a tail-end attack that resulted in the Lieutenant becoming an Ace adding five kills to his one previous. By the end of the fight, 318th pilots outnumbered better than two to one destroyed 18 probably destroyed one, and damaged two FW-190s.

PHOTO FROM ace1945.com

Ace in a day Lt Gordon "Mac" McDaniel is pictured with his 5 kills painted on his P-51D "Mary Mac" # 40.


Operations from Rimini Airdrome continued until 2 April when the squadron moved back to Mondolfo Airfield, which was its last combat base in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. On the same day of the move, after knocking out a train and damaging some freight cars, the 325th ran into fifteen ME-109s, Maj McDonald shot down two with Lt. George E. Amedro killing one.  On the 4th, five trains and five rail cars were destroyed in the Munich-Linz-Regensburg area; the squadron engaged six FW-190s, Lt. Walter K. Selenger killed two, Lieutenants William E. Aron, Lester F. Seevers, killing one each.


On 10 April, after a Group freelance mission, two flights of 318th P-51s would remain over in the Regensburg-Linz target area an extra hour one hour beyond the required time seeking targets of opportunity, this came in the form of German FW-190s. Six pilots (Major Norman L. McDonald, Lieutenants William E. Aron, Richard D. Christman, Hibbard V Forsyth, James A. Leonard, Jr., and Joe E. Mason) would attain the Green Dragons last aerial victories of the War. The 318th would see 140 of its pilots accounting for 176 victories between their first kill (17 April 1943) through their last (10 April 1945).


On 7 May 1945, hours before the end of the war in Europe the 325th flew its last combat sortie, an mission escorting Halifax bombers of the Royal Air Force's 148 Squadron, when the propellers of the five P-51's came to a halt, the war ended for the Checkertail Clan.


Final record for the 325th Fighter Group in the P-51:


- 342 missions

- 10,596 sorties

- 45,370 combat hours

- 246 aerial victories

- 75 losses


From 17 April 1943 to 7 May 1945, the squadrons of the 325th Fighter Group contributed to a very impressive combat efficiency, below you will find some of the notable facts:


- 567 missions

- 18,212 sorties

- 70,772 combat flying hours

- 27 Aces with 201 kills

- 537 aircraft destroyed in the air (confirmed)

- 60 aircraft destroyed in the air (probable)

- 89 aircraft damaged in the air (confirmed)

- 250 aircraft damaged on the ground (confirmed)

- 264 locomotives destroyed on the ground (confirmed)

- 137 locomotives destroyed on the ground (probable)

- 159 motor transports on the ground (confirmed)

- 101 motor transports on the ground (probable)

- 148 freight & oil cars destroyed on the ground (confirmed)

- 995 freight & oil cars destroyed on the ground (proabable)

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