HISTORY

When, in the second half of 1944, the Luftwaffe concluded that they

couldn’t effectively use twin engine bombers in daytime operations

pretty much anywhere anymore, they began pondering how to use

the freed up crews. Several bomber units, including KG 27, were

picked to supply pilots destined for conversion on to single engine

Bf 109s and Fw 190s. From the end of the year, they also carried

modified designations, and in the case of Boelcke, the identifier

was KG(J) 27, where the ‘J’ stood for ‘Jagd’, meaning ‘fighter’. One

of the priorities of the leadership was to use experienced bomber

pilots under unfavorable weather conditions. Their experience in

twin-engined flying was also to be used to advantage in further

conversion to the jet powered Me 262.

During the last months of the war, individual components of KG(J)

27 were based at the Austrian fields of Wels, Raffelding and Hörsching. Stab I. and II. Gruppe were equipped with the Bf 109, while

the III. Gruppe had the Fw 190 A. In March, 1945, the former bomber

pilots first began to mix it up with enemy fighters. Quick identification markings in the form of green and white squares also began

to appear on KG(J) 27 aircraft.

. Photo: Photographer's notes and Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group pilots

The Red Tails Versus The Squared Bands

Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., 332nd FG Commander, led his unit on

March 31st, 1945, to the area around Munich, with the task of hitting

trains and other rail assets in Bavaria and northern Austria. It reached the target area after noon with 43 aircraft, and he separated

his unit into three parts, which subsequently destroyed seven locomotives and several rail cars between Munich, Regensburg and

Linz. The air combat that followed brought the 332nd FG the most

air to air kills recorded on a single day.

Not far from Landshut, the 99th FS was jumped by five Bf 109s and

a single Fw 190. The Americans were able to bring down all of their

adversaries, but during the combat, they lost 2/Lt. Frank N. Wright,

who apparently lost control of his Mustang ‘Tall In The Saddle’. His

aircraft went into a spin during a tight turn and Wright was unable

Photograph shows members of the 332nd FG, from left to right: Robert W. Williams,

William H. Holloman (leather cap), Ronald W. Reeves (cloth cap), Christopher W. Newman

(leather cap), Walter M. Downs (flight cap). Williams, in combat with KG(J) 27 on 31st

March 1945, shot down two 190s and damaged one. Holloman later served in the Vietnam

War. Reeves was killed in a crash in Italy on 24th March 1945, apparently due to fuel

exhaustion. Newman flew 84 combat sorties in World War II and added 97 more during

the Korean War.

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to recover. The identity of the German unit remains unknown, but

it may have been an operational training unit.

Their colleagues of the 100th FS were searching out locomotives

further to the east, near Wels in Austria. The Luftwaffe countered with sixteen fighters from KG(J) 27 at Wels, Vöcklabruck and

Traunsee. This counter force included a dozen Bf 109s from I. and

II. Gruppe and a quartet of Fw 190s from III. Gruppe.

One of the American pilots perished in this area. It was 2/Lt. Arnett

W. Starks, flying ‘Cool Fool’. His colleague, 2/Lt. Conrad A. Johnson

lost contact with him at 1430h during an attack on ground targets

at Vöcklamarkt. According to witnesses, Starks had attempted to

hit a farmer with horses in the field, but he crashed into a building

not far from the railroad station.

Ten minutes later, both units engaged in combat, and the Americans came out as clear victors. Although the Germans initiated the

fight with the Red Tails rather aggressively at a height of around

3,000 feet, they fell into disarray during the fight and the P-51 pilots

prevented them from operating as a cohesive unit.

Without a single loss, the Americans claimed five Fw 190s and

a pair of Bf 109s confirmed, one Fw 190 as a probable, and two

Fw 190s with a single Bf 109 as damaged. The most successful of

the pilots were 1/Lt. Robert W. Williams, who downed two Fw 190s

and damaged another, and 2/Lt. Bertram W. Wilson, Jr., who got

one confirmed Fw 190 and one damaged. One Fw 190 was shot

down by 1/Lt. Roscoe C. Brown. Williams and Wilson were awarded

the Distinguished Flying Cross for this event. Williams wrote in his

report:

"I dived into a group of enemy aircraft’s, I shot off a few short

bursts. My fire hit the mark and the enemy aeroplane fell off and

tumbled to the ground. On pulling away from my victim, I found

another enemy aeroplane on my tail. To evade his guns, I made a

steep turn. Just as I had turned, another enemy fighter shot across

the nose of my aeroplane. Immediately, I began firing at him."

On the German side, three aircraft were lost, one went missing

and one was damaged. One pilot was killed and one injured. Pilots

from KG(J) 27 were initially quite optimistic in their reporting of

kills, claiming six Mustangs. But the daily operational reports of

the Luftwaffe from April 1st, 1945 from this event list one kill and

two probably damaged.

At the beginning of April, KG(J) 27 was disbanded and her assets were distributed among other fighter units. A segment of the

pilots were reassigned to Rammkommando Elbe, which was to

conduct Taran attacks against enemy bombers.

But prior to that, the 332nd FG and KG(J) 27 would meet up one

more time, on April 1st, 1945. Again, this came about during a

search and destroy mission of rail targets in Austria. In combat

with eight P-51s from the 301st FS, the Germans lost four aircraft

and another seven were damaged. Three pilots were lost and one

was MIA. Members of the 301st FS claimed twelve destroyed fighters with a further two damaged. Three confirmed kills were

claimed by 1/Lt. Harry T. Stewart.

The Americans lost three aircraft and two pilots in this fight. James

Fischer crash landed in Yugoslavia and was saved by partisans.

F/O William P. Armstrong was killed south of Hörsching and 2/Lt.

Walter P. Manning was taken prisoner. He was held by members

of KG(J) 27 right from the base at Hörsching. Unfortunately, he

was taken out by two Luftwaffe NSDAP officers on the night of 3/4

of April, lynched and hanged.

After the war, this incident was not investigated until the issue

was pushed by Austrian historians who published its details in

2013. In April, 2018, a memorial to Manning was erected at the base

in Vogler. Not only were the Austrian Minister of Defense, the Chief

of the Air Force, and Commander of the Ground Forces present

for the ceremony, but so was one of the participants of the battle,

namely one Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Harry T. Stewart.

INFO Eduard - June 2021