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Yellowjackets! The 361st Fighter Group in World War II

Ye llowjackets! The 361 st Fighter Group in World War II

Paul B. Cora

Schiffer Military History Atglen, PA

Dust jacket and aircraft profile artwork by S.W. Ferguson, Colorado Springs, CO. DALE'S DISTI GUISHED DAY On May 29, 1944, the 361 st Fighter Group flew their first maximum effol1 with the new P-5l Mustang, and quickly proved the worth of this lethal "Yellowjacket" combination. Future ace Lt. Dale Spencer of the 376th FS, in particular, took an entire formation of Luftwaffe Me 41 Os to task in full view of the 40 1st Bomb Group Flying Fortres es that momentarily came under his solitary care. In the span of just thirty seconds, Spencer shot down four of the enemy heavy intereceptors which the bomber crews readily confirmed while the Yellowjackets accounted for ten more jagdfliegern. The cover depicts Spencer pulling up over hi forth victim as the B-17 stream homeward afely in the distance. Spencer' feat wa underscored by hi being awarded of the Di tinguished Flying Cross.

Contents Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction

Dedication To my parents, who believed

Book design by Robert Biondi. Copyright © 2002 by Paul B. Cora. Library of Congress Catalog umber: 2001091246. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any forms or by any means - graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or information storage and retrieval systems - without written permission from the copyright holder. "Schiffer," "Schiffer Publishing Ltd. & Design," and the "Design of pen and ink well" are registered trademarks of Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. Printed in China. ISB : 0-7643-1466-1 We are always looking for people to write books on new and related subjects. If you have an idea for a book, please contact u at the address below.

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Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

6 7 8

Birth of a Group Nissen Huts and Bicycles "B'19 Week" , B erl'In, an d B eyon d L ong R ange Transltlon .. Summer of '44 Autumn Escorts "Watch on the Rhine" S ' 0 fV'lctory............ prIng

10 20 31 47 60 90 108 117

Appendices Appendix 1: 361 st Fighter Group Aircraft in Profile Appendix 2: Aces of the 361st Fighter Group Appendix 3: Pilots Killed Overseas with the 361st Fighter Group Appendix 4: Commanding Officers of the 361st Fighter Group Appendix 5: Squadron Commanders of the 361 st Fighter Group

128 145 146 147 147

Glossary Bibliography Index

148 150 151

Foreword

I flew B-17s from Engli h bases beginning in April 1943,

Acknowledgments

group,

The Author would like to thank the following individuals

graph and documents related to 1st Lt. Clarence Zieske; Mr.

with three group: the 351 t, 9lst, and 384th which I com-

had graduated in 1942 but the fascinating part of that tory is

Bill Guckeyson, who somehow landed in Jack

for their kind assi tance in the preparation of thi book: Mr.

Laurent Wiart of Arras, France who provided details and pho-

manded from September 1944 until V-E Day. While I wa in

why he came to West Point at all. Bill had graduated from the

tographs of the final resting place of Col. Thomas J.1. Chris-

the 9lst I led the 8th Air Force on the October Schweinfurt

University of Maryland where he had been student b dy pr si-

Edward Knickman of the 374th Fighter Squadron who first took the time to tell me about his experiences flying with the

Mission when the designated leader, during the assembly, told

dent, football star sought by the Philadelphia Eagle, and a track

me to take the lead. Also during my 91 st days, I led the fir t

champion. For reasons of his own, never clearly explained, he

major daylight mis ion to Berlin. We 10 t 129 bombers on tho e two missions, and it became clear that fighter e cort was es-

course, have aved four years by going straight to flying chool,

sential to the daylight bombing campaign. It was groups like

but he had his reason.

the 361 st that made it possible to continue. The P-5 I wa , in

h starr d a a

wanted to graduate from West Point and then fly. He could, of 0 longer eligible for football and track,

cc r play r and captain of that team.

B tti ham wa ju t a f w mile fr mBa ingbourn, 0 we

my judgment, the most important weapon in the European war. When the 361st came to Bottisham, late in 1943, I learned

were able t

with surprised pleasure that two of my close friends Jack Chri -

ee ne an ther

a i nally, and it wa then that

I met Joe Kruzel wh m I ha

e er in e regard d a a friend.

Ja k called me the da

tian and Bill Guckeyson, were in the group, Jack as its com-

chara ten ti ally em ti nal.

mander, and Bill as a captain and flight leader. Jack Christian, great grandson of the legendary Stonewall

yke went down, and he was unon aft r, he and I took a few

day lea e t gether. It w uld b th la t time I aw him, for I

Jackson, was a year ahead of me at West Point and a fellow

left oon aft r n thirty day Rand R in th

member of the polo team. He graduated with star on hi collar

went down in that time.

tate, and Jack

- West Point's equivalent of magna cum laude - and was a

Thi i a fine tory that Paul Cora has told, one that puts

member of the exalted regimental staff. In the eyes of the tactical department, Jack was a non-pareil. His friends knew an-

tho e long ag day in u'ue per pecti e. It ha the additional virtue of being eminently readable.

other man, a fun loving fellow adept at circumventing We t

TR. Milton

tian, Jr.; General TR. Milton, USAF (ret.) who kindly read the

361 st Fighter Group; Mr. Steve Gotts of Cambridge, England, who generously lent research materials and guidance from an early stage; Ms. Susanne Lintlemann of the .S. Military Academy Library for her gracious research assistance; Mr. David Giordano of the National Archives in College Park who, many times, went digging for important records; Mr. Bernard 1. Redden of the 361st Fighter Group Association who e support of the project on so many 'fronts' was unflagging from start to finish; MGEN Jo eph 1. Kruzel, USAF (Ret.) of the 361st Fighter Group A sociation who lent support to the project in many ways over the past few years; Mr. Rich Espey who gave so much assistance with proofreading the drafts; Mr. Stan Piet who provided excellent copies of many of the 361st Fighter Group' official color photographs; Mr . Mary Warrington of Cumming, Georgia, who provided research and biographical data on her brother, Maj. George L. Merritt, Jr.; Mrs. Jean Shackelford who provided a number of photographs of Group personnel; Mr. Joseph Zieske Ormond who provided photo-

manuscript and wrote the thoughtful "Foreword" which appear in this book' Mrs. Jeanne B. Cora who devotedly proofread the final draft. The Author would e pecially like to thank the following pilots who granted oral interviews on their service with the 361st making this book possible BGEN Harry M. Chapman, Maj. Urban L. Drew, Mr. James Golden, Mr. Edward Knickman, Mr. David C. Landin, Mr. Henry B. Lederer, Mr. George Lichter, Mr. Robert R. Volkman, Mr. Robert C. Wright, and Mr. Leonard A. Wood. The Author would especially like to thank the following individuals who provided written recollections and documents of their service with the 361st making this book possible: Mr. Norman Baer, Mr. Robert O. Bland, Mr. James T Collins, Mr. James Golden, Mr. George Lichter, MGE

Mr. Marvin Strickler, Mr. Alvin Walther, and Maj. Billy D. Welch.

General, USAF (Ret.)

Point' often unrea onable rules.

Tucson, AZ, April 2001

6

Jo-

seph 1. Kruzel, Mr. Berna.rd 1. Redden Mr. Rus ell A. Severson,

7

Inrroducrion

and trained State ide for ten months before deploying to England that ovember. As the last P-47 equipped fighter group to be assigned to the 8th Air Force, the 361 st began combat operations in January 1944 and participated in every major ef-

Introduction

ported the Normandy invasion and the Allied drive acros Europe while sustaining some of the Group's heaviest losse . The Battle of the Bulge saw the 361st Fighter Group rapidly transfelTed to the Continent where it provided top cover for the 9th Air Force as it drove back the German offensive in the Ardennes.

fort undertaken by the 8th Air Force until the end of hostilitie in Europe the following spring. While the Group's first months of operations were relatively slow, primarily due to the range limitations of their aircraft, but also to their relatively late ar-

FinaJly, in the spring of 1945 the 361st would protect the bombers from German jets which avagely defied Allied air uperiority in the war's waning day. During 441 combat rill sion ,

rival in the ETO, the transition to the P-51 Mustang fighter in May 1944 placed them in the forefront of bomber escort mis-

the 361 st Fighter Group amas ed a total of 226 German aircraft destroyed in the air and 105 on the ground wrule suffering 81 pilots killed, captured, or missing. This is the story of the 361 st - which became known to the bomber crews they escorted as the "Yellowjacket ."

sions. Accompanying the heavy bombers over occupied Europe, the Group's pilots would do their utmo t to protect the Bl7s and B-24s in some of the most determined air battles of the war. Fitted out as fighter-bombers, the pilots of the 361 st sup-

When the 361st Fighter Group was activated in early 1943, the United State Army Air Force was fully engaged in the ma sive expan ion wruch characterized its storied development during World War II. Around the world its commanders were

cost the 8th Air Force sixty heavy bombers, and a repeat attack on the Schweinfurt baJl-bearings plant in October cost an additional 60 planes and crews. Clearly, los e of the type incurred in the two Schweinfurt raids could not be sustained in-

being ta ked with ever-greater operational demands - tactical support of American rilllitary operations in every theater, troop transportation, logistical support, reconnaissance, and above

definitely, and in late 1943, such deep penetrations into German airspace by American "heavies" were temporarily halted. The answer to the survi val of heavy bombers over Ger-

all, trategic bombing. It was the concept of strategic bombing - the systematic destruction of an enemy's industrial base,

many lay in adequate fighter upport. Single-seat fighter aircraft dispatched in large numbers along with the B-17 and B-

which provided the means of mabng war - that offered the best hope of bringing speedy victory in the eye of American air leaders. In the summer of 1942, the U.S. 8th Air Force had begun

24s would be able to engage German interceptor thu providing protection to the bomber formations. From the earliest days of the campaign, American fighters were employed in escorting the bombers to and from their targets, though it would not be until 1944 that their effort would be fully effective. First

aniving in England with the primary goal of carrying out a strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. Though minuscule at first, the 8th Air Force would mature by 1945 into a massive instrument of war capable of dispatching nearly 3,000 combat aircraft against the enemy in a single day. Unlike their British Allies, the 8th Air Force was comrillt-

equipped with British Spitfires, and later P-47 Thunderbolts, American fighter groups in England during 1942 and 1943 lacked sufficient range to escort the bombers more than a third of the distance into German air space on deep penetration raids. Once American fighter aircraft departed, the bomber formations sustained their heavie t losse . Deterrillned a the American air leaders were to make the strategic bombing campaign against Germany successful, they resolved that more men, more units, and improved aircraft

ted to operating in daylight in order to fulfill the "precision" bombing aims pressed for by American air chiefs. While daylight visual bombing in good weather provided the best chance of rutting individual targets, daylight also provided the German Luftwaffe the opportunity to maximize its air defense capabilities. Though heavily armed and trained to fly in close formations for mutual defense, losses among the 8th's B-17

would ultimately make the difference between success and failure. ot only would the 8th acquire additional bomber groups, but as 1943 gave way to 1944, the command's fighter strength would also grow dramatically. As aircraft improved, singleengined fighter planes of the Eighth Fighter Command would accompany the "heavies" all the way to their targets and back - a turning point which alTived in the first months of 1944.

and B-24 bombers to German fighter aircraft began to increase as more di tant targets were attacked over occupied Europe. 1943 wa a critical year for the Allies in general, including the strategic bombing campaign against Germany. Among a serie of distant, increasingly difficult objectives assailed that year, the Regensburg-Schweinfurt mission of August 17 alone

As part of this massive effort in the European Theater of Operations, the 361st Fighter Group was formed in early 1943

8

9

Birth of a Group

one

spoken and characterized by a precise military bearing, Christian would be the outstanding figure in the history of the 361st from its formation until his death in action the following summer. Under his leadership, the small headquarters staff assigned to the 361st would take on the task of organizing and training the new unit from scratch. The raw materials - personnel, equip-

Birth of a Group

ment, facilities - would soon be forthcoming, but combining those materials into an effective combat-ready fighter group would be left to them. In his brief career to February 1943, Maj. Christian had acquired a level of background and experience which prepared him for the genuine test of leadership to come. Born the son of a West Point graduate and career army officer in 1915, Thomas U. Christian, Jr., had spent his early years growing up on a number of military posts, and later attended the University of Chicago before he was accepted into West Point in the sum-

age of his own P-51, made famous in the July 1944 photo series, seemed an appropriate tribute to all he had achieved in his 29 years, but he would never know. Within three weeks of the

On a clear, sunlit morning in late July 1944, a formation of four P-51 Mustang fighter planes took off from an American Army Air Base at Bottisham, England, and proceeded to climb high above the East Anglian landscape. Resplendent against the blue, cloud-studded sky, the propeller hub and nose section of each Mustang was adorned with a coat of bright yellow paint, readily identifying it as belonging to the 361st Fighter Group, 8th Air Force. Led by Col. Thomas U. Christian, Jr., Group Commander of the 361st, the four P-51s soon joined a lone B-17 bomber cruising over eastern England. Each Mustang was equipped with a pair of bulging auxiliary fuel tanks slung beneath the wings, as though headed for a longrange combat mission. Christian's task that morning, however, was simple: satisfying an Army Air Corps photographer in need of close-up airborne shots of American fighter planes in the European Theater of Operations. Following instructions radi-

photo mission, C1u'istian would be ki lied in combat over France. The 361st Fighter Group would continue on, through much transformation, to finish the war the following spring. Though

his great-grandfather, none other than Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, entered West Point as a Plebe. Being the great-grandson of a Civil War hero, Christian's appointment was reponed in Time Magazine which announced that "handsome, serious-

the young men who came together to form the Group in early 1943 would never forget their first Group Commander, Christian's ultimate sacrifice was one among many that the

minded Cadet-select Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian, Jr., son of a West Pointer (l911) now attached to the War College, and only living great-grandson of one of the Military Academy's

men of the 361st would make during operations in World War II. Representing the best which their generation had to offer, their achievements and sacrifices would help win the war.

most famed graduates" was to report to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, for entrance examjnations prior to the fall term. 2 Rising to the top ten percent of his class to graduate 45th of 456 in 1939,3 his academic record at West Point surpassed his father's, and

