The XIX Tactical Air Command (XIX TAC) is an inactive United States Air Force unit. The unit’s last assignment was with the Ninth Air Force based at Biggs Field, Texas. It was inactivated on 31 March 1946. During World War II, the mission of the XIX TAC was to support General Patton’s United States Third Army with tactical air support throughout during the army’s advance from formation in France on 1 August 1944 until VE-Day.
Formed in England in early 1944, the XIX TAC was a command and control organization, designed to provide air support to the Army ground forces, primarily with P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang aircraft. The XIX TAC supported all of the Third Army operations and more. Its roles included a bewildering number of missions : close air support, battlefield air interdiction, deep interdiction, dive bombing, counter air reconnaissance, and even leaflet dropping. The Command close air support mission took its most concerted, extended, and spectacular form in supporting Patton’s armored and motorized infantry columns as they sped across France.
The Third Army’s tank crews and their accompanying air support officers pointed out enemy concentrations, and divisional artillery at times gave further assistance by marking targets with smoke. In return, the P-47 and P-51 pilots of the XIX TAC provided cover for the tanks in one-hour shifts with four aircraft per flight, and four more on ground alert could be called in if necessary. As little as three minutes after being contacted, they could strike the designated target, thereby freeing the armored forces to continue their advance.
Another of the XIX TAC’s missions was dive bombing, is normally thought of as a tactic, but the XIX TAC considered it a separate mission. It resembled deep interdiction, for both types of missions made use of various aerial bombing techniques and normally attacked similar, prearranged targets. But while deep interdiction was designed to cut off enemy movements either in or out of the combat zone, dive-bombing missions were most often used for static warfare. They were employed, for example, during the unsuccessful September attempt to seize Metz, and their most extensive use was during the siege at Brest.
The results of Brest were not particularly impressive. It was soon obvious that the defenders – as part of Hitler’s “hold on to the ports” strategy – had ample provisions and were determined to hold out. It also became evident that the XIX TAC fighters and fighter-bombers assigned to the operation were insufficient to perform effectively all of the tasks they were expected to carry out, particularly in terms of dive bombing. The XIX TAC’s P-47s and P-51s simply did not have the bombing power to bring about the desired results. Thus the American commander called on other air formations to assist. Eighth Air Force responded between 11 August and 5 September with four missions in which 983 B-17s dropped 2520 tons of bombs.
British Bomber Command made two raids with approximately 220 Lancasters taking part. The US IX Bomber Command’s B-26s and new A-26s undertook six missions. The IX TAC loaned some of its squadrons to the XIX TAC – squadrons that flew 839 sorties between 5 and 11 September, when Brest’s capture was accorded a high priority. By the time the last of Germany’s beleaguered troops capitulated on the 19th, the Allies had flown more than 3500 Brest – related sorties. The city was in shambles. Its port facilities, for which the operation originally had been undertaken, were so badly damaged (by German demolitions along with Allied bombing and artillery shelling) that the Americans never used it as a major supply port. Obviously, air power had affected the outcome of the battle but not in the way that had been hoped for.
The XIX TAC was also involved in counter air operations, although, because of the Luftwaffe’s relative weakness, to a lesser extent than it might have been. Only in critical situations or when they had a numerical advantage did Jagdkorps II’s Bf-109s and FW-190s venture out and pose a threat. During the early August Mortain counter offensive, German fighters and some bombers did support the attack, but they were overwhelmed by the Allies’ superior numbers, better aircraft, and experienced pilots. While the IX TAC led the counter air response, the RAF and the XIX TAC’s 354th Fighter-Bomber Group of P-51s also lent a hand. At Falaise, the German Air Force again was active, and the XIX TAC’s fighters performed a variety of defensive and offensive counterair tasks––intercepts, sweeps, combat air patrols, and escorts, including bomber escorts – along with other support missions. Near Paris, US pilots also encountered opposition; but at times several of Weyland’s groups reported seeing no enemy aircraft for days at a time. Although the Allies remained aware that the situation might change, Allied aircraft now reigned supreme.
The XIX TAC further undertook reconnaissance duties. Most of the sorties were confined to visual reconnaissance, but they included day and night photo missions as well, especially from 10th Photo Group, whose P-51s were stationed in the area. Overall, during the two months, aircraft under Weyland’s command flew 2011 reconnaissance sorties, or slightly more than 9 percent of the 22233 total sorties flown. One final mission was that the XIX TAC pilots performed several special air operations in the form of leaflet-dropping sorties. During August and September, the XIX TAC was involved in seven different missions––close air support, battlefield and deep interdiction, dive bombing, counter air, aerial reconnaissance, and special operations.
XIX TAC – 12000 Sorties 1944 12.000 Fighter and Bomber Sorties, XIX Tactical Air Command’s First Month of Operations in Support of the US Third Army in France.
Lt Gen George S. Patton Jr, US Third Army, Brig Gen C. P. Wetland, Commanding XIX Tactical Air Command
XIX Tactical Air Command
APO 1414, US Army
September 30 1944
1 – Introduction
Within one month of the day when the Third US Army and XIX Tactical Air Command of the Ninth Air Force began operations together in France, the armored and infantry divisions and covering fighter-bombers of this new ground-air team had broken out of Normandy into Brittany, conquered all of that peninsula except three stubborn ports, firmly secured the line of the Loire River,and swept 140 miles beyond liberated Paris to within 60 miles of the German border. While the events are still warm these notes and historical record are written, with the hope that some of the many lessons in teamwork and technique which were learned in that eventful month may be of tactical value.
C. P. Weyland
Brigadier General, USA
Notes on Organization, Tactics and Technique
The operations of the XIX Tactical Air Command in the field have proved the basic concepts of FM 100-20 to be basically sound.
(a). The order of priority of tactical missions :
(1) Attainment and maintenance of air superiority
(2) Isolation of battlefield
(3) Close air support to ground units in combat
2. Air Liaison Officers
– a. There is no provision for air liaison officers for assignment to corps and divisions in any Tables of Organization within the Tactical Air Command. Air Liaison Officers are being used and have proved of extremely great value and have assured smooth cooperation in joint operations. Provisions should be made in the Tables of Organization of the Tactical Air Command for air liaison officers of field grade. In this Command they have been carried as overages and have consequently been blocked in promotion and have blocked promotions of deserving officers in the Command.
– b. It became apparent in the early stages of rapid advances of army divisions that one air support party per armored division was inadequate. The armored divisions of the Third Army habitually advance in two or three columns, each comprising a combat command. Because of their physical separation and rapid movement, it was found necessary to provide an air support party for each combat command. A sufficient number of air support parties, complete with equipment and operating personnel, should be provided for in Air Corps Tables of Organization to furnish three parties for armored divisions. In the current campaign these parties have been improvised.
Wire communications for the Command, and control between the various elements of the Tactical Air Command, have proved unsatisfactory under conditions of rapid advances. This was due to long lines of communication, cutting of lines by saboteurs, shortage of wire, shortage of repeater and carrier equipment, shortage of maintenance, construction and operating personnel. A system of radio teletype and telephone should be developed capable of carrying all Tactical Air Force’s communication loads. The equipment and personnel to maintain and operate this system should be incorporated in Tables of Organization of Air Forces and Tactical Air Commands.
4. Tactical Air Control
The assignment and operation of a Center with Fighter Wings has proven unsatisfactory for offensive Tactical Air Control purposes. To overcome this, all aircraft warning units, fighter control squadrons and radio intercept “Y” service have been organized into a provisional Tactical Control Group and placed directly under the control of the Advanced Headquarters, XIX Tactical Air Command. Elements of the Tactical Control Group are maintained very close behind the advanced ground troops and close to, but not necessarily with, the Advanced Tactical Air Command Headquarters.
5. Supply and Transportation
An adequate air service command and aviation engineer command are absolutely essential to the mobile tactical air force and have proved their worth in this theater. Because of the pooling of motor transportation in the communications zone, the Air Service Command has not always been able to adequately supply or move the tactical units. I strongly believe the Air Service Command should have sufficient motor transport to move and supply the tactical units over distances up to three hundred (300) miles. It is believed the service team should be an organic part of the combat group in a mobile Tactical Air Command.
6. Airdrome Squadrons
Airdrome squadrons have proved invaluable in maintaining tactical operations by refueling and rearming units at advanced landing grounds. They have also proved their worth in temporarily servicing tactical groups at new airdromes while the group’s ground personnel was being leap-frogged forward.
7. P-47 Aircraft and API Ammunition
The P-47 airplane has been extensively used with very great success in strafing locomotives, trains, motor transport, horse-drawn transport and armored vehicles. Armor-piercing incendiary ammunition has been shown to be far more effective on these strafing operations than the mixed loading of two armor-piercing, two incendiary and one tracer. Likewise, it has been found far more effective in use against hostile aircraft in the air and on the ground. It is recommended that straight API ammunition be furnished fighter-bomber groups.
The trackless, high-velocity, five-inch rocket has been thoroughly tested under combat conditions in this Command. It has been found to be accurate and especially effective against tanks, armored vehicles; locomotives and gun positions. It adds little to the plane in weight, detracts little in speed, and, considering its flexibility, it is considered an extremely valuable tactical weapon and I recommended for all fighter-bombers.
9. Armored Column Cover
– a. The practice of assigning to one fighter-bomber group the task of providing continuous cover for one armored division during daylight hours proved most satisfactory. Groups are directed to furnish 8 to 12 aircraft for cover to armored columns. As each flight approaches, the leader checks in by radio with the flight leader being released, also with the Air Support Party radio on the ground. Suitable targets left to be attacked are passed to the flight picking up the patrol. SOP with flights is to patrol ahead to a distance of 35 miles seeking out possible strong points or pockets of resistance which might hamper the forward movement of our armor. Such targets are attacked and also reported to the armored column.
– b. The Germans camouflage discipline is excellent. Pilots, however, after 15 or 20 missions could pick out irregularities of shadow along roads, which disclosed the presence of the enemy.
– c. Both the number of planes, 8 or 12, and their bomb load varied with the amount of enemy armor-opposing the movement of our column and the possibility of encountering enemy aircraft. For example, in the area between Le Mans and Fontaineblau, where few thick-skinned enemy vehicles were encountered, it was possible almost to dispense with carrying bombs, since the desired results could be obtained by strafing. In the Nantes – Grassicourt area, close to Paris and the enemy’s fighter fields, only one-third of our aircraft were bombed up because of the frequency of encounters with enemy planes.
– d. It has been proven quite conclusively that our .50 cal. API ammunition can, and has, destroyed enemy armor. Pilots have repeatedly reported tanks being set afire by low-altitude strafing from the rear. Evidently ricochet bullets found their way into the engine section through exhaust and cooling vents.
10. Air-Ground Communications
At the outset of the campaign, C Channel was used for all communication between aircraft and ground forces. This channel proved badly over-crowded, however,and early communication difficulties were overcome by-assigning frequencies as follows :
Button A – Group frequency and homing
Button B – Air-Ground communication with VIII and XII Corps
Button C – Communication with all aircraft of Ninth Air Force
Button D – Air-Ground communication with XV and XX Corps
11. Altitude of Operations
Operations under 3500 feet were found to be impracticable for fighter-bombers because of the damage inflicted by the intense light flak encountered over concentrations of enemy troops. The P-51 was found to be much more susceptible to serious damage by light flak then the P-47, because of the former liquid-cooled engine and its somewhat lighter construction.
12. Minimum Weather
For dive-bombing our operations required a 5000-foot ceiling with broken cloud. For armed reconnaissance the minimum was 3500 feet with broken cloud. For take-off from base, minimum conditions were 1000-foot ceiling and three miles visibility.
13. Frequency of Operation
Two group missions, or six squadron missions, per day per group proved to be the most desirable average scale of effort. Our squadrons had been reduced in number from 16 to 12 ships, since this gave added flexibility and was adequate for any task encountered. Two group sorties per day thus meant 72 individual airplane sorties, and it was found that this scale of effort could be maintained day in and day out with-out affecting maintenance. As a general policy, each group was allowed one day off for maintenance every 7 to 10 days. Also, two missions with 12-plane squadrons was the maximum that could be supported with the flow of replacement aircraft.
