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Eighth Air Force Insignia

Eighth Air Force Insignia

Donald Blakeslee receives DSC from Gen. Eisenhower

Colonel Donald Blakeslee receives the Distinguished Service Cross from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower April 11, 1944. Colonel Blakeslee was commander of the first fighter squadrons to reach Berlin during World War II.

P-51A Mustang in flight

P-51A Mustang in flight

photo from Joe Clark, son of Gabby's wingman

Gabby Gabreski, ace of the 56th FG

John C. Meyer

John C. Meyer, ace of the 352nd FG, image courtesy of 352nd FG Ass'n

Aces of the Eighth Air Force in World War Two

By , June, 1999. Updated April 16, 2012.

In the European Theater, ETO, the U.S. Eighth Air Force started bombing Germany heavily in 1943. In that year, the first American Fighter Groups - the 4th, 56th, and 78th arrived, and their fighter pilots flew P-47 Thunderbolts. They shot down many enemy aircraft, and when properly handled, the "Jugs" more than held their own in aerial combat against the German Fw-190s and Bf-109s. Many 8AF aviators became aces flying P-47's.

But the bombers needed fighter planes to escort them all the way, into the heart of Germany. When the P-51 Mustangs began to fly combat missions in early 1944, they proved that they could do it all: they could fly all the way to Berlin and back, they could fly faster and out-dogfight the German fighters. Thus Herman Goering's famous comment: "When I saw Mustangs over Berlin in March, 1944, I knew the jig was up."

Following are the stories of many of the highest scoring P-47 and P-51 aces of the ETO, including some from the 354th Fighter Group, which, to be precise, was part of the Ninth Air Force.

Also, be sure to take a look at the Clark Gallery, a collection of high quality photographs, donated to this website, by the family of 1st Lt.  James Clark, a pilot with the 56th Fighter Group.  There are many pictures of Clark, Gabreski, and other pilots, as well as scans of a few contemporary  documents. And, for another dose of reality, read below, where a veteran flier comments on the veracity of a piece of newspaper puffery that found its way onto this site.

Summary Table of Top Aces

Name Kills Medals Unit Plane
Francis "Gabby" Gabreski 28.0 DSC 56FG P-47
Robert S. Johnson 27.0 DSC 56FG P-47
George Preddy 26.8 DSC 352FG P-51
John C. Meyer 24.0 DSC 352FG P-51
Ray Wetmore 22.6 DSC 359FG P-51
David C. Schilling 22.5 DSC 56FG P-47
Dominic Gentile 21.8 DSC 4FG P-47
Fred J. Christensen 21.5 SS 56FG P-47
Walker M. 'Bud' Mahurin 20.8 DSC 56FG P-47
Glenn E. Duncan 19.5 DSC 353FG P-47
Duane W. Beeson 19.3 DSC 4FG P-47
Leonard 'Kit' Carson 18.5 SS 357FG P-51
Glenn T. Eagleston 18.5 DSC 354FG P-51
Walter C. Beckham 18.0 DSC 353FG P-47
John Godfrey 18.0 SS 4FG P-51
Col. Hubert 'Hub' Zemke 17.8 DSC 56FG P-47
Lt. Col. John B. England 17.5 SS 357FG P-51
John F. Thornell Jr. 17.2 DSC 352FG P-51
Henry W. Brown 17.2 DSC 355FG P-51
Robert W. Foy 17.0 SS 357FG P-51
Gerald W. Johnson 17.0 DSC 56FG P-47
Ralph 'Kid' Hofer 16.5 DFC 4FG P-51
Clarence 'Bud' Anderson 16.3 LM 357FG P-51
Donald M. Beerbower 15.5 DSC 354FG -
Don Blakeslee 15.5 DSC 4FG P-51
Richard A. Peterson 15.5 SS 357FG P-51
William Whisner 15.5 DSC 352FG P-51
Jack T. Bradley 15.0 DSC 354FG -
James A. Goodson 15.0 DSC 4FG P-47
Donald Bochkay 14.8 DFC 357FG P-51
Joe H. Powers Jr. 14.5 SS 56FG P-47
Bruce Carr 14.0 DSC 354FG -
Kenneth H. Dahlberg 14.0 DSC 354FG -
Wallace N. Emmer 14.0 DSC 354FG -
Arthur F. Jeffrey 14.0 SS 479FG -
Donald Strait 13.5 SS 356FG P-51
Donald S. Bryan 13.3 DSC 352FG P-51
George Carpenter 13.3 DFC 4FG P-47
Willard W. Millikan 13.0 DSC 4FG P-47
Glennon T. Moran 13.0 SS 352FG P-51
Robert W. Stephens 13.0 SS 354FG -
Felix D. Williamson 13.0 DSC 56FG P-47
Lowell K. Brueland 12.5 DSC 354FG -
Paul A. Conger 12.5 DSC 56FG P-47
James C. Stewart 12.5 DSC 56FG P-47
James Howard 12.3 MOH 354FG P-51
Quince L. Brown 12.3 - 78FG -
Clyde B. East 12.0 - 10PRG P-51
George W. Gleason 12.0 - 479FG P-51
Howard Hively 12.0 - 4FG P-51
Pierce W. McKennon 12.0 - 4FG P-51
Robin Olds 12.0 SS 479FG P-51
Michael J. Quirk 12.0 - 56FG P-47
LeRoy A. Schreiber 12.0 - 56FG P-47
Nick Megura 11.8 - 4FG P-51
Chuck Yeager 11.5 DSC 357FG P-51
Louis Norley 11.3 - 4FG P-51
Other Noted ETO Aces Kills Medals Unit Plane
Urban Drew 6.0 - 361FG P-51
Frank Gailer 5.5 - 357FG P-51
Archie Harrington 7.0 - RCAF Mosquito

