Eighth Air Force Insignia
Colonel Donald Blakeslee receives the Distinguished Service Cross from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower April 11, 1944. Colonel Blakeslee was commander of the first fighter squadrons to reach Berlin during World War II.
P-51A Mustang in flight
Gabby Gabreski, ace of the 56th FG
John C. Meyer, ace of the 352nd FG, image courtesy of 352nd FG Ass'n
In Jan. 2001, I received the following comment from Johnny McAlister, who flew P-51's with the 370th and was friends with Ray Wetmore.
That's an interesting article. I did know Ray Wetmore. He was considered the hottest pilot in the outfit. The thing I remember most about Ray was his eyesight. Several times on a mission he would come on the radio having sighted some planes on the ground, or some "bogeys," or the bombers that we were supposed to be rendezvousing with, or something and the rest of us couldn't find what he was looking for several minutes. Whereas 20/20 is perfect vision Ray reportedly had 20/15 vision.
The story about Ray and Rudy York (Lt. Robert York) sounds a little exaggerated to me, as the Group Public Relations Officers often did when writing for the hometown newspapers. Ray didn't live through 2 combat tours being stupid enough to jump 100 German planes. And the story goes on saying that 2 more groups of Germans of 100 ships each showed up. Not very likely! Incidentally I roomed for a time with Rudy York. He was about 5'4" and built like a weightlifter.
Speaking of the PR guys writing for the hometown newspapers, there was an article in the Greensboro paper which told about me on a strafing mission: "While seeking targets of opportunity in the Ruhr Valley Lt. McAlister did so and so." (I've forgotten exactly what I was supposed to have done) That's hilarious. The flak and other ground fire was so concentrated and intense in the Ruhr Valley that we wouldn't have been strafing anywhere near it. Not in a million years! We didn't even like flying over the Ruhr at high altitude. I've got that article somewhere, I think.
I think I had already left the squadron when Ray got that Me-262. I joined the 370th in July of '44 and left it in early March '45
It stirred up some old memories tonight!
I was delighted to have Mr. McAlister bring me back to reality. I don't recall where I picked up that story. But I apologize to all the folks who read it without the benefit of his sidebar.
By Stephen Sherman, June, 1999. Updated December 14, 2016.
In the European Theater, ETO, the U.S. Eighth Air Force started bombing Germany heavily in 1943. In that year, the first American Fighter Groups - the 4th, 56th, and 78th arrived, and their fighter pilots flew P-47 Thunderbolts. They shot down many enemy aircraft, and when properly handled, the "Jugs" more than held their own in aerial combat against the German Fw-190s and Bf-109s. Many 8AF aviators became aces flying P-47's.
But the bombers needed fighter planes to escort them all the way, into the heart of Germany. When the P-51 Mustangs began to fly combat missions in early 1944, they proved that they could do it all: they could fly all the way to Berlin and back, they could fly faster and out-dogfight the German fighters. Thus Herman Goering's famous comment: "When I saw Mustangs over Berlin in March, 1944, I knew the jig was up."
Following are the stories of many of the highest scoring P-47 and P-51 aces of the ETO, including some from the 354th Fighter Group, which, to be precise, was part of the Ninth Air Force.
Also, be sure to take a look at the Clark Gallery, a collection of high quality photographs, donated to this website, by the family of 1st Lt. James Clark, a pilot with the 56th Fighter Group. There are many pictures of Clark, Gabreski, and other pilots, as well as scans of a few contemporary documents. And, for another dose of reality, read below, where a veteran flier comments on the veracity of a piece of newspaper puffery that found its way onto this site.