14. Bomb Loading
– a. The most frequently used loading consisted of two 500-pound general-purpose bombs with instantaneous fuse. This bomb was found suitable against most military installations not protected by reinforced concrete or heavy masonry. The 500-lb. general-purpose bomb was also used satisfactorily, with 8 to 11 seconds delay fuse, for cutting railroad lines, the bomb being driven into the side of an embankment by minimum-altitude skip-bombing methods. With a 6 to 12-hour delay fuse, the same bomb was dropped on highways to discourage road movement by night. When the Germans were endeavoring to escape across the Seine River, these bombs with long-delay fusing were dropped in the water close to ferry slips.
– b. Fragmentation bombs were used less extensively than the 500-pound GP because this swift “end-run” type of campaign offered fewer opportunities for their effective employment. The Argentan pocket was an outstanding exception, and frags were used there with excellent results. Frag clusters and, to a lesser extent, the 260-pound anti-personnel fragmentation bomb, were employed against personnel and thin-skinned vehicles.
– c. Napalm was found to be a very good weapon if properly employed on the proper targets. Along its advantages are the fact that :
(1) It can be dropped from : a. low altitude without danger to the aircraft, and (2), it completely smothers the target with intense flames, burning everything combustible and destroying personnel by anoxia, carbon monoxide poisoning and burning. It is particularly adapted for attack, on deep shelters, because of its effect upon the ventilating system. In attacks on guns and ammunitions the effectiveness of artillery pieces was found to be destroyed by Napalm’s intense heat. For Napalm the regular belly tank (usually the 150-gallon type) was used, with a detonator but no fins. Dropping was done from minimum altitude by visual methods, without use of a sight.
– d. Virtually no 1000-pound bombs were used during the mobile warfare of August, two 500-pound bombs being found more effective for most purposes.
15. Radius of Action
Effective radius for the P-47 with full bomb load but without spare tank was 200 miles; the 150-gallon tank increased this to 350 miles; For the P-51 the radius was 325 miles on fighter-sweeps without tanks, or about 600 miles with 150-gallon tank, although this much range is rarely needed in tactical operations of the type conducted thus far by this Command.
16. Airfield Surface
A minimum of 5000 feet proved necessary for taking off with full tank and two 500-pound bombs, since most of our fields had a dip or roll and acceleration was not so rapid as on a hard-surfaced runway. Hessian waterproof material proved very satisfactory when laid on a graded surface. Considerably better than such landing grounds, however, were established air-fields captured from the Germans and repaired, such as those at Rennes, Chateaudun and St Dizier. Such fields had extensive dispersal areas and were large enough to accommodate two groups.
17. Flank Protection
The swift pace of Gen Patton’s advance pose many new problems, one of the most important of which was protection of the long flank along the Loire River. The task of watching that flank and preventing any dangerous concentration was turned over entirely to the air – an important milestone in the history of air warfare. This task was successfully carried out by vigilant tactical and photographic reconnaissance backed by our fighter-bombers, who were continually attacking enemy troops and transport, interdicting movements by road and rail and keeping the enemy constantly off balance so that small units had little chance to “snowball” into effective opposition. The full results of these efforts were not apparent until the middle of September, when the German general commanding 20000 troops south of the Loire surrendered, with all his officers and men, to the 9th US Army and to the Commanding General, XIX TAC. His capitulation resulted from three factors : relentless air attack, effective action by French Forces of the Interior (FFI), and the cutting of the only remaining escape route by junction of the 3rd and 7th Armies.
18. Operations on Fronts 350 miles apart
When Brest, still held out a 3rd Army’s main attack meanwhile moved well to the east of Paris, the Command found itself operating simultaneously on fronts 350 miles apart. This proved entirely practical because of the flexibility and range of air power.
19. Situation Map
So rapid was the advance and so wide the extent of the front, that it was found impracticable to continue maintaining the general situation on a map of 1 to 100,000 scale. Gen Patton’s spearheads were continually running off the map, even though it was maintained on boards aggregating 16 feet long and 8 feet high. Accordingly the 1 to 250,000 map was substituted and proved satisfactory.
20. Reconnaissance and Intelligence
Reconnaissance, intelligence technique, and teamwork between the A-3 and A-2 sections improved materially in the course of the month, and were reflected in the results achieved in hunting down the enemy’s air force and catching his aircraft on the ground, in attacking enemy transport attempting to escape into Germany from south of the Loire River and in providing direct aid for the ground forces.
Mission of the XIX Tactical Air Command
Attainment and Maintenance of Air Superiority
– Destruction of Hostiles Aircraft in the Air
– Destruction of Hostiles Aircraft on the Ground
Isolation of the Battlefield
– Cutting of Rail Lines
– Destruction of Bridges
– Strafing & Bombing MT, Troops, Horse-Drawn Vehicles on Roads
– Destruction of Locomotives and Rolling Stocks
Close Air Support to Ground units in Combat
– Destruction of Tanks & Armors by Bombing or Strafing with API Ammunition Bombing
– Bombing & Strafing Anti-Tank Guns and Artillery
– Destruction of Supply and Ammunition Dumps
– Bombing and Strafing Troops Columns & Concentrations
– Bombing Fortifications with Napalm
The Background in Brief
The US 3rd Army had been in Germany before, as its shoulder patch attests – a white “A” and red “O” on a field of blue representing Army of Occupation. Lt Gen George Smith Patton Jr, Commanding, made no secret of the fact that his Army was going to Germany again, and in the shortest possible time. At 1500-H on July 6 1944, the 3rd Army arrived in France from England, establishing headquarters at Néhou, Normandy. Assignment of units was as follows :
– 4th Armored Division
– 6th Armored Division
– 8th Infantry Division
– 83rd Infantry Division
– 80th Infantry Division
– 5th Armored Division
– 79th Infantry Division
– 90th Infantry Division
– 7th Armored Division
– 28th Infantry Division
– 2nd French Armored Divisions
The initial objective of US 3rd Army when it became operational on August 1 was : To drive south and southwest from present location (Avranches), secure area Rennes-Fougères, then west to capture the Brittany Peninsula and to open Brittany ports.
XIX Tactical Air Command
XIX Tactical Air Command, under Brig Gen C. P. Weyland, had been operating from England for months as a part of IX Fighter Command. Gen Weyland had taken command on Feb 4 1944 at Aldermaston Court, near Reading, Berkshire, and subsequently two wings and seven groups of fighter-bombers had been placed under the administrative control of the Command. These units were the :
– 354th Group
– 358th Group
– 362nd Group
– 363rd Group
– 36th Group
– 373rd Group
– 406th Group
Five of the seven were P-47 groups, while two, the 354th and 363rd, flew P-51s. The crack 354th Group had been the first P-51 outfit to go operational in this theater and all four of the 100th Wing groups had flown many missions in support of the 8th Air Force heavy bombers during the winter and early spring. With the arrival of the 303rd Wing in the theater all seven Groups began operating from advanced landing grounds. They took invasion and aided in supporting both the landing on D-day and the subsequent advance into Normandy.
During the period when First Army was the only American army in France, the XIX TAC groups based in Normandy were under the operational control of IX Tactical Air Command, supporting First Army. When the IX TAC moved to France with the 1st Army, Gen Weyland assumed Command of the IX Fighter Command in England, and with it assumed operational control of all fighter-bomber groups of the IX and XIX TACs based in England. These groups were moved to France as rapidly as operating fields became available, and when Gen Weyland flew over late in July, the Fighter Command was dissolved. With the advent of 3rd Army on Aug 1st 1944, XIX Tactical Air Command took up the task for which it had been created – air support of an army in the Field. The Command’s advance headquarters had arrived in France on July 2 , and, after a short stay in the vicinity of Cricqueville, had moved to the Néhou area, close to Gen Patton’s headquarters. Army and Air Command had been working together in England during the training and planning stages and accordingly were well prepared to function as a closely integrated team.
Following the capture of Cherbourg and the conquest of most of the Cotentin Peninsula, operations had slowed almost to a stand-still along a line running roughly east to west, in the American sector, from Lessay to Périers and St Lo. In this typical Norman “bocage” country, consisting of small fields and orchards with hedges and deep drainage ditches, the enemy had made the rest of the terrain and was putting up a strong defense. To break up the deadlock, “Operation Cobra” was planned. On July 25 1944, the Cobra struck – a concentrated attack by some 3000 aircraft, ranging from heavies and mediums to light and fighter-bombers, upon enemy defenses in a narrow sector along the Périers – St Lo road. This history-making operation had the desired effect. Like the blasting of a dam, it permitted American infantry and armor to break through the defended zone and roll swiftly southward. Just one week after Operation Cobra, care the long-awaited jump off of the 3rd Army and the XIX TAC.
Operation Day by Day
The Brittany Blitz
1 August 1944
July 31 1944
XIX Tactical Air Command moved its advance headquarters southward from the vicinity of Néhou and pitched its tents in the inevitable Norman apple orchards a mile or so east of the main north-south highway between Lessay and Coutances. Close at hand was 3rd Army’s advance CP. The time had come to unsheathe Uncle Sam’s “secret weapon” – the 3rd Army-XIS TAC combination – and at 0001-H on August 1, this ground-air team became operational. It was a psychological moment, pregnant with huge possibilities affecting the entire future course of the war, for US armor was just making its great drive past Avranches, bursting out of the Norman hedge-row country at last into the comparatively open spaces of Brittany. At the Command’s disposal at the outset were three groups of P-47 fighter-bombers – the 365th, 358th and 371st – operating under 84th Wing. All had previously been under the operational control of IX Tactical Air Command, supporting 1st US Army, and all were based in the Normandy Peninsula. For tactical and photographic reconnaissance this Command had the 10th Rcn Group, whose accomplishments included remarkable low-level photography of the invasion beaches before D-Day. This group, however, was still based in England, except for one squadron which was operating with 67th Recon Group from a Normandy base.
In the Command’s first operations order, two of the three fighter-bomber groups were assigned to fly armored column cover for the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions, already rolling southward beyond Avranches. The third group was ordered to fly armed reconnaissance over the heart of Brittany, toward which Gen Patton’s spearheads were pointed. Armored column cover was so arranged as to maintain eight fighter-bombers constantly in the air over each armored division, the eight-plane flights being relieved every hour. Theirs was the double duty of preventing attack by enemy air and of knocking out anything which might hold up the armored column. Planes and tanks worked closely together, talking to each other by VHF radio. Armed recce’s task was the longer-range mission of isolating the battlefield, spotting and breaking up any concentration of strength, keeping the enemy constantly off balance and interfering with his efforts either to reinforce or to run away. Bridge-wrecking, however, was tabooed from the outset, lest it interfere with the rapid advance of our forces. So swift was the pace that in most cases the enemy had no time to blow his bridges behind him.
Takeoff of our planes on the first day of operations was delayed until late afternoon by bad weather over the bases, but in the short time remaining sorties dropped 22 they flew ten missions comprising 147 sorties and tons of bombs. No enemy aircraft were encountered and our groups suffered no losses. Hay wagons carrying concealed AA guns were spotted and bombed by the 358th Group which also dumped high-explosive on the marshaling yard at Lamballe and attacked miscellaneous road and rail traffic. Flying armored column cover to 6th Armrd Div 365th Group reported 3 88-MM guns knocked out by direct hits with 500-PGP bombs. Covering the 4th Armd Div, 371st Group put 5 500-PGP bombs in a field reported to contain gun positions. Other results included cutting of 3 railroads lines, damage to 2 freight cars, destruction of 22 motor vehicles, 2 armored cars, damage to 9 more of the enemy’s dwindling motor transport. Targets attacked included a fuel dump as well as a marshaling yard and 6 gun positions. In this highly mobile form of warfare the leading armor often outran it’s communications, and the army’s latest information on the location of its spearheads frequently came from recon or fighter-bomber pilots. To make the most of this source of information, our pilots on armored column cover were instructed to in their reports, whenever possible, the point at which the head of the column was last observed.
[Earlier this year I was commissioned to make an artwork for veteran P-51 Mustang pilot Lt William S. “Tiger” Lyons, who flew with the 357th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group during World War 2. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Lyons over the telephone and pick his brain on his experiences over Germany during 1944-1945. He told me about several air battles in which he took part, and I decided to portray the one in which he scored his second victory, on Feb 9 1945. Rather than telling you what happened, I have added a cropped sound recording from this interview, in which Mr Lyons vividly describes his air battle with a German M-109. On this day he was flying wingman for Lt Edward J. Moroney].