On February 10, 1943, an order from the 1st Fighter Command carried out at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia, de-

oed from the bomber, the four P-51s made repeated passes, assuming a variety of formations for the busy photographer. When the task was finished a short time later, the four Mus-

tached a handful of pers.onnel from the 327th Fighter Group forming the nucleus of a new unit: Designated as the 361st Fighter Group, its primary mission during the following nine months would be to take newly commissioned fighter pilots

tangs parted company with the B-17, and returned to their base. For the four Mustang pilots, the photo mission that morning was a brief and unremarkable incident which served only to punctuate the intensive combat operations in which the 361st

fresh from flight schools around the country, join them with a small cadre of seasoned pilots, and bring them together with maintenance and service personnel to form a complete fighter group comprised of three fighter squadrons and a headquarters. Once initially assembled and organized, the main focus

was engaged that summer of 1944. The photographs themselves, however, would constitute some of the most enduring images of P-51 Mustangs in flight ever produced, and would achieve the status of "classics" symbolizing 8th Air Force fighter operations in World War II. For Col. Christian, the photo series might have marked a milestone in his career. Having formed, trained and led the 361st

of all activities would be intensive training and prepaJ"ation for deployment in combat somewhere in the world by the end of 1943. Assigned to command the new group was Maj. Thomas, J.J. Christian, Jr., a 27-year-old West Point graduate who had recently returned from combat in the South Pacific. Tall, soft-

from its creation in the States 18 months earlier through 8 months of combat operations over Europe, the impressive im-

JO

merof 1935 1 His entrance into the Military Academy extended the family connection with the school going back to 1842 when

Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr. photographed as a Cadet at West Point. USMA Library

New Caledonia, he would be among the first Army Air Corps pilots to participate in the battle for Guadalcanal when the 67th

even that of his great-grandfather, "Stonewall." Following a brief stint as a 2nd Lt. in the Field Artillery, Christian transferred to the Air Corps in 1940 and after completing advanced pilot training, served as a flight instructor at

arrived at Henderson Field shortly after the 1st Marine Division stormed the island. While the land battle for control of Guadalcanal raged around them, Christian and his fellow pilots, equipped with Bell P-400 fighters (the export version of

Randolph Field, Texas, until receiving orders for transfer overseas. Arriving at Clark Field, The Philippines, in April 1941, he joined the 28th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group as a B17 pilot.The rapid pace of events in the Pacific, and America's

the P-39 built for Britain's Royal Air Force) carried out ground attack sorties against Japanese positions whose distance from the airfield could sometimes be measured in mere hundreds of yards. Operating under extremely primitive conditions, the 67th Fighter Squadron persevered in the face of dire maintenance problems and greatly outcla sed aircraft. During the first weeks of September 1942, as the Marines struggled to maintain their foothold on Guadalcanal against strong Japanese counteroffensives, CIu'istian participated in a

unpreparedness for war in 1941 were to have dramatic consequences on the course of Lt. Christian's flying career. With nearly half the Philippine-based B-17 force wiped out in the December 8 Japanese attack on Clark Field, it was not long before the small American bomber force in the Philippines effectively ceased to exist. s Pilots being desperately needed for the anticipated defense of Australia, ChJ"istian was evacuated from Bataan in February 1942 and began training "down under" as a fighter pilot on the Bell P-39 Airacobra. Later promoted to Captain and assigned to the 67th Fighter Squadron in

number of desperate mis-sion for Which he would receive the Silver Star. On September 8, under monsoon conditions, he led another pilot on a dangerous ground attack mission in support of an isolated Marine detachment which was attempting to withdrawal from a coastal raid while under Japanese coun-

Jl

Birlh ofa Group

Yellowjackels! The 36Jsl Fighler Group in World War II

terattack. 6 In the midst of the torrential downpour in which

patrol and reconnaissance during the first weeks of war. With-

Henderson's runway turned to mud, three of the 67th's bomb-

out radar to give early warning of attacks, few interceptions of

Philippines ... we shared the same B.O.Q.[Bachelor Officer's

laden P-400s attempted to get airborne. While Christian and

high-altitude Japanese bombers were possible. Kruzel's last

Quarters], and although we were assigned to different units, I

his wingman succeeded with much difficulty, a third aircraft

mission in the Philippines was a bombing and strafing attack

did get to know him there." Kruzel recalled that when he ap-

crashed and burned at the end of the runway. Flying beneath

on Japanese troops landing at Lingayen Gulf on Christmas Eve

proached Maj. Christian at Richmond about the position of Air

the low, gray ceiling, the two pilots delivered their bomb loads

1941. Following this sortie, he was ordered to join a group of

Executive Officer of the 361st, "I told him I was anxioLis to go

later, when I became a pilot and ... volunteered for duty in the

on the Japanese positions and remained over the evacuation

pilots who would be sent to Australia in order to ferry newly

back, and that I was eager for more combat, and I think that he

beach strafing the Japanese to the limits of their ammunition

anived PAOs back to join in the defense of Bataan.

felt that my prior combat experience would help him instill

and fuel. Six days later, as fighting on the ridges around

When the Japanese captured the Dutch airfield at Tarakan,

Henderson Field intensified, Clu'istian again participated in a

Borneo, in early 1942, plans to send Air Corps reinforcements

in the Pacific and experience as a Squadron Commander in the

series of dangerous ground-attack sorties in supp rt of the

to the Philippines were shelved - Tarakan being a vital refuel-

327th Fighter Group, Joe Kruzel would, indeed, prove invalu-

Marines. Streaking over the jungle canopy in repeated trafing

ing stop along the route from Australia. Instead, Joe Kruzel

able in preparing the new pilots of the 361 st for overseas de-

runs, two of the squadron's three P-400s were so badly dam-

found himself headed to Java as part of the 17th Provisional

ployment.

aged by ground fire that they were forced to make emergency

Pursuit Squadron consisting of "old hands" recently arrived

Among the other officers who would assume key roles

from the Philippines along with pilots fresh from the States. Operating from Blimbing, some 40 miles northwest of

erations Officer, and the Squadron Commanders, all of whom

Surabaya, the squadron was able to engage Japanese aircraft

were highly experienced pilots. Capt. Wallace E. Hopkins of

as they attacked the Dutch East Indies through the end of Feb-

Washington, Georgia, had joined the Army in 1939 as an en-

ruary 1942. Recalling the Dutch airfield at Blimbing, Kruzel commented that it was so well camouflaged that in five weeks

listed man, but a year later was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. 16 Arriving at Richmond in the spring of 1943 with a con-

vated, he, like Christian, brought to Richmond significant fly-

of operations, the Japanese were unable to locate and attack it.

siderable amount of fighter time logged, he was chosen by Maj.

ing experience along with recent combat time in the South

"The T-shaped landing area was firm sod with 2-foot-tal] hardy

Christian to be the Group Operations Officer - a post which he

Pacific.

landings.

7

After logging some sixty hours of combat time over Guadalcanal, Capt. Clu'istian was rotated home in November 1942. 8 Following a brief leave, during which he married

[L-R) Lt. Col. Christian, Miss Vi Clarke, and Maj. Joe Kruzel photographed in Richmond, Virginia, 1943. Kruzel would marry Vi Clarke the follOWing summer while home from England on leave. Courtesy J.J. Kruzel

Marjorie Lou Ashcroft of Sulpher Springs, Texas,9 Christian was promoted to Major and assigned to the 327th Fighter Group at Richmond. A short time later, he learned that he would be given command of a new group.

confidence in the pilots."15 With a distinguished combat record

within the air echelon of the new Group were the Group Op-

stalks planted in rectangular shaped patterns throughout the

held while flying combat missions through much of the 361st

for his assignment to acti vate the 361 st Fighter Group. For those

Born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1918, Kruzel en-

area making it appear to be a cluster of rice paddies." In the

Fighter Group's operational history.

who served under him in the new unit beginning in February

tered the Army to undertake pilot training after studying pre

later part of February, Kruzel had his first opportunities to en-

Captain Roy A. Webb of Pampa, Texas, was selected by

1943, he would exhibit the qualities of an exceptional leader.

medicine at a local college for four year . Like Christian, he

gage enemy aircraft. "I shot down a Nakajima 97 Japanese

Christian to command the 374th Fighter Squadron. He arrived

Joseph J. Kruzel, who served in the 361st as Air Executive

had ended up in the Philippines shortly before the outbreak of

fighter over Sumatra, and was credited with a Zero who was

at Richmond with several years experience in the Air Corps,

That Christian's conunand abilities were evident accounted

Officer and later commanded the Group in the fall of 1944,

war. "In December 1940, they asked for volunteers ... to go out

on the tail of, and shooting at, Walter Cross, my flight leader

including an extended tour in the Caribbean flying P-39s and

singled out "Jack" Christian as an outstanding officer. Recall-

to the Philippines and that was as far away as I could get to see

... I also got credit for a Zero over Bali when we engaged

P-40S.1 7 Leading the 374th from its earliest days through its

ing his early service with the 361st following his retirement

the world so I was one of the volunteers," recalled Kruzel years

about five of them."13

first eight months of combat over Europe, Webb would estab-

from the Air Force as a Major General, Kruzel remarked that

later. "I was first assigned to an observation squadron -I talked

Following Japanese landings on Java, the 17th Provisional

Christian's "overall appearance had about it a presence of strict

myself out of that [and]into the 28th Bomb Squadron where I

Squadron was withdrawn to Australia, and Joe Kruzel, then

military bearing which alone sufficed to command respect. But

flew B-lOs. I eventually talked myself into joining the 17th

promoted to Captain, was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squad-

this appearance ... coupled with his well above average intel-

Pursuit Squadron which_ was commanded by what I consider

ron in the South Pacific before being rotated home in

ovem-

Capt. Barry Melloan, though he would depart early on in the

ligence, his outstanding judgment, and a knack for expressing

bel' 1942. Once back in the States, Capt. Kruzel, like Maj. Chris-

Group's stateside training phase. Melloan was succeeded by

himself well both in speech and in writing, were attributes that

to be the finest fighter pilot I've ever known - he was the first ace in the Pacific - Lloyd 'Buzz' Wagner."11 Although war with

tian, was assigned to the 327th Fighter Group with the primary

Capt. George L. Merritt, Jr. of Cumming, Georgia. A graduate

set him up as a natural leader. He was far and above one of the

Japan was clearly on the horizon, Kruzel first learned that the

mission of training new pilots for combat. "I didn't particu-

of the Uni versi ty of Georgia with a degree in forestJ'Y, Merritt

finest leaders that I've had the experience in knowing. He was

fighting had actually started from a commercial radio broad-

larly like the job," he recalled, "I felt more like I was in a cadet

had entered the Air Corps in 1941 after a stint with the US

fair and just in the handling of his men and when disciplinary

cast early on the morning of December 8 (December 7 in Ha-

squadron and it seemed to be the order of the day [to] just

action was necessary, he didn't waste any time dishing it out-

accumulate hours and get people out but don't have any acci-

Forest Service. He was home on leave following advanced flight training when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 18 Born in 1914,

lish a high reputation within the Group as an air leader, and an enviable personal combat score. Command of the 375th Fighter Squadron initially fell to

he didn't particularly like it, but his philosophy was that every-

waii) which announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. "The thought that Hawaii would be bombed never entered my mind. We were the ones waiting to be attacked," he commented

dents. And when Jack Christian came through to activate the 361st, I saw my opportunity to get back into combat."14

Merritt would be among the oldest of the Group's pilots, but

thing he did was done with the interest of the Group as the basis for that action. Hi goal was to develop and command the finest fighter group in the Army Air Corps."lo

many years later. "The Japanese planned to attack us sooner

Before serving together at Richmond, Kruzel and Chris-

and earn a reputation as one of dle most remarkable and ag-

than they did ... they didn't only because the Japanese bombers

tian were distant acquaintances, and their career paths had

Next to Jack Christian, Joseph 1. Kruzel would be the most

on Formosa, north of the Philippines, were unable to take off

crossed shortly before the start of the war. "I had known Jack

Capt. Roy B. Caviness of Oil City, Louisiana, would be Christian's choice to lead the 376th Fighter Squadron. A foot-

would nonetheless distinguish himself repeatedly in combat, gressi ve leaders in the history of the 361 st.

impoI1ant figure in the 361 st Fighter Group's training and com-

because of fog."12 Flying Curtiss P-40s from Nichols Field,

Christian previously, not very well, but when I went through

bat history through the fall of 1944. Joining the headquarters

Manila, and later from Clark Field (some 50 miles north of

basic flying school at Randolph, he was one of the Company

ball player at each of the three colleges he attended prior to

staff of the 361st exactly one month after the Group was acti-

Manila), Kruzel carried out twelve combat missions, mostly

Commanders, although we were in different companies. Then

joining the Air Corps in 1940, Caviness served a a flying in-

12

J3

Yellowjackels The 361 sl Fighter Croup in World War II '

Sinh of a Croup

structor after receiving his pilot's wings. '9 Of all the key leaders in the Group's early formation and training, Caviness would remain with the 361 st the longest, completing two combat tours and ultimately serving as the Group's last wartime Commander in the Spring of 1945. Also present on the Group staff from the earliest days was Capt. John M. Stryker of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stryker had originally joined the Army as an enlisted man in the m nths before Pearl Harbor and went on to receive a commi sion following Officer Candidate School (OCS). A dedicated staff officer and able administrator, Stryker would eventually rise from Adjutant to the post of Ground Executi ve Officer while serving in the 361st tlu'ough the end of the war. A devoted diarist, Stryker would leave to posterity a daily unit diary summarizing key events in the Gr up's operational history.2o In the first months of 1943, while the bulk of the new pilots who would be assigned to the 361st Fighter Group were still earning their wings, the primary tasks faced by Maj. Christian and hi new staff at Richmond involved the establishment

