Saturday, June 27, 2015

Profile 104: FINSHED—"A-Bar" as flown by Newton Cobb, 364th FG

A-Bar” is complete, prints are signed and pilot “Newt” Cobb is happy.

So am I.  For an airplane with such an exciting tale to tell, it's really a pretty bland P-51.  No nose art, no victory markings.  And Newt is not an ace or a famous combat leader.  He was, however, one of the many late-war replacement pilots sent in to fill depleted ranks and mop-up the last moments of the war.  He was simply a work-a-day soldier doing his job.

But war doesn’t play favorites with whom it honors.  Or curses.

Hold that thought.

By April 13, 1945, everyone (aside from the most crazed zealots) knew WWII in Europe was over, at least in terms of who was going to win.   Nazi Germany was so utterly crushed, every bullet they fired against the advancing Allies was as much criminal as it was a symbol of stupid human vanity.

I heard the words from a vet regarding this time of obvious defeat, “Why didn’t they just stop?!”  It’s human nature, I guess.  “Pride” can be such a costly thing…

But that’s the point of total, committed war.  You don’t stop until the enemy is defeated.  Utterly and wholly.  And until that point, the bullets must fly.

So that morning at Honington Field of Eastern England, four flights of four P-51s of the 385th Fighter Squadron took off for a sweep against an airfield at Tarnewitz, Germany.  The place was a weapons-testing facility that specialized in testing of aircraft machine guns and anti-aircraft cannon.  Read that again. Sounds like a rather—shall we say—ominous target to attack?  It’s kind of like a dog catcher getting a call to nab a pack of wild dogs and the dispatcher shouts out, "By the way, they're attack-trained Dobermans."

You get where this is going, right?  Right.   For the 385th, the 16 P-51s "got going" east.

Click to enlarge.  But it wasn't a terribly long flight for Newt & Co.

According to Newt, the cloud ceiling was around 3,000 feet.  Not terribly low but enough to provide an opaque background that would silhouette the airplanes.   This is an important point because, if you’ve ever been hunting, you know that a Duck is a lot easier to see on a cloudy day than if it’s coming out of the sun.

Again, you know where this is going, right? And I won’t even bother detailing how “Intelligence” had briefed the pilots that the test facility was not well protected...

So, Blue Flight (of which Newt was the rear-most airplane of the flight of four) peeled out to unleash 24 blistering .50 cal machine guns against the enemy.   Coming in low, line abreast and guns blazing, the Mustangs faced an unexpected eruption of defensive fire. Not unlike a watering system on a golf course—only the water was a mist of 20mm and 40mm cannon fire.  

The Germans weren’t firing for the sake of nothing; Tarnewitz indeed had targets—a handful of aircraft were placed, semi-hidden around the airfield.  And then there's that reflex-thing that makes you hit back if someone hits you...it doesn't matter.  The "Intelligence" folk were dead wrong.

“This was it. I was going to die...”  Newt sighed in recollection.   Yet, the Flight made it through on account of their shattering surprise.  The German gunners had barely enough time to get their guns firing, let alone aim the things.

But then, a moment of insanity occurred in the form of, “Blue Flight, make another pass.”  The Squadron Commander who observed from one of the 12 Mustangs orbiting ‘on top,’ made the call.  Newt recalled,  “For what?! The war was almost over!  Why risk this?!”   

Debate over "orders" was out of the question.  Blue Flight regrouped and formed up, again in line-abreast formation, for that ‘another pass.’  Passing a tree line that surrounded the field, the Germans responded with another fusillade of fire.  Accurate fire, too because every airplane in the Flight got hit.  Newt got the worst of it.

“A 40mm locked onto me.  I could hear it and see it; black puffs of smoke.  I (tried zig-zagging) and all of a sudden I heard a loud explosion and the sound of tearing metal - one third of my right wing was gone!”

And then another round hit.  This time, it sliced open the Mustang’s belly and severed the fibula of Newt’s left leg.  “I was fortunate it didn’t hit the tibia too as, without a (full) right wing, I had to hold full left-rudder to keep the airplane from snap-rolling onto the deck.”

Ok, picture this:  a P-51 Mustang, 350 miles per hour, on the deck, wing shredded and blood spurting from Newt’s snapped leg...and all of it happening that fast—BOOM!   There is no pain, no consideration, no time to do anything but flinch-react.

This isn’t like a blowout on the interstate.  It’s like losing an entire wheel on a Colorado mountain pass at 70 miles an hour.

“I kept control of the airplane,” Newt stated soberly.  “And it was such a shame.  A brand new airplane, too.”   

Again, the speed of the attack was crucial in that, a second later, the wounded man and his machine had hurtled out of sight.  Of course that made little difference to the urgency of the matter.  With a boot full of blood and a dying airplane, Newt knew he had to put down, quickly.  In a few moments he’d be dead from blood loss.
I tried to draw this JUST as the prop tips slice the grass...
In a gentle, terrible arc, Newt held his fractured leg hard against the rudder pedal and coaxed his wounded Mustang towards a farm he’d spotted.  Too low to bail, he tightened his harness and bellied-in at 150 miles per hour.  The crash was violent.

“As it hit the ground, that scoop underneath me dug in and I slammed forward, dislocating my shoulder.”  With the dust still wafting to the ground, Newt tried to apply a tourniquet to his leg but couldn’t on account of his splayed arm.  Clambering out of the dead airplane, he staggered as four men approached.  “I held out my (.45 calibre) holster in a signal I was surrendering.”