August 2 1944
On August 2 1944, another Wing, the 100th, and two more Groups, the 405th and the 363rd, were placed under the Command’s operational control. They were needed for Gen Patton’s Armored spearhead, thrusting deep into Brittany, required constant column cover and extensive reconnaissance ahead and on their flanks. Equally important was the defense of the Avranches bottleneck, where US troops and supplies were pouring over the bridge and where the enemy was beginning to apply pressure in an effort to paralyze the armored finger probing past the Breton capital of Rennes and toward the great port of Brest. Accordingly, in addition to ordering continuous fighter cover over the area by 363rd Group P-51s, Gen Weyland and his Combat Operation Officier Col James Ferguson, instructed groups flying armored column cover to made periodic sweeps over rear element of the columns in the direction of Avranches. As it developed, 363rd Group was grounded all day by weather, but the other groups were able to operate after about 1000 hours. Among targets successfully attacked were seven Tiger tanks, destroyed by 500-PGP bombs from 405th Group P-47s on armed reconnaissance of the north coast of Brittany. The tanks, in a reported assembly area for armor, were endeavoring to hide themselves by a smokescreen.
Our groups on armored column cover were having difficulty in contacting ground control. Targets which they succeeded in knocking out, however, included several troublesome gun positions. In one case, 371st Group P-47s put 16 500-PGP bombs on eight gun positions; all were silenced. Another gun knocked out by planes from the same group had been accurately marked by the ground troops with white smoke. Our armed reconnaissance now was reaching out to cover most of Brittany, all the way south to the Loire River, while tactical reconnaissance began to extend even farther. Eleven Tac/R missions were flown. P-47s of 355th Group, flying armed reconnaissance of the south and east flank in the Rennes – Nantes – Angers – Laval area, found little to attack, but bombed railroad targets.
In all, 23 combat missions comprising 223 sorties were flown, and 35-3/4 tons of bombs were dropped, representing a decided increase over the previous day’s activity. There were no claims against enemy aircraft, but two planes were lost to flak. Claims against ground targets included a locomotive destroyed and three damaged, a railroad line cut, a freight car destroyed, 35 motor vehicles destroyed and 24 damaged, 7 Tiger tanks and a half-trac destroyed, two gun positions destroyed and one damaged, a gas tank destroyed, a marshalling yard and five troop concentrations attacked.
– Despite the cover afforded, 4th Armored Division reported it was attacked by enemy aircraft during the day. Most of the enemy’s attacking, however, was done under cover of night. By single sortie and small groups, enemy aircraft bombed and strafed roads and bridges in the vicinity of Avranches during the night of 2-3 August, beginning at about dusk. But the southward-flowing torrent of troops and supplies continued, undiminished.
August 3 1944
Over roads filled with Third Army troops and supplies moving up, the Command advanced its headquarters on Aug 3 to the vicinity of Beauchamps, east of Granville and set up alongside Gen Patton’s CP amid the usual hedges and apple trees. The enemy was continuing to withdraw before the armored elements of VIII Corps, but was concentrating in the Rennes and St Malo areas and preparing to counterattack west from Mortain to cut the corridor at Avranches. Through the bottleneck Gen Patton was pouring his XV Corps to face east below Avranches and protect the rear of VIII Corps’ operations in Brittany.
Accordingly, the air plan for the day provided cover for the XV Corps 79th Infantry Division and 5th Armored Division in the vicinity of Fougères and St James, in addition to protection of bridges and roads in the Avranches-Pontauboult area and continued cover for the three armored columns thrusting west through Britanny. Of these spearheads, the 4th Armored Division was in the vicinity of Mordelle, southwest of Rennes. The 6th Armored Division, under orders to advance through the center of the Peninsula, had reached the area of Jugon; and Gen Ernest’s Task Force, cutting off the north coast, was some five miles west of Dinan. Units supporting armored columns were directed in the day’s operations order to contact the appropriate ground station when approaching the head of the column.
If no targets were given, and if the area was free of enemy aircraft, they were instructed to sweep ahead of the column for up to 30 miles, attacking any military objectives that might obstruct its progress. This move to increase fighter-bomber effectiveness was made possible by the lightness of opposition put up by the German Air Force. Weather on this date, however, was most unfavorable, with bases non-operational much of the day because of low stratus, nimbo-stratus and light rain showers. Only six missions, of eight aircraft each, were able to take off, and four were unsuccessful because of weather, all bombs being jettisoned or returned to base.
The other two missions resulted in destruction or damaging of 40-odd motor and horse-drawn vehicles, including ammunition trucks, in the path of the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions. Total sorties were 48; tons of bombs dropped, 3-1/4. One aircraft was lost. Twenty-four tactical reconnaissance and two photographic reconnaissance sorties were flown. Continued night attacks on troops moving through the Avranches area brought a request from Third Army that night fighter protection be accorded. Since aircraft of the Command do not include night fighters, this request was referred to 9th Army Air Force and the desired protection was afforded by IX Air Defense Command.
August 4 1944
The fourth day of Third Army-XIX TAC operations found the enemy still withdrawing south and west before our armored columns in southern and central Brittany and retiring into the defenses of St Malo in the north, but meanwhile putting pressure on the Avranches corridor from the area of Mortain. XV Corps was now pushing southeast from Fougères while VIII Corps armor continued its Brittanny blitz and the attack on St Malo was begun by Gen Ernest’s armored task force and the 83rd Infantry Division. Although only four groups were available and low ceilings over bases prevented operations until 1030-H, the scale of air activity rose sharply on this date to 30 missions comprising 424 sorties.
Several air support requests were received through G-3 (Air) of Third Army and were acted upon by dispatching a mission or, if possible, by vectoring planes already in the air. One urgent request was relayed through VIII Corps because failure of 4th Armored Division’s VHF prevented direct contact with the covering aircraft. It called for immediate air attack on a column of enemy tanks in a wood. A squadron of 358th Group was ordered to attack and subsequently reported sixteen 500-pound bombs in the target area, with a good concentration on 15 tanks.
Troops assaulting St Malo were encountering strong concrete pillbox defenses and were being shelled by ships in the harbor. Requests for bomber assistance in attacking these targets were transmitted to 9th AAF, but in the meantime the warships were bombed and strafed by our Thunderbolts in the face of intense flak. Besides supporting the attack on St Malo and the advance of the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions, our aircraft flew armed recces as far south as Angers and eastward to Laval along the route of the swiftly advancing XV Corps. Tactical and photographic reconnaissance planes were also busy along the flanks and routes of advance. Some aircraft were damaged by flak, but no planes or pilots were lost and there were no claims against enemy aircraft. The four groups in action, the 405th, 365th, 358th and 371st, dropped 52.5 tons of bombs on targets, and results of bouncing and strafing include a rail line cut, 6 freight cars destroyed, 57 NT destroyed and 5 damaged, 5 supply dumps and a fuel dump destroyed, an armored vehicle destroyed, a fuel vehicle destroyed, and a naval vessel set a fire. A troop concentration and 15 bivouac areas were attacked.
August 5 1944
One more Group, the 36th, was placed under command of the XIX TAC on 5 August, raising the order of battle to five groups. Third Army’s swift advances continued, both eastward and westward but otherwise there was little change from the previous day. As before, the air plan provided cover for armored and infantry columns, and armed recces to aid in destruction of the enemy on the Brittany Peninsula and in advance of the eastward pushing XV Corps,which was now joined by XX Corps. Only part of the day was flyable, since the wind blew low stratus clouds from the English Channel onto coastal airdromes at about 1100 hours and they were not clear until late afternoon. Nevertheless, 246 combat sorties and 10 successful tactical and photographic reconnaissance missions were flown. Forty-four tons of bombs were dropped, and results included 58 motor vehicles, a headquarters, 9 horse-drawn vehicles, and 8 gun positions destroyed, plus damage to a naval vessel in the St Malo Harbor.
A successful day, writes Maj James G. Martin, IV, of the G-3 (Air) Section, Third Army, in his History of the Employment of the Air Arm in Support of Third US Army. The air was kept comparatively free of enemy aircraft and many ground targets were hit. Progress of the ground attack on all fronts was aided materially. Among the targets which might have caused the ground troops trouble were three self-propelled heavy guns, knocked out by eight bombs from eight P-47s of 405th Group, flying support for the 4th Armored Division.
Two other 500-pounders, dropped by 371st Group planes supporting 83rd Infantry Division in the St Malo area, hit buildings which apparently contained explosives. Three or more detonations followed the bomb hits, and red flames shot to 400 feet. One of the prime objects of our reconnaissance in the area of Angers and south of the Loire River was location of the 11. Panzerdivision, which was persistently reported to be moving north to strike our forces around Rennes in the flank. The division never materialized on our front, although a few elements may have been present for a time in the vicinity of Angers. The division eventually turned up in southern France opposing the invading US Seventh Army. In the first five days of Blitz warfare, US style, Third Army had conquered most of Brittany and in support XIX TAC fighter-bombers had flown 1088 sorties. In the face of our patrols, the Luftwaffe had put up no resistance at all by daylight. Our losses totaled only three aircraft and a partial list of the destruction and damage caused by our planes included 250 motor vehicles, 12 tanks, 9 horse-drawn vehicles, 4 locomotives, 9 railroad cars and 2 naval vessels destroyed or damaged, 5 rail roads cuts, 17 gun positions, 7 fuel and supply dumps, 2 marshaling yards, a gas tank, a headquarters, and 21 troops concentrations or bivouacs areas attacked.
August 6 1944
By dawn of the sixth day of operation the entering a new phase. The enemy was withdrawing to concentration points at Brest, Lorient, St Malo and the Paimpol Peninsula, and except for those hard cores of resistance, virtually all of Brittany was in US hands. Rennes had fallen almost without a struggle, and the airfield sites around this capital city of Brittany soon became available for our reconnaissance group and for some of our fighter-bombers. These sites were not only much closer to the scene of operations but also usually enjoyed better weather than the bases in the Normandy Peninsula. With the enemy on the defensive except in the Mortain area, where he was still trying to cut our traffic artery through Avranches, Gen Patton now pressed eastward in an encircling movement which threatened to strike the rear of the German forces facing the First US Army and the British in the area of Mortain and Vire. Meanwhile he continued the Brittany campaign and set out to secure the line of the Loire for protection of his right flank.
Below the Loire were enough German troops to cause considerable trouble for the relatively small forces available to hold the river line. G-2 estimated the enemy’s strength in that area to be about 20000. The task of taking care of this flank was turned over to Gen Weyland by Gen Patton completely, with an expression of his confidence in the ability of the air to spot any danger from this quarter by reconnaissance and to prevent concentrations or large movements by means of its fighter-bombers. In the days which followed, the roads, rails and marshalling yards south of the Loire were kept under constant close surveillance, and Gen Weyland’s fighter-bombers were frequently able to dissuade enemy elements from corming up north of the river. The principal cities of the Loire were quickly seized by Third Army, and no real threat on this flank ever developed. When large movement eventually took place it was eastward – in the effort to get back to Germany – and XIX TAC’s fighter-bombers were able to interfer with that ambition too. In view of the entrance upon a new phase, the main weight of XIX TAC’s air power was shifted on 6 August to the eastern front and Loire Valley, with patrols over the danger area in the Avranches corridor.
Squadrons covering XV Corps’ 79th Infantry Division, 90th Infantry Division and 5th Armored Divisions in the area between Laval and Mayennes found the hunting good, especially in tanks. One P-47 was lost; while strafing tanks, it “mushed in” and exploded. Combat sorties totaled 2953. There were no enemy aircraft claims, but 35.5 tons of bombs were dropped on varied targets. Claims included 9 locomotives, 20 freight cars, 135 motor vehicles, 7 armored vehicles and 35 field guns destroyed; also 3 locomotives, 46 MT, 14 armored vehicles and 6 small boats damaged. Attacks were also made on an enemy airdrome, a highway bridge, an ammunition dump and a flak position. In addition, 26 successful tactical and photographic reconnaissance missions were flown, and B-26s of IX Bomber Command attacked the defenses of St Malo in response to our request of 4 August.