Summary Table of Top AcesName Kills Medals Unit Plane Francis "Gabby" Gabreski 28.0 DSC 56FG P-47 Robert S. Johnson 27.0 DSC 56FG P-47 George Preddy 26.8 DSC 352FG P-51 John C. Meyer 24.0 DSC 352FG P-51 Ray Wetmore 22.6 DSC 359FG P-51 David C. Schilling 22.5 DSC 56FG P-47 Dominic Gentile 21.8 DSC 4FG P-47 Fred J. Christensen 21.5 SS 56FG P-47 Walker M. 'Bud' Mahurin 20.8 DSC 56FG P-47 Glenn E. Duncan 19.5 DSC 353FG P-47 Duane W. Beeson 19.3 DSC 4FG P-47 Leonard 'Kit' Carson 18.5 SS 357FG P-51 Glenn T. Eagleston 18.5 DSC 354FG P-51 Walter C. Beckham 18.0 DSC 353FG P-47 John Godfrey 18.0 SS 4FG P-51 Col. Hubert 'Hub' Zemke 17.8 DSC 56FG P-47 Lt. Col. John B. England 17.5 SS 357FG P-51 John F. Thornell Jr. 17.2 DSC 352FG P-51 Henry W. Brown 17.2 DSC 355FG P-51 Robert W. Foy 17.0 SS 357FG P-51 Gerald W. Johnson 17.0 DSC 56FG P-47 Ralph 'Kid' Hofer 16.5 DFC 4FG P-51 Clarence 'Bud' Anderson 16.3 LM 357FG P-51 Donald M. Beerbower 15.5 DSC 354FG - Don Blakeslee 15.5 DSC 4FG P-51 Richard A. Peterson 15.5 SS 357FG P-51 William Whisner 15.5 DSC 352FG P-51 Jack T. Bradley 15.0 DSC 354FG - James A. Goodson 15.0 DSC 4FG P-47 Donald Bochkay 14.8 DFC 357FG P-51 Joe H. Powers Jr. 14.5 SS 56FG P-47 Bruce Carr 14.0 DSC 354FG - Kenneth H. Dahlberg 14.0 DSC 354FG - Wallace N. Emmer 14.0 DSC 354FG - Arthur F. Jeffrey 14.0 SS 479FG - Donald Strait 13.5 SS 356FG P-51 Donald S. Bryan 13.3 DSC 352FG P-51 George Carpenter 13.3 DFC 4FG P-47 Willard W. Millikan 13.0 DSC 4FG P-47 Glennon T. Moran 13.0 SS 352FG P-51 Robert W. Stephens 13.0 SS 354FG - Felix D. Williamson 13.0 DSC 56FG P-47 Lowell K. Brueland 12.5 DSC 354FG - Paul A. Conger 12.5 DSC 56FG P-47 James C. Stewart 12.5 DSC 56FG P-47 James Howard 12.3 MOH 354FG P-51 Quince L. Brown 12.3 - 78FG - Clyde B. East 12.0 - 10PRG P-51 George W. Gleason 12.0 - 479FG P-51 Howard Hively 12.0 - 4FG P-51 Pierce W. McKennon 12.0 - 4FG P-51 Robin Olds 12.0 SS 479FG P-51 Michael J. Quirk 12.0 - 56FG P-47 LeRoy A. Schreiber 12.0 - 56FG P-47 Nick Megura 11.8 - 4FG P-51 Chuck Yeager 11.5 DSC 357FG P-51 Louis Norley 11.3 - 4FG P-51 Other Noted ETO Aces Kills Medals Unit Plane Urban Drew 6.0 - 361FG P-51 Frank Gailer 5.5 - 357FG P-51 Archie Harrington 7.0 - RCAF Mosquito
(Be sure to read the McAlister email in the sidebar.)
Captain Ray Wetmore flew a Mustang nicknamed Daddy's Girl with the 370th Fighter Squadron of the 359th Fighter Group, based at East Wretham, Norfolk. With 21.25 (22.6?) victories, 16 of them in Mustangs, he was the top scorer of the 359th. Lt. Wetmore scored on May 29, 1944, downing an FW-190 while on a bomber escort mission over Politz. Wetmore served two combat tours, which enabled him to witness the last gasps of the Luftwaffe's once mighty fighter force.
On November 27, he and his wingman, Lt. Robert York, became embroiled in a seemingly one-sided dogfight - the odds were 50 to one! Wetmore quickly called in help when two more gaggles of 100 fighters each were sighted. Unfortunately, the rest of the flight had aborted with engine troubles, so Wetmore and York stalked the massive force alone. When the enemy saw the size of the opposition, the hunters became the hunted. "We had to attack in self-defense." Wetmore said later.
With little choice remaining, the P-51s waded into the fighters, and they quickly reduced the odds by one apiece. A good burst with a 20 degree deflection shot brought Wetmore's second kill. He then turned into the attack of another Bf-109, and the pair twisted and turned as the respective pilots strove for the upper hand. Wetmore finally got the advantage, and shot off all his ammunition, whereupon his foe bailed out. Now defenseless, Wetmore bluffed for another ten minutes before extricating himself from the melee.