The four men turned out to be French and Russian prisoners who’d been pressed into working on the farm.  Removing Newt's own belt, one of the prisoners made a tourniquet and clamped the blood flow shut.
Can you imagine stamping down on your leg with half of it broken in two?
“A piece of (the 40mm round) was stuck in my leg.  I reached to pull at it but one of the men said, “Nix! Nix!” and pushed my hand away.  He took a handkerchief, pulled it out and pocketed it as a souvenir.  A Brit Florin* fell out of my pocket then and he took that too.   A young boy in Hitler Youth** uniform showed up on a bicycle and I told him to call the Luftwaffe.”

Newt was hoisted onto an oxcart, wheeled into a barn on the farm and placed on a mound of hay.  Left alone for a brief moment, Newt began to tear up his identification papers and stuff them into the hay but was caught.

“One of the men, a big one, had my .45.  He cocked it, placed it against my head and shouted, “Vo ist das papia?!  Vo ist das papia?!” Or, “What were you hiding?!”

Suddenly, “ACHTUNG!”  

A Luftwaffe Captain entered the barn and all stood at attention.  Of course, the .45 was now lowered.  Taking the weapon from the Russian, the Captain extended his hand to Newt and stated (in a British accent no less), “I am Doctor Straub.  How do you do?  You are Canadian?”

Newt declined and responded, "American."  As the majority of ‘enemy’ soldiers in the area were Canadian, Newt’s nationality was a non sequitur.  Still in possession of his military ID, Newt handed it to the officer. 

A few moments of study, silence…and the German stated, “You are from Panama.  I was the ship doctor on the Bremen (when it docked there).  Pier 18.”

The SS Bremen.  Newt was just a kid when he'd met Dr. Straub aboard the ship.
Well what do you know.  Newt knew the guy!*** (read note below)

Though amazed by coincidence, Newt was not happy about it.  With his leg beginning to pound with pain, the weight of reality sunk in.  He was now a Prisoner of War.  Panama, childhood memories and past smiles meant very little.

It was a truly stupid moment;  that late in the war, that useless of a target and that apparent foolishness of a command.  In the span of a few moments, Newt’s life had jumped a handful of fate’s streams to end up in a place he couldn’t have imagined.  Carried into the Captain’s staff car, he was driven to the airfield hospital.

Here, he met the young Wehrmacht soldier who—via telling the story to Dr. Straub—had likely been the trigger man against Newt.  The German was excited to meet Newt and claim his ‘victory.’  There was, of course, no excitement for the wounded Cobb.  Though he was indeed in a hospital, priority of treatment went to the Germans, who—all things considered—were struggling to care for themselves, let alone an American pilot.   But, the medical staff, seemingly unbound by the allegiances to Nazism were at least able to apply a crude version of mercy.  In meeting with the commanding doctor (a General, no less), Newt was given a simple treatment of logic—“I am a doctor and you are my patient.  If you act like a patient, I will treat you like a doctor.  But if you do not act like a patient, I will treat you like a prisoner.”

Newt was in no place to do anything but accept the Doctor's deal.  And the Doctors kept their end of the deal, too.  Hitler’s ‘elite’ soldiers, the SS, made visits to the hospital looking for allied prisoners healthy enough to take back to the prison camps.  Attention to Newt was deftly averted, though, as Newt describes, his wounds made it easy for the medical staff to intercede on his behalf.

“I remember a nurse.  Monica.  She came in, pulled away the blanket over my leg and gagged.  “Das stinkt!” she said.”  Gangrene had set into Newt’s leg.  In other words, flesh was rotting on the bone. And since the target at Tarnewitz remained, the air raids persisted.  Each time, a guard (whom Newt remembered had the name of Kurtz) had to carry him down three flights of stairs to the safety of the basement.  One can only imagine the scene of the German orderly hoisting the reeking prisoner down the steps…

“The doctors told me that my leg had to come off.” Newt stated matter-of-factly.  “They didn’t have penicillin. Infections like mine didn’t just stop by itself.  (On the day the Germans fled the hospital) I was reminded to tell the liberators that my leg had to come off immediately.”

This time, however, fortune favored Newt.  The Americans arrived with penicillin and a few injections and proper care later, Newt’s leg began to heal.  It was a long process that didn’t end until back in the states at Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

“I was out of place there,” Newt remembers. “It was a plastic surgery hospital and most of the guys there had burns or extreme disfiguring.  My heart went out to them.  But, (today) I think about this and see how they gave that for the freedoms we all can enjoy.”

“Break break!” (as an F-4 pilot taught me to say a few years ago to indicate that the subject is changing).

On one hand, the value of these stories is interesting because they’re so dramatic.  Newt’s has it all—guns, explosions, tragedy, drama, humanity, redemption…  However, I’d like to offer these stories have an even greater value because they, in spite of incredible circumstances, are also so ordinary.  Remember, Newt, the commanding general, Kurtz, Monica, the Squadron Leader…they're are all normal people, doing work that—after a few clicks of time—dissolve into a greater spectrum of life.

That guy at work?  The new customer at the window?  The owner of the business?  The doctor tapping your knee?  Who knows if that was once a Monica.  Or Straub.  Or...

Please don’t consider these just war stories.  They’re life stories, too.

By the way, Doctor Straub and Newt kept in contact, exchanging Christmas cards and well-wishes every year until Sraub died a few years ago.

The picture immediately below is of Newt’s dresser.  And that’s a picture of Straub.  And that's a picture of Newt and his bride.  And at the very end of this post, that's Newt, quite happy with his work-a-day P-51 drawing. 

To me, however, it's anything but work-a-day.  
Newt's dresser top.  Yeah, that guy in the German army uniform is Dr. Straub.
Thank you to the reader who hooked me up with this story.  It made me almost as happy as Newt was to tell it. 
Newt and my drawing of his P-51.  "This" is the coolest part of my gig.
*A Florin was another name for a higher-value coin.  