Captain John M. Stryker. Adjutant of the 361 st Fighter Group seen at Richmond, 1943. Later promoted to Ground Executive Officer, Stryker would remain with the Group into 1945, and, among many other tasks carried out, would be a dedicated unit diarist. Courtesy J.J. Kruzel

of the basic administrative and logistical framework which would ultimately make possible the efficient training, command and control of the Group's three fighter squadrons and sup-

nally the North American AT-6, they had been awarded their

A Republic P-470 Thunderbolt. Heavy, powerful, and extremely durable, the P-47 was the primary fighter in service with the 8th Air Force in 1943, and was the aircraft with which the 361 st would train for combat. National Archives

porting units. Additional staff would have to be selected, buildings on the base obtained and allotted, administrative, service, and maintenance personnel would need to be received and bil-

wings and commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants. Most pilots arrived at Richmond still untested in the aircraft which they would fly in combat overseas: the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. In the middle of 1943, the P-47 was among

tough training program, and I'm one of the survivors' [attitude)." Despite the daunting first impressions, Lederer, who would continue flying after the war and into the 21st Century,

leted, and training routines established so that when the Group reached its full strength of nearly 1,000 officers and enlisted men (including 81 pilots), operational training could begin.

the Army Air Corps' first line fighters and was the primary type in use with American combat units then operating from England. Massive, powerful, and immensely strong, the P-47

remarked that the P-47 had many good qualities to recommend it. "It was an easy airplane to fly because as long as you went by the numbers - airspeed numbers - you couldn't get into any

The ground echelon of the 361st consisted of the non-flying staff whose support roles made air operations possible and

was a match for Luftwaffe opponents at high altitude, and while its performance declined somewhat below 15,000 feet, its rug-

were among the first personnel to be assigned to the Group. Comprised predominantly of enlisted men, many had volunteered for the Army shortly after America became involved in the war, and a like number had waited patiently for their turn

ged construction gave it legendary survi vability. To complement the plane's ruggedness was more than adequate firepower in the form of eight .50 caliber machine guns - four mounted

trouble. Landing, you couldn't get into any trouble if you're any kind of a pilot at all because that landing gear was so wide apart ... that you couldn't get a wing in ... if your right wheel

Formal operational training for the Group's air echelon began on May 28, 1943, and in the weeks that followed, the pi lots assigned to the Group would not merely begin their familiarization with the P-47, but would also begin practicing the essential skills required for overseas deployment in combat. Combat formations would be an important part of the operational routines on actual missions against the enemy and the newly commissioned pilots were rigorously indoctrinated in fighter formations and tactics. The basic combat formation

touched down first." He added, however, that the Thunderbolt was potentially "an overpowering aircraft to fly if you didn't have the time or you didn't have good flight instruction."21

was the two-plane "element" consisting of the leader and his wingman. The element had to function strictly as a team with the wingman's primary job to cover the leader's tail. Two elements comprised a "flight" under a flight leader, and together,

in each wing - virtually ~ssuring that any enemy aircraft which came within its sights would receive crippling punishment. Equipped with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engine developing more than 2,500 horsepower, flying the P-47 wa a challenge to beginners. Recalling years later his first experi-

The training of the Group's pilots as a unit would be a responsibility in which Joe Kruzel, promoted to Major shortly after assignment with the 361st, played a key role. Recalling the Group's stateside experience in 1943, Kruzel commented

three or more flights made up a squadron formation. Depending upon the mission - bomber escort, fighter sweep, ground attack, etc. - a squadron leader could detach individual flights

ence flying the Thunderbolt, Hemy Lederer, who joined the 374th Squadron in the spring of 1943 as a 2nd Lieutenant, observed that "as a youth, one of the reasons why the best fighter

that "we just embarked on a continuous training program. We acquired people, we fired a few people, we fought to get some people, we fought to hold some people, we moved around a bit

to ca.ITy out various tasks. Flying together under the group leader (a role often filled by the Group Commander, but also rotated from mission to mission among the key staff), the squadrons

Army flight schools a.round the country, these young men had, in many cases, volunteered following Pearl Harbor and, by one route or another, had entered the Army's highly competitive flight training program as Aviation Cadets. After successful

pilots are the young fighter pilots is that you don't reaJly question authority as to putting you into this big machine that's so huge and has so much torque on take-off that, if anything ever happened to the trim on the rudder, your right foot could never hold ... a position to make a straight take-off down the center

which was a good experience for the later move we made when we came to England."22 In all, the 361 st would make three major

could be deployed as the situation dictated. In a dogfight, it was expected that squadrons and flights would be disrupted and mixed, but above aJl, the pilots were taught, wingmen must stick with their element leader as a basic matter of survival two pairs of eyes were always better than one.

completion of basic, intermediate, and advanced flight training conducted in the Piper J-3 "Cub," Vultee BT-13, and fi-

of the runway. You never thought about those things, you had that macho 'Hey, I can do anything ... I've gone through a

to be inducted. They reported in from Army Air Corps technical schools and units around the country with specialties ranging from aircraft mechanics and instrument repair, to cooks and clerks. Rightly seeing themselves as part of a team, they would readily bask in the achievements of the air echelon throughout the Group's operational history. The first pilots assigned to the 361st began to arrive in Richmond in the late spring of 1943. Newly graduated from

14

moves during training - from Richmond to Langley Field, Virginia, on May 25; Langley to Camp Springs, Maryland (later Andrews AFB) on July 19, and from Camp Springs back to Richmond on October 2, 1943. 23

Among the other skilJs honed for overseas deployment were instrument flight, gunnery, and navigation. Instrument 15

Yellowjackels! The 361 SI Fighler Group in World War /I

Birlh ofa Group

skills were essential for flying at night or in conditions in which visibility was restricted - such as in cloud and fog. Without extensive practice at relying strictly on instruments such as the gyro horizon, altimeter, and rate of climb/descent gauges, pilots could easily become disoriented when unable to see the actual horizon. Such disorientation could have rapid and disastrous results. Though they would not know it at the time, their deployment to England, with its notorious weather, would often demand precise instrument skills. Gunnery training, another essential skill, would be carried out at Milleville in southern New Jersey t1u'ough which the Group would rotate by squadrons. From there the pilots would practice aerial gunnery by shooting at sleeve targets towed by other aircraft, and would also practice shooting at fixed ground targets. One of the goals of the Group's stateside training was to give relatively inexperienced pilots the opportunity to accumulate flight time in the P-47, an objective that was readily met. At the beginning of the Group's operational training, most of the pilots who had alTived fresh from flight schools had been able to log a few hours in actual fighters, such as the Curtiss P40, at the end of their Advanced Training. By the middle of

Pilots of the 361 st Fighter Group seen after landing at Atlanta, Georgia, September 29, 1943. Seated in the center row, second from the left is Maj. Roy Webb, CO of the 37 4th Squadron. To his left is Maj. Joe Kruzel, and seated to his left is Lt. Col. Christian. Standing at the extreme left is 375th Squadron CO Maj. George Merritt. Courtesy George Lichter

October 1943, 51 of the Group's 87 pilots had between 400 and 500 hours logged in fighters, and another 16 pilots had between 500 and 600 hours. Of the remainder, only three on

Henry Lederer of New York City photographed as an Aviation Cadet in April 1943. Commissioned a short time later, Lederer would be assigned to the 37 4th Fighter Squadron. Henry B. Lederer

the Group's establishment had less than 400 hours logged flying fighters 24 As an interesting side note, unit training requirements included several long cross-country flights intended to simulate combat operations with three squadrons flying together over

Below: A P-47 Thunderbolt assigned to the 361 st Fighter Group photographed at Camp Springs, Maryland, 1943. Seated in the cockpit is mechanic Russell A. Severson who would serve as a dedicated crew chief in the 374th Fighter Squadron throughout the war. Russell A.

long distances. One of these took place during the last week of

Severson

September 1943 and saw 36 aircraft fly from Camp Springs Army Air Base to Harding Field, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from which they participated in large-scale Army maneuvers. The

Perhaps during stateside training, the gravity of the task for which they were preparing hit home to a degree. From May 28 through October 15, the Group's pilots would be involved

route prepared by the Group operations staff listed Atlanta, Georgia as the first stop where pilots and support personnel would spend the night. "About two weeks before this partiCLIlar mission," Joe Kruzel recounted years later, "Bobby Jones,

in 26 flying accidents of varying degrees of seriousness. Seven pilots were killed in flying accidents before the 36lst went overseas. 26 By early October, following the return of the 361st to Richmond from Camp Springs, the final phases of training were nearing completion, and it was evident to all that the Group

of golfing fame, joined our organization as an Intelligence Officer. He was a Captain at the time and happened to be my roommate at Camp Springs Air Base." Learning of the crosscountry flight to Louisiana, Jones obtained permission from Lt. Col. Christian to travel to Georgia several days ahead of the Group. When the 36 P-47s along with transports carrying

would soon embark for a combat zone somewhere overseas. On October 9, 1943, Richmond's POM (Post Oversea Movement) Inspectors paid a visit, inspecting the administrative and material condition of the Group in order to pinpoint deficien-

the ground crews landed at Atlanta on the afternoon of September 29, 1943, "Bob Jones was at the airfield to meet us. [He] had the transportation all set up, and rooms for all the

cies for correction prior to embarkation. FoJlowing the inspection, as the various deficiencies were addressed, training continued though the pace of events quickened 27

pilots and support personnel that flew along in transport at the Ansley Hotel. And also in the lobby of the Hotel there were about 30 to 40 good-looking Atlanta girls that Bobby Jones had arranged to meet us there." Members of the Group who took part in the training flight to Baton Rouge would long re-

On November 4, 1943, after much practice the 361st Fighter Group held its formal Review in which all personnel paraded by unit before a party of reviewing officers from the Richmond Army Air Base. Following this "rite of passage," preparations for the immediate movement to an overseas staging area were stepped up as equipment, from tools to typewriters, was crated up, and buildings were prepared for turnover. On November 10, Maj. Kruzel along with Capt. Wallace

member the pleasant surprise of a reception by Atlanta debutantes, and the thoughtfulness of Capt. Jones. "He was a tremendous individual," remarked Kruzel. "He wanted to go overseas with us, but ... just before we left he was transferred to some other organization."25

16

Hopkins departed Richmond to serve as the advanced echelon overseas - though their destination was kept secret from the

17

Yellowjackets! The 361 sl Fighter Group in World War /I

Birth of a Group NOTES I United State Military Academy ( SMA), "Graduate Record Card for Thomas U. Christian, Jr.... 2 Time Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 25, March II, 1935,. J USMA , ibid. • John M. Stryker, "Group History, 361" Fighter Group" 18 July 1944. , Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, ed. The Army Air Forces in World War 11 Volume One (Chicago: University of Chicago Pre s, 1950) pp. 212-13. • Thomas G. Miller. The Cactus Air Force ( ew York: Harper and Row, 1969), p.79. 'US Army Air Force Silver Star Citation for Thoma U. Christian, Jr., 10 October 1942. AI 0 Miller pp. 79- 0, 92. • Stryker, ibid. , USMA, ibid. 10 Joseph J. Kruzel. Recollection of the 361" Fighter Group tape recorded December 7, 1975, tran cribed by Paul. B. Cora, October 2000. II Ibid. 12 Jo eph J. Kruzel," arrative," March 5, 2001. IJ Joseph J. Kruzel, Correspondence with Hugh and Betty Halbert, February 26, 1999. J< Kruzel, Recollection, December 7, 1975. l'Ibid.

Officers and men of the 37 4th Fighter Squadron ready to embark overseas, photographed at Richmond, Virginia, November 11, 1943. Courtesy George Lichter

Group at large. At 1730 hours the following day, the 361 st departed Richmond Army Air Base and all personnel were marched to a waiting train which took them north to Camp Shanks, New Jersey. Ten days later, the Group again fell in with all its belongings for u'ansportation to a waiting troopship.28 "Wish you could have seen us when we broke camp for the last time in the United States!" wrote 2nd Lt. George Lichter of the 374th Squadron to his parents in Brooklyn, ew York. "It was nothing like the moving pictures depict it. Everyone was in good spirits and there was a great deal of joking and horse play. When we started marching to the train, everyone became seriou and more or less quiet. After a while, the tension wore off and we were all singing. They even had a band at the station which was still playing as we pulled OUt."29 Boarding the former luxury liner, QUEE ELIZABETH, the Group's enlisted men and officers settled in for a sevenday sea voyage to the United Kingdom - having been informed of their destination once the ship got underway. By all account, the trip was uneventful, though the accommodations were predictably cramped for both officers and enlisted men, the latter being assigned to troop bays in "D" deck while the former were

billeted in staterooms. "There are eighteen of us in one room that would ordinarily accommodate two people comfortably," George Lichter wrote home during the voyage. "You can't even turn around without bumping into someone." The food on the trip turned out to be remarkably good, though the schedule of meals took some getting used to. "We only eat two meals a day. One at eight-thirty and the other at six in the evening," Lt. Lichter continued in his letter home. "It i now four-fifteen PM and I'm just about starving to death! From now on, I'm going to make some sandwiches at breakfast to carry me through the day."3o On November 29, QUEE ELIZABETH arrived at Greenock, in Scotland's Clyde Estuary. Unemotionally and succinctly, the Group Adjutant, Capt. John Stryker, summarized the arrival in the.European Theater of Operations (ETO) in his unit diary entry for the day: "November 29, 1943. Pulled into harbor in Scotland early morning. Boat dropped anchor at approximately 1000. Quite cold and rainy out. Ate last meal on board ship at 1200. Disembarked at 1345 onto a small ferry. Went to a transient's camp for three hours and had lunch, and boarded train heading for our destination at 2200."31

18

19

I' The Escorter, (Newspaper of the 361 FG Botti ham, England), Vol. I # 7) 29 July 1944. 17 The Escorrer, (Newspaper of 361FG Botti ham, England, Vol. I #3, 1 July 1944), p. 3. " Mary Warrington ( ister of George L. Merritt). interview by author. February II, 200 I. "The Escorter, (Vol. I, #5) 15 July 1944, P4. 20 Margot Stryker in John M. Stryker, 361" Fighter Group, 8" Air Force, World War 11, A Personal Diary (361" Fighter Group As ociation, 1998). Pages un-numbered. 21 Henry B. Lederer. interview with author, November J 3, 1995. 22 Kruzel, December 7, 1975. 2J Jack B. Pearce, "Statistical Summary, 361" Fighter Group," June 1945,

p.4.

