Q: So let's turn to the Battle of the Bulge. Lasting from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945, it was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front. Beginning as a surprise attack, it ultimately involved three German armies and totaled more than a quarter-million German troops. American GIs would peak at 610,000, with 89,000 casualties—including 19,000 killed. It was the largest and bloodiest battle the US fought in WWII, and the second deadliest battle in our nation's history.
What role did you play in the battle?
A: The Germans dropped paratroopers, including supply chutes, on us about the 15th of December. On the 16th—the day of the surprise attack—the weather was too cloudy for flying. So instead I was out on a crew to pick up one of the supply chutes. I ended up wearing a piece of that Camo Silk for a scarf during the rest of the war.
But the next day, the 17th, fellow pilot Biff Hoffman and I were both in the air. We flew from daylight to dark. The wind was so strong that when we landed the ground crew had to catch the plane and hold it while it was being refueled. While that was happening, we'd grab a K ration and something to drink. Then it was right back in the air.
We had many targets of opportunity that day. Our S3 patched us through to different units that he thought could reach the targets and would be most effective. We fired our own Bn105mm, the 155mm's of the 78th Division, the 155mm Longtoms of corps, and for the tank column, Army 240 mm's.
Once my observer called for fire on a column of German Panzer tanks and supporting vehicles advancing along a depressed road, with forest on both sides of the road. With the lead tank knocked out, there was no way for the others to go around it. And then by taking out the last tank in line, all those in between were stuck. That allowed our artillerymen to go up and down the line destroying every one of them. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. I never saw such destruction.
The German report of the destruction of this column said that this was the true turning point of the Battle of the Bulge. It said that there were between 40 and 50 vehicles in the column. It also identified that it was a plane from the 62nd that was controlling fire.
Q: Astounding! And you and Hoffman were likely the only pilots in the air that day?
A: All other Liaison aircraft almost assuredly either stayed grounded or took off to the rear. Here's what I've been able to piece together. The 78th planes flew back to Raeren, Belgium. Just before being overrun by the enemy, the 99th planes flew out of Büllingen, Belgium. The 2nd planes were adjacent to the 99th airstrip, but they never got off the ground. Our artillery tried to destroy them, but the Germans captured four of the planes and flew them east later that week. So it seems we were likely the only two planes flying in the whole area.
In terms of documentation, commander Bennett's journal is kind of sparse for December. The month-end review gives a general idea of the unit's activities but does not mention pilots flying on December 17th. In all U.S. Army records or books written on the Bulge, my son has found reports of only one squadron of Hellcats and two short sorties of L Birds out that day.
My flight log, though, shows 6.5 hours.