**Hitler Youth were a state-run program to indoctrinate young boys into the ideals of Nazism.


***Why was Newton Cobb in Panama?  Good question.  I asked Newt's son about that and this is what he wrote:  Dad was born and living in Memphis when his father passed away. It was during the depression and he was 8 at the time.  His mother, he and his brother moved in with her sister and her husband Captain Sam Fairchild (US Army) who was commanding a CCC Camp.  (Note:  the CCC was short for Civilian Conservation Corps, a work-program of the government designed to put Depression-affected Americans to work).

Shortly thereafter Cpt. Fairchild was transferred to Ft. Clayton in thePanama Canal Zone and Dad, his mother and brother went along as dependents. His mother married an optometrist in Panama who was a German National and that is how dad came to get a tour of the Bremen when it docked at Pier 18 in Panama.  Dad attended Balboa High School in the CZ and went into the Army Air Corps from there.  After the war he returned to the CZ where he ultimately retired and moved to Austin Texas.  

PROFILE 106: IN PROGRESS— "0641" as flown on February 18, 1973


Two things.

1.  This isn't the "Hanoi Taxi."  

Oh, it's very similar to the more-famous C-141 that flew the first group of Vietnam War POW's out of Ha Noi on February 12, 1973...but it's not that airplane.

See, in 1973 there were nearly 600 American POWs were released from the North Vietnamese prison system and it took more than one sortie to bring them home.  50-some shuttle flights between Ha Noi and Clark AFB (Philippine Islands) took place over the rest of February through March 29th.

From what I've read and heard, the emotion of seeing this giant symbol of America on the ramp of Gia Lam Airport was initially stunning but culminated into an eruption of pure joy at the first sensation of flight.  Home.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have never been tested as these men were simply can't imagine what it must have been like.  I suspect the photo below doesn't even come close to capturing it.

American POWs cheer as their C-141 heads toward home.  Source:  U.S. Air Force

2.  Though this particular post is short, it's going to be a long story.

It's going to be a while before I can post again but...please.  Stay.  Tuned.

And to the person who put together the video below, email me.  


PS - because more than a few of you are capable cyber-sleuths, I'm posting the progress-shot of the artwork.  The serial number is accurate.   ;)



Profile 105: IN PROGRESS—SDANG F-51


Behold!  The F-51 of the SDANG!

"The what?!" you say?

On the outside chance that you're not a total history nerd, an "F-51" is the same as "P-51" except that the "F" reflects the refreshed aircraft naming convention adopted after the formation of the Air Force as a separate branch of the military in 1947.

If you're ever on a game show and the million-dollar question is somehow tied to knowing when to call a Mustang "F-51" or "P-51," look for the horizontal red stripe in the 'Star'n Bar' insignia.  Better yet, have a look below.  It's the F-51 as flown by Hank Snow of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Korea, circa 1952.   The red stripes in the insignia should be pretty clear (in spite of the fact that my Mustang-drawin' skills have improved substantially since I drew Hank's F-51 a few years ago!).

Hank Snow's F-51, "Lil' Warrior."  The name was his crew chief's idea.

Anyway, I am bringing this point up to emphasize that the Mustang was still a bona-fide war plane even into the jet-powered 1950s.   In fact, if you click the link below, it'll take you to a little bit of Hank's Korean War guncam footage.  I don't know if it was filmed while flying "Little Warrior," but I do know that he was flying an F-51 at the time.



As for the word, "SDANG," that stands for South Dakota Air National Guard. The bureaucratic structure was formed by WWII ace and legend Joe Foss in 1946, with delivery of aircraft taking place the next year.

If you live in South Dakota—which I figure you don't as the state only contains about 800,000 people—you know there are four things that make the residents swell with pride:

1. Mt. Rushmore.
2. Enduring the weather.
3. Pheasants and Walleyes.
4. "Our Guard."

Of course, South Dakota operates an Army National Guard in addition to the winged variety.  But, the powers-that-be have decided to make the '51 a symbol for...well...I can't say right yet.  However,  when I post my finished rendering*, it'll also come with a story that might inspire you to do something similar in your hometown.

*So far, though this Mustang warrants an "F" it's definitely my best Mustang to-date.   I can't wait to display it along with the cool back-story.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Alden Rigby - 1923-2015 (long, slow salute)


Alden Rigby, 352nd FG ace died this past May 3 at his Utah home.

I drew his airplane - click here.  But Alden was more than just an 'interview' to my family.  He remains the example of what Class looks like.

Please read his obituary:

One of the Greats of that "Greatest Generation", Alden Peter Rigby, Maj. USAF Ret., passed into history May 3, 2015 at his home in Bountiful UT. He was born January 4, 1923 to Martin and Elva Rigby in Fairview UT. He married the love of his life and eternal companion of 73 years, Eleen Barker, June 3, 1942 in the Manti Temple.

He served his country heroically as an ace fighter pilot flying P-51s in the ETO, earning the Silver Star, DFC, Air Medal with 21 OLC along with many other awards.

He served again during the Korean War with the Utah National Guard and retired from the service in 1978. He was a supervisor with the Federal Aviation Admin., and was responsible for setting up the air traffic grid for the western U.S. In 2010, in recognition of his war service and many contributions in the field of aviation, Alden was inducted into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame at Hill AFB.

He served in many church positions including missions with Eleen to India/Sri Lanka and the Jerusalem Center in Israel. He was a sealer in the Salt Lake and Bountiful Temples for 30 years, performing over 2000 marriages. He valued his unwavering testimony of the Gospel and was an example to all. He leaves behind a legacy of much love, kindness, hard work, selflessness, generosity, humility, and so much more.