"John M. Stryker, 361 FG Unit Diary entry for October 15,1943. Kruzel, December 7, 1975. "Stryker,36lFG nit Diary. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid. " George Lichter, correspondence with Parents, ovember 11-29, 1943. JO Ibid. Jl John M. Stryker, 361FG Unit Diary Entry for November 29, 1943. II

Nissen Hu!s and Bicycles

two

Americans, and was also curious to learn the identity of the "comic costume designer forthe American Army." A local physician, Dr. A.F. Gilbert, declared that while he had been somewhat shocked by the uddennes of the American arrival in the village, and though he occasionally observed things which 'made hi hair curl," he admitted that, overall he liked the

Nissen Huts and Bicycles

Americans "very much for their friendliness, generosity and helpfulne s, which extends sometimes to the sentimentaL"4 For the newly arrived Americans, the transition to operation in wartime England involved a wide array of adju tments. Perhap the Station Engineering Officer, Maj. We ley Parks, poke for the majority of the new arrivals when he observed that memories of Richmond's temperate warmth "made the cold, damp, and windy climate of England at this season eem

When the journey from Greenock finally ended some seventeen hours after it had begun, the officers and men of the

the summer of 1943, the field lay dormant after the RAF departed and it was not until ovember that the first trickle of

361st had arrived at Bottisham, a small village some six miles east of the university town of Cambridge. Trucked from the rail depot to the airbase which would be their home for the next ten months, the fledgl ing group, which just one week prior

new occupants arrived. Suddenly on ovember 30 the Americans began to appear en masse, and not just the 937 officers and men which comprised the 361 st. During the first week of December, nearly 800 additional per onnel responsible for specialized ajrcraft repair, signals, ordnance, military police, supply, and the myriad of tasks nece sary for the day-to-day func-

had departed ew York, found themselves tasked with the transformation of a mall Royal Air Force (RAF) satellite field into an operational fighter base.

tioning of the station, began to appear. In all, more than 1700 American military personnel were assigned to Station F-374 by the end of 1943, a figure approaching twice the maximum

The airfield itself had been established some tlu'ee years earlier as an auxiliary for a nearby RAF bomber base. Originally a grass field, RAF Bottisham's runway was never paved,

RAF complement. 2 Overall, relations between the villager and the Americans stationed at Bottisham would remain friendly throughout

though it was eventually upgraded with British steel matting known as Sommerfeld Track. Home to a number of ArmyCooperation squadrons of the Royal Air Force through the mjddle of 1943, it had be n used by a variety of aircraft types

the Group' deployment there. As one recorded example of cultural exchange, two American Sergeants of Bottisham's 66th Station Composite Squadron accepted an invitation by local villagers at the end of January 1944 to participate in a friendly

ranging from delicate Tiger Moth biplanes to American built P-40s and early P-5l As in British service. Though an active hub as far as Army-Cooperation wa concerned, Bottisham

djscussion of the differences between the British and the Americans. "Although nothing was proved and some issues were deliberately evaded," Lt. Robert B. Wentworth, Bottisham's Station Historical Officer recorded, "much was said in a man-

remained a relatively small affair within the RAF, accommodating less than 1,000 personnel at the height of British operations. 1

ner which was realistic and, at times conducive to friendly Anglo-American relationships.") Yank, the US Army's weekly magazine covered this somewhat unique meeting of 100 or so

With the perimeter track ituated immediately adjacent to Bottisham Village and supporting facilities scattered throughout the civilian areas, the life of the airbase and town were closely linked. So it was under the RAF, and 0 it would remain after the "friendly inva ion" of Yanks who arrived at the end of 1943. While the villagers were certainly accustomed to the constant activity of a nearby military post in wartime, few could have expected the beehive of activity which descended on Bottisham with the arrival of the 361st. Throughout most of

20

like a mi erable fate indeed."5 Summarizing the fir t week of the American pre ence at Bottisham, Lt. Robert B. Wentworth, Station Historical Officer, noted that personnel of the 36lst and attached units "had to get used to British barracks and 1sen hut, complete blackout, bad weather which caused plenty of mild 'flu,' the bucket ystem of latrines (except in some favorite spots) powdered eggs and dehydrated foods, little 'doll house' stoves whjch heat when coaxed a post and a village wruch omehow had become mixed up to look like one (effective camouflage), long di tances from mess hall to work, a certain amount of general bewilderment and such maddening phrases as 'you cawn't miss it.' (but you do)."6

Nissen huts and bicycles, Maj, John Stryker seen on his bicycle at Station F-374, Bottisham, Cambridgshire, 1944, To his left is a corrugatedsteel Nissen hut typical of much of the station's living accommodations. Courtesy j,j, Kruzel

and forth from where they were sleeping to the lines and IllOSt of u were in Nissen huts."9 George Lichter, who arrived at

Living accommodation for enlisted personnel- typically the cOITugated-steel issen hut - and a prevailing hortage of coal tended to magnify the less desirable traits of the climate. 'The Nis en huts in the enlisted personnel area were functional, but the rationing of coal to heat them left them cold much of the time early on," recalled Bernard J. Redden, a former crew chief in the 375th Squadron. Place mechanically inclined men in a cold, damp living environment, however, and ingenuity soon prevajls. "In our hut," Redden continued, "we rigged up

Bottisham a a Second Lieutenant with the 374th Squadron recalled that the weather conditions required getting used to. ''I've never been colder than I wa in England in the winter ... and we had thi little stove in the mjddle of the is en hut which we had somebody fix up to drip oil in it. God, I slept with a hat on, I slept with socks on and winter underwear, and boy, we were bitter cold!"IO Billy D. Welch, who arrived at Bottisham as a Second Lieutenant in the 376th quadron ech-

a drip ystem, gravity fed, which allowed waste engine oil or hydraulic fluid to be ignited on a pan in the small pot-bellied stove. Not an entirely safe practice, but. .. as far as I know none of us ever suffered from pneumonia.'"

Briti h and Americans in Bottisham. The corre pondent attending the meeting noted that the American Servicemen raised points such as the differences in the education systems in Britain and America, as well as the Americans' difficulty in under-

Officer's acconunodations at Bottisham were lightly better for the Squadron Commanders and Headquarter Staff since Bottisham Hall, the stately home of a local family, was tran formed into their quarters. 8 For Flight Commanders and the average pilot, however, the realities of life at Bottisham were virtually identical to those of the enli ted men. "I guess the

standing the British accent, particularly over the phone. On the other side of the discussion, a local farmer voiced puzzlement over "the 'con picuous' habit of gum chewing" among the

biggest things I recall are Nissen huts and bicycle ," remarked James R. Golden who reported to Bottisham in January 1944 as replacement pilot " ... everybody had a bicycle to get back

Bottisham Hall, the stately home of a local family which served as living quarters for the Group's headquarters staff and squadron commanders. Courtesy George Lichter

21

Yellowjackets! The 361st Fighter Group in World War 11

oed Lichter's views, adding that the peculiarly British mattresses inherited from the RAP made a distinct impression. "Our mattresses were English 'biscuits.' These were sofa-like square, flat pillows," Welch recalled years later. "Three of them were

Nissen Huts and Bicycles

in a little over 3 weeks after its arrival in England. Tools and clothing for men on the line dribbled in, then gushed, and were finally all in the proper hands seven weeks after the arrival of the first airpl~ne. The 'goods wagons' had been 10st."I.

placed end-to-end on our cots to form a mattress. They had a tendency to separate while one slept, letting in the cold night

Just as the Group's aircraft required modification before combat operations could begin, the runways inherited from the RAP would need to be upgraded to accommodate the Group's heavy P-47s which would routinely take off by elements and flights in line-abreast formation. "The flying field, with steel

air." Welch eventually solved this inconvenience by sewing his biscuits together, but cold and damp conditions in general were a predominant memory for him. "I thought the weather was always cold, rainy and miserable," he recalled years later.

mats laid over the grass, was less than ideal," recalled 375th Squadron Crew Chief Bernat'd J. Redden. "The main runway had a dip in it, so that viewing a take-off from one end of the

"I grew up in Florida and never seemed to get used to the English weather."" While the climate had few redeeming qualities in Welch's

field, the planes would almost disappear from sight of the viewer before becoming airborne."ll

memory, he recalled definite compensating niceties associated with the quaint village of Bottisham. The base, Welch related, "was on one side of town [and] our quarters were on the other side, so we had to pass through the village .... One of my more

Lt. Billy D. Welch of the 376th Fighter Squadron seen being decorated at Bottisham in early 1944. Courtesy Billy D. Welch

pleasant memories was the town bakery. When the baker was baking bread in his open-space clay oven ... the aroma permeated the air. Sometimes when returning to our quarters from the flight line, we would purchase a loaf of his delicious bread. It was a treat for me and sure tasted better than chow hall bread. I had never seen an outdoor clay oven before," he addedY At the time of the 361 st's arrival at Bottisham, eleven P47 Thunderbolts were already at the Station. In the weeks that

Though little could ultimately be done about the noticeable dip which resulted from a former sunken farm road passing through the field, a major program of improvement would

Lt. George Lichter of the 374th Fighter Squadron. Courtesy George

be undertaken within the first two months of occupation. After accumulating sufficient quantities of Sommerfield tJ.·ack, alternatively known ·as pierced-steel-planking (PSP), an intensive upgrade was initiated by Col. Christian and the commander of

Lichter

If the runway was less then ideal from a mechanical standpoint, it had at least one advantage from a station-defense angle - camouflage. The Sommerfield Track allowed grass to grow through the regularly spaced holes in the individual ections, thus causing the runway to blend with the surrounding grass perimeter. Though perhaps beneficial in thwarting a surprise German raider in daylight, this feature was not lost on the Americans during the 361st's eat'ly operations at Botti ham. George Lichter, one of the 374th Squadron's original pilots, recalled an unanticipated difficulty the first time he attempted to land at Bottisham after a familiarization flight in December 1943. Spotting the main road from Cambridge, Lichter was initially at a loss to sight the field. "I knew where Bottisham was," Lichter recalled, "and I flew over that road six times on

a detachment of US Army Engineers. Dividing the work force into two teams of approximately 35 men each, a contest for the shortest time in completing the runway improvements was begun at 0930 hours on January 23 and continued round-the-

followed their numbers would be successively augmented as more aircraft were flown in. Though the fighters assigned to the newly atTived Group were the latest P-47D-1O and D-l1 models only recently arrived from the States, they were far

clock for the next 57 hours and ten minutes. Justifiably proud of the speed with which the work was completed, the Engineer detachment commander, Col. 1.0. Brent, declared that the project was "never equaled in the ETO or elsewhere by US Troops."'6 Whether equaled or not, the manner in which the runway upgrade was carried out underscores the overriding

from combat-ready. In addition to the initial acceptance inspections and normal routine maintenance, the ground crews of the 361st, working side-by-side with the 468th Service Squadron

The men who kept them flying: A meeting of the ground crews at Bottisham, 1944. Courtesy Russell A. Severson

which was also assigned to Bottisham, would be responsible for implementing an array of some 50 modifications necessary to bring the aircraft up to 8th Fighter Command operational

objective which was to make the Station operational as quickly as was possible.

because light leaked through the f w that had curtains. The others were impossible. With no curtains plus equipment stacked inside they merely acted as giant venturis and a local gale resulted."13

standards. These modifications ranged from painting the interior of the cockpit dat'k green, to major changes in the electrical and fuel systems. Most of this maintenance was carried out in the open since hangat' space was extremely limited and the majority of the maintenance shelters were corrugated steel "blister hangars" which resembled enlarged Nissen huts open at both ends. "Our biggest headache," wrote Maj. Parks, the Sta-

To add to the problems of making the Group's 50-plus P47s operational within weeks of arrival, maintenance personnel were hampered by the cold, damp English weather, along

tion Engineering Officer, several months after the Group had settled in, "was the instaJJation of fuel and pressure lines for the belly [auxiliat·y fuel] tanks. Many a dreary night was pent by the mechanics in our lone hangat' installing fuel pressurizing systems for beJJy tanks ... Night work was very difficult.

with a shortage of tools and winter clothing. In spite of these deficiencies, wrote Maj. Pmks, "the aircraft still had to be made ready for combat in the shortest time possible. The tool of the 468th Service Squadron were distJ.ibuted throughout the Fighter Squadrons and by dint of a great deal of overtime accompanied by a great deal of good-natured cussing, off hand Air Corps

Black-out restrictions prevented the use of the blister hangars

efficiency, and many a shiver, the group was ready for combat

22

P-47s, attended by ground crews, warm up for take off, Bottisham In early 1944. Note the 75-gallon belly tanks on the ground near the aircraft. Courtesy Billy D. Welch

23

Yello\lljackets l The 361s1 Fighter Croup in World War II

Nissen

HU1S

and Bicycles

my fir t flight and I couldn't find the field. I finally called the tower and said 'send up a flare' !"17 While the ground echelon at Botti ham was working to make the tation operational, the pilot of the Group's three squadrons and Headquarters section were working to familiarize themselves with their new theater of operations. On December 12, 1943, the pilots at Botti ham began a ground school cour e intended to famiJi3.1ize them with operational practices within the 8th Fighter Command, uch a navigation and communication procedures. During the following weeks, as aircraft modification were completed and planes were allotted to the squadrons, the pilots began local familiarization flights. By the end of December orders arrived assigning the Group Commander and Ajr Executive Officer along with Squadron Commander and flight leaders to temporary duty with operational Groups. According to the teletyped ignal from the 66th Fighter Wing, to which the 361st had been assigned:

A group of Boeing B- 17 Flying Fortresses in a "combat box" formation which afforded maximum defensive firepower for the entire group, National Archives

"The Group Commander, Executive [Officer], Squad-

out along a specified withdrawal route. The fighter outfits of the 8th Air Force would be assigned to fly with these combat wing in order to fend off what proved to be the greatest threat to the "heavies" - German fighter aircraft.