A successful day, pronounced Third Army’s G-3 (Air) Section, with attacks on all types of targets, from boats to field guns. Movement east, south and west by ground troops was greatly facilitated. During the night of 6-7 August the enemy’s nocturnal bombing operations struck close to the Third Army – XIX TAC command post Flares illuminated the entire area and bombs were dropped in the vicinity, causing some damage, although no harm was done to headquarters.
August 7 1944
To meet its increased responsibilities, the strength of XIX TAC was now again augmented and its stature rose to nine full groups of fighter-bombers. These consisted of the 36th, 358th, 362nd, 371st, 373rd, 405th and 406th (all equipped with P-47s) and the 354th and 363rd groups (flying P-51s). Seven of these groups and both of the wings (the 100th and 303rd) had been under administrative control of the Command for months in the old IX Fighter Command days in England, so the basis for effective teamwork was firmly laid. At the same time it became apparent that the enemy’s air was growing more aggressive, in the effort to check the threatened encirclement and destruction of his army south of the Seine. Word was received that in the early morning hours serious damage had been caused by an enemy air attack on a US supply column in the vicinity of St Hilaire, southwest of Mortain where First Army was holding the line against German counter-attacks toward Avranches. This augury of action was fully fulfilled. It was a day of hard fighting, and when it was over our claims included destruction of 33 aircraft (14 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed and 3 damaged in the air and 19-0-4 on the ground). Ten planes and pilots were lost.
Sorties hit a new high, with a total of 601 Tons bomb on targets totaled 62, and claims included 2 locomotives, 106 freight cars, 12 tanks, 98 MT, 90 horse-drawn vehicles, and a highway bridge and 5 barges destroyed; also 19 freight cars, 9 MT and 10 armored vehicles damaged; and a marshalling yard attacked. Thirty-two Tac/R sorties were flown. Part of the bag of enemy aircraft was obtained when information was received that Chartres airfield was ripe for attack. Twelve P-47s of the 36th Group, flying armored column (XV Corps) were ordered by radio to attack the field. Eight bombs were dropped, with resulting destruction of six aircraft (3 ME-109s, 2 FWJ-190s and a JU-52) and damage to three other FW-190s. Thirteen more enemy planes were wiped out by 12 P-51 pilots of the veteran 354th Group who found a well camouflaged field six miles east of Chartres. Their strafing attack destroyed 12 ME-109s and a JU-88, but cost three of our crack fighters. Another squadron of P-51s, on patrol in the Mayenne area, was vectored to intercept 12 ME-109s, destroying five and damaging two for loss of two planes and two pilots, one of whom was seen running from his ship. Meanwhile Third Army’s columns, with their cover of planes dive bombing and strafing, pressed forward in Brittany and to the east in the area of Laval and Mayenne. Tank battles were seen in the Vire Mortain sector, and our planes took a hand in them. In one attack, seven P-47s of 405th Group claimed destruction of 12 tanks, five staff cars, four half-tracks (three of them carrying flak guns) and four light flak positions, plus damage to four other tanks.
Our armed recces now were reaching far beyond Paris as well as south of the Loire. Several trains and a power plant were successfully attacked as far east as Troyes and Soissons. On this date Third Army moved its headquarters from the vicinity of Beauchamps to a point near St James, well below the Avranches bottleneck. XIX TAC’s forward echelon likewise moved, but serious communications troubles developed and for several days operations continued to be conducted by the small rear echelon at the previous site. The enemy’s counter-attack toward Avranches was in progress, and our lines of communication were cut nightly by enemy saboteurs. Throughout the remainder of the month, XIX TAC’s operational headquarters was never able to overtake Third Army’s fast-traveling CP. Gen Patton’s headquarters, averaging 20 miles a day, set a pace which the air command could not match and still maintain its essential communications with its airfields far in the rear. Accordingly, a small advance echelon was assigned to Third Army’s headquarters, with a direct telephone line to XIX TAC, and Gen Weyland flew forward every other day or so for personal conference with Gen Patton or his Chief of Staff.
August 8 1944
Beginning its second week in action, the Command on 8 August struck a new high peal : of activity by flying 717 sorties. Five enemy aircraft were destroyed and 11 of our planes were lost. Strafing and dropping 94 tons of bombs, XIX TAC fighter-bombers destroyed 29 loco-motives 137 freight cars, 195 motor vehicles, 10 fuel and ammunition vehicles, 15 horse-drawn vehicles, 11 flak positions; damaged 2 locomotives, 57 freight cars, 28 MT and 26 armored vehicles; cut rail lines at 7 points, and attacked a troop concentration and 5 fuel dumps, one of which was completely destroyed. Recce planes flew 46 tactical, 1 photographic and 6 artillery reconnaissance missions. The outstanding features of the day’s operations were the large bag of enemy transport destroyed and damaged, and the almost continuous air cover provided to our ground forces. Improved communications with 67th Reconnaissance Group facilitated the flow of information to the Army G-2 Section, and in several instances information of enemy MT and tank concentrations was received in sufficient time to permit A-3 to order a mission.
A tremendous day, was the Army G-3 (Air) verdict, particularly in the number of MT destroyed. Attacks of all ground forces were facilitated.
Cooperation with the ground was increasingly close. One flight of P-51s reported circling Morlaix while ground troops drove the enemy out of town. Another observed 100-plus German vehicles trapped on a road north of Brest by US armor at each end of the road. The enemy was picking up our call signs and by calling himself “Grandchap Able” (Gen Ernest’s Task Force) or “Eggcup” (4th Armored Division), he was trying to send our planes into traps or on wild goose chases, but the transparent trick usually failed to work. He was clumsy, unfamiliar with our terms, and of course could not authenticate. Results were being obtained by our pilots regardless of cost. For example, the 362nd Group lost 4 P-47s on a 40 plane armed recon north and east of Paris in which they accomplished the following.
– Put 4 500-lb bombs on a gun position; guns were silenced
– Dropped 2 frag clusters on another gun position with same results
– Put 8 frag clusters and 2 500-PGP bombs on 40 boxcars
– Destroyed 40 boxcars and a locomotive by dropping 4 frag clusters and 4 500-pounders on marshaling yard
– Damaged 8 RR cars by dropping 8 250-pound frags on a second marshaling yard
– Damaged 25 freight cars at another point
– Dropped 2 frag clusters on an airdrome
– Destroyed 7 MT
– Strafed 15 freight cars loaded with 155-mn guns
Later on their third group mission of the day the 362nd fire-eating fighter-bombers put 26 bombs on targets, claiming 3 destroyed, 4 damaged; 16 on a marshalling yard and hitting a workshop.
On the-deck with their caliber .50 machine-guns, they bagged two armored cars, two ammunition trucks, a gasoline truck, a dozen miscellaneous motor vehicles and an enemy-operated jeep. As the Command moved up in the wake of the Army, it found the roads everywhere littered with the rusting wreckage of trucks, half-tracks, tanks and guns knocked out by our planes and US Artillery. Not only the enemy’s vehicles but the fuel to run them was going up in smoke. On this same day, for instance, 373rd Group, on armed recon over the “Orléans Gap” between Paris and the Loire, reported : “34 bombs in fuel dump. Totally destroyed”. On another mission in the same area, this group spotted thirty freight cars, mostly oil tankers, entering a marshalling yard in which were fifty more cars. Results : 8 direct hits, 6 near misses, 6 heavy black smoke fires, 25 cars destroyed and 50 damaged. For good measure,the cars were also strafed. The boys were pouring it on.
Before they went home for more bombs and gas, these 32 P-47 pilots put eight 500-pounders on a train, destroying the locomotive and 3 cars and cutting the tracks; dropped 8 more on 25 rail-road cars in a marshalling yard, destroying 10 and damaging 10; and cut tracks in 3 different places. The enemy’s air had no success in trying to break up this disastrous wrecking of road and rail traffic. While 405th Group was destroying some 60 motor vehicles and 8 freight cars, 3 ME-109s bounced a flight of its P-47s. Only 1 of the 3 German fighters escaped. Increasingly, the enemy began operating in groups of 20 to 40 or more, and attacking only when he could obtain surprise and local superiority in numbers. His fighters on the excellent fields around Paris were being forced to fight in defense of their bases. Our fighter bombers were overhead daily now, on armed recces far ahead of the battlefront. One such mission on this date extended to the Belgian border.
The Germans meanwhile were making nightly attacks on the vital bridges around Avranches. 9th Army Air Force interrogation of a German airman shot down on the night of August 7 indicated that in a desperate attempt to knockout the essential bridge at Pontauboult, south of Avranches, on Aug 4, the ES-293 radio-controlled glider bomb had been used for the first time against a land target. On August 7 another attempt was made with this bomb, which is normally used against shipping. 2 of the bombers were hit by night fighters, and one provided the prisoner who yielded this information.
August 9 1944
This was the busiest day since XIX TAC became operational. There were more missions (72) and more sorties (780) than on any previous day. 19 enemy planes were destroyed, our claims totaling 13-2-0 in the air and 6-0-2 on the ground. 9 of our planes and pilots were lost. All but 2 of the groups flew 3 missions. The 3 squadrons of the 363rd Group and the 405th and 406th Squadrons of the 371st Group flew 5 missions. These squadrons averaged 11 hours and 45 minutes in the air. The day’s outstanding victory was turned in by the 378th Squadron of 362nd Group. While flying air cover for XV Corps northeast of Le Mans, the P-47s encountered 12 ME-109s at 300 feet and destroyed seven. Continuing on their mission, they destroyed 11 MT and 9 horse-drawn vehicles. A rocket squadron, the 513th of 406th Group, was now in action,and 13 five-inch rockets were launched against ground targets, in addition to 58 tons of general-purpose bombs and numerous rounds of calibre .50 ammunition.
The swift advance was continuing. In mid-afternoon, 358th Group reported “our troops and vehicles observed on main road as far east as St Calais,” and “US troops seen fanning out from Le Mans area E and S.” Thirty-seven tactical and photographic reconnaissance sorties aided in keeping an eye on the enemy. Some of our squadrons on armored column cover were having difficulty in contacting ground control and consequently were missing opportunities for attacks. One reported, for instance : “EGGCUP (4th Armored Division) assigned a target to Squadron, but “C” Channel was so faint could not get enough information. All bombs returned to base.” Another reported “Squadron given J-7608 as target but would not authenticate, so no attack made.”
Still another said : “All bombs returned. No contact with Eggcup.” When contact was established between tanks and planes, the story was entirely different, as these typical reports from groups operating on the Brittany Peninsula show : “Targets assigned by Eggcup. Two direct hits with 500-lb bombs on small buildings, completely destroyed”, “(Report from eight P-47sof 371st Group.)” Contacted Grandchap Able (Ernest Task Force) 100 plus horse-drawn carts loaded with troops on secondary road. Many troops and horses killed. (Report from 8 strafing P-51s of 363rd Group.) “Vectored by Grandchap Able to road. Destroyed 80 MT, destroyed 25 horse-drawn vehicles. 200 troops killed.” (Reported by 7 strafing P-51s of 363rd Group).
Under the pounding from ground and air, the enemy was beginning to wave the white flag. Reported eight more P-51s : “Strafed column of 100-plus MD and animal-drawn vehicles. Continued until white flag was seen as our troops closed in on column from SW : and E. “Planes covering XV Corps troops advancing in the Le Mans : area were encountering enemy fighters. “Vectored to enemy aircraft by 79th Infantry Division”, reported 12 P-47s of 362nd Gp.” Two ME-109s observed 1000 hours at 700 feet altitude. One ME-109 destroyed; one evaded combat. Losses : nones.” Another squadron of the 362nd was bounced by 25 enemy fighters in the St Calais area east of Le Mans. Two ME-109s were destroyed for no loss, whereupon the enemy formation broke away and headed east.