John C. Meyer - Four-Star Ace

Reproduced with permission of Air Force Magazine, copyright protected
Valor May 1989, Vol. 72, No. 5, by John L. Frisbee, Contributing Editor

There's an old saying among fighter pilots, "I'd rather be an ace than a general." John Meyer was both.

Several World War II fighter aces who remained on active duty became general officers, but only a few reached four-star rank. One of them was John C. Meyer, fourth-ranking US ace in Europe, with 24 confirmed air-to-air victories, including one German jet. Of the top 15 Eighth Air Force aces, Meyer also was the leader in aircraft destroyed on the ground, the most hazardous of fighter operations.

During the Korean War, Meyer, then a colonel with the 4th Fighter Wing, added two jet victories to become the seventh-ranked all-time Air Force ace. He was the only Air Force officer to be three times awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, predecessor to the Air Force Cross and second only to the Medal of Honor.

Like all successful fighter pilots, John Meyer was an aggressive hunter with complete confidence in his own ability. He was also a smart pilot and an imaginative combat leader. One of his college professors said Johnny Meyer had the best mind of any student he ever taught at Dartmouth.

Meyer's career as a fighter pilot began in July 1940 when he graduated from flying school. He started by flying Iceland-based P-40s on fruitless convoy patrols. When the 352nd Fighter Group arrived in England during the summer of 1943, Meyer was in command of its 487th Squadron. He had earned a reputation as a no-nonsense commander, but he demanded no more of his men than he did of himself. That approach was to pay off in the highly disciplined arena of air combat. On Nov. 26, 1943, Major Meyer won his first victory, flying a P-47, and would score two more in the Thunderbolt.