ron Commander and Flight Leader of the 361 t Group will be ready to paJ1icipate in combat operations missions with experienced groups of this Wing.... The Group Commander and Squadron Commanders will make up one team and upon completion of their attachment to an operational

The linuted range of the P-47 Thunderbolt, which equipped most of the 8th Air Force's fighter groups at the beginning of 1944, was among the biggest concerns of the proponents of

Group, the remainder of the officers will make up a econd team."18

the daylight bombing campaign again t Germany. Considering the PA7's endurance of a little over 4 hours, the bombers were often required to proceed to their taJ'gets witllOut the protection of fighter aircraft beyond the western fringes of Germany. Without this protection, the "heavies" took a pounding,

Col. Chri tian and the three Squadron Commanders were assigned to the 78th Fighter Group at Duxford, While Maj. Kruzel and the remaining pi lots reported to Metfield for operations with the 353rd Group. During the first week of JanuaJ'y 1944, these officers would carry out vital training with their more experienced counterparts, after which they would return

and their losses to German fighters approached unacceptable level. To the limit of their endurance, however, the P-47 equipped groups of the 8th Fighter Command would escort the bomber for the maximl!m possible portion of their routes, sup-

to Bottisham to begin final preparations for the combat debut of the 36 I st. While flying from Duxford and Metfield, the 36lst's leaders from Flight ComJl1aJlders up would be introduced to bomber eSCOl1 operations as practiced by the 8th Air Force. Under ideal conditions, the 8th Fighter Command would be able to protect

porting the bombers during penetration of enemy airspace, within the t3.l·get 3.l·ea, or along the withdrawal route. Following the return of the Group' command staff and flight leaders from Duxford and Metfield dUling the second week of January 1944, the Group undertook final preparations for its first combat mission. Once the 36lst was declared operational, inclusion in an actual Field Order could come at any

the heavy bombers as they attacked German targets from the time they cro sed the enemy coast until the time they left several hours later. The B-17 and 8-24 groups were trained to fly in tight formations, stacked by squadrons in "combat boxes" in o~der to maximize the defensive firepower of the their own guns. Two or more groups of bombers (approximately 35 aircraft each) would be formed into combat wings and the e com-

time. The awaited declaration was made on January IS and it wa not long before the teletype machines in Bottisham's headqUaJters began printing out the Field Orders for the Group's first combat nUssion. English weather, however, confounded the process so that anticipation led to anticlimax as rain and

bat wings would fly a prescribed route at high altitude (20,000 to 30,000 feet usually) to their briefed targets and then back

fog grounded most operations by the 8th Air Force during the third week of January 1944.

24

Pilots at a pre-mission briefing at Boltisham, 1944, Standing at the extreme left is Maj, Wallace E. Hopkins, Group Operations Officer. Seated in front [I-r) IS Group Commander Col. Christian, 374th Squadron CO Maj, Roy A. Webb, and 375th Squadron CO Maj, Merritt, Courtesy J.J. Kruzel

It was not until Janu3.1·y 21, when the weather had cleared, that the 361 st Group would carry out its first combat mission. As Bottisham's pilots assembled in the tation briefing room that morning, they leaJ-ned that the 8th Bomber Command's re ource that day would be turned against the then mysterious V-weapon rocket sites, given the codename "Crossbow," in northern France. Though these German rocket-launching bases would not begin their bomb3.1·dment of England for practically another ix JDonths, Allied intelligence a certained their destructive potential and placed them high on tlle Ii t of priority taJ'gets in the daylight bombing campaign. 8th Air Force Field Order 388, in which the 361 st would make it debut, involved nearly 800 8-17 and B-24s a signed to bomb "Crossbow" targets from the Cherbourg area to the Pas de Calais. As one of thirteen fighter groups to take part in the mission, the 361 st was a signed to Target Area Support in the Pas de Calais. Simply put, the Group would patrol its assigned area in eaJ'ch of enemy aircraft which might rise from their French bases to intercept the heavy bombers. '9

The mission would officially begin for the 361st shortly after 1300 hours that afternoon a 52 of the Group' P-47s lifted off in pairs from Bottisham's steel-matted runway. To lead the Group on its first combat sortie was Maj. Ben Rimerman, the experienced Executive Officer of the nearby 353rd Fighter Group. The practice of having newly arrived outfits introduced to combat by an experienced "old hand" not only help d to instill confidence among the ranks of the novice unit, but also helped en ure that Group's role in the operation would, indeed, be carried out. After formjng up in quadrons at 4,000 feet over the field, the Group began a steady southeasterly climb toward France. When landfall was made over the French Coast at 1350 hour, the three squadrons were stacked 1500 feet apart, with the high squadron at 19,000 feet. Organized for maximum protection in the tried-and-true "finger four" formation, each flight following its squadron leader, who, in turn followed the Group leader, the 36lst patrolled its assigned area for the next 90 minutes. 20 As they scanned the sky, seaJ'ching for German aircraft, they sighted formations of 8-17s on course for their targets in

25

Yellowjackets! The 361 st Fighter Group in World War II

the Pas de Calais. Over St. Orner, German flak rose to meet the bombers, one of which was hit and fell away toward the Engli h Channel where it eventually ditched. 21 These images would be the Group's first glimpses of the air war over Europe during an otherwi e uneventful first mission. When the Group landed back at Bottisharn shortly after 1600 hours, eleven of its aircraft had returned early - eight pilots "aborting" due to mechanical failures, and three more detached to e cort them back through hostile airspace. Additionally, several of the Group's aircraft were forced to make emergency landings el ewhere due to lack of fuel. Five of tho e pilots who were forced to abort on the Group' first mission did so because of "belly tank" failures - fuel from the jettisonable tank fixed to the underside of the aircraft would not feed properly. In mo t cases, it was Bottisham's runway which was the source of these failures. The uneven surface of the farmland over which the steel matting wa laid cau ed excessive vibration during takeoff that was sometimes enough to loosen or break the fuel line connecting the tank with the aircraft's fuel system. Deprived of the use of the belly tank, the aircraft would not have sufficient range to carry out the mission and the pilot would likely have to turn back early on hi own which wa deemed an unneces ary risk. Once combat operations had begun for the 361 st on January 2L, 1944, the Group would be as igned a role to play in the vast coordinated efforts of the 8th Air Force as it carried out it daylight bombing campaign over Occupied Europe. Weather permitting, the 8th Bomber Command would continue to attack prioritized targets throughout the Continent ranging from factories producing strategic materials, to transportation hubs, and military installations uch as the "Crossbow" site under construction on the French Coast. After the 361 st's second combat mission on January 24, Lt. Col. Christian and his Air Exec, Maj. Kruzel, took over the

task of operational leader hip within the Group. Together, these two officers, both of whom had seen combat in the Pacific Theater, would share the burdens of leadership as the novice 361st began its combat tour with the 8th Air Force. The Group' first combat los took place during the first of two escort missions carried out by the 361 st on January 29. After accompanying a force of B-17s to the vicinity of the German border, the Group, led by Lt. Col. Christian, was heading back toward England when someone spotted an unidentified aircraft well below and Red Flight of the 374th Squadron was di patched to investigate. After identifying the aircraft as a B-17, Red Flight proceeded toward England independently. When the flight Leader deemed that adequate time and distance had been flown and that they were likely over the English Channel, he ordered a let-down through the thick layer of undercast. When the flight broke through the clouds, they found themselves at 800 feet over the heavily fortified French coast. German light flak batteries immediately opened fire on the four P47s and although they quickly climbed back into the overcast, 2nd Lt. Charles Screw was not with them when they emerged above the cloud layer. 22 Lt. Screws' aircraft had been hit by flak, and the engine of hi P-47 began running rough. nwilling to lisk a trip across the icy water of the English Channel, Screws later reported that "I did a L80 degree turn and flew as far and as fast as I could away from the coastal defense zone. Twenty minute later, I broke cover over an airfield. They shot at me again and knocked me about. .. two minutes later I landed, wheels up, in a plowed field. I blew up the IFF [Identification Friend or Foe transmitter] as an FW-190 started to circle ... when he left, I went back to the hip and collected my extra pair of socks, medical kit, gloves, and the k-ration chocolate and compass," before setting off into nearby woodsY While the Group's first combat loss undoubtedly drove home the fact that the 3.61 st was now in "a shooting war," no

Nissen Huts and Bicycles

one felt the los more keenly than Lt. Screws' crew chief, Sgt. Russell Severson. The bond between ground crew and pilot was typically strong and, according to Severson, "As crew chief you just can't imagine how helpless you feel, and very sad, wondering where he was and whether he was alive. I couldn't leep for many night ." This wa only the beginning, however, and the pace of operations at Bottisham continued in spite of the loss. "Luckily, I was given a new pilot and P-47, so you soon get involved with the war again," Severson remarked many year later. 24 Fortunately, however, Screw eventually contacted the French Resistance, eventually making his way acros the Pyrenees, to Gibraltar and back to England. 25 On January 30, the Group was called on to put up two escort missions as over 700 B-17s and B-24s of the 8th Bomber Command attacked targets in Brunswick and Hannover. 26 It would be on the fir t mission of the day, in which the Group wa assigned "penetration upport" as the bomber entered enemy air pace, that the 361st would engage German aircraft for the fir t time. Lt. Col. Christian wa to lead on the mission, but was forced to return to base early due to a radio malfunction. Maj. Kruzel took over the lead of the Group's 43 P-47s a they made landfall overthe etherland at 1I00 hours. Though the 361st reached the rendezvou location on time, the assigned bomber were nowhere in sight, so Kruzel took the 375th Squadron and proceeded to climb above a layer of high cloud cover in order to try to locate the bombers. During this maneuver, several Focke Wulf (FW) 190's and Messer chmitt (ME) I 09's were spotted ju t above the clouds and elements of the 375th Squadron gave cha e. Capt. John W. Guckeyson wa credited with damaging one of the ME-I09 Y While detached from the 375th Squadron, the remaining two squadrons, the 374th and 376th, proceeded on course in search of the bombers - a task complicated by the heavy cloud cover that day over much of their route. At 1130 hours in the vicinity of Rheine in western Germany, the 374th Squadron

Lt. Charles Screws of the 37 4th Fighter Squadron. Forced to crash-land his plane In France on January 29, 1944, Screws was the first combat loss for the 361 st Fighter Group. Courtesy George Lichter

was orbiting above a layer of cloud cover, still hoping to sight the assigned combat wing of bombers, when vapor contrail were reported several thousand feet above. The quadron went into a defensive "Lufberry" circle as the contrail continued overhead. Suddenly some 20-30 ME-109 dove down on the orbiting P-47 from all direction. Maj. Roy A. Webb, of Pampa, Texas, the 26-year-old commander of the 374th, watched as several of the Mes erschmitts began attacking the rear flight from a 4-0'c1ock po ition, breaking up the defensive formation. Webb spotted one of the enemy aircraft on the tail of a P-47 in Blue Flight, and immediately executed a left wing-over which placed him on the tail of the Messerschmitt, whose pilot immediately broke off the attack, diving away to the right and then to the left. Webb, his own flight in trail, tayed with the German, holding his gun sight on the enemy fighter. At 18,000 feet, he was within 400 yards of his target a he depressed the gun trigger on hi control tick, sending stream of tracer, armor-piercing and incen-

A 374th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt in flight seen from the waist-gunner's position of a 8-24 Liberator, 1944. USAF Museum

Left: A Focke-Wulf (FW) 190 in flight. The FW- 190 would be a frequent German fighter type encountered by the pilots of the 361 st. USAF Museum Right: A Messerschmtt (ME) 109. USAF Museum

26

27

YellolYjackels! The 361s1 Figluer Croup in World War"

Nissen HUls and Bicycles



Maj. Roy Webb of the 374th Fighter Squadron poses beneath the cowling of his P-47D 'Sweet Thing III" at Bottisham, 1944. Courtesy Russell A.

Capt. Robert Sedman of the 374th Fighter Squadron poses beneath the wing of his P-47 at Bottisham, 1944. Courtesy Russell A. Severson

Severson

diary ammunition from his Thunderbolt's eight .50 caliber machine guns at the diving German. 2nd Lt. Roy P. Lacy of Baltimore, Maryland, was covering hi Squadron Commander

called out the Me serschmitt to his leader. Sedman, with Lederer on his wing, turned onto the tail of the ME-i 09 which quickly broke off its attack and went into a vertical dive in an attempt

from above and later reported how "Major Webb closed and began firing at 400 yards and broke off at zero range. Strikes were observed on the canopy, wing roots and tail section. What appeared to be the canopy fell off, and as the enemy aircraft

to get away. "I did a violent push-over and followed the enemy aircraft down," Sedman reported after landing that day. "At

entered a 1,000 foot overcast in a vertical dive, I observed part of the tail section fall off and the plane burst into flames."28

fuselage." When down to only 2,000 feet of altitude, Sed man began to pull out of his dive, while watching as the German fighter continued sU'aight down at terminal velocity. Lt. Lederer, who had followed his leader throughout the chase, began his pull out at 8,000 feet as the heavy P-4Ts airspeed indicator

about 15,000 feet I opened fire at extreme range and closed to approximately 350 yards, ob erving hits on the wing roots and

Based on the evidence of his gun camera film, as well as the observations ofLt. Lacy, Webb would be credited with destroying an enemy aircraft - perhap the fir t in the Group's opera-

regi tered 600 MPH. Pulling out of the dive Lederer continued to climb and eventuaJly leveled off at 16,000 feet, temporarily "blacked out" a the "g" force from the maneuver caused blood to flow downward in his body, impairing his vision 29 Though

tional history, though it would be impos ible to say for sure as several other combats were taking place at the same time. Capt. Robert Sedman, a 23-year old native of Wheatland, Wyoming, was leading Red Flight of the 374th on the mission and shortly after the Squadron went into its defensive

fairly certain of the critical damage received by the ME-109, and considering the low altitude at which its pilot continued

"Lufberry," he saw a German fighter closing on his flight from a i-o'clock position. Sedman immediately turned into the approaching Messerschmitt and fired a shOl1 burst "to check my guns." 2nd Lt. Henry B. Lederer of ew York City was flying as Sedman's Wingman and saw a German fighter attacking