Third Army columns were now pushing into the big wasp nest of airbases between the Loire and the Seine, but enemy fighters were having little success in defending their home fields and were chiefly trying to get away. Reported 12 P-47s of 362nd Gp : “Squadron going S at 7000 feet saw 12 ME-109s going E at 300 feet. Shot down 7.” Bombs were jettisoned for the fight, but afterward the squadron went back to work against ground targets, its guns destroying 20 vehicles, most of which exploded. Almost all were going east, which the enemy seemed to consider the healthiest direction. Far-ranging P-51s of 354th Group, on armed reconnaissance beyond Paris, sighted 30-plus JU-88s on Reims-Champagne Airfield and flew almost down the muzzles of its guns to strafe the field from 6000 feet to deck. Six JU-88s were claimed as destroyed and two probably destroyed. Two light guns and a flak tower were knocked out and one P-51 lost to flak. In the Alençon area, 34 P-47s of 373rd Group encountered 25 to 30 single-engine fighters and claimed 3-2-0 for no loss.
August 10 1944
Operations on 10 August were somewhat reduced by low stratus clouds moving in from the Channel late in the afternoon. Nevertheless, 54 missions comprising 659 sorties were flown. 46.2 tons of HE Bombs were dropped on targets and 4 enemy planes were shot down. Six of our aircraft and pilots were lost. The main weight of the day’s attack fell on railroads targets with claims of 12 locomotives and 254 cars destroyed or damaged. Other results included 22 tanks and other armored vehicles, 91 MT, 2 horse-drawn vehicles, and 5 bridges destroyed or damaged. Seven gun positions, a radar installation, a troop concentration, an ammunition dump and a marshalling yard were attacked and seven rail lines cut. With Third Army elements striking his rear, the enemy now hads wung about in the Alençon – Argentan area and his tanks and artillery were engaging our troops attacking northward from Le Mans. As a result our fighter-bombers found many good targets for their bombs and guns.
Sometimes a single bomb or strafing pass wiped out considerable firepower. Reported by eight P-47s of 371st Gp : “1 bomb on 25 horse-drawn artillery pieces and 100 troops, then strafed. Many soldiers and horses killed.” Nobody likes to kill horses, but these were pulling guns. Our planes operating in the area of the boundary between the 1st and 3rd US Armies occasionally got emergency requests from 1st Army Units needing help. Reported 362nd Group : “14 500-pound bombs on mortar position at T-6413. Target assigned by Murphy (CCB, 2nd Armored Division, 1st Army). Position destroyed. Four aircraft also straged this position.” Asimilar report came from 371st Group : “7 500-pound bombs on gun position T-6712. Area was marked with smoke and bombed accurately.
No results observed. Murphy reported guns silenced. “42 railroad cars and a flak battery were knocked out at Lorient marshalling yard, when eight P-47s of 36th Group dive-bombed the yard in the teeth of intense, accurate heavy and light flak after receiving 4th Armored Division’s OK. All returned, though one was badly damaged by the flak over this heavily defended submarine base town. Wide-sweeping railroad recces north, east and south of Paris to isolate the eastern battlefield were likewise bearing fruit. Near Montargis, southeast of Paris, 12 P-47s of 510th Sq, 405th Group, twice strafed a loaded troop train consisting of 25 large personnel cars. The troops detrained with alacrity, but casualties were believed high. On the same mission these twelve planes destroyed a 30-car train by bombing and strafing, blew up three other cars and fired two oil cars. One plane was destroyed by flak, but the pilot was saved.
Observations by our pilots over the battle areas gave a running record of events, in addition to spotting enemy movements, gun positions and other targets : “US troop convoy on all approaches to Nantes. Fire and smoke in Nantes” “St Malo harbor covered by smoke.” “Observed US troops in red-paneled vehicles in Mortain at 1500 hours.” “Head of Allied tank column seen at point 8 to 10 miles SW of Bonnetable.” 30 sorties-were flown by our tactical reconnaissance P-51s, operating chiefly over areas on the outer fringe of operations. These two-plane patrols contributed considerably to the most effective use of the available air-power, since fighter-bombers could be quickly vectored to any important targets spotted and thus less time was wasted in uneventful armed recces. Two artillery reconnaissance and two photographic reconnaissance sorties were flown. These types of recce were being employed chiefly in connection with the continuing attacks on the stubborn Brittany ports.
At St Malo bitter resistance was being encountered, and the day’s specific air support requests included calls for medium bomber assistance in reducing the town’s Citadel, the coastal defense on the Ile de Cezembre, and other heavy batteries controlling the harbor. These requests were transmitted to 9th Air Force and the targets were subsequently attacked. Meanwhile XIX TAC fighter-bombers continued the assault on this strongly flak-defended area to the limit of the abilities of this type of aircraft. The Ile de Cezembre was made a standard last-resort target and dumping ground for planes forced to jettison their bombs, yet at the end of the month the Germans still doggedly held out there. On several occasions emissaries from 83rd Infantry Division visited the island by boat under truce and demanded surrender, only to be told that the Commander had orders from Der Fuehrer not to give up and would obey them. Brest’s far more powerful defenses likewise were obviously beyond the ability of fighter-bombers to crack, and requests for assistance by heavy and medium bombers were transmitted to higher headquarters. Throughout the month, attacks of increasing violence were made by aircraft of all types in cooperation with 3rd Army troops assaulting this badly needed port, yet September was to find its garrison still holding out.
One of the six casualties of this day was Col Morton David Magoffin, commanding 362nd Group. Hit by flak while on a dive-bombing and strafing mission in support of XV Corps east of Le Mans, he continued to lead the squadron in its bombing run hoping that the dive would blow out fire in his engine. It failed to do so and he pulled up and bailed out. The sequel to this episode did not come to light until weeks later : Col Magoffin fell into enemy hands and was taken to hospital in Paris with a flak wound in his right thigh. When the enemy evacuated Paris he hid in a closet and escaped notice. French surgeons performed a badly needed operation and the Col was subsequently evacuated by air to England.
August 11 1944
The big push to the north and northeast to encircle German troops in the Mortain – Falaise – Argentan area was now well under way and groups supporting the 5th Armored Division, 2nd French Armored Divison, the 79th Infantry Division and the 90th Infantry Division were especially bus on August 11. Combat sorties totaled 454. With good VHF communications, 36th Group hit many targets assigned by ground control, various squadrons reporting destruction of tanks, 88-MM gun positions, transport and other targets. One was a camouflaged house and tower assigned as a target by 79th Infantry Division. House and tower were destroyed by five direct hits with 500-lb bombs. Ten miles northeast of Alençon, enemy tanks were holding up an American column. Fifteen 500-pounders were dropped and although specific results were not observed the US Column was seen to move forward. Another feature of the day’s operations was the successful bombardment of an enemy railroad gun position which was holding up progress of the 5th Infantry Division near Angers. Forty minutes after the request for air attack on this position was received at Combat Operations, Fighter Control at 303rd Wing had vectored the 367th Squadron of 358th Group to the target and the position was destroyed by two direct bomb hits and four near misses.
Good results were also obtained by the 373rd Group on an armed railroad reconnaissance of the area south of Paris. Attacking rail facilities at nine different points, the group destroyed five locomotives and 50 railroad cars, damaged 47 cars, and cut rail roadtracks at three or more places. For loss of four planes, our groups claimed a total of 10 locomotives, 243 railroad cars, 15 tank cars, 42 tanks and other armored vehicles, 119 motor vehicles, and 20 horse-drawn vehicles destroyed or damaged. Successful attacks were made on six marshalling yards, five field gun positions, a troop concentration, a head-quarters, an ammunition dump, a storage building and an airfield, and 10 railroad. lines were cut. Of 15 reconnaissance sorties flown 10 were tactical, 3 photographic and 2 for artillery adjustment. During the afternoon 273 heavy bombers of 8th AAF attached strong points and heavy gun positions in Brest Harbor as previously requested by 3rd Army through this Command; 643 tons of bombs were dropped, with results described as “good to excellent”. One bomber was lost to flak. In the evening 36 B-26s of IX Bomber Command dropped 53 tons of bombs on the gun defenses at St Lo, results ranging from fair to excellent.
Closing the Argentan Trap – August 12 1944
Despite the continued efforts of saboteurs, communications through the Avranches gap were sufficiently stable to permit the transfer of operational control to the forward echelon in the vicinity of St James on this date. The principal objectives of the air plan were to protect XV Corps in its its fighting progress north from Alençon and by strong recces between Le Mans and Paris, to cut off the battlefield and clear the way to the capital. The plan provided for the usual protection of the Loire flank and continued incidental attack on the Ile de Cezembre, but comparatively little coverage for the Brest Peninsula where fighting was now largely static around the Brest, Lorient, St Malo and Paimpol defenses. In execution of this plan, 41 missions comprising 481 sorties were flown. No planes were lost and there were no claims against enemy aircraft. The day’s toll included destruction or damaging of 6 locomotives, 247 freight cars, 16 tanks, 201 motor vehicles, 7 horse-drawn vehicles, a gun carriage, a naval vessel, a barge and 4 buildings. 11 rail lines and a highway were cut; 16 field batteries, 6 flak batteries, 2 troop concentrations, an ammunition dump and 4 buildings attacked, and 24 fires started.
A good day : 3rd Army units aided materially on all fronts, was the G-3 (Air) comment.
The drive north from Alençon towards Argentan marked the beginning of the closing of the jaws of the trap which eventually netted 57000 Germans. Troops of the Canadian 1st Army, driving southward to join 3rd Army forces near Argentan, played a vital part in the victory. “There were two dead Germans for every live one,” says an unofficial report, “and the greatest stench of all time hung over the pocket.” On 12 August, however, there was still plenty of fight in the strong German forces thus entrapped, and it was a day of bitter fighting. In an effort to get our planes off their neck, the Germans again tried trickery, but unfamiliarity with the American idiom – and jazz music – tripped them up. Pretending to be “Exclaim” (70th Infantry Division), an English-speaking German attempted to vector 36th Group P-47s to points where they could do no harm. A slight German accent aroused suspicion and one of our pilots proved the speaker to be a fake by asking him to sing “Mairzie Doats”, The Heinie could not make the grade.
August 13 1944
The deadly squeeze on entrapped German forces was nearing a complete strangle on 13 August, and the biggest motor transport killing of the entire month was made by 37 P-47 : pilots of 36th Group when they found 800 to 1000 enemy motor vehicles of all descriptions milling about in the pocket west of Argentan. Pouncing upon them with bombs and guns, they claimed 400 to 500 enemy vehicles burned or blown up. One pilot dropped his belly tank on 12 trucks and the resulting explosion left them all on fire. American and British forces racing to close gap, said this group’s report, which pointed out that the enemy troops in the pocket were heading generally northeast toward the rapidly closing escape route between Argentan and Falaise. Other Pilots reported a street battles in Argentan, many fires and much smoke in the vicinity, and a Typhoon strafing our troops north of the town.
Meanwhile, 3rd Army spearheads were moving rapidly ahead towards Paris and Orléans. “US troops and Vehicles going north and east past Dreux, and south and east near Orléans,” reported 358th Group pilots at 1900 hours. “Flew to edge of Paris and encountered no flak,” said a report from 363rd Group P-51s. This observation proved to be a forerunner of the fall of the capital about a week later. All of the day’s bag in aerial combat fell, to 382nd Squadron of 363rd Group, which scored 12-2-1 for loss of a single plane. Flying assault area cover in the Alençon – Le Mans – Nogent – Le Rotrou area, eight P-51s of this squadron bagged 4-1-1 for 1 in an early-morning fight with 12 ME-109s and FW-190s. On an evening mission,eight pilots of the same squadron sighted approximately 25 ME-109s and FW-190s strafing our troops. The Mustangs destroyed eight – an average of one a piece. Another, was probably destroyed and the rest were driven away. The growing threat to the enemy’s air bases was emphasized when a squadron of P-47s from 406th Group attacked a field southeast of Chateaudun, claiming eight twin-engined aircraft damaged on the ground. Rocket-carrying aircraft of the same group attacked rail road rolling stock and armored vehicles, claiming three locomotives, 25 cars and five light tanks destroyed or damaged.
Claims for the day by all groups included destruction or damaging of 12 locomotives, 227 railroad cars, 45 tanks and other armored vehicles, 781 motor vehicles, 10 motorcycles, a barracks, an oil storage tank, and 10 strong points. 14 railroad lines were cut and a railroad bridge damaged. Successful attacks were made on 2 troop concentrations, 6 marshalling yards and an ammunition dump (4 hits). Combat sorties totaled 718 and reconnaissance sorties 38. Claims against enemy aircraft were 12-2-1 in the air and 1-0-8 on the ground. Ten planes were lost (only one to enemy aircraft).