For a mission on May 8, 1944, Meyer was awarded the first of his three DSCs. Leading a flight of eight P-51 Mustangs, to which the group had converted the previous month, he attacked a large formation of enemy fighters that was about to intercept a stream of Air Force heavy bombers. During the engagement, which dispersed the enemy fighters, Meyer and his wingman became separated from the rest of the flight. While climbing back to altitude, he sighted 15 enemy fighters closing on the bombers. Meyer attacked immediately, shooting down two Luftwaffe fighters and breaking up their attack. He then destroyed another fighter before heading for Bodney, the group's base in England, low on fuel and ammunition. Meyer, now a lieutenant colonel, was awarded an oak leaf cluster to the Silver Star for downing three Bf-109s and one FW-190 on Nov. 11, 1944. Ten days later, he earned his second DSC for leading 11 P-51s in an air battle east of Leipzig, against more than 40 enemy fighters. Meyer maneuvered his formation into position for a surprise attack, himself shooting down three FW-190s. In one case, he used the contrail of an FW-190 for cover, firing at the unseen enemy until he could see strike flashes through the contrail, then breaking off just before ramming the burning enemy plane.

Meyer was awarded his third DSC for a mission on Jan. 1, 1945, during the Luftwaffe's desperate mass strike on airfields in Belgium and Northern France. The 352nd Group, of which Meyer was then deputy commander, was operating temporarily from field Y-29, Asche, Belgium under IX Tactical Air Command. A man who had earned a reputation for "thinking like a German", Meyer had a hunch that the Luftwaffe might gamble on New Year's Day as a good day to catch the Allied airfields napping. He felt the enemy would believe a New Year's Eve hangover might have caused the pilots to sleep in that morning.

Meyer postponed the 487th Squadron's party one day, which proved to be a wise decision. As Meyer was about to lead 12 P-51s off the runway, the field was attacked by an estimated 50 enemy fighters. Taking off with full wing tanks, Meyer shot down one FW-190 just after he had raised his landing gear. Then, in a 45-minute running battle, he downed another FW-190. The 352nd was credited with destroying 23 enemy fighters that day. The superb actions of the 487th Squadron that day earned them a Distinguished Unit Citation.

On Jan. 9, 1945, after completing 200 combat missions, Meyer was en route to Paris to make a radio broadcast when he was seriously injured in an automobile accident that ended his World War II career. He would not see combat again until 1951 in Korea.

After Korea, Meyer served in Air Defense Command led SAC divisions, and commanded Twelfth Air Force. Later he was appointed director of operations on the Joint Staff, then was vice chief of staff of the Air Force before his final assignment as commander in chief, Strategic Air Command. He was the second fighter ace to command SAC, following Gen. Bruce Holloway who had been the leading ace in China during the early days of World War II. General Meyer retired in July 1974 and in December of the following year suffered a fatal heart attack.

Sources:


Ray Wetmore

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Captain Ray Wetmore flew a Mustang nicknamed Daddy's Girl with the 370th Fighter Squadron of the 359th Fighter Group, based at East Wretham, Norfolk. With 21.25 (22.6?) victories, 16 of them in Mustangs, he was the top scorer of the 359th. Lt. Wetmore scored on May 29, 1944, downing an FW-190 while on a bomber escort mission over Politz. Wetmore served two combat tours, which enabled him to witness the last gasps of the Luftwaffe's once mighty fighter force.

On November 27, he and his wingman, Lt. Robert York, became embroiled in a seemingly one-sided dogfight - the odds were 50 to one! Wetmore quickly called in help when two more gaggles of 100 fighters each were sighted. Unfortunately, the rest of the flight had aborted with engine troubles, so Wetmore and York stalked the massive force alone. When the enemy saw the size of the opposition, the hunters became the hunted. "We had to attack in self-defense." Wetmore said later.

With little choice remaining, the P-51s waded into the fighters, and they quickly reduced the odds by one apiece. A good burst with a 20 degree deflection shot brought Wetmore's second kill. He then turned into the attack of another Bf-109, and the pair twisted and turned as the respective pilots strove for the upper hand. Wetmore finally got the advantage, and shot off all his ammunition, whereupon his foe bailed out. Now defenseless, Wetmore bluffed for another ten minutes before extricating himself from the melee.