Alden has friends without number from all around the world and the Rigby home was open to many visitors.  
Alden is survived by his wife, Eleen and their four children, Jerilyn (Al Drummond), Larry (Susan), Kevin (Estelle), and Greg (Faye), 25 grandchildren and 67 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held May 8,(VE Day) 2015 at the Oak Hills Ward, 455 S. 1200 E. Bountiful, UT. at 11:00am. A viewing will be held between 9:30 and 10:30 am on the day of at the church and the evening before between 6:00pm - 8:00pm at Russon Bros. Mortuary 295 N. Main, Bountiful, UT. Online guest book at www.russonmortuary.com.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Primary Children's Hospital.
The full obituary is here.

But, did you catch the line—"...friends without number from all around the world..."?  If that isn't something anyone would want in their obituary, I don't know what it is.

Alden—wherever you are, it's a great day because it's got to be the best Eternity has to offer.

In the meantime, the rest of us mortals can click here and listen to him tell it like it was.

Alden signs an autograph.  That's Eleen behind him smiling; she's one of the women who ranked the name on the nose of his P-51 fighter, "Eleen & Jerry."  Which brings up the question, "Who's Jerry?"  That'd be his first-born daughter, Jerilyn.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Profile 103: FINISHED—"Mary Pat" as managed by MSgt John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BS

Say hello to "Mary Pat," a B-17F that flew 59 flawless missions against Nazi Germany, circa July 1943 through February of '44.

Yeah, I can hear now the whistles of disbelief from all you History Geeks out there.  But for those who may not be so geeky, I'll clue you into why Mary Pat is worth the whistle:  she was an "F" model that arrived early in the 8th Air Force's sophomore blows against targets in continental Europe.

These early months were a time of untried tactics, expert Luftwaffe attacks and vicious flak.  Mary Pat's number of missions are near-miraculous because during that time period, a bomber crew's chances of not living out their 25-mission requirement was one-in-three while a B-17 airframe's odds of making 6 months was zero.

Have a look yourself:


So, now that everyone knows we're not dealing with a run-of-the-mill B-17 here, hold that thought.

The relationship between 'ground crew' and 'air crew' are oft-told tales.  I remember watching on TV as 357th FG ace Clarence "Bud" Anderson cried while describing how his ground crew worked throughout a cold night, scrubbing dark camouflage paint from the skin of his P-51 with gasoline and wire pads in order to make sure the airplane was better suited to blend-in over Europe's freshly snow-covered ground.  The next morning, Sgt. Otto Heino and crew presented "Old Crow"(in her newly shined aluminum livery) with a bloody hands, cracked open by cold, hard labor and 100 octane.

Later, while talking to Bud myself, he told the same story and cried again.  Though an ace and combat leader, Bud could not imagine that his ground crew were any less than himself.  And of these 'air crew and ground crew' stories, Bud's is just one of thousands.

Bud and Crew Chief Otto Heino, 60 years later.  While Bud went on to become a bona fide WWII celebrity (with absolutely zero of the celebrity 'attitude') Otto became a renown potter. 
The Crew Chief's role was to supervise the mechanical care of an assigned aircraft.  To put a fine point on the matter, each aircraft—be it fighter, bomber, whatever—was 'issued' to the Crew Chief as an item of responsibility.  The men who boarded the airplane were simply picking up a tool.  The Ground Crew, on the other hand, made sure the tool was useful.

No Ground Crew?  No Air Crew.  And, no mission.

Have another look at Mary Pat.  Only this time, give the title a little attention—Their brother's keepers.  You've probably figured out where this post is going; say hello to Master Sargent John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BG.


"Mary Pat" was John's B-17—he was the airplane's Crew Chief.  And those 59 missions?  Of course, part of the credit of Mary Pat's longevity goes to the German's poor/unlucky aim.  Part of the credit also goes to pilot Ruel Weikert and how he led the air crew.

But, imagine this:  black puffs of flak causing tooth-banging turbulence, shards of shrapnel slicing through aluminum skin and Ruel's steady hand and clear commands, all performing as expected.  Not a glitch, not a hesitation, not a fault...

Ruel Weikert's son has been emailing me asking what it'd take to get a print of this airplane for his family for some time now, but...

Look.  We're all connected—some how, some way.  I don't get it and realistically, neither do you.  But the bottom line is whatever we have is some how, some way bolted to someone else.

My interview with John DeBerg is too much for this blog post.  But suffice it to state, whatever you're doing has the potential to mean significance for someone else.

So, to the Weikert family: the DeBerg family is sending you a print—signed by John.  You asked about buying a print and now, here's your answer.  I apologize about being oblique in responding to your requests, but I've been under a higher authority; John thinks the world of your dad.  And some how, some way, I suspect your dad thought the same of him.   So, there.  Now you know why your money's no good here.  To John, he's just taking care of Mary Pat.

John DeBerg signs a print.  There's so much more to this story but it's just not the right time to share it all.  Suffice it to say, I'll give it its due at a later date.
Gawd, if you have half a soul, you're crying.  Just like Bud Anderson.

And the photo below?  That's Ruel Weikert, pilot of "Mary Pat."  The picture was taken after the bomber had completed her tour and was on her way back home; whole, hale and hearty.  No small thanks to Ruel's excellent leadership in combat and John's excellent leadership with a wrench.


PS - Just so you know that I'm not overstating DeBerg's significance as a Crew Chief, the Air Force gave the man a Bronze Star for his expertise.  Do yourself a favor and read it—that's how 'appreciation' is done...


If you'd like your own print of "Mary Pat" signed by MSgt. DeBerg, email me: john@Johnmollison.com.  But in the meantime, if someone like John DeBerg has (like the print title says) been your keeper, you don't have to give them a Bronze Star Medal.  A Thanks and a snap salute may be all that's desired.

Profile 102: FINISHED—the F-4D as flown by the 523rd TFS


And here it is - "Hunting for MiGs," the F-4 Phantom as flown by the 523rd TFS circa 1972.