August 14 1944
The jig was now plainly up for German troops in the Argentan pocket. Short of supplies and weary of ceaseless attack from ground and air, they were giving themselves up in large numbers. During the day our pilots reported the phenomenon of ground troops surrendering to the air. Five miles northeast of Argentan, at 1100 hours on 14 August, 300 to 400 enemy soldiers surrendered by waving whiteflags as 405th Group’s 511th Squadron circled. Fighter Control was given the position so the nearest ground troops could pick up the prisoners. 9th AAF interrogators reported that prisoners taken in the shrinking Falaise – Vire – Mortain – Mayennes – Alençon salient told of extreme shortages of food and gasoline. One POW at the 84th Infantry Division HQ fainted during interrogation and it developed : that he had had no food for four days except one small piece of bread. He and his comrades had been told that their field kitchens had been bombed.
– Said a junior officer of 363rd Infantry Division, who surrendered on 13 August : “You have bombed and strafed all the roads, causing complete congestion and heavy traffic jams. You have also destroyed most of our petrol and oil dumps, so there is no future in continuing the fight.
In the minds of most prisoners, however, terror of artillery fire loomed even larger than fear of air bombardment. Among the prisoners were many foreigners – Poles, Russians and Yugoslavs – who said large drafts of these satellite troops had recently been sent into the line as cannon fodder. One Pole displayed to the embarrassed interrogator the marks on his bottom caused by an SS man who had literally booted him into battle. With his airfields around Paris endangered and many in process of evacuation, the enemy appears to have flown fewer than 100 single-engine fighter sorties on the Western Front on 14 August. These were chiefly in defense of his ground troops. The only one of our groups to meet enemy air opposition was the 405th, flying close support to the 7th Armored Division in the Dreux – Nogent – Le Rotrou area. Five P-47s and pilots were lost against claims of 4-2-1. Four of the five losses were suffered when four’ P-47s, pulling up from reconnaissance about 20 miles east of Dreux were bounced from above at 3000 feet by 16 ME-190s which came in below the four P-47s flying top cover. Three of the attackers were claimed as destroyed, plus one probable and one damaged.
It was another day of intense US activity, and aircraft of this Command flew a total of 79 combat missions comprising 665 sorties. In addition, 18 reconnaissance missions. involving 36 sorties were flown. Our aircraft were active from the tip of the Brest Peninsula to Paris and from north of the narrowing “pocket” to well down below : the Loire where several marshalling yards were successfully attacked. Destroyed or damaged were 6 locomotives, 175 railroad cars, 59 armored vehicles, 28 motor vehicles, and a motorcycle. 12 mun positions, 3 marshalling yards, a radar installation, an ammunition dump, and a supply depot were attacked, 2 railroad bridges damaged, and 2 railroad lines and a highway cut. In one typical example of effective air support, 8 aircraft of 362nd Group were vectored by 4th Armored Division to 5 88-MM AT guns northeast of Lorient. They circled until the area was marked with white smoke, then destroyed the guns with 2 direct hits. Pilots reported : “fire at Chartres airfield, which appeared unserviceable and a violent. explosion at Dreux airdrome. The Luftwaffe was pulling out.
August 15 1944
Enemy single-engine fighter activity rose sharply on 15 August to an estimated 3550 sorties, indicating that more German units had completed their moves to new bases. The enemy was now operating almost entirely from fields east, north and northeast of Paris. When 8 P-47s of 373rd Group were bounced by eight ME-109s at 9000 feet over Bretigny, our pilots destroyed 5 and damaged the other 3. The enemy pilots were aggressive but seemed untrained. Their evasive action was poor. On the ground the Thunderbolts destroyed an FW-190 and damaged 2 JU-88s. Three different times between 1615-H and 1945-H, planes from this group bombed or beat up the base at Bretigny. The day’s claims : against, enemy aircraft totaled 13-0-53 in the air (all by 373rd Group) and 2-0-7 on the ground. Five of our planes, were lost. With many German ground troops in a mood for surrender, the drapping of leaflet bombs was begun on this date. These were distributed especially in the area of the pocket, now completely closed, together with less subtle, invitations – 500-pound GP bombs and .50 Cal slugs.
Rockets as well as bombs were being used effectively against tanks, including the big heavily armored Tiger. North of Dreux, the 406th Group’s Tiger-taming 513th Squadron got 4 heavy and 1 light tank with its five-inch rocket projectiles. In the “pocket” area the situation was so fluid that mistakes were sometimes made, as when P-47s put 2 bombs on a column of camouflaged trucks heading north between Falaise and Argentan. The column hurriedly displayed yellow smoke and the attack was checked. This was another busy day with 659 combat sorties and 40 tactical reconnaissance and artillery adjustment sorties flown. On the ground the haul included 5 locomotives, 114 railroad cars, 36 armored vehicles, 97 motor vehicles and 5 barges destroyed or damaged. 9 gun positions, 4 airfields and 1 marshalling yard were successfully attacked. An advance echelon of this Command had leap frogged forward to a woods north of Laval, and during the early morning hours, the 3rd Army and XIX TAG headquarters there were strafed by P-47s. One was shot down by antiaircraft fire and the pilot’s body was identified as that of an 8th AAF fighter pilot.
August 16 1944
After several days of intensive operations, activity was curtailed on 16 August by low stratus clouds which covered airfields in the Cherbourg Peninsula from approximately 1000-H to 1500-H. Many pilots returning from early morning missions were unable to land at their own airfields. 1 P-51 crashed near St Mère Eglise when it ran out of gas, but the pilot bailed out successfully. 14 other pilots of 363rd Group were forced to land in England, where they refuelled and returned to base after the weather cleared. 3rd Army’s foremost armored spearhead now was only 9 miles from the outskirts of Paris, and the enemy’s air was reacting more strongly in the effort to gain time for evacuation of the great complex of airfields in the capital area. Preferring to attack only when they outnumber us, the enemy’s fighters were operating usually in patrols ranging from 20 to 80. Our P-51 cover-west and southwest of Paris was strengthened accordingly.
The weather during the day favored the enemy, since our bases were “socked in” for several hours while his were clear. Hourly attacks by three strafing ME-109s were reported by Combat Command A of the 4th Armored Division at Orléans. These strafers successfully eluded our fighters, but a probable attack on our ground forces southwest of Paris was apparently prevented at 1545-H when 70 plus FW-190s, many carrying bombs, were engaged by 8 P-51s of 354thGroup over Rambouillet Forest, 10 miles west of the capital. 2 German planes were shot down and two P-51s were lost, but the enemyforce was dispersed toward the south. Half an hour later, another patrol of eight P-51s sighted 20 plus ME-109s south of Dreux at 11000 feet. Orbiting in elements of two, the squadron climbed to 14000 feet and attacked from above. At the same instant, 60 or more ME-109s joined the combat, emerging from cloud cover to the north. In the next 15 minutes our 8 aircraft outnumbered 10 to 1 were busily embattled from 11000 feet to deck. The enemy was aggressive and apparently experienced, but he tried to turn with our aircraft. When it was all over, our pilots had destroyed 11 and damaged 2 against losses of 2 planes and pilots.
One of the 14 enemy aircraft destroyed during the day was shot down near Paris by a P-51 tactical reconnaissance pilot of 10th Reconnaissance Group. These P-51s, operating in pairs, carry the regular fighter armament and are amply able to defend themselves, as they frequently prove to the enemy when bounced by several times their number. Flying close cover for the 7th Armored Division and 5th Infantry Division between Dreux and Paris 8 P-51s of the 362nd Group sighted 50 or more ME-109s on an airfield just southeast of the capital. Field, planes, MT, personnel and a gun position were promptly strafed. At another airfield west of Paris, 20 or more FW-190s were seen, and on a, third farther east, two JU-88s and a hangar were seen afire. At Etampes – Mondésir airfield, 513th Squadron of 406th Group scored hits on hangars with its rocket projectiles.
Heavily outnumbered and decidedly outfought by the Allied Air Forces every since the invasion, the Luftwaffe was being forced to make excuses to the Army for its inability to provide proper support. An example was a document found at the Headquarters for Southwest France at Angers, in the 3rd Army area, and translated by the Air PW Interrogation Unit of 9th Air Force. It was issued by the Military Governor in France for dissemination to troops down to company level, and said in part : “The ground soldier in action on the invasion front feels himself depressed most of all by enemy air superiority. In spite of the numerical inferiority of our air force, there have been successes accomplished, however, which the single soldier, tied down to his own narrow section of the front, cannot appreciate.
The following air force information should be made known to the troops so that they may know what great support the fighting forces are receiving from their own air force.” (There followed figures emphasizing alleged German air successes against Allied shipping from 6-25 June 1944.) With the cutting of a number of rail lines leading to Paris from the east, considerable barge traffic on the Seine River from Moret north through Melun and Corbeil to Villeneuve was noted by the A-2 Section. It was pointed out that these barges were believed to transport quantities of motor fuel toward the battle area. In subsequent days this barge traffic was successfully attacked by our fighter-bombers. Because of the weather, only 280 combat sorties and 36 reconnaissance sorties were flown on 16 August. 13 enemy planes were destroyed and 4 damaged. 5 of ours were lost. 5 tanks, 25 motor vehicles and 55 railroad cars were destroyed or damaged, 2 airfields and 2 gun positions attacked, and 3 railroad lines cut.
August 17 1944
In sharp contrast to the previous day, air opposition to our fighters on 17 August was virtually nil, despite the fact that the enemy’s fields in the Paris area and east of the capital had good weather while ours were cloud-covered part of the day. The only reported enemy activity against our ground forces was strafing of 79th Infantry Division units near Dreux. One of the strafers was shot down by AAA. This attack occurred in the morning when our fields were closed in and enemy fields near Paris were clear only 2 enemy planes were seen by our fighters, and both were shot down near Dreux by the same pilot, Capt Emerson, of 355th Sq of the 354th Group.
On the Brest Peninsula, the citadel of St Malo surrendered, while 3rd Army troops and circling P-47s of 53rd Sq, 36th Group, loaded with 500-PGP bombs, awaited the answer to an ultimatum. After 35 minutes the 83rd Infantry Division radioed the squadron that the invitation had been accepted. A white flag appeared over the citadel and the P-47s came home with their 500-PGP persuaders. Incidentally, 83rd Infantry Division reported that prisoners captured in the St Malo area since the attack began totaled 11600. The clean-up of the Germans attempting to escape from the Argentan pocket was now in full swing and there were many good targets, but Allied aircraft were so numerous that they had to “queue up” to attack. For instance, 8 P-47s of 373rd Group spotted 100 or more tanks and 200 plus MT 10 miles southwest of Lisieux. The target was already being bombed and strafed by 4 P-51s and 8 Typhoons, and 50 or more fires were burning. The P-47s dumped their two 500-PGP bombs and 24 frags into the mess and saw a tank destroyed, but smoke was so thick no other results could be seen.
Dreux, 50 miles from the center of Paris, had fallen and armored units were driving ahead toward the Seine. North of Dreux, 8 P-47s flying armored column cover were vectored by 5th Armored Division to a road junction where anti-tank guns and infantry were holding up the advance. The ground forces marked the target with white smoke and our Thunderbolts attacked it with 6 500-PGP bombs, 4 frag clusters, and strafing. Results were not observed, but the ground forces indicated the guns were destroyed and congratulated the squadron leader.
– The day in figures : 331 combat sorties, 56 reconnaissance sorties; 2 enemy planes destroyed in combat, no losses; 10 tanks, 57 motor vehicles, 2 locomotives and 25 railroad cars destroyed or damaged; 7 railroad lines cut; 4 gun positions, a strong point and 4 marshalling yards attacked. As the eastward advance continued, 3rd Army reported Chateaudun clear of the enemy. Immediate steps were taken to make this good airfield available to our groups, which already were laboring under heavy handicaps of range.
– Because of the speed of our advance in this area, the Germans had not had opportunity to carry out demolitions as extensively as at most other fields.