Lt. Roy P. Lacy of the 374th Fighter Squadron seen in the cockpit of his P-51 at Bottisham, summer 1944. Courtesy Russell A. Severson

Lt. Henry B. Lederer of the 37 4th Fighter Squadron poses on the wing of

After climbing up to 11,000 feet on the momentum of his pull-out, Capt. Sedman began calling for the elements of his flight to reform, after they had become scattered in combat. Lt. Lederer had just joined on his wing again when another ME-

Rheine. As Blue Flight Leader, Latimer turned his flight in to face attacking German fighters at the start of the fight. After

his P-4 7 "Duchess of Manhattan" at Bottisham. Note his insulated flying boots designed for high-altitude comfort. Courtesy Henry B. Lederer

the initial head-on pass he sighted a Messerschmitt dead astern of 2nd Lt. Robert Eckfeldt of Yellow Flight a thousand feet below him. Latimer dove on the E-I09 whose pilot saw the attacking P-47 and broke away in a teep dive. "] had no trouble

109 attacked the\n from abeam at 2 o'clock. The German pilot's peed was so great, however, that he overshot the element of P-47s allowing Sedman to turn onto his tail after applying full

catching him at 500 MPH," Latimer reported after the combat. After firing approximately 600 rounds of ammunition at the

throttle. Opening fire at a range of 700 yards and closing to only ISO, Sedman's eight .50 caliber machine guns tore into

enemy fighter, Latimer saw smoke pouring from the German plane which continued down in a terminal dive. Latimer saw fit to note during the mission debriefing that the German "pilot attempted no evasive action except the high speed dive which

the Messer chmitt, a piece of which flew off and damaged the engine cowling of his Thunderbolt. Sed man and Lederer watched the enemy pilot bail out of his aircraft amid a trail of smoke and f1ame. 30 Just as the Gennan abandoned his aircraft,

to me shows a lack of experience and knowledge of the dive characteristics of the P-47 airplane."33 Based on the supporting testimony of another pilot in Blue flight, Latimer would be

Lt. Lederer spotted an ME-l 09 below and to the left, and after calling for Capt. Sedman to cover him, "went in on the enemy aircraft's tail at about 6,000 [feet] indicating 550 MPH." As he

awarded a claim of desu·oyed. After approximately IS minutes, the combat was over and

pressed the trigger at a range of ISO yards, Lederer saw sU'ikes and flashes as he repeatedly hit the German fighter. As pieces flew off striking his right wing, cowling, propeller, and windshield. Lederer uddenly noticed another P-47 also firing at the same enemy aircraft. 3' Lt. James Hastin, who had been fly-

the scattered elements of the 374th Squadron turned west toward England. After landing at Botti ham, the pilots were debriefed and eventually the Squadron would be credited with four enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably desu'oyed, and two

ing the position of Red Four, had also spotted the ME-l 09 and attacked the enemy aircraft until forced to break away follow-

damaged - the fir t aerial vict.orie in the operational history of the 361 st Fighter Group. For this early ucces, however, the Group traded the loss of one of its pilot. 2nd Lt. Ethelbert Amason, aged 20, of Hargill, Texas, a small town in the Rio

ing an explo ion around the Messerschmitt' cockpit. It was then that he spotted Lederer "directly beneath me not more than 10 feet."32 Though neither of the two attacking pilots witne sed a cra h, later assessment of their combat film led to a

his vertical dive, Sedman later could only claim the German fighter as "Probably Destroyed" ince he had neither witnessed a cra h, nor captured po itive proof of destruction on his gun-

shared claim for each. 2nd Lt. Joe Latimer of the 374th Squadron would also be

Grande Valley, had been flying as the second element leader in Red Flight of the 374tl1. When the combat tarted, Amason went out of radio contact and in the excitement of the moment, no one, including his wingman, 2nd Lt. James Hastin, saw what

camera film.

able to claim an ME-109 destroyed in the encounter near

happened to him.

Yellow Flight of the 374th from dead astern and immediately

28

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Yellowjackets! The 361st Fighter Group in World War II

The exact fate of "Bert" Amason would remain a mystery until everal year after the war. Unable to obtain any specific information on her brother' disappearance through US Government Channels, Amason's ister, Goldie, began writing letters to the mayors of towns and villages in the eastern Netherland requesting information on any American aircraft known to have come down on January 30, 1944. Eventually she received a reply from the Mayor of Rijissen, a town some thirteen miles east of Deventer, that an American P-47 had, in fact, crashed nearby on that date. The local villager had recovered the remains of the pilot and laid them to rest in the local churchyard. After positive identification, EthelbertAma on's remains were returned to the United States in 1950. 34 Following the short, sharp engagement on January 30, the month of February would be a time of anti-climax for the 361st. A mere sixteen missions would be flown by the Group during the entire month as operations were frequently hampered by bad weather. In the course of those sixteen missions, contact with enemy aircraft would be made on only three, for a total of ix enemy plane claimed destroyed. Still new to the ETO, thi relatively slow period would allow the Group to continue its familiarization with routines of bomber escort operations - in effect, the lull before the storm.

three

\\Big Week," Berlin, and Beyond

Lt, Joe Latimer of the 37 4th Fighter Squadron poses beside his P-47, Latimer. who was credited with downing an ME- 109 on January 30, 1944. would be lost on a disastrous mission some five months later.

Courtesy J.J. Kruzel

Lichter. 8" Air Force, 66" Fighter Wing, Teletype Message 3010lA, December 1944. " 8" Fighter Command," arrative of Operation ," January 21, 1944, p. 2. 20 Wallace E. Hopkins, "Tactical Commanders Report for 21 January 1944, 361" Fighter Group," January 25, 1944. " 8" Fighter Command, "Narrative of Operation ," January 21, 1944, p.2. II 361" Fighter Group, "Mission Summary Report, Field Order 226, " January 29, 1944. "Charles B. Screws, Escape and Evasion Report No. 673, June 5, 1944. ,. Russell A. Severson, Correspondence with the Author, October 18, 1995. " Screws, Escape and Evasion Report o. 673. " Roger A. Freeman, The Mighty Eighth War Diary (New York: Janes, 1981), p. 172. 21 361" Fighter Group, "Mission Summary Report, Field Order 221," January 30, 1944. 18 Roy A. Webb, "Encounter Report," January 30, 1944. 19 Robert E. Sedman, "Encounter Report," January 30, 1944. 3D Ibid. JI Henry B. Lederer, "Encounter Report," January 30, 1944. II Jame D. Ha tin, "Encounter Report," January 30, 1944. JJ Joe L. Latimer, "Encounter Report," January 30, 1944. " Bob Burch, "Sound Off," 361" Fighter Group Association Newsletter (Vol. 13, August 1993), p. 5.

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The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc, because it recognized the Jews for what they were .... I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church ...

Adolf Hitler, 26 April 1933

 

Without centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, Hitler's passionate hatred would never have been so fervently echoed.
Robert Runcie (1921-2000), Archbishop of Canterbury (1980-1991)

Early Christians specialised in causing trouble at synagogues and disrupting Jewish services. Such behaviour had been censured by the pagan emperors, but under Christian ones official censure changed to toleration and even encouragement. The first nominally Christian emperor, Constantine, was also the first significantly to limit the rights of Jews as citizens of the Roman Empire. He imposed heavy penalties on anyone who converted to Judaism and also on any Jewish community that received converts. In the next generation any Christian converting to Judaism would have all of his property confiscated. Marriages between Christians and Jews became capital offences. In later centuries the emperors became more strongly Christian, and the laws concerning Jews became correspondingly more discriminatory, intolerant and oppressive.

An important turning point came in 388. In that year Christians burned a synagogue at Rome and the authorities required that restitution be paid. This was clearly fair and in keeping with custom. But in the same year Christians razed another synagogue, at Callinicum on the Euphrates, at the instigation of the local bishop. Again the Emperor required the bishop to make restitution. The leading churchman of the day, Ambrose, now a saint and Doctor of the Church, interceded and made it clear to the Emperor that it would be sinful to help the Jews in this way*. The Emperor acceded to the will of the Church and withdrew his demand for justice.

The Christian Emperor Theodosius II promulgated a new code of law in 438 that excluded Jews from all political and military functions. They were again forbidden to marry Christians, to own Christian slaves, to hold public office or to build synagogues. In the same year the Empress Eudocia tried to relax the regulations that barred the Jews from Jerusalem except for the festival of Sukkoth. When the Jews gathered on the Temple Mount, Christian monks on the Mount revealed swords and clubs hidden under their robes and attacked the Jews. Many were murdered. When eighteen of the monks were brought for trial, the leader of the massacre, a monk called Barsoma, assembled his followers again and spread rumours that noble Christians were to be burned alive. Now they threatened to burn the Empress herself and inspired such fear that the proceedings had to be dropped. "Five hundred groups" of paramilitary monks patrolled the streets. Barsoma announced that "The cross has triumphed". He later became St Barsoma.

St John Chrysostom, another Doctor of the Church, was even more extreme. He claimed that Jews sacrificed their children to Satan , an accusation that was to be amplified and believed throughout Christendom for centuries. He also claimed that God hated the Jews and always had done. His eight sermons of 387 whipped congregations into a frenzy of excitement and fanaticism: Jews were drunkards, whoremongers and criminals. They were lascivious, obscene, demonic and accursed. They murdered prophets, Christ, even God himself. Before long the sort of massacre of Jews by Christians, which in time would come to be known as pogroms, were being instigated by Christian leaders. St Jerome regarded the Jews as vipers. St Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, instigated a series of riots directed against them. Massacres and riots occurred elsewhere in the Empire but, as so often, surviving records are patchy, and have been so sanitised by Christian hands that they are unreliable. We shall almost certainly never know how many Jews were murdered by Christians during the Dark Ages.

Under Justin I (Eastern Roman Emperor 518-527), Jews were forbidden to make wills, to receive inheritances, to give testimony in court, or to perform any other legal act. From now on they would be second class citizens. The next emperor, Justinian, produced a new code in 529 confirming their legal disabilities. This code would be influential for many hundreds of years. Marriage between Christian and Jew was confirmed as a capital offence. Synagogues were sequestered and converted into churches. The burning down of synagogues was also explicitly made legal. Many bishops and monks — now saints — took advantage of the revised law to commit acts of arson. In 538 a Church Council at Orléans again condemned intermarriage. It prohibited Christians and Jews eating together, or mixing at all during Holy Week. Regulations affected all facets of life. Jews were not permitted to give medical aid to Christians or to receive it from them. By the end of the sixth century they were being subjected to forcible baptism. A Church Council in Toledo in 694 declared all Jews to be slaves. Their possessions were to be confiscated and their children seized — to be converted to Christianity. By 1010 local Jewish populations were being routinely massacred in Europe, notably in Rome, Orléans, Rouen, Limoges, and throughout the Rhineland. Existing legal disabilities were confirmed by the Third Lateran Council in 1179, which added a further restriction that Jews should not receive feudal homage. Christians living with Jews were to be excommunicated — a regulation leading directly to the creation of Jewish ghettos. Cannon law expressly prohibitted ordinary social relationships with Jews:

None may eat, live, or receive medical treatment with Jews.
Let neither clergy or laity eat their unleavened bread, live with them, call them in when they are sick, receive medicine from them, or wash with them at the baths. If anyone does this, let him be deposed if a cleric, and excommunicated if a lay person.
(Decretum gratiani, Case 28, q I, C13)

The justification for Jewish persecutions through the centuries has been a passage from the Matthew gospel. After Pilate has denied responsibility for sentencing Jesus to death, the Jewish people are quoted as saying " ...His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). A similar theme may be found at 1 Thessalonians 2:15. In Christian eyes this meant that the Jews as a race were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. In time, the principle of collective guilt would open the way to the assignment of other imaginary forms of guilt. The fact that Jesus had been a Jew, as his parents and his followers had been, was overlooked. In Christian art the Jews were depicted as ugly and deformed, while Jesus was a handsome European.

Jesus (with his cross) and St Veronica looking European while their fellow citizens
conform to the traditional Christian characature of Jewish appearance.

Bearing Of The Cross, Hieronymus Bosch (1462-1516), Musée des Beaux Arts, Ghent

 

In western European art Jesus" family were often depicted with blond hair and blue eyes. The suggestion that Jesus might have looked anything like a typical Mediterranean Jew was tantamount to blasphemy. He was invariably depicted wearing at least a loincloth, not only to protect emerging concepts ofChristian modesty, but also to hide the uncomfortable fact that he had been circumcised, as all Jewish boys were (and still are), at the age of 8 days (Luke 2:21). The apostles were also depicted as handsome western Europeans — all except Judas who was shown with caricatured Jewish features and who alone wore the yellow clothes that Jews were obliged by medieval Christians to wear. Artistic depictions of Satan also tended to show him with caricatured Jewish facial features.

The greatest Christian leaders in the Medeval period shared an intense anti-Semitism. One of the greatest, Peter the Venerable considered Jews as no better than animals. In fact Jews are not just animals but beasts of burden. In a tract A Tract Against The Inveterate Hardness of the Jews, arguing for the divinity of Christ, he repeats the point over and over: Here he is addressing a Jew:

It seems to me, Jew, that I ... judge in these matters ... as do all men. And if all men, then you also - if, nevertheless, you are human. For I dare not declare that you are human lest perchance I lie, because I recognize that reason, that which distinguishes humans from ... beasts, is extinct in you or in any case buried.... Truly, why are you not called brute animals? Why not beasts? Why not beasts of burden? ... The ass hears but does not understand; the Jew hears but does not understand. Am I the first to say this? Has not the same been said many centuries before [by your prophet]? ... And although it is fully proved by these sacred authorities that you are a domestic animal or beast ... and it has been sufficiently shown by me, nevertheless yet a fifth chapter will be added that shall expose, not only to Christians but to all the lands of the world, that you are truly a beast of burden and that, when I affirm this, I in no way exceed the bounds of truth.*

A provision in Deuteronomy 23:20 permitted Jews to make a profit from lending money to gentiles. So it was that Jews were able to lend money in Christian Europe. This suited both Jews and Christians, and Jews were allowed into Christian countries in order to fulfil an essential economic function. As far as is known, Jews were introduced into Britain soon after the Norman Conquest to act as bankers to the King and his nobles. They were regarded as the King's property*, and in theory enjoyed his protection. Restricted to money lending, Jews were frequently accused of usury, although their rates of return were a fraction of those of modern high-street banks. They were routinely cheated, abused and humiliated, and the most preposterous calumnies were perpetrated against them.