Very soon, this blood-thick band of brothers will be swapping pictures of grandkids, amusing vacation stories and plans for upcoming hobby projects; it's time for their annual Reunion.  Part of the agenda will be the doling out of prints of this F-4.  The process will begin with hoots, hollers, wish-they-would-have-forgotten-that memories...but will inevitably end up with the realization that this represents their moment...

...and the room will get quiet.  For just a moment and then someone will yell, "D---d B--!" and all hell will break loose.

Fast forward to the year 2065 where some kid is looking at this picture hanging on the wall—and some how, some way, another old man lives forever.

There are aspects to 'this job' that stop me cold and this is one of them.  But don't get me wrong—it's beautiful stuff.

(deep breath)

*break break*

Onto those pictures that I promised in a prior post.  Pilot and author Darrel Couch* is quite a writer! But man, that guy knew when to take a picture!

Have a look below.  Darrel has graciously allowed my sharing them with you here.

Above:  A formation of F-4s approach another formation.  Smoky things, aren't they?  But the coolest part of this picture is where they're going; it's a 12-ship of F-4s (plus the formation ahead) going to escort Bob Hope to Clark AFB, (Philippines) circa December 1967.

Above:  Same time-frame as the shot above, only a few minutes later.  Can you ID the jets ahead?  If you can, you're pretty sharp.  Hint:  they aren't MiGs.

Above:  Same time as the top two; Darrel shows us what formation-flying is all about.  He's tucked in nicely on the Element Leader's right wing.

Above:  Darrel stands on the spine of a 523rd Phantom.  This is an interesting shot in that it helps the casual observer appreciate the size and proportions of this beast.  Can you spot the three (maybe four?)  different airplanes in the photo?

Also, a few readers have asked me about the red line that many jet aircraft have painted around the fuselage (like the one about 3' in front of Darrel).  According to the Air Force Tech Order, it's called "Plane of Rotation - Engine Turbine."  Or, as some have called, "The Turbine Line."  In other words, if the jet engine turbine decides to self destruct, shards of metal are going to come slicing out of that area faster than a ginsu knife cutting through tomatoes.  So, step aside.

Above:  613th TFS "Huns" (F-100 Super Sabres to the rest of us) circa December 1965.  I show this photo because of the sore-thumb Hun in the "SEA" (South East Asia) camouflage.

Update:  The 613th was the first Hun unit to be in Vietnam and the camo'd plane was among the first to be done (within the unit).

Above:  Darrel took this shot while flying Forward Air Control (FAC) flying the tiny, single-engined Cessna O-1.   Clearly, the man can walk and chew gum at the same time as he's in a bank, looking down, aiming a camera and timing the shot JUST as a B-57 lays a line of napalm on a target.

This kind of shot makes me swallow hard. *Stuff* just got serious...

Above:  An unidentified armorer poses with the two tools of the trade:  the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-7 Sparrow missile.  The Sparrow is only partially visible; it's tucked up into the recessed divot on the bottom of the fuselage (right next to the crewman's head).  The Falcons are the smaller missiles hanging from the pylon.  From what they tell me, the Falcons were virtually useless.  This is probably one of the brand-spanking-new F-4Es delivered to Vietnam in 1968 (can't see any gun-pod, so that means it's likely a nose-gunned E model).

Above:  There's a bit going on in this photo—the white 'line' is actually a sequence of cluster bombs going off.  Basically, a cluster bomb (here, a CBU-2) is a bunch of little bombs held in a case that splits open after being dropped.  The first to hit (left) are dissipating while the furthest right are actually popping open in flame.  The F-100 that dropped them is just off frame.

Update:  I got my CBU info wrong; the CBU-2 was not a self-contained bomb but a dispenser-unit.

Darrel corrected me on this and added (thank you!):
CBU 2 & 12 were delivered in level flight. CBU 12, had a max delivery altitude of 75'. It ignited as soon as it cleared the dispenser tube and, if higher, would burn out before hitting the ground. CBU-24 was dive bomb delivered. The AGL release altitude was critical. Too low and area coverage was significantly reduced. Too high and the bomblet spread would create a doughnut. Center targets would remain untouched. After a few months of use, the timed case opening fuse was replaced with a radar fuse. This allowed a wide range of delivery options. When the container reached the proper altitude, the fuse would activate the explosive chain to open the clam shell and release the bomblet load. The bomblets were basically round with spin up molded in vanes. Spin would cause the bomblets to spread.
However, ever hear of Agent Orange?  If you look at the left third of the photo, you can see what looks like tan/dirt colored areas; that's where the AO hit.  Darrel told me that it must have been a recent strike as it didn't take long for AO to do a total-job of defoliating; that we can see green at all means it must have been 'fresh.'

Above:  This is Quan Loi Airfield, circa July 1967.   The top of the photo is nearly straight North and the red-dirt runway is running from NW to SE.  It's near the town of Ahn Loc.  Do your own research on the topic, but suffice it to say, it saw its share of action.

Anyway, a couple things to note;  See the dark trees that frame the runway in triangle patterns?  Those are rubber trees.  You should be able to see a C-130 airplane at the SE end of the runway; chances are good it's taking off.  But, if you look at the middle-middle-right of the photo and see a jagged edge to what looks like a growth of trees, that's where the Viet Cong would gather to lob mortar rounds into the area.

*break break*

If you're like me, these photos are a rare glimpse into the times; many thanks to Darrel for sharing his story.  He's helped me understand the cost of war, the purpose of duty and the value of friendship.

If any of the above photos were interesting to you, click here (there's more, there).

But to the 523rd, on the appropriate day, I'll be toasting you in-spirit, to the strength of your legacy.  It's been an honor to be a part of yours.