He followed this up with another big score on Valentine's Day 1945. Vectored by ground control onto enemy fighters near an aerodrome west of Dummer Lake, he sighted four FW-190s flying in line below him. He dived and shot down the last FW-190 in line. Firing at a second, he saw the pilot attempt to break and dive, but he had no altitude and snap rolled into the ground. Shooting down a third FW-190, Wetmore called to his wingman to take out the last one. Shots were exchanged before a fogged windscreen ruined the pilot's aim, and Wetmore finished off the German. Reforming to attack other FW-190s, a new P-51 joined the fray. Wetmore and the newcomer opened up, and both German pilots bailed out. Wetmore was credited with four downed and one shared.
For his final kill on March 15, he shot down the fourth and last Me-163 Komet to fall to the guns of Eighth Air Force Mustangs. Operating around Berlin, Wetmore spotted two Me-163s and he closed to 300 yards, amazed as he watched one of the rocket-fighters zoom upward. He followed as well as he could, and at 20,000 the Komet's engine flamed out. The Me-163 split-essed and dived, with Wetmore on its tail. As his ASI indicated over 600 MPH, he opened fire at 200 yards. His strikes chopped away part of the German's wing and the pilot took to his chute.
Wetmore was the highest scoring 8th AF ace in 1945. He continued in the USAF after the war, only to die when his F-84 crashed in February 1951.
David C. Schilling
The third-ranking ace of the 56th Fighter Group, Col. Schilling achieved 22.5 air victories, plus 10.5 destroyed on the ground in his 132 combat sorties. Most of Schilling's victories were against Bf-109 and FW-190 single-engined fighters excepting one Me-110 and one Me-410 twin-engined destroyers. Schilling had 5 air victories in one mission, downing 2 Bf-109s and 3 FW-190s on December 23, 1944 plus multiple victories on four other missions. A P-47 pilot, he flew a presentation aircraft "Hewlett/Woodmere Long Island," decorated with "Hairless Joe," a Dogpatch cartoon character.
Born December 15, 1919, Leavenworth, Kansas. Attended Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Enlisted USAAC and accepted for pilot training, 1939. Commissioned 2nd Lt. in Air Reserves, May 1940. 8th Pursuit Group at Langley, Virginia and later Mitchel Field, New York. 56th FG at Charlotte AB, North Carolina, June 1941.
To Europe with 62nd FS/56th FG, Jan. 1943. Promoted to Major, C.O. 62nd FS. He participated in the first pre-operational 'circus' over Pas-de-Calais in April 8, 1943. On a late April mission, his plane was hit, knocking out his radio, but he returned without difficulty. He led many missions during this period, such as a fighter sweep over Ypres May 25 and a 'rodeo' of 4 fighter groups on August 23. He was made Group Executive Officer in August 1943.
He opened his scoring on October 2, 1943, downing a Bf-109 and an FW-190. Two days later, on a very big day for the 56th, he led a counter-attack on some Bf-110s as they tried to attack the B-17s, knocking down one himself. November 26 was another very successful day, the Group claiming 23 on a withdrawal support mission form Bremen; Schilling getting two 190s. Promoted to Lt. Colonel. Acting C.O. 56th FG, Jan. 11-19, 1944 (during Hub Zemke's absence). He continued his scoring throughout 1944, getting 3 FW-190s on September 21. After Zemke's capture, Schilling served as Group C.O. from Aug. 12, 1944 through Jan. 27, 1945.
His highest scoring day was December 23, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, when he downed 3 Bf-109s and 2 FW-190s in a huge dogfight with over 100 German fighters.
Decorations: Distinguished Service Cross with OLC, Silver Star with 2 OLC, Distinguished Flying Cross with 8 OLC, Air Medal with (?) OLC, British DFC, Croix de Guerre
Returned to USA and later C.O. of post-war 56th FG. Brought the 56th FG's P-80 jet fighters to the UK on the first USAF Trans-Atlantic Jet Flight, July 1948. Staff Officer HQ VIII AF, 1956. Killed in auto accident at Eriswell, Suffolk, England on Aug. 14, 1956.