During Eastertide of 1144 a 12-year-old boy by the name of William was murdered near Norwich, probably by a local sexual deviant. Contrary to the available evidence, a monk, Thomas of Monmouth, formulated a theory that the boy had been ritually murdered by Jews. He claimed that they had crucified him just as they had crucified Jesus, overlooking the fact that crucifixion was a Roman not a Jewish practice, and that there was no reason to suppose that the child had been crucified at all. Nevertheless, the story soon gained wide currency and came to be believed as fact. William was acclaimed St William, a martyr for the Holy Mother Church. His body was moved to Norwich Cathedral, where wondrous miracles were worked at his shrine, a circumstance that served to confirm the monk's story. Norwich profited enormously from the influx of pilgrims, all eager to learn the details of St William's dreadful martyrdom, to witness his great miracles, and to make offerings.

During the excavation of a site in the centre of NorwichIn in 2004, researchers discovered the bodies of 17 people thrown head first into a Norwich well. Later study by a team from the University of Dundee identified them as Jewish. Eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between two and 15. The remaining six were adult men and women. There is evidence the children were thrown down the well after the adults.The positions in which they were found indicated many of them had been dropped into the well from their ankles. Seven skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family. No cause of death other than being dropped into well was apparent in any of the skeletons. The bodies are most likely those of Jewish victims of a Christian Pogrom. Likely dates for the massacre are 1144 and the 1230's both follwing outbreaks of the Christian blood libel against Jews. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13855238)

As the stories spread and Norwich became rich, it must have occurred to others that they could cash in on anti-Semitism as well. In any event, there was an outbreak of such cases around the country — Gloucester 1168, Bury St Edmunds 1181, Winchester 1192. The victims of any and every child murderer were acclaimed by the Church as victims of Jewish atrocities. Shrines were established, pilgrims arrived, miracles occurred, and the money rolled in. When the Bishop of Norwich visited France in 1171, similar cases were suddenly reported there as well — Blois 1171, Pontoise and Braisne 1182. Another case was reported in Saragossa in the same year. Any murder without a genuine suspect was likely to excite a new outbreak of unfounded rumour. When the body of a nine-year-old boy called Hugh was discovered down a well in Lincoln in 1255, the stories of ritual murder were soon circulating again. Jews were accused of crucifying him in the most unlikely circumstances*. After torture sessions and a show trial, 19 Jews were executed and many more suffered other punishments. Chaucer's Prioress's Tale gives a chilling insight into Christian thinking about Little St Hugh (as the boy is now known), and demonstrates the use of anti-Semitic propaganda in skilled hands.

Christian propaganda found on an Exchequer Roll, a document that lists tax payments made by the Jews of Norwich in 1233, during the reign of King Henry III.

Isaac fil Jurnet, a Jewish moneylender from Norwich who was banker to King Henry, sued the monks at Westminster to recover interest on money they had borrowed after they refused to pay it. This illustration refers to this event. The three-headed monster with the crown towering over the center of the drawing is Isaac. The man and woman facing each other beneath Isaac, with Satan between them, are Mosse Mokke and his wife Abigail, both of whom were employed by Isaac. On the left a poor Christian monk, protects a set of scales full of coin that Isaac is trying to wrest from him, using one of the many devils at his command.

Sometimes there was not even a murder victim to trigger the anti-Semitism. At Blois a servant of the mayor reported that he thought he saw a Jew throw a child's body into the river. No body was ever found, and no child was reported missing. Even so, 38 leading Jews were sentenced to death and were burned. The calumny of ritual child sacrifice, which came to be known as the blood libel, was soon widespread throughout Europe. Jews were accused of torturing children, murdering them in a ritual parody of Christian belief, then drinking their blood. Everywhere, Jews suffered torture and death because of these inventions.

Eighteenth century painting on the wall of St. Paul's Church, Sandomierz, Poland (detail)
Paintings like this were popular in Catholic churches throughout western Christendom for many centuries. Most disappeared quietly in the twentieth century, but a few, like this one, survived on public display in traditionalist areas into the twenty-first century.

The picture shows verious aspects of the blood libel. On the right a Jew is paying a woman for a fresh child-victim, who is being assessed by another Jew, in front of them, dressed in red. Another child is being tortured in the top left, and other infants lie on the floor apparently having been crucified. In the centre three Jews pour blood into a drinking cup from a barrel containing a butchered child. Left-over limbs are fed to a dog in the bottom left, having been drained of blood.

As the King's property, Jews in England had enjoyed a measure of protection. But when kings started taking their Christian duties seriously, they became less inclined to take care of their Jews. Jewish citizens who came bearing gifts for Richard I at his coronation in 1190 were massacred out of hand. Their murder was acclaimed by churchmen as the judgement of God and was emulated in almost every other town in England with a Jewish community. When a massacre broke out in York, the Jewish population took refuge in a substantial building called Clifford's Tower. There, their Christian neighbours besieged them, offering a choice between death and Christian baptism. Many chose to die by their own hand. Others gave themselves up to the Christians only to be massacred on the spot, despite the promises. Those who had led the siege and massacre went to nearby York Minster, where they burned records of their debts to the people they had just murdered. Then they left for the Third Crusade, safe in the knowledge that the Church would forgive them, if indeed it felt it needed to. Groups of Jews were massacred by zealous Christians on a number of occasions like this.

A sign within Clifford's Tower in York (2014)
the site of the wooden keep where Jews committed suicide rather than convert to Christianity

 

A reconstruction of the events at Clifford's Tower in York in 1190
(photo taken at Clifford's tower 2014)

 

A memorial at the base of the motte of Clifford's Tower reads:

On the night of 16th March 1190 some
150 Jews and Jewesses of York having sought
protection in the Royal Castle on this site
from a mob incited by Richard Malebisse
and others chose to die at each other's hands
rather than renounce their faith

 

Jews suffered a number of indignities and disabilities. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 had debarred them from holding land, and from all military and civil functions. It had also required all Jews to wear distinctive clothing. At the insistence of the Church they were obliged to fast during Lent. They were debarred from practising almost all trades, since trades were controlled by guilds. Guilds were essentially Christian organisations: they enjoyed the favours of patron saints; their members built chapels; they put on annual religious plays. They would not permit Jewish members, and without membership it was impossible to obtain an apprenticeship, or to sell services. Boroughs obtained royal charters to allow them to exclude Jews from their environs. By 1271 the requirements of the Church were being enforced in England, and Jews were prevented from holding land*. They were also obliged to wear distinctive yellow badges, as they were in continental Europe.

It is sometimes claimed that anti-Semitism was a European phenomenon, rather than a Christian phenomenon. But this is demonstrably not so. In the ninth century senior churchmen like Agobard , Archbishop of Lyons, and Hinemar, Archbishop of Rheims, worked hard campaigning against Jews who were already integrated into Carolingian society. In Muslim Spain and in Cathar lands of the Languedoc, Jews had enjoyed much greater freedom than in Christendom. In Cathar lands they were accorded civil rights and sat as elected consuls. They filled high offices for the Counts of Toulouse and other potentates. The Easter tradition called "Strike the Jew", popular throughout Western Christendom, had been abolished in Toulouse in the middle of the twelfth century — despite the protests of the clergy*. One of the specific charges made by churchmen against Raimon VI of Toulouse was that he gave public office to Jews. In 1209, stripped to the waist and barefoot, he was obliged to swear in front of a relic-laden altar, in the presence of 19 bishops and three archbishops, that he would no longer allow Jews to hold public office. In 1229 his son and heir, Raimon VII, underwent a similar ceremony where he was obliged to prohibit the public employment of Jews, this time at Notre Dame in Paris*. By the next generation a new, zealously Roman Catholic, ruler was arresting and imprisoning Jews for no crime, raiding their houses, seizing their cash, and removing their religious books. They were then released only if they paid a new "tax"*. As an English historian of the crusade against the Cathars puts it:

Organised and official persecution of the Jews became a normal feature of life in the south only after the Crusade because it was only then that the Church became powerful enough to insist on the application of positive measures of discrimination*.

Again, the Spanish Inquisition worked hard to introduce anti-Semitism into areas of Spain where Judaism, Islam and Christianity had coexisted for centuries under convivencia. They introduced ghettos, enforced sumptuary laws, promoted mass expulsions, and encouraged racial discrimination*.

In Jeruasalem Christians sought and obtained from the Moslems rulers the right to kill Jews for the crime of walking past a church, or the convent on Mount Zion. Unaware Jews were routinely lynched for this crime, a position that continued until 1917*.

Like Richard I, King Edward I was a crusader. His duty to God impelled him to travel to the Levant to kill God's enemies, the Muslim infidels. It occurred to him, as it occurred to other crusaders, that it was much easier to kill off God's other enemies, the perfidious Jewish infidels, without even crossing the English Channel. The problem was that they were funding the National Debt. Eventually, to save himself from financial ruin, Edward confiscated the whole of their property, and expelled them from the country in 1290. Even so, Christian propaganda kept alive the calumnies, and centuries later English audiences would have been familiar with usurers like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Jews were not readmitted to England until Cromwell's Protectorate and then not because of any sympathy for them, but in order to facilitate the End of the World*. They continued to suffer a number of legal disabilities up to the nineteenth century. Even after 600 years the blood libel was still current in Britain. It surfaced for example during the spate of Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel in 1888. The murders were quite different from the ones in the Middle Ages, and the charges of ritual murder were equally absurd, but they sounded just as convincing to receptive ears.

In Europe, as in England, Jews were generally protected by the rulers whom they served, but if their usefulness ceased, or the debts owed to them became too great to repay, they became dispensable. Time after time their property was confiscated and they were exiled — for example from France in 1182, 1306 and 1396 , Parma in 1488, Milan in 1490, and Spain in 1492. All the nobles had to do was withhold protection, and enthusiastic Christian hands would do the rest. Pogroms were a feature of European life throughout the Crusades everywhere. During the Shepherd's Crusade of 1251 the Jewish population of southern France was almost annihilated.

The blood libel was popular almost everywhere. In 1285, 180 Jews were burned in Munich following a rumour that they had bled a child to death in their synagogue. In 1294 the blood libel was heard at Bern in Switzerland. Some Jews were executed, the rest expelled from the city. Later a fountain was erected showing a sinister-looking Jew eating one child and carrying a sack full of others. In 1475 most of the Jews in the town of Trent in the Tirol were tortured and burned following reports that a child had been ritually murdered. On Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1475, the corpse of a young boy called Simon was found floating in a ditch in the city of TrentThe Christian population had been whipped into a murderous frenzy by a preacher, Fra Bernardino da Feltra, who had accused Jews of ritual murder in his Lenten sermons that year. The Church duly beatified Simon, and the usual selection of miracles were reported at his shrine. His cult continued officially until 1965, and there are still Catholics propagating the traditional blood-libel around Simon's death*.

"Beatus Simon Martyr" (The blessed martyr Simon) Engraving, Nürnberg,, ca.1479
Note the imagined instruments of torture in the foreground, the auriole around Simon's head, and the amputated limbs of Simon's supposed murderers in the background.

 

here Simonino de Trento (Simon of Trent) is shown being tortured and murdered by a number of named Jews. He was declared blessed by the Catholic Church, but all mention of him and his fictitious martyrdom were removed by the Church in 1965.

 

The doctrine of transubstantiation affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 led Roman Catholics to believe that the bread used at the Mass changed into Jesus" flesh. The word host, a term for a sacrificial victim, was (and still is) applied to this bread. Within a few years stories were spreading that Jews were stealing wafers of bread and torturing them in order to torture Jesus. A common story was that they pushed nails through the bread, making it bleed in imitation of the crucifixion, a practice known as host nailing. Sometimes the breadeven cried out in pain. Stories like this led to Jews being sent to the stake throughout Europe, the first victims apparently in 1243 at Berlitz in Germany. In 1298 a host-nailing story was spread by a priest at Nuremberg, as a result of which 628 Jews lost their lives. In 1337 at Deggendorf in Bavaria the entire Jewish population was burned following the circulation of such stories. The Church there commissioned a number of paintings showing Jews torturing the host with thorns, and with hammers and nails. Thousands of pilgrims travelled to see these pictures, until they were withdrawn in the 1960s.

A painted glass window in Brussels Cathedral showing Jews nailing hosts. Pictures like this were very popular in churches up until themid 1960's, but almost all of them have mysteriously disappeared, so only fixed items like windows remain.

 

Similar massacres took place elsewhere, and imaginative pictures werecommissioned to lend credibility to the imaginary events that had precipitated them. Generally they showed blood flowing from the tortured wafers of bread. In 1453, a total of 41 Jews were burned to death at Breslau after a woman reported seeing a Jew stab a wafer. Confessions were obtained by the use of torture. Such confessions led to the burning of 27 Jews at Mecklenburg in 1492. The last known execution of Jews for host nailing took place at Nancy in 1761.

Desecration of the Host by Jews in Bratislava by Mayer Lucas, (Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz) - telling the usual host desecration narrative - front left > front right > mid cetre & back left

 

Details from the above - on the left Jews are cutting hosts, which bleed. On the right they are executed for their crimes.