Profile 104: IN PROGRESS—"A-Bar" as flown by Newton Cobb, 364th FG, 385th FG

Have a look at "Newt" Cobb's 'A-Bar.'   It's almost finished.   In fact, it should have been finished months ago.  But it isn't.  And yet, it's a "hurry-up!" work because I'm all out of time.

(sigh)

I tell ya—though today is a balmy April day, it 'feels' like one from a bitter November; gray, spitting sleet and hissing of a vicious winter ahead.  Too poetic?  Maybe.  But years ago, when I heard so-many people moan, "We're losing all those WWII veterans so quickly!" I still had a contact-list of a hundred or more, all of who would either answer their cell phones or respond to an email (usually within a few hours).

Today?

(sigh)

By the time you view this, Newt's P-51 will be finished and if I'm fortunate, in the production que at my printer's place.   I'll post the final version here along with Newt's story of being (possibly) the shortest-time POWer of WWII.   Shot down during the last days of Hitler's reign, the man waited out the inevitable end by agreeing to a fascinating (and bizarre) code of ethics with a German officer.

Yeah, you'll want to read the final story.

But in the mean-time, I'd like you to click the link below and watch a quick video of Newt describing a encounter with another German officer that, if you're like me, will leaving you wondering about the strange poetry of how life works.

"By that time it was too late...I don't understand why I'm alive today."


Stand by.  The next post might give a little more clarity to Newt's comment about not understanding why he's alive today...

UPDATE:  I doodled this quick sketch of what Newt might have seen regarding that Me-163.  The proportions are off (the 163 was about half the size of a P-51) but you'll get the drift...
Newt Cobb vs. Me-163

Profile 99—JUST STARTED: "675" as flown by Richard Hilton, 433rd TFS


Finally!  I get to do something with that Pave Knife pod I spent half a year trying to draw!

A quick recap is in order—Dean Failor, an F-4 "Guy In Back" had been hounding me to look into the laser-guided bomb program of the Vietnam War.  I took the bait and ended up absolutely fascinated by the technology, passion, danger and importance of it all and promised him that I'd draw the "the knife."

However, the process was like trying to catch flies with chopsticks—for such an influential piece of technology, there just wasn't much out there, especially in terms of photographic references.   But, fortune prevailed; over the next few weeks, I'll be drawing the F-4 of 433rd TFS Squadron Commander, Richard Hilton.

Be warned, this won't be a terribly glamorous F-4.  In fact, according to Hilton's "Form-5" she's a run-of-the-mill D-model clad in nothing more remarkable than a few years of wear, tear and faded paint.  But, from what I know of her pilot, I don't think glamor matters too much.

Over the next post or two, we'll be heading "North" to see if Hilton & Co. can finally put a hole in that bridge.

What bridge?  Well, on May 10 and 11, 1972, there was only one bridge that really mattered...

(more to come)

©Richard Hilton.
Doh!  I forgot to tell you— about May 10, 1972:  that date was important enough to warrant a book.  Click here if you want to get yourself primed for what's to come.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Profile 98: FINISHED— "Kunk's Klunk," the P-38J flown by James Kunkle

DONE!  (whew!)  Presenting "Kunk's Klunk"—the P-38J as flown by James Kunkle, 370th FG.  Take it in because in a few minutes, it's going to get blown to pieces.

So.  Let's get back to where we left off (in December)...

"BREAK!  BREAK!"  Jim hollered.  "BREAK!"

But there was no break.  A few fruitless twists of knobs and flicking of switches made Jim realize that his radio was out!  And being the last guy in the formation, any waggling of the wings was useless, especially with target just ahead...what's a guy to do?


Jim hauled his P-38 into a tight left turn, climbing slightly, and rolling wings-level just as the onrushing gray swarm materialized into a formation of 20+ German fighters.  Though alone and certainly outgunned, the initial merge favored Jim; the enemy's focus was broken, allowing the rest of the mission to put precious distance between itself and the attackers.
Go ahead and count the little Fw-190s.  And then count Jim in the P-38.
Ummm, yeah...
If you wonder how that works, imagine the scene as a school of fish disrupted by a stone.  Instantly, the fish scatter.  But these aerial "fish" were not minnows.   Instead, they were piranhas.  And Jim was no pebble.  He was fresh meat.

Hold that thought for a moment...

A few weeks ago, a severely disturbed man walked into an office with a weapon and started another damnable headline story.  One died, another was injured.  The toll might have higherl had it not been for a guy named Brian Roesler who jumped up to tackle the gunman.  You can read about it here, but suffice it to state, Roesler's quote to the newspaper is interesting, "I didn't know what else to do."

I thought that quote rather telling in that Brian actually had a number of options, many of which would have been reasonable, if not "smart."  But instead, he thought to act as he did and in so doing, probably saved a few lives.
Brian Roesler.  Photo: Joe Ahlquist / Sioux Falls Argus Leader)
Ok, keep that in the back of your mind while we return to 1944...

The dogfight was intense.  In quick succession, the Germans snapped-to and pointed their noses at the odd-shaped American in their midst.  This was going to be an easy kill.

Kunkle, in the swarm, was able to unleash his  four .50 caliber machine guns and 20mm cannon against the targets that flashed past his nose.  Boom! chakachakachakachaka Boom! chakachackachaka Boom!

In the whirl of g-forces, Jim managed to knock one, then two Germans out of the sky.  I asked the—now that I think about it—ridiculous question, "So tell me the details behind the two you shot down!"   My question was met by a warm chuckle as Jim replied, "Really?!" Another laugh.  "I'm afraid I was a little preoccupied to remember those details!"

However, there were some memories of that combat that simply couldn't be forgotten.

"I remember my left wing.  A one-ninety was behind and to my left and he walked his bullets right up the wing towards (the cockpit).  The airplane shook and then fire blasted out the cold-air vent, down by my leg and up towards my face.  The flames shot out like a blow torch."

