|352d Fighter Group|
|Active||1942 - 1945|
|Branch||United States Army Air Forces|
|Part of||VIII Fighter Command|
|Garrison/HQ||European Theatre of World War II|
The 352nd Fighter Group was one of the most highly decorated USAAF Fighter Groups in World War II, producing many leading aces of the war. The 352nd was composed of three squadrons: (the 328th, 486th and 487th Fighter Squadrons). Once deployed to the European Theater of Operations (ETO), the group was eventually headquartered in Bodney, England before being forward deployed to Belgium and performed a variety of missions for the Eighth Air Force, but predominantly served as bomber escort. After the war the unit was transferred to the Washington D.C. Air National Guard and redesignated the 113th Fighter Group.
The 352nd Fighter Group was activated at Bradley Field, CT on October 1, 1942 and equipped with the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter. The initial squadrons assigned were the 21st and 34th squadrons (under the command of 1st Lt. John C. Meyer) that dated back to 1917 and had participated in the defense of the Philippines as well as the newly activated 328th The 21st and 34th later were redesignated as the 486th and 487th fighter squadrons on May 18, 1943.
The group absorbed new personnel moving several times from Bradley Field to Westover Field, MA in November and then to Trumbell, CT in January 1943 where it received the majority of personnel in late while continuing to acquire its personnel, supplies and aircraft to begin training for eventual deployment. Once aircraft were received and pilots proficient, the squadrons were assigned to alert duty over New York City operating out of La Guardia where pilots often performed acrobatic maneuvers on takeover much to chagrin of the tower, routinely buzzed Yankee Stadium and engaged in dogfights over the city thereby garnering attention of authorities. Shortly thereafter, likely due to their antics at La Guardia, the 328th was moved to Mitchel Field in February being joined by the 34th in March. The 21st was moved to Farmingdale, NY on March 8. Training was in its advanced phase when the group was reassembled at Westover Field, MA in late May in anticipation of deployment orders. The order to deploy arrived in June and the group moved to Camp Kilmer, NJ to prepare to embark aboard the ocean liner "Queen Elizabeth" leaving on July 1, 1943 for Scotland and service with the Eighth Air Force.
The first missions of the 352nd FG were flown on September 9, 1943 when the Thunderbolts flew an escort mission over the North Sea protecting B-17 Flying Fortress bombers returning from a raid over continental Europe. Skirmishes with the Luftwaffe were frequent, but it wasn't until November 26 when Major John C. Meyer of the 487th FS scored the Group's first victory over Europe - an Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. Meyer later became deputy commander of the 352nd during its most successful period of operations.
On April 8, 1944, the 352nd exchanged their radial-engined P-47s for sleek North American P-51 Mustang fighter planes. It was then that the Group adopted their unique blue nose marking. It is legend among aviation historians that the German Luftwaffe referred to the 352d as the "Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney." Whether this is true or not is irrelevant because indeed, the 352nd FG was undoubtedly successful. In the end, the Group flew nearly 60,000 combat hours in 19 months, claimed 519 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air (4th highest among the 15 groups of VIII Fighter Command), 287 on the ground and produced 26 aerial aces for losses in combat of 118 aircraft. Notable pilots of the 352nd include top scoring P-51 aces Major George Preddy and Col. John C. Meyer, Captain Donald Bryan, Lt. Robert "Punchy" Powell, Capt. John "Smokey" Stover, Capt. John Thornell, Capt. William C. Miller, and Capt. William T. Whisner.
One of the 352nd's greatest accomplishments was its huge victory over the Luftwaffe on January 1, 1945. In December 1944, the 352nd received orders to deploy to a remote field in Belgium designated "Y-29" and after arriving on the 22nd, began operating on the 24th. Weather was poor thereby hampering flight operations and the Battle of Bulge was raging nearby. Unknown to the Allies, the Luftwaffe was preparing a New Year's Day attack designated "Operation Bodenplatte" against sixteen forward deployed Allied airfields in the area. Similar to the preparations for the Battle of Bulge, the Luftwaffe had been quietly preparing and assembling virtually every available Luftwaffe fighter on the Western Front and had an estimated 800 fighters and fighter bombers ready to execute an attack when it was thought the Allies might be off guard following celebration of New Year's Eve. The concept was simple - a mass attack on newly established continental bases to destroy as many Allied aircraft on the ground and ease the pressure on the embattled ground forces engaged in the battle of the Bulge. However, many of the Luftwaffe pilots were poorly trained and did not have the experience necessary to battle seasoned Allied pilots.
John C Meyer had risen to be Deputy Commander of the 352nd by December and was now a lieutenant colonel. He suspected that the Germans might use New Year's Day as an opportunity to attack and decided to have Y-29 in readiness when the sun rose. While haggling with higher authorities at Ninth Air Force throughout the night, he ordered a squadron assigned to do a morning sweep and ordered the pilots not to engage in any alcoholic celebration the night prior. Although he did not get permission until 0800, he joined the 487th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd in the frigid cold of the snowy weather at 0530 preflighting their Mustangs and was sitting in the cockpit of the lead aircraft. As the Mustangs were awaiting take-off for the morning patrol, their airfield was overrun with Luftwaffe fighters from Jagdgeschwader 11.
Nevertheless, when the group of 50+ Bodenplatte aircraft showed up over Y-29, the 12 blue-nosed Mustangs of the 487 FS were cueing for take-off with Lt. Col. Meyer in the lead Mustang. While accelerating down the snow-packed runway, Lt. Col. Meyer opened the account shooting down a German fighter in a head-on pass as it tried to strafe him in his take-off roll. He began firing before his wheels fully retracted and downed his Fw-190 assailant. Though surrounded by strafing fighters, every one of the 487th FS got off the ground to meet their attackers.
In the battle that followed, 24 Luftwaffe fighters were destroyed by the 352nd FG. However, one pilot - Lt. Dean Huston - was forced to belly his P-51 after its cooling system was holed from the fire of zealous British anti-aircraft gunners. Two pilots of the 487th claimed 4 German fighters shot down. The 487th received the Distinguished Unit Citation. Meyer, Capt. Stanford Moats, and Capt. William T. Whisner, who scored his fourth while his Mustang was starting to overheat from battle damage, were each awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and four other pilots were award the Silver Star. Furthermore, the 352nd Fighter Group did not lose a single plane during the New Year's Day battle although one British Hawker Typhoon was destroyed due to a botched landing that night at Y-29.