A long day at the office Captain C. E. “Bud» Anderson. USAAC 357th Fighter Group, 363rd Fighter Squadron
During the spring of 1944,1 could see the military buildup in England and figured the invasion would take place soon. I was returning from a mission on June 5, 1944, and as I neared Pas De Calais, I noticed more boats than I had ever seen before. I shouted over the R/T, «Oh, wow!» The group leader ordered radio silence; he didn’t want me tipping off the listening enemy!
After we landed, our P-5 IBs were swarmed over by ground crews carrying paint buckets and brushes. They hand painted black and white bands around our wings and fuselage, turning our olive drab Mustangs into hybrid Zebras. We figured something was up for them to go to all that trouble.
We learned hours later that the boys on the ground would be landing on Normandy early the next day. The invasion was on!
Our group, the 357th, was assigned to launch 32 P-51Bs at 2:15 a.m. We were to patrol an assigned area south of Normandy waiting for some action. It never came as the Luftwaffe missed the invitation to the party and never showed up. I was taken up with the excitement and since it was really dark outside, I did a very poor preflight of my P-5 IB, Old Crow.
I didn’t notice that the coolant radiator doors were in the automatic position. Normally, my ground crew ran up Old Crow and left the radiator door in the manual position. A Mustang could overheat if it remained on the ground for extended periods of time with the prop turning.
I was the fifth Mustang to take off and didn’t think I was on the ground all that long. As I advanced the throttle, my P-5IB raced down the runway, gaining flying speed. I was fully loaded with gas and ammo as I lifted off into the black moonless night. That’s when the radiator cap blew. The vapor spread across my windscreen, blinding any forward vision I had. I quickly opened the coolant doors and the temps came back into the green. My mind raced back and forth: «Why didn’t I do a better pre-flight?» to «What the heck should I do now?!»
There was no place to land as all the runways were clogged with other Mustangs waiting to take off. The coolant temperatures were holding steady and I decided to take the risk and keep on flying. Besides, Old Crow and I never had an abort, and I didn’t want to break our record on the greatest day in history.
Onward and upward
My windscreen began to clear as I gathered my flight together and tucked them in close trail behind the group leader. There were red and green navigation lights all over the sky; it looked like a bunch of crazed fireflies buzzing around. After the group was assembled, with every flight in its proper place, the group leader announced, «Turn out your navigation lights and start patrolling!» That’s when it all fell apart.
I kept close watch over the blue exhaust flame on the lead Mustang ahead of me. I looked around for my fellow wingmen and found they had disappeared. 1 wondered who else was lost as we droned around over parts unknown. Then the Germans opened up with their anti-aircraft guns; I knew we weren’t over England anymore! Every once in awhile, I asked the group leader to flash his navigation lights and I would get back into position.
Witness to history
The early morning light began to push the darkness away. There were over 30 Mustangs that launched from our base at Leiston and now, to my surprise, counting myself, there were only four of us—the Group leader and his wingman and another flight leader, Obee O’Brien, sitting under my tail. Either we were really lost or we were a bunch of crack navigators! At that moment, through the breaks in the clouds, we saw the entire Normandy beach area.
It was an awesome sight. The landing barges were still approaching the beaches and I could see the white wake following each vessel. We were a long way away, but I could see the fighting and activity on the ground below. I could only wonder how the guys on the ground were doing and prayed for their success.
After six hours and 55 minutes of flying, I touched down at Leisten. It was the longest mission I had ever flown during the war. D-Day had been «dull day» as far as enemy action was concerned, but we had been part of history and that was satisfying to me, highlighted with some exciting moments and historical sites that I would never forget. (To learn more of Bud Anderson’s combat experiences, please read his book, To Fly and Fight.) As an original member of the 352nd Fighter Group we had cut our teeth in combat during 1943 flying the P-47 Thunderbolt. The Jug was big and roomy and had eight .50 caliber machine guns. It could take a lot of punishment and give back even more to the Germans. I scored some of my early victories flying the P-47 and was quite satisfied with the big brute of an airplane. In the spring of 1944, we were ordered to trade our Jugs in for a new fighter called the P-51 Mustang. To say I was a little apprehensive about swapping fighters is an understatement! I felt very cramped sitting in the P-5 IB, compared to the wide comfortable confines of the P-47. When I started the Mustang’s Merlin engine up for the very first time, the noise coming from the exhaust stacks that were sticking out of both sides of the engine cowl reminded me of a bunch of rattling tin cans; all I heard was a constant annoying popping sound. But once I poured the coal to the Mustang and took off, it was an entirely different animal in the sky.