"And then?"

"Not quite sure.  The airplane blew up.  My next memory is falling face-down through a cloud."
I took no joy in doodling this scene.  Other than that Jim made it out.
The combat had taken place about seven, maybe eight thousand feet.  Jim remembered the cloud deck was around five thousand, so he'd fallen at least half a mile, buffeted by the wind and pained by the peeling of burned flesh from  hands and face.  Miraculously,  he had enough presence of mind to grasp the "D-ring" of the parachute release and tug it open.

SNAP!

Parachutes don't float people to the ground like a feather.  They simply reduce the speed of falling to the point to where a human can survive the impact.  Approaching  earth at approximately 22 feet per second, Jim's fall wasn't the elegant descent of today's sky divers.  If you want to get an idea of what Jim went through, climb up onto the highest peak (or 22', whichever comes first) of your roof and jump.

BANG!

But, it didn't hurt quite as bad as it could have because luck would have it that Jim's parachute snagged a proudly standing tree, smack-dab in the middle of a European courtyard.   With the same force as coasting a bicycle into a brick wall, he strained to a wood-crackling halt, hung for a moment, then released himself to fall the few remaining feet to earth.
My cheesy map.  Kunkle was a few short minutes (flight-time) from one of the greatest battles of WWII.
In case you're not up on  WW2 history, there are two things of significance about Aachen at the time.  For one, some 80 miles to the north, the British were a day away from their oddly-planned* parachute assault called, "Operation Market Garden."  Ever hear of the movie "A Bridge Too Far"?   That.  For two, the American Army had just crossed the Rhine river and had advanced into the Aachen area.  History geeks will remember Aachen as the first German city to be liberated.  But that event was over a month of bloody days away.  Putting it all together, on September 16, 1944, Jim had gone from frying pan into fire.

You can imagine the scene—a quiet courtyard, waning Fall afternoon (1745hrs to be exact) , the gentle crunch of flat-soled shoes on cobblestones and somewhere off in the distance, the spastic crackle of rifle fire...Jim ran for cover.  It was then that adrenalin's effects, having protected Jim from the worst, began to subside, allowing the searing pain a chance to inform Jim that he'd been hurt.  Badly.

"I made my way out of the courtyard and onto a road.  A county road.  My eyes were swelling shut (from the burns) and I knew I had to get help.  But I knew the Germans were there (too).  Down the road, along a hedgerow, I was able to make out some soldiers.  They had netting in their helmets and, thought,  Americans!  Wow!"

Those Americans were from the 1st Infantry Division.  Every hear of the movie, "The Big Red One"?  The 1st had just arrived into Germany and the timing couldn't have been better.  Not only had they entered Hitler's backyard, they also had a grunt's-eye view of the show overhead.

The ground-bound eyewitnesses are why we know there were 20+ Germans versus Jim's lone P-38.  While Jim recovered in a Paris hospital, the Army and the Air Force got together and managed to get the man awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his effort.  Jim had put on a heck of a show for the infantry beneath.

Do yourself a favor and read his DSC Certificate...


The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Second Lieutenant (Air Corps) James K. Kunkle (ASN: 0-763232), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-38 Fighter Airplane in the 401st Fighter Squadron, 370th Fighter Group, NINTH Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 16 September 1944, during an air mission over Aachen, Germany. On this date, while flying as rear man in a squadron on an armed reconnaissance mission, Lieutenant Kunkle noticed that his squadron was about to be surprised by a vastly superior force of enemy aircraft. Unable to summon his leader on the radio, he alone unhesitatingly pulled away from his formation and vigorously attacked the enemy, immediately destroying one of his aircraft. In so doing, Lieutenant Kunkle placed himself in a position to be attacked from the rear and above. When this attack materialized, many hits were registered on his aircraft which caught fire burning his face, neck, and hands. Despite his burning plane and the gunfire from enemy planes, Lieutenant Kunkle continued his attack against the vastly superior enemy force and succeeded in destroying a second enemy aircraft, breaking off combat only when forced to parachute to safety when his left fuel tank exploded. Second Lieutenant Kunkle's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 9th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.
General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Forces in Europe, General Orders No. 13 (1945)


In case you're wondering, the DSC is one stop below the Medal of Honor.

So, knowing that, would you have another look at Kunk's Klunk and give the poor girl a moment of silence...?

[silence]

"So what happened to Jim?!" you ask.

Good question.  After 16 weeks of hospital care, Jim tried to get back into combat but a doctor discovered additional spinal injury and took him right out of flight duty.  The war was over.  Instead, the Doc sent Jim to what was called a "Flak House" for 30 days of peace, quiet and a chance to heal.  In case you're not familiar with the term "Flak House," it was a slang name for a the kind of convalescence that only those who've experienced mortal combat can appreciate.  Jim described it as a beautiful English Manor populated by, of all people, bomber crew.

"I was a fighter pilot.  I wanted to talk about flying.  About airplanes.  About..." Jim's voice trailed for a moment.  "But the bomber crew?  They wanted none of that!"  We talked for a few more minutes on the strange blessing that being (seemingly) in-control of one's fate could be to a man.  The bomber crew had to grit and bear the random pierces of flak and the slashes of the Luftwaffe.  But the fighter pilot, though inter-dependent, was more self-reliant.  Somehow, someway, to Jim at least, that formula worked best.

"Over the years, I can't count all the great leaders and good role models I've had.  Especially in the military.  But my mother, she was my guiding light.**   And you know, I still meet people I look up to!  But I've always been, ultimately, in charge of myself.  I may be part of a team, but I am (foremost) an individual."

Jim went on to explain that opportunities abound in spite of pendulum swings of the economy, of politics, of this or that...but only to those who have the sense of personal responsibility to account for their fates.

