Capt. Fred J. Christensen
56th FG Ace - 21½ Aerial Victories
By Stephen Sherman, Dec. 2002. Updated July 6, 2011.
On the 7th of July, 1944, Capt. Fred Christensen was leading the Thunderbolts of the 62nd Squadron on an escort mission. Passing over the Luftwaffe airfield at Gardelegen, he noticed some activity and dropped down for a better look. 35 aircraft lay in dispersal. He reversed the squadron's direction, turning it back for a strafing run.
But then about a dozen Ju 52's approached the field for a landing. The big and slow transports made tempting targets for Christensen's fighters, although their very slowness made it difficult to judge relative closure speed; it was easy for the fast Thunderbolts to overshoot them.
He approached the air traffic from above and picked off the next-to-last transport. He saw strikes on its left side; as he roared beyond it, his wingman witnessed its explosion. He instantly lined up a second target and fired at close range, setting it afire. A third Junkers was turning left and Christensen caught it with a deflection burst. He saw its right gas tanks burning. The pilot desperately tried to land, but fell short in a field.
Suddenly, as he tried for a fourth attack, his engine quit. He had run a gas tank dry. After switching tanks, his engine re-started, and Fred found another Ju 52 in his sights. Now barely 100 feet off the ground, he made a few hits, forcing the German pilot to try to evade. The transport nosed down sharply, too sharply, and crashed before it could pull out. Four down! He got behind a fifth airplane, moved in to extremely close range, and fired again, scoring many hits on the fuselage and wing roots. This plane also crashed as it tried to land.
Before it was over, he shot down two more. A total of six in one day, a feat matched by a handful of USAAF aces. They were his last of the war, bringing his total to 21½ confirmed aerial victories.
Born in Watertown, Mass. on , Frederick J. Christensen, Jr. attended Boston University and MIT before enlisting in the US Army Air Corps. After completing flight training in December, 1942, he was assigned to the 62nd Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group and was in Europe by the Fall of 1943.
He scored his first victory in November, a twin-engine Me-110 over Papenburg. As the 56th FG was flying a lot of missions, his score mounted steadily: a Bf-109 on December 1, an Fw-190 in January 1944, another Fw-190 in February, and his fifth victory, making him an ace, was a Bf-109 on February 11. By mid-April, he had been credited with 14½ kills.
After the war, Christensen served with the Massachusetts Air National Guard and the US Air Force Reserve. He retired as a Colonel in 1970. His honors include the Silver Star, DFC with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Air Medal with 2 OLC's.
For more about the P-47 aces of the 56th Fighter Group, check out Osprey's P-47 Thunderbolt Aces of the Eighth Air Force.