The Mustang had real positive control and was a joy to fly. It was very maneuverable and forgiving, too. I especially liked the Malcolm Hood version of the P-5 IB because it gave us much better visibility compared to the French window version of the original canopies. But the one main difference the Mustang had over the Thunderbolt was range. Now we could stay with the bombers all the way in to the target and fight the Luftwaffe on our terms.
487th Fighter Squadron
1230, Vicinity Strassbourg, 25,000 to
I was leading Yellow Flight in the lead Squadron escorting the lead box of bombers at 25,000 feet. Suddenly, the sky up ahead was filled with a huge glob of planes. They were Fw 190s and Me 109s, 100 plus. In a moment, we were in the middle of them and the fight started. We swung over to the right and soon my wingman and I were alone in the middle of a Lufbery of 12 Me 109s, flying in three flights of four each. I reefed in hard all the while and was actually making a smaller circle within the 109s. Whenever I started to get sights on one ship, I noticed a flight of 109s ready to come in on my wingman or myself and so I had to break off. Finally, I saw a 109 break away and head due east. I tore out after him and stayed a little below so he would not see me and thus give me a chance to close in on his tail and let him have it. We flew for about five minutes, wide open throttle, when the 109 pilot saw me and turned sharply to the left. I tried to cut him off, but he turned the opposite way and we were right back where we started. Then the E/A broke down and made a sharp turn to the left and then to the right. I swung my ship around as he turned to the right. I managed to get in to about 150 yards from him, measured of about 20 degrees deflection, and opened fire. Strikes showed up all over the cockpit in one brilliant mass and the E/A caught fire and did a half roll and spun slowly towards the earth where it crashed, in a burst of flames. The pilot did not get out—ever. I went down to take a picture of the wreckage and then headed back upstairs and went home, all alone.
Northwest of Brunswick
I was flying Greenbelt White 3 when we saw a large formation of about 85 plus A/C flying SW about 2,000 feet below us. They passed under us, headed for the bombers, getting a few before we got tangled with them. I cannot give a very coherent description because it’s I’ve never been in a situation like that before. Fw 190s were all over the place and every time I turned around I started shooting. I made attacks on about five different 190s; one of these I got strikes on. Looking over at one side of the fight, there was a 190 and a P-51 going round and round, neither getting deflection on the other. I dived towards the 190 and clobbered him pretty good.(about a 40* shot). He straightened out and I got in some more strikes on wing root and fuselage around the cockpit. He went into a sharp dive and then I overshot him. I turned sharply and looking down, saw him hit and litter a field with pieces of his A/C. The fight started about 23,000 feet and finally ended up on the deck.
When I arrived in England in the spring of 1944, I had a whopping 12 hours of experience flying the P-51 and all of that time was in the P-51A back in the States. To me, the Mustang was like a young woman; beautiful but vulnerable. With its thin skin of aluminum wrapped around the engine, there wasn’t an ounce of protection. One little nick from flak or small arms fire and we were out of the ball game. But I have to say, for me, flying the Mustang, especially in combat, was one of the two greatest thrills in my life. The other was when I flew as wingman for my good friend Pierce W. «Mac» McKennon.
For whatever reason, «Mac» took a liking to me the day I arrived in England and chose me to fly on his wing when we went out on our missions. «Mac» was a real character because after we got into big dogfights with the Luftwaffe, the whole squadron would be scattered about as we made our way back to England. «Mac» had a real knack for finding me, anywhere over Europe. He would come up along side of me and for fun he would try to flip me over by placing his Mustangs wing-tip under mine and then bang it up and down into my wingtip. When I would land at our base in Debden, the flight engineer, a Lt. Colonel, would question me and say,
«Why is it that every time you and McKennon fly together, you both come back with your wing-tips beat up?»