And only to those willing to take on 1:20 odds.    After all, he didn't know what else to do.
"Kunk" signing my artwork.  Check out Jim's office decor.  And his buddy.
Now.  If you'd like to own a print of "Kunk's Klunk," signed by the boss himself, click here and scroll down until you see his P-38.

*I'm being charitable.  "Market Garden" was a dumb idea.  So dumb, it should be a lesson plan in business schools for young executives who hope to do things like start businesses, manage people, or develop new products.  It'll scare'em silly.  Don't believe me?  Read this.

*Jim's dad died while Jim was a young boy.  Jim's father had been an aviator in WWI and was a primary force in interesting the young Kunkle in all-things aviation.  A salute goes to both parents. 

Profile 97: FINISHED— the Pave Knife pod of the 433rd TFS


Finished—the Pave Knife pod!

In case you haven't been following this story, Pave Knife was the amazingly successful laser-guided weapons system used in the last year of the Vietnam War. Though it wasn't the first* (Pave Way was) Pave Knife was certainly the best.    It's worth its own post because of its game-changing effects on everything from tactics to weapons procurement to, some say, even shortening the duration of the Vietnam War itself.

If you ask me, its enough that Pave Knife was a brilliant case of teamwork between the military and private enterprise.  From concept to in-country, the development of the Pave Knife system set records in terms of production and economy.  In case you're curious, the contract for designing and building the thing was a "fixed price."  Meaning, no chance for budget over-runs or cost obfuscation.   And since the pressure was on to deliver accurate munitions with minimal collateral and "political" damage, time was of the essence; Pave Knife went from idea to working device in approximately nine months and in-country in less than twelve.

Of course, with such short notice, not many of the things were built.  Each one was "hand crafted" and the total number that the USAF used in Vietnam was small.   Although a couple sources say there were seven, the number was most likely only six. But even that paltry number quickly whittled down to three or four due to operational loses and the wear and tear of hard use.  The photo below shows #2, the model that I used to create the illustration.

No idea who took this picture.  It's been retouched but I wonder why?!
In case the mere-months time frame doesn't mean anything to you, it'd be like going from empty lot to unloading the moving truck in...like...a week.

From here on out, I'm going to be concentrating on drawing one of the F-4s that carried the Pave Knife into combat.  However, bear with me for just a few more minutes because the gizmo deserves a bit more explanation on how it works because the rest, as my kids say, gets complicated.

The Pave Knife is actually not just the device above.  "Pave Knife" is actually a weapons system, meaning it requires the co-functioning of separate units to perform its work.    The first part of the Pave Knife system is the bomb.

Have a look at the little animation below.
The main body of the bomb is a standard "Mark 84" 2,000lb General Purpose bomb.  However, the fins have been enlarged in the rear and a "seeker head" installed on the front.  In my animation, the seeker head looks like a small rocket stuck on the bomb nose.

Anyway, the tip of the head swivels and pivots. In the nose, there's an 'eye' that detects the reflection of laser light and sends signals to the set of fins just aft.  Those fins are moving fast because in real life, they acted just as you're seeing them - bang! bang!  The fins didn't steer by subtle degrees but by making full-deflection 'bangs' to keep the eye pointed toward the target at the rate of up to ten per second!

Of course, since the bomb relied on gravity to provide motion through space, (as opposed to a rocket that could be propelled) lateral deviation from the bomb's trajectory was dictated by altitude and airspeed.  A laser-guided bomb (LGB) couldn't "fly" much beyond the flight path.  But having a bomb that could be steered like a radio-control airplane wasn't the point of the Pave Knife system.  Dialing in absolute accuracy was.

Parts for a plastic Pave Knife model.  Over the years I've learned to trust the good folks at Hasegawa models to be accurate. And, I've also learned to trust the good folks who follow my work.  This little guy was given to me by a reader who heard my cry for reference material.
Thank YOU Missouri reader!
And boy was it accurate.  In combat tests, over 50% of LGB bombs were dropped on-target.  Not 'sorta' on-target.  No 'close enough' on-target.  We're talkin' down to the pin-point on target! The remaining 50% (unless something got fubar'd) were within a yardstick's distance.  So, consider that we're talking about a 2,000b bomb, "accuracy" is pretty much academic.

Putting this into perspective, consider a typical WW2 Navy dive bomber would deliver 50% of its bombs within a 100' diameter circle.   So, it's rather easy to see how Pave Knife absolutely changed the rules of bombing.

Ok, have a look at the animation below.  It's my attempt at putting it into practice.
For illustrative purposes only.  In real life, the bombing F-4 would be coming right down the bridge line; I offset it for illustrative purposes.  The F-4 at left has just released its bomb (seek the little black speck?) around 7k-10k feet.  The F-4 at right, at about 10k-12k feet, is projecting a laser beam from the wing-mounted Pod onto a specific point on thebridge.  You can see how the two parts, bomb and Pave Knife pod, worked together.
Well, I have to start drawing an F-4D so this little drawing can do some good.  It's going to take a while because I've got a ton more research to do.  Believe it or not, due to the kindness of a long-time reader, I've managed to acquire a book of BDAs (bomb-damage assessments) of Pave Knife missions from May, June and July of 1972. My idea is to pick a particular mission (I'm thinking against a bridge target)  and analyze it.  In the process, I will confer with Dean Failor (one of the trained Pave Knife operators) and a pilot who took the device "up north."

Dean's been introduced here before.  So, it's a good time to introduce you to "Rick" Hilton, Squadron Commander of the 433rd TFS.

It's time to go bridge hunting.  With 'the Knife.'


*Pave Way and Pave Knife were equally accurate systems but Pave Knife was far better for combat for a number of reasons that will be explained later.