 

Details from another sequence (from a 15th-century German woodcut of the supposed host desecration by the Jews of Passau, 1477) showing the host desecration by Jews (dentified by the badges the Church requires them to wear), and the subsequent torture to elicit confessions and the names of their (supposed) conspirators - red hot pincers and burning the feet

Another fanciful idea was that Jews plotted to poison wells. In Bohemia, 86 Jews were accused of this in 1161 and burned at the stake. At Chinon in 1321, a total of 160 Jews were burned as accomplices of the lepers who had supposedly planned to poison the whole of France. Some years earlier, 40 Jews had committed suicide at Vitry in order to avoid the same fate. When the Black Death ravaged Europe between 1348 and 1351, Jews provided convenient scapegoats. The theory was that they provoked it by poisoning water wells. Now it was the Jews who were primarily held responsible, and the lepers who were the accomplices. At Strasbourg 2,000 Jews were burned alive. At Mainz some 6,000 were slaughtered in a single day, the 24 th August 1349. Elsewhere Jews were walled up in their homes and left to die of starvation. Around 10,000 Jews, representing around 80 communities, were murdered in Bavaria. The entire Jewish population of Basel was wiped out: 600 adults went to the stake; their children were given to Christians for forcible conversion. Invariably the Church was involved one way or another, sometimes through priests, sometimes monks, sometimes through a rampaging mob of penitents known as Flagellants. These Flagellants literally whipped themselves into a religious frenzy. They were responsible for a Jewish massacre at Frankfurt in July 1349. Sometimes their mere approach precipitated violence. Anticipating the arrival of Flagellants in the same year, Christians at Brussels killed 600 Jews. Within the space of the three years 1348-1350, there were 350 known Jewish massacres, but there may well have been many more.

As in England, Continental crusaders often started with a massacre of local Jews when they set off for the Holy Land. On their way to the First Crusade in 1095-6, various groups, fired by the oratory of preachers, massacred any Jews that they came across. A group in Normandy attacked Jews in Rouen. A priest called Volkmar led a group of Saxon crusaders in the massacre of Jews in Prague. Another priest, called Gottschalk, led the massacre of Jews in Regensburg. Crusaders from Flanders attacked Jews in Cologne. A group from Lorraine attacked those in Metz. Another group attacked Jews in Speyer, Worms and Mainz. In Worms around half the Jewish population was slaughtered. The survivors asked the local bishop to save them. He said he would do so only if they agreed to become Christians, and left them to consider. As happened in other such situations in towns throughout Europe, they committed mass suicide rather than convert. The men killed their children, then their wives (one a new bride), then each other. The last man left alive then killed himself. Successful crusades not only started with massacres of Jewish communities, they ended with them as well. The general pattern followed the first great crusader success. When the crusaders took Jerusalem they pursued the Jewish population into their synagogue, and then set light to it, burning them alive.

Sprees of murder and arson were led by priests , and the same pattern was repeated every time a new crusade was preached. As one influential abbot, Peter of Cluny, pointed out: it was expensive in men and money to travel to the end of the world to fight Mohammedans, yet there were infidels living locally who were far more guilty towards Christ. The implication is that it would be much cheaper, easier, safer, and worthier to massacre local Jews than to attack distant Muslims — who were likely to fight back. Preachers promoting the Second Crusade prompted massacres across Germany and France.

Jewish literature was also a common target. Book burning was widespread and endorsed by the Church. Pope Gregory IX ordered the Talmud to be burned throughout Christendom. Tens of thousands of copies of it, together with other rabbinical writings, were destroyed. One reason for this orgy of destruction was the suspicion that the Talmud contradicted Christian beliefs concerning the Virgin Birth of Jesus. The crusader king, Louis IX of France ( St Louis), was also worried by the danger of Jews denying the Virgin Birth. If Christian laymen heard a Jew denying the Virgin Birth, or otherwise slandering the Christian faith, they should, said the future saint, run him through with a sword on the spot.

Like other minority groups — prostitutes, Muslims, lepers and reformed heretics — Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing to act as a "badge of infamy". In France and Spain this was generally a round yellow patch called a rouelle. In Italy rouelles, circular red badges and yellow hats were all used. In England it was a saffron badge shaped like the twin tablets of Moses. In Germany, Austria and Poland, Jews traditionally wore a pileum cornutum, a conical hat known in German as a Judenhut. Pope Gregory IX complained about this non-conformity in 1233 in a letter to the German bishops, and an effort was then made to bring them into line and wear badges. Jews were required to pay an annual fee for their rouelles, so they were effectively being required to pay for being persecuted ).

The Catholic Church required members of various persecuted minorities to wear distinctive badges - "badges of infamy" - an idea adopted and adapted by the Nazis.

Persecution was popular at all levels within the Church, but the main proponents were the mendicant orders — Dominicans and Franciscans. They invented pretexts to justify persecution, they ran the Inquisition, they enforced the rules, they promoted the burning of Jews and Jewish writings, they engineered ever more severe restrictions, they encouraged forcible conversion, and they preached anti-Semitism to the populace. They acted against Jews and other minority groups as "the shock troops of the Church"*. Popes also promoted the persecution of Jews. Callistus III (pope 1455-1458) for example revived legislation prohibiting social contacts between Christians and Jews. Paul IV (pope 1555-1559) hated them. As a cardinal he had ordered the burning of Jewish books. Two months after his election as Pope he published his bull Cum nimis absurdum, a document that was to promote anti-Semitism for centuries to come. He claimed that Jews were slaves by nature, and that they should be treated as such. In Rome, and throughout the Papal States, they were confined to specified districts each with a single entrance, which are now known as ghettos. (The term ghetto is taken from the name of the district in Venice where the Senate had confined the Jews in 1516.) Jews were forced to sell their houses at a fraction of their worth, forbidden to engage in commerce, and obliged to wear badges of infamy in public. They were obliged to use Latin, and to attend Church sermons for their conversion. The only trade open to them was the buying and selling of second-hand clothes and old iron — which largely explains why Jews were traditionally associated with the rag and bone trade. Once again, Jews were forbidden to receive medical attention from Christians. Synagogues were destroyed. Paul's restrictions were enforced more or less severely by popes for many centuries. Elderly Jews were kidnapped from their ghetto during the Roman Carnival, forced at sword point to overeat, then to race against each other. If two Christians testified that a Jew had insulted the Roman Catholic faith, or a priest, he could be put to death. Neither was this sort of attitude restricted to the Middle Ages. Leo XII (pope 1823-1829) once again forcibly confined the Jews to ghettos and subjected them to the Inquisition. His Holiness also condemned a new Austrian Constitution because it countenanced Jews running their own schools and colleges. As late as 1852, Pope Pius IX had persuaded Tuscany to prohibit Jewish physicians from practising medicine.

Memorial at Ribadavia, Galicia, Spain. It says "In memory of the residents of this village condemned by the Inquisition for their beliefs four hundred years ago"

Roman Catholic authorities had for centuries been forcibly removing Jewish children from their parents in order to bring them up as Christians. The whole civilised world was shocked to discover that this was still happening in 1858 when Edgardo Mortara was seized in Bologna and sent to Rome (see page 353). His Holiness refused to yield to world opinion and, after a triumphal parade through the ghetto in Rome, Edgardo began his new life. (The Church's argument was that several years earlier a Christian maid had secretly baptised the infant Edgardo when he was thought to be dying, so he was already a Christian.) In future the Church would be much more circumspect in removing children from their parents, though it continued to do so well into the twentieth century. As for the ghettos, it was not until 1870 (when Italian troops forcibly took Rome — the last remnant of the Papal States) that Jews were released from the last ghetto in Europe. One of the first acts of the new Kingdom of Italy after the liberation of Rome was to tear down the ghetto walls.

Wherever Christianity flourished, so did anti-Semitism. A clerical revival in France in the 1890s was linked to the Dreyfus affair, during which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused of treason by the Christian establishment. It was left to a small number of freethinkers such as Émile Zola to help Dreyfus, as it was to help other Jews when falsely accused. When it became clear that a miscarriage of justice had taken place, La Civiltà Cattolica commented that "if a judicial error has indeed been committed, then the Assembly of 1791 was responsible when it accorded French nationality to Jews". Father Vincent Bailly, Editor of La Croix, claimed that the Church in France was undergoing "a punishment reminiscent of Christ's own passion .... betrayed, sold, jeered at, beaten, covered with spittle and crucified by the Jews". The Dreyfus affair and its repercussions were indirectly responsible for the introduction of the 1905 law separating church and state in France.

Anti-Semitism was still widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Limerick in Ireland the Jewish community were boycotted, stoned, beaten and robbed, and eventually driven out of the city in 1904. The man behind it was Father John Creagh, a priest who accused Jews each Sunday from his pulpit of a range of offences from deicide (god-murder) to conspiracy with Freemasons. Included was the accusation that Jews were given to murdering Christians, an echo of the old blood libel*. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fabrication created by a Russian Orthodox secret policeman revived Christian anti-Semitism throughout Europe. In England it was republished in 1920 by the official publishers to the Church of England*.

Jews were persecuted in eastern Europe as well as western Europe. Hundreds of thousands were murdered in Christian pogroms in eastern Europe over the centuries. In 1723 the Bishop of Gdansk in Poland demanded the expulsion of Jews from the city. When the city authorities declined, he exhorted a mob to break into the city ghetto and beat the residents to death. Such pogroms continued until recent times. Often the murders were justified by the old blood libel. Familiar charges of the ritual murder of children were heard from the Protestant court chaplain, Adolf Stöcker, at Berlin in 1892, and again at the Hilsner trial in Slovakia in 1900, and at the Beilis trial in Kiev in 1913.

The general pattern is that the stronger the Christian faith, the stronger is the persecution of the Jews. It is notable that pogroms have been common in Poland during intervals of that country's independence, when the Church has enjoyed its greatest power and influence. The restoration of independence to Poland in 1918, for example, was followed by an immediate return to traditional practices — an outbreak of pogroms. Polish Roman Catholics may not have welcomed domination by Hitler's Third Reich but few quarrelled with the Nazi's attitude towards the Jews. Many Roman Catholics in Poland saw their Jewish neighbours carted off to death camps and were often not at all averse to helping them on their way*. In some places local Catholics carried out their own pogroms, as at Jedwabne where hundreds of Jews were burned alive in 1941*. After the War, when Jewish refugees returned to their homes and businesses, Christian Poles reacted in the traditional way once again. They circulated stories of the ritual murder of children — the ancient blood libel yet again — and instigated a massacre of the refugees. At Kielce 42 Jews, some of them recently freed from Nazi death-camps, were murdered by their Christian neighbours*.

Like their Roman Catholic brethren, Orthodox Christians thrived on anti-Semitism for centuries. In the Ukraine, for example, numerous massacres were perpetrated in the mid-seventeenth century. Orthodox Ukrainians took the opportunity to massacre some 100,000 Jews, representing around 300 communities, while rebelling against their Polish rulers. In 1801, Orthodox priests in Bucharest used the traditional blood libel to whip up Christian sentiment, which resulted in the Jewish quarter being attacked, and 128 inhabitants having their throats cut. In the 1840's blood libels arose on Damascus, Rhodes and Jerusalem. In Damascus Jews were arrested for supposedly killing a Christian monk. Sixty three Jewish children were tortured to induce their mothers to reveal the "hiding place of the blood". In Jerusalem a Christian boy attacked a Jewish boy. The Jewish boy threw back a stone which grazed the Christian's foot. This was enough for Orthodox churchmen to accuse Jews of procuring Christian blood to add to their passover biscuits. Jewish persecutions were common under the Russian Orthodox Church right up to the Russian Revolution of 1918. Cossacks and other Orthodox troops killed around 60,000 Jews in eastern Europe during the Revolution itself.

Protestants also found Jewish persecution and genocide to be entirely compatible with their faith. After all the New Testament had referred to Jews as children of the Devil (John 8:44), and Martin Luther had regarded Jews as "worse than devils" and a “damned, rejected race" He recommended how they should be treated: "Set their synagogues on fire ... in order that God may see that we are Christians .... Their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed .... They should be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies, in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land, as they boast, but miserable captives, .... They should be deprived of their prayer books and Talmuds in which such idolatry lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught.'. their rabbis must be forbidden to teach under the threat of death."*.

Luther's anti-Semitic writings, such as On Jews and their Lies (1543), were frequently quoted by the Nazis to justify their actions. Julius Streicher, the editor of the anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer cited Luther in justifying his own conduct in the court at Nuremberg in 1946. Luther had recommended that Jewish schools and synagogues should be burned down, that the houses of Jews should be destroyed, that their books should be seized, and public prayer or teaching punished by death.

Jews should not be allowed to walk on the streets. Their wealth should be confiscated. He recommended forced labour, or better still, expulsion from the country. It was almost a Nazi textbook.

As a Jewish historian has noted, because of his views Protestants became even more anti-Semitic than Roman Catholics*. In the twentieth century German Protestants were still keen to follow his advice. The Nazis realised all of Luther's dreams, helped by Deutsche Christen and other Christian Churches. The Deutsche Christen were Nazi Protestants who dominated the Protestants in Germany. During World War II over half of the German Landeskirchen were Deutsche Christen. But other Protestant Churches held similar views. Here is part of a declaration made by the Presidents of German Protestant Churches in 1941:

The National Socialist leaders of Germany have provided indisputable documentary evidence that the Jews are responsible for this war in its world-wide magnitude. They have therefore made the necessary decisions and taken the necessary steps, both internal and external, to ensure that the life of the German nation is protected against Judaism.

As members of that same German nation, the undersigned leaders of the German Evangelical Church stand in the forefront of this historical struggle to defend our country, because of which it has been necessary for the national police to issue a statement to the effect that the Jews are the enemies of the German nation and of the world, just as it was also necessary for Dr Martin Luther to demand, on the basis of his own bitter experience, that the severest measures should be taken against Jews and that they should be expelled from all German countries.

.... Christian baptism does not change in any way the Jew's racial character, his membership of the Jewish people and his biological nature. It is the duty of a German Evangelical Church to foster and to promote the religious life of the German people. Christians who are Jews by race have no place in that Church and no right to a place.

The undersigned leaders of the German Evangelical Church have therefore decided not to accept Jewish Christians as members of the Church community*.

This was far from unusual. Other Protestants, who did not support Hitler, joined the so-called Confessing Church, and in the main kept their views to themselves. After the war was over and the danger passed, the leaders of the Confessing Church made a declaration of their own guilt to the Council of World Churches, a gesture that was at least more than other Churches were prepared to do*.

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