A pre-war military and civil airfield, Chateaudun had been much developed by the German Air Force, which built the runways and dispersal areas and later extended the landing area to the west. Repairs were expedited, and by 27 August the field was occupied by our 10th Reconnaissance Group. It was soon in use also as a re-fueling and re-arming point for our fighter-bomber groups operating to the east.
August 18 1944
It was harvest time in the Argentan – Trun pocket, and Allied aircraft on this date had one of their biggest days of the war. Our P-47s of 56th Group, on an early morning armed reconnaissance, reported 1000 to 1500 enemy vehicles headed north “bumper to bumper” in the Argentan – Trun area and later saw a 1000 enemy vehicles of all types encircled by yellow smoke in the Falaise area. To their disappointment our pilots were told not to attack because they were outside of their area. Most of the good targets were in the area of British responsibility, and RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force rolled up one of the biggest scores of the war against a concentration of some 7000 vehicles jamming the roads beyond the old Falaise gap, now only two miles wide. Attacking with rockets, bombs, cannon and machine guns, 2nd TAF’s Spitfires, Typhoons and Mustangs claimed 1159 MT destroyed and 1724 damaged; 124 tanks destroyed and 96 damaged. 15 hundred sorties were flown and 25 aircraft were lost. One of Gen Montgomery’s staff officers announced that the power of resistance of the German 7. Armee in Normandy had been smashed in a day of concentrated air attack. Although denied a chance at the big jackpot, our groups accounted for 17 tanks, 206 MT, 30 horse-dravm vehicles, 7 locomotives and 218 railroad cars. 2 troop concentrations, a motor transport park, 5 gun positions, and 3 marshalling yards were attacked. Combat sorties totaled 679; claims were 5-0-2 (air) and losses 7.
During the day, swiftly advancing columns of XV Corps reached the Seine at Mantes – Gassicourt and at Vernon : where they controlled important crossings of the river and major road and rail routes into Paris from the west. With 3rd Army units now on the Seine, a new and much bigger pocket was already well in process of formation even before the first had been completely liquidated. All the German troops south of the Seine were endangered as XV Corps began moving eastward along the river and even established bridgeheads on the north bank. Other 3rd Army spearheads were reported in the Paris suburb of Versailles, in the vicinity of Milly south of Paris, and nearing Melun on the Seine 26 miles southeast of the capital. To complete the picture of disaster for the Germans, it was revealed that Allied forces which had landed in southern France were 30 miles inland at one point and were closing in on the naval base of Toulon. Still a third pocket was now in the making, with US 7th Army moving northward between the Rhone River and the Alps toward a junction with our 3rd Army.
Paris falls to the Allied – August 19 1944
Our pilots flying over Paris on 19 August reported fires and explosions, indicating demolitions. Encirclement of the capital was now well under way. 3rd Army patrols were 12 miles north of the Seine at a point 30 miles northwest of the capital, while south of the city the enemy was taking up positions on high ground in vain attempts to check Gen Patton’s columns thrusting eastward. Air operations on this date were sharply curtailed by a cold front moving across our bases and target areas from west to east. Several successful missions were flown in the morning, but thefront closed down our bases in the afternoon, then moved into the target areas. Results included destruction of 20 Seine River barges and damage to 91 more; other ground targets destroyed or damaged included 18 motor vehicles, an armored vehicle, 2 locomotives, 9 railroad cars and 2 power launches.
Two gun positionswere attacked and a rail line cut. Combat sorties totaled 212 and reconnaissance sorties 34. Sharp aerial combat occurred, and 9 enemy aircraft were destroyed (8 of them in the air) against loss of 5 planes and pilots. Flying close cover to armored units in the Dreux – Mantes – Gassicourt – Chartres – Etampes area, 8 P-47s of 571st Group chased away 18 enemy fighters apparently dive-bombing 5 miles east of Dreux and destroyed two for no loss. While strafing FW-190s on the ground near Pontoise, 406th Group’s 513th Sq was bounced by a number of enemy fighters. When 512th Sq attempted to help, it in turn was bounced by 30 to 40 enemy aircraft at 8000 feet. The enemy kept some of his aircraft above the overcast, sending them down in twos and fours to take part in the fight. Final claims were 5-0-5 in air and destroyed on the ground for loss of 5.
August 20 1944
Shortly before dark on 20 August, pilots of 406th Group reported the main highway from Paris to Sezanne loaded with dispersed enemy motor vehicles headed east. Marshalling yards at Joigny and Sezanne were likewise loaded. Obviously the Germans were pulling out of Paris, and confirmation cane from many quarters, presaging the city’s fall. As 3rd Army units drove ahead to secure the line of the Seine both above and below Paris, the Germans said rioting had broken out in the wrench capital and threatened to shoot anyone disobeying orders. US patrols were reported 10 miles from the center of the city. West of Paris, too, the Germans were retreating, many crossing the virtually bridge less Seine River during the night by pontoon, by ferry, and even by swimming. At the ferry slips our planes dropped delay fused bombs set for detonation during the night, at the probable peak of the hurried, nocturnal exodus of supermen.
Rain and low ceilings limited combat sorties to 388 and recon, sorties to, 36. Road and rail transport provided the principal targets, and claims included 65 motor vehicles, 33 armored vehicles, 12 locomotives and 150 railroad cars destroyed or damaged. 7 rail lines were cut and 2 marshalling yards, 3 ferry landings and a machine-gun nest attacked. Claims in aerial combat were 6-0-1 and losses 3. Despite the weather, 362nd Group had a busy day providing cover to the 7th Armored Division and the 5th Infantry Division in the Dreux – Mantes – Gassicourt – Etampes – Chartres area. With frags, 500-PGP and strafing, they destroyed several tanks and attacked troops. Aircraft of this group also planted delay fused bombs at ferry landings on the Seine and accounted for all of the day’s claims against enemy aircraft. All the losses were also suffered by the 362nd. 8 P-47s of the Group’s 378th Sq were bounced by 12 ME-109s and 20 FW-190s at 5000 feet about 12 miles southwest of Paris at 1545-H. Despite the odds of 4 to 1, the Thunderbolts destroyed 6 and damaged 1 for loss of 2 planes and 2 pilots. A third P-47 was lost on a later mission. Covering the 5th Armored Division and 79th Infantry Division in the Mantes – Gassicourt – Seine River area, 355th Group destroyed or damaged several tanks, shot up barges carrying enemy tanks across the Seine, chased away two FW-190s and scored a direct bomb hit on a machine-gun nest marked by white smoke. Armed recces by 371st and 406th Groups caused the enemy considerable havoc in crowded marshalling yards and along his road and rail communications to the east and south.
21 August 1944
All combat aircraft of this command were grounded through out the day on 21 August by the worst weather of the month. A warm wave occurring in connection with a cold front gave rise to low ceilings and ran over the entire north portion of France, restricting air operations to a single uneventful reconnaissance sortie, flown along the Loire in the Angers area. Armored advance elements of 3rd Army meanwhile were reported in Sens, 65 miles southeast of Paris; east of Pithiviers, 50 miles south of the capital; and moving eastward from Orléans along the Loire.
August 22 1944
Increasing vulnerability of the German Air Force, driven from some of its best fields to landing grounds north and northeast of Paris, was demonstrated during 22 August when fighters of XIX Tactical Air Command destroyed 20 enemy fighters for loss of one. Complete claims were 16-3-1 in the air and 4-0-4 on the ground. 15 P-51s of 354th Group, on a fighter sweep in the Compiègne – Epernay – Sens. area, hit the jackpot, destroying 12 ME-109s without loss. 8 were destroyed in the air as they were taking off from a new grass field five miles east of Epernay. At Beauvais – Nivilliers, 4 ME-109s on the ground were destroyed by strafing. Two more victims were added by 362nd Group when one of its squadrons supporting the 7th Armored Division and 5th Infantry Division was bounced by 15 to 20 ME-109s at Mantes – Gassicourt.
On armed reconnaissance in the Maux – Chalons – Troyes – Melun area, 358th Group P-47s ran into 25 or more ME-109s just west of Chalons and claimed 4-2-1 for loss of one. Later, on a special mission to strafe Creil airdrome, the Group destroyed 2 ME-110 in the air and damaged three more of these twin-engined fighters and one HE-111 on the ground. Increasing vulnerability of the German Air Force, driven from some of its best fields to landing grounds north and northeast of Paris, was demonstrated during 22 August when fighters of XIX Tactical Air Command destroyed 20 enemy fighters for loss of one. Complete claims were 16-3-1 in the air and 4-0-4 on the ground. Flying 333 combat sorties, our aircraft dropped 16.8 tons of PGP bombs and 26 frag clusters, plus 18 leaflet bombs. 10 gun positions, an ammunition dump and a marshalling yard were attacked, and 120 railroad cars, 2 locomotives, 53 motor vehicles, and 5 tanks were destroyed or damaged. Reconnaissance sorties totaled 60.
One of the AA batteries of 3rd Army reported that the Germans were using the ancient fake dogfight trick. 2 FW-190swith no markings and 3 ME-109s with US markings simulated, aerial combat, then all suddenly dived and strafed a US column. 3rd Army was continuing its swift push to the east, with elements of the 4th Armored Division reported 15 miles beyond the crossing of the Yonne River at Sens. XV Corps units, patrolling along the Eure River and advancing northwest along the Seine toward Louviers, were encountering stiff resistance. In Paris, French patriots were reported using light artillery against the Germans.
August 23 1944
With the enemy endeavoring to give increased air support to his hard-pressed ground forces, especially along the Seine west of Paris, 3rd Army reported on 23 August that the 79th Infantry Division bridgehead in the Mantes – Gassicourt area was attacked by rocket planes intermittently during the day. Flying armed recon ahead of our columns thrusting east past Sens and Troyes, P-47s of 362nd Group had just dropped 8 500-PGP bombs on a gun position east of Joigny when Combat Command A of 4th Armored Division reported it was being strafed 12 miles northeast of Sens. The remaining bombs were jettisoned, and the Thunderbolts, from 9000 feet, bounced five ME-109s at 6500 feet, shooting down 2 and probably another for no loss. In all, this Command flew 463 combat sorties and 70 reconnaissance sorties on 23 August, despite poor visibility, cloud and showers over bases and targets during part of the day. Claims against enemy aircraft totaled 5-4-7 for loss of two (one of which was to flak).
The day’s bag of ground targets included 114 motor vehicles destroyed, 38 others damaged, 63 horse-drawn vehicles destroyed or damaged, and 4 tanks stopped or fired. 4 gun positions, two ammunition dumps and a marshalling yard were successfully attacked, and our aircraft accounted for 11 locomotives and 64 cars destroyed or damaged. A roundhouse and four lines were cut. As Gen Patton’s forces meanwhile continued to meanwhile continued to advance,having crossed the Seine both above and below Paris, word was received that the French capital was now in Allied hands, having fallen to French Forces of the Interior. 3rd Army’s 2nd French Armored Division (now placed under 1st Army control) subsequently entered the capital, together with 1st Army’s 4th Infantry Division. The great encircling thrust by Gen Patton’s Army had caused the capital to fall like the proverbial ripe plum. Another phase was now at an end.
August 24 1944
Low ceilings and poor visibility over the target areas in the vicinity of Paris restricted our combat activity on 24 August to 12 missions totaling 164 sorties. The weather also handicapped the enemy and probably accounted for the fact that no German planes were seen. The rocket-firing 513th Squadron of 406th Group launched 12 of its projectiles at 105-MM guns near Nantes and claimed 4 destroyed and 2 damaged. Five 88-MM guns also were attacked. Other aircraft of the 406th, on armed reconnaissance southeast of Paris, destroyed 40 carts of an ammunition convoy and disrupted railroad traffic. Along the Loire between Orléans and Tours 371st Group likewise did a little “working on the railroad”. The only other group able to operate to any extent was the 362nd, which flew cover to the 7th Armored Division and the 5th Infantry Division in the Melun area, destroying tanks and motor vehicles incidentally dropped leaflet bombs. No high-explosive bombs were carried out, rockets and strafing destroyed or damaged a total of 55 railroad cars, 2 locomotives, 68 motor vehicles, 3 tanks and armored vehicles, and 40 ammunition cars; 12 field gun positions were attacked and 2 headquarters left burning. 29 reconnaissance sorties were flown. On the ground, 3rd Army’s XII and XI Corps, southeast of Allied occupied Paris, continued their swift thrust to the east, while XV Corps, now operating under 1st Army, moved eastward to aid in entrapping German forces remaining south of the lower Seine.