«Mac» would be off in the distance laughing at me as I told the Lt. Colonel, «Must be turbulent winds, sir.» I don’t think he ever believed us!
Our wingtips weren’t the only things we beat up as we went head to head with the Luftwaffe. I remember one of my first missions as we escorted B-17s into Germany because I was scared to death! Someone in the group called out over a 150 German fighters ahead of us. There were only 24 of us flying in our P-5 IB Mustangs when some joker came across the R/T and said, «Just about even!» But that was the attitude of the pilots in our group, because we were flying the Mustang. We tore into the German fighters and had us an old-fashioned free-for-all.
Control of the skies
Although our group had trained in P-39s back in the States, we were in for quite a surprise when we arrived in England in late 1943. Our Group was supposed to be assigned to the 9th Air Force, but by then the P-5 IB Mustang was arriving in England. There was some horse trading going on and we got traded to the 8th Air Force for a P-47 outfit. I flew the Mustang for the very first time on January 30, 1944.1 had heard very little about the P-51, but was immediately impressed with its looks. Like any other fighter plane, it had a single seat so to get acclimated to its characteristics you hopped in, fired it up and took off. When I flew the Mustang, I felt as though I put it on like a favorite coat; it just became a part of you.
Bud was the best
My original flight leader had been killed while strafing a German airfield, so our flight was split up and I became the number four—»Tail end Charlie”—in Bud Anderson’s flight. I have yet to meet a finer pilot, leader or man and I tried to fly with Bud as much as possible. By March, we were flying over Berlin on bomber escorts and 1 eventually received one of Bud’s original P-5 IB Mustangs that he named Old Crow. I changed the name to Berlin Express because that’s where we always seemed to end up. Both Bud and I painted white sidewalls on our tires and had red-colored rims in honor of our convertibles we had back home.
I thought that the P-51 Mustang was the finest fighter in the war and it certainly changed the air war in Europe. The Mustang could fly anywhere and beat the Luftwaffe whereever they were. In fact, on one of our early Berlin raids, we missed connections with the bombers. They were not where they were supposed to be. We flew past Berlin for awhile and turned around just in time to find the wayward bomber group getting bounced by upwards of ISO German twin engine and single engine fighters. We came in from behind them and they never knew what hit them. That really seemed to shake the Luftwaffe up because we shot down 20 of their fighters that day and never lost a Mustang.
I attribute our success to a couple of things. Number one was the fact that our group always performed liked a team and if you were ever in trouble, somebody would be there to help you out. When you’re in the middle of a dogfight and bullets and airplanes are flying every which way, it becomes a little hectic to say the least. Most of us thought of ourselves as hot pilots, and you had to have that attitude to survive, otherwise you had no business being in the middle of it.
Love the 51B!
Another reason was because we were flying the P-5 IB Mustang. My favorite model was the B or C with the Spitfire/Malcolm hood canopy. It provided much greater visibility over the original bird cage canopy. I also thought the B/C Mustangs were much better fighters than even the D model. The reason I didn’t like the P-5 ID as much was because of the gas tank installed behind the pilot’s head. You were kidding yourself if you thought that you could dogfight with a load of fuel back there. The center of gravity was so heavy in the wrong place that you couldn’t turn and you couldn’t do anything right. But in the P-51 B/C I thought I could do everything right. It was the perfect fighter.
July 29,1944 1030, West of Merseburg
I was flying Cement Red #3 and my wingman and I were making a pass on a large field. As we did, a Me 109 dove on us slightly to our right. I turned into him as soon as I was across the field and he was fairly close. He turned right also leaving me right behind him. Using the gyro gunsight, I fired about 30* deflection and got hits. I think the range was about 350 yards. I closed in still firing and hit his coolant. He dropped down right on the ground and as my wing was in the grass I had to pull up. Pieces of the 109 made holes in my canopy. The gyro gunsight (K-14) worked extremely well and I think was responsible for getting the hits at first. I claim one Me. 109 destroyed in the air.