He followed this up with another big score on Valentine's Day 1945. Vectored by ground control onto enemy fighters near an aerodrome west of Dummer Lake, he sighted four FW-190s flying in line below him. He dived and shot down the last FW-190 in line. Firing at a second, he saw the pilot attempt to break and dive, but he had no altitude and snap rolled into the ground. Shooting down a third FW-190, Wetmore called to his wingman to take out the last one. Shots were exchanged before a fogged windscreen ruined the pilot's aim, and Wetmore finished off the German. Reforming to attack other FW-190s, a new P-51 joined the fray. Wetmore and the newcomer opened up, and both German pilots bailed out. Wetmore was credited with four downed and one shared.

For his final kill on March 15, he shot down the fourth and last Me-163 Komet to fall to the guns of Eighth Air Force Mustangs. Operating around Berlin, Wetmore spotted two Me-163s and he closed to 300 yards, amazed as he watched one of the rocket-fighters zoom upward. He followed as well as he could, and at 20,000 the Komet's engine flamed out. The Me-163 split-essed and dived, with Wetmore on its tail. As his ASI indicated over 600 MPH, he opened fire at 200 yards. His strikes chopped away part of the German's wing and the pilot took to his chute.

Wetmore was the highest scoring 8th AF ace in 1945. He continued in the USAF after the war, only to die when his F-84 crashed in February 1951.

Sources:


David C. Schilling

The third-ranking ace of the 56th Fighter Group, Col. Schilling achieved 22.5 air victories, plus 10.5 destroyed on the ground in his 132 combat sorties. Most of Schilling's victories were against Bf-109 and FW-190 single-engined fighters excepting one Me-110 and one Me-410 twin-engined destroyers. Schilling had 5 air victories in one mission, downing 2 Bf-109s and 3 FW-190s on December 23, 1944 plus multiple victories on four other missions. A P-47 pilot, he flew a presentation aircraft "Hewlett/Woodmere Long Island," decorated with "Hairless Joe," a Dogpatch cartoon character.

Born December 15, 1919, Leavenworth, Kansas. Attended Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Enlisted USAAC and accepted for pilot training, 1939. Commissioned 2nd Lt. in Air Reserves, May 1940. 8th Pursuit Group at Langley, Virginia and later Mitchel Field, New York. 56th FG at Charlotte AB, North Carolina, June 1941.

To Europe with 62nd FS/56th FG, Jan. 1943. Promoted to Major, C.O. 62nd FS. He participated in the first pre-operational 'circus' over Pas-de-Calais in April 8, 1943. On a late April mission, his plane was hit, knocking out his radio, but he returned without difficulty. He led many missions during this period, such as a fighter sweep over Ypres May 25 and a 'rodeo' of 4 fighter groups on August 23. He was made Group Executive Officer in August 1943.

He opened his scoring on October 2, 1943, downing a Bf-109 and an FW-190. Two days later, on a very big day for the 56th, he led a counter-attack on some Bf-110s as they tried to attack the B-17s, knocking down one himself. November 26 was another very successful day, the Group claiming 23 on a withdrawal support mission form Bremen; Schilling getting two 190s. Promoted to Lt. Colonel. Acting C.O. 56th FG, Jan. 11-19, 1944 (during Hub Zemke's absence). He continued his scoring throughout 1944, getting 3 FW-190s on September 21. After Zemke's capture, Schilling served as Group C.O. from Aug. 12, 1944 through Jan. 27, 1945.

His highest scoring day was December 23, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, when he downed 3 Bf-109s and 2 FW-190s in a huge dogfight with over 100 German fighters.

Decorations: Distinguished Service Cross with OLC, Silver Star with 2 OLC, Distinguished Flying Cross with 8 OLC, Air Medal with (?) OLC, British DFC, Croix de Guerre

Returned to USA and later C.O. of post-war 56th FG. Brought the 56th FG's P-80 jet fighters to the UK on the first USAF Trans-Atlantic Jet Flight, July 1948. Staff Officer HQ VIII AF, 1956. Killed in auto accident at Eriswell, Suffolk, England on Aug. 14, 1956.

Sources:


More USAAF ETO Aces: Duane Beeson, 'Kit' Carson, Henry Brown, William Whisner