The North American P-51 Mustang is a plane that needs little in the
way of introduction. Appearing in US service over Europe in early
1944 it sounded the death knell for the Luftwaffe. Already engaged
in a battle of attrition with increasing numbers of P-47 Thunderbolts
and P-38 Lightnings, the huge range of the Mustang meant there
were few areas of Germany that were safe for the Luftwaffe to
operate in. The Mustang’s introduction meant that Eighth Air Force
bombers could now be escorted all the way to their targets and
Jagdwaffe losses become increasingly severe.
The 20th Fighter Group arrived in the UK in August 1943 and
was based at Station 367 King’s Cliffe in Northamptonshire. After
a period of training it entered combat flying missions with the 55th
Fighter Group in November. Equipped with the P-38 Lightning the
group flew escort missions, fighter sweeps and bombing raids.
Many early missions were blighted due to problems with group’s
Lightnings. Poor reliability and frequent engine problems led to
a high number of aircraft aborting missions and others not returning.
The group’s lowest point was the mission of 11th February 1944
when 8 aircraft were lost including the CO Col. Montgomery.
Slowly the issues were solved and the Lightning became an
effective aircraft, especially in the run up to D-Day when missions
were performed at lower altitudes which suited the plane far
better. However due to the issues with the P-38 the decision had
been made to convert all the Lightning groups onto the Mustang.
The first Mustangs arrived at King’s Cliffe in early July 1944 and
by the end of the month the Group had converted fully to the type.
Mustang 44-13535 was a P-51D-5NA and was built at the
company’s factory in Inglewood, California. It was given the NAA
construction number 109-72168 and was delivered to the USAAF
on 23rd June 1944. Assigned to the 20th Fighter Group on the
4th July 1944 it was one of the original Mustangs in the group.
Little did anyone know that the plane would go on to fly with the
group throughout the rest of the war racking up an impressive 107
INFO Eduard - August 2019
44-13535 didn’t enjoy the most auspicious starts to its combat
career. Assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron and Lt. Frank Roark,
who named it Wilma, it took part in the 20th Fighter Group’s first full
P-51 mission on 24th July 1944 providing cover for bomber attacks
in support of the American breakout attempt from Normandy.
However the next two missions both resulted in early returns. On
its seventh mission 44-13535 would open its account against the
Luftwaffe. On 9th August having escorted a raid to the Munich
area the 79th Fighter Squadron became embroiled with Luftwaffe
fighters. Lt. Roark reported on his return to King’s Cliffe “I was
leading Blue Flight when we saw 40 plus Fw190s off to our left, 45
miles away flying 180° to us. We were at 18,000ft with the 190s
about 3,000ft below us. We made a left turn which allowed us to
drive right up behind the enemy aircraft out of the sun. I fired at one
from 200 – 250 yards, 10° deflection. He took little evasive action.
I saw strikes all along the fuselage from the engine to the tail and
on the right wing. Pieces flew off and he broke into fire around the
engine at 15,000ft. I last saw the plane fluttering to the ground out
of control as though the pilot had been killed.” Roark had expended
960 rounds of .50cal ammunition in destroying this Focke Wulf 190.
It would take until 10th September before 44-13535 saw more
combat. Being flown by Lt. Clyde Dixon on a mission to the Stuttgart
area Blue Flight spotted an airfield with several Luftwaffe aircraft
parked on it. Attacking at low level Blue One was damaged by flak
whilst Blue Two and Three set five aircraft ablaze on their pass.
Dixon flying as Blue Four delayed his pass slightly but claimed an
unidentified enemy aircraft as damaged. These low level attacks
proved very dangerous and many American airmen would be lost
whilst strafing airfields in the last year of the war.
The following day the 20th Fighter Group provided the escort to
Frantic VI a shuttle mission to the USSR. The group were assigned
to escort 75 B-17s from the 45th Combat Wing of the 3rd Bomb
Division. They rendezvoused with the bombers 30 miles east of
their target, an industrial plant in Chemnitz and escorted them
until German Soviet frontline was reached. The 11th of Septem