Driving the Luftwaffe out of France – August 25 1944
This was the day that broke the back of the German fighter force in France. In aerial combat and in strafing attacks on enemy airfields, P-51s and P-47s of IX and XIX Tactical Air Commands destroyed a total of 127 planes (77 in the air and 50 on the ground). 11 others were probably destroyed and 53 damaged, making a total of 171 German planes whose destruction, probable destruction, or damaging was claimed. Losses of the two Commands totaled 27 aircraft. In Germany, too, the Luftwaffe suffered serious losses. 8th Air Force fighters, escorting heavy bombers, claimed 11 destroyed in the air and 40 on the ground. Total claims for 9th and 8th Air Force fighters during the day (both air and ground) thus came to 178 destroyed, 13 probably destroyed and 63 damaged – a grand total of 254 planes. XIX TAC’s share of the bag totaled 36-1-8 in the air and 18-4-0 on the ground, or 54-5-8, all told, against loss of 8 planes and 7 pilots.
P-51 pilots of 354th Group, flying fighter sweeps north and northeast of Paris with special attention to enemy airfields, had one of the biggest days in the history of this crack unit. All of the claims in aerial combat were theirs (36-1-8) and in addition they destroyed 13 single-engine fighters on the ground at fields near Beauvais and Reims. Operating by squadrons, they were always out-numbered; late in the day, for example, 12 P-51s fought 45 or more FW-190s and ME-109s north of Beauvais, claiming 15-0-5 and losing four. There were renewed evidences that the Luftwaffe was finding its bases in the Paris area too hot to hold. Our pilots reported that some of the enemy fighters sighted were carrying belly tanks and were headed east. Facilities at Romilly sur Seine, Melun – Villaroche, and Troyes were being destroyed at 3rd Army’s columns approached. Foremost mechanized cavalry elements were now about 15 miles east of Troyes, which meant they were approximately 100 miles southeast of Paris and 120 miles from the German border. Meanwhile, far to the west, VIII Corps began a determined attack upon beleaguered Brest, which was being heavily bombarded by sea and air.
Flying 632 combat sorties, the Command claimed the following results against ground targets in addition to the harvest reaped in the air : 266 motor vehicles, 4 tanks, 44 locomotives and 164 cars destroyed or damaged; 5 marshalling yards attacked and 5 lines cut; 3 field gun positions, 4 troop concentrations, an ammunition dump and 8 military buildings destroyed; 5 airfields attacked and 2 hangars destroyed. In anti-shipping operations off Brest, two naval vessels are claimed as destroyed and three naval and nine merchant vessels damaged. Four P-51s of 10th Reconnaissance Group flew artillery adjustment sorties for corps artillery at Brest, noting many hits on enemy gun positions and shipping. Reconnaissance sorties totaled 64.
August 26 1944
After his heavy air losses of the previous day, the enemy avoided combat with our fighters on 26 August and the day’s bag totaled only 2 enemy aircraft destroyed and one damaged, all three on the ground. Our groups on armed recces, patrols and armored column cover flew 528 sorties. Four planes were lost. Targets were successfully attacked both in the Brest area and in advance of our forces pushing on from southeast of Paris toward Germany. Results included 315 motor vehicles, 22 armored vehicles, 75 horse-drawn vehicles, 3 motorcycles, 8 locomotives and 106 railroadcars destroyed or damaged; 16 rail lines cut, a bridge and 9 merchant vessel damaged and 10 barges destroyed or damaged. Attacks also were made on 30 enemy buildings, a radar station, five strong points, 1 oil tank, a factory and 3 airfields. Indications were seen that the enemy might bring jet-propelled fighters into action against our aircraft soon if he could muster sufficient numbers. A probable ME-262 twin-jet-propelled fighter was sighted by pilots of 405th Group on 25 August, and on the 26th the same group reported contrails at 20000 feet in the vicinity of Caen, traveling at an estimated speed of 500 miles per hour.
August 27 1944
With American forces now across the Marne River at two points near Meaux and advancing rapidly, German fighter bases along that historic river quickly became untenable and the remnants of the Luftwaffe in eastern France were forced to decamp. Enemy fighters were again conspicuously absent and the only claims in aerial combat were made by two tactical reconnaissance P-51s of 10th Reconnaissance Group, which were bounced by ME-109s between Verdun and Bar-le-Duc. Results : one ME-109 destroyed, one probably destroyed. Three more of the Command’s total losses of 8 planes during the day were suffered by the reconnaissance group. One was shot down by small-arms fire while directing artillery at Brest and two others failed to return from a mission in the Dijon area.
Supporting ground forces in the Brest area, 358th Group scored at least 9 direct bomb hits on 2 gun positions, put several Napalm bombs in a target area marked by smoke and damaged 3 merchant vessels. In connection with the burst attack, 362nd Group got 19 direct hits on 6 gun positions and other results were reported good to excellent by ground controller. One flight leader was reported killed apparently by our own artillery fire while flying at 30 feet. Considerable execution against enemy troops and transport was done by 406th Group, supporting ground forces in the Melun – Provins area with its rockets and guns; by 36th Group on a similar mission; by 363rd Group along highways east of Paris; and by 405th Group on armed recce south of the Loire. A rail-cutting project to cut off main escape route of Germans entrapped south of the Loire by 3rd and 7th Army successes was begun by the Command, and 371st Group reported cutting railroad tracks at 5 places in the Chateauroux – Besancon area. In all, 650 fighter-bomber sorties and 63 reconnaissance sorties were flown. Results included 44 tanks and other armored vehicles, 379 motor vehicles, 238 horse-drawn vehicles, 11 locomotives, 45 railroad cars and 10 vessels or barges destroyed or damaged. 49 gun positions, 9 troop concentrations, a headquarters, an ammunition dump, 12 barracks buildings, 2 flak towers and a tunnel were attacked and 5 rail lines cut.
August 28 1944
US troops of 1st and 3rd Armies had crossed the Marne on a 90 mile front between Paris and Chalons and were pressing on toward the Aisne. Our pilots over Chateau-Thierry in the morning reported the streets filled with American soldiers and equipment. Low cloud during much of the day restricted operations to 196 fighter-bomber and 88 reconnaissance sorties. In the Dijon – Besancon area the enemy was seen to be making strenuous efforts to escape northeastward toward Germany, and during the brief periods of flying weather effective attacks were made on these transport targets, in edition to the usual fighter sweeps and direct support both to forces attaching Brest, and those advancing eastward in the area of the Marne. On the armed reconnaissance mission in the Besacon – Dijon area, the 405th Group destroyed 11 enemy aircraft by bombing and strafing an airfield near Neufchateau. A train nearby was seen to be carrying 13 JU-88 fuselages, and 11 of these were destroyed the other two being damaged.
Results of the day’s attacks included 34 locomotives, 148 freight cars, 158 motor vehicles and 6 tanks destroyed or damaged; 2 lines cut; 4 gun positions, a command post, 5 river craft and an airfield attacked, and 7 hangars destroyed. Against enemy aircraft our claims were 3-0-0 in air and 11-0-0 on the ground. 3 of our planes were lost. Tactical reconnaissance P-51s accounted for one of the claims and one of the losses.
August 29 1944
Because of completely unflyable weather on this date, only one combat mission was undertaken and no targets were attacked. The pilots being forced to return to base 30 minutes after take-off. The day’s total activities consisted of these 8 abbreviated combat sorties and 4 reconnaissance sorties. Despite rain and mud, Allied advances continued, both in the 1st and 3rd US Army areas east and northeast of Paris and in the British – Canadian sector north of the lower Seine where advances were threatening Rouen, Le Havre and the whole “flying bomb” coast. American forces had secured the line of the Marne as far east as Vitry le François, only about 100 miles from the German border. Chateau-Thierry and other battlefields in the Aisne – Marne area which had been fought over for months in the previous world war had been captured within a few hours by US armored columns.
August 30 1944
A cold front was sweeping over Western Europe, and the resulting low ceilings and rain continued to blot out our bases and target areas. As a result, all XIX TAC operations were scrubbed with the exception of two weather recces flown by 10th Reconnaissance Group. 3rd Army, meanwhile, continued its advances, with XX Corps troops beyond Reims and XII Corps advancing eastward from Chalons sur Marne and Vitry le François. Control of XIX TAC operations now shifted far eastward from the vicinity of Laval to a new advance headquarters site in the Foret de Machenoir, between Orléans on the Loire and the airfield at Chateaudun.
August 31 1944
With the close of the month, four Allied armies were advancing rapidly north and northeastward on a front extending from the mouth of the Seine to the Meuse River at Verdun, 60 miles from the German border. On the eastern end of the front, 3rd had crossed the Meuse and were sweeping on past Verdun and Commercy, in the area of the Argonne Forest and St Mihiels. 3rd Army had now taken more than 70000 prisoners. To the west, 1st US Army forces had freed Laon and were in the outskirts of Sedan, 8 miles from the Belgian frontier. Still farther west the British had taken Amiens and established a strong bridgehead across the Seine. The Canadians, advancing from Rouen, were within 17 miles of Dieppe.
In support of 3rd Army the fighter-bombers of this Command on 31 August flew 18 missions comprising 313 sorties, despite continued bad weather, dropping 60.7 tons of GP bombs 39 tanks of Napalm and 16 leaflet bombs. Twenty rockets were discharged and considerable strafing done. There no claims against enemy aircraft and no losses. Results included 134 motor vehicles and 8 tanks destroyed. Attacks were made on 37 gun positions, a headquarters, a troop concentration, 2 strong points and a barracks and 22 roads were cut. Our aircraft were now frequently flying over German territory as Gen Patton’s 3rd Army approached the borders of the Reich. As the month ended, it could be said with truth that the battle for France had ended and the battle for Germany had begun.
During August the groups under operational control of this Command flew a total of 12292 fighter-bomber sorties. One 114 aircraft were lost, but many of the pilots bailed out safely over friendly territory or found their way back through enemy lines. Our pilots claimed 163 enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat and 66 on the ground.
Complete claims follow :
Air Combat : Destroyed Enemy Aircraft : 163
Air Combat : Probably Destroyed Enemy Aircraft : 16
Air Combat : Damaged Enemy Aircraft : 34
Ground : Destroyed Enemy Aircraft : 66
Ground : Probably Destroyed Enemy Aircraft : 4
Ground : Air Combat : Damaged Enemy Aircraft : 28
Figures give only a partial picture of the results obtained during this crowded month of operation, since smoke, dust and the fleeting nature of fighter-bomber attack frequently make assessment impossible. After many attacks which pilots dismissed simply as “NRO” (no results observed), ground troops reported “guns silenced” or “results excellent” and were seen to move forward.
Pilots’ claims against ground targets include destruction or damaging of the following :
4058 motor vehicles
466 tanks and other armored vehicles
598 horse-drawn vehicles
2956 railroad cars
155 barges and other river craft
18 merchant vessels
8 naval vessels
Stationary targets attacked by bombing or strafing, or both, include the following :
222 gun positions
39 marshalling yards
11 ammunition dumps
13 fuel and supply dumps
3 radar installations
44 troop concentrations and bivouac areas
58 barracks and other enemy buildings
122 rail lines were cut
Reconnaissance aircraft flew a total of 599 missions during August, of which 522 were successful.
Missions flown consisted of the following :
Tactical Reconnaissance 329
Photo Reconnaissance (Day) 258
Night Photo 12
In awarding Gen Weyland the Bronze Star, Gen Patton commended the XIX Tactical Air Command as follows :
The superior efficiency and cooperation afforded this army by the forces under your command is the best example of the combined use of air and ground troops I have ever witnessed. Due to the tireless efforts of your flyers, large numbers of hostile vehicles and troop concentrations ahead of our advancing columns have been harassed or obliterated. The information passed directly to the head of the columns from the air has saved tine and lives. I am voicing the opinion of all the officers and men in this army when I express to you our admiration and appreciation for your magnificent efforts.
For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be
Thank You for your support !
(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)