New Milton Junior School Visits – January 10th and February 14th

On Thursday 14th February, Former FONFA Chairman and current Hon. Treasurer, John Brooks, and current Chairman of the FONFA Trustee Board, Dr Henry Goodall, attended New Milton Junior School, for the second time in 2019, as in previous years. The first visit was on 10th January, when Henry gave a PowerPoint presentation to the ninety children in Year 6, about the New Forest Airfields in WWII, and John described his experiences of being a young boy in London during the German V-I flying bomb blitz campaign, in 1944.  Working in groups of three or four, the children had produced their own mini-museum exhibits, depicting life in WWII, which they had researched via the Internet and through their family histories, with original identity cards, ration books, photographs, medals and uniforms, which their great grandfathers and great grandmothers had used and worn. The displays were extremely innovative and varied, from air raid shelters, to recruiting and propaganda posters, cooking and recipes, ‘dig for victory’ with vegetables, ‘make do and mend’, music, toys and entertainment, the evacuation programme for children, an audio visual presentation on Allied and Axis aircraft, and even an original clothing ration book. We value our association with New Milton Junior School highly and are privileged to be able to tell the story of their local heritage, to these children, year on year.  It saddens us that, in spite of invitations to other local schools, none has accepted our offer to visit them or for their pupils to visit our Heritage Centre.                                                                          This is these children’s history and heritage, but we need the co-operation of other Head Teachers to be allowed to add this important historical dimension and knowledge to their education. Our hope is that by showcasing the strong leadership and what is being achieved locally at New Milton Junior School, other schools will follow in their footsteps.

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Holmsley South Mosquito FB VI model diorama on display for 2019, in the Heritage Centre

A new diorama, depicting the de Havilland Mosquito FB VI of Wing Commander Russell “Russ” Bannock OOnt, DSO, DFC and bar, will be on display in the FONFA Heritage Centre, for the 2019 Open Day season. Modelled in 1/32 scale by Henry Goodall, the aircraft is mounted on a mirror base, to enable visitors to see the details of the underside bomb and cannon bays, as well as Rolls-Royce Merlin engine detail. Photo above: “Russ” Bannock (left) with his Observer/Navigator, Robert Bruce.             Russ Bannock was Canada’s second highest scoring ace of WWII, destroying 19 V1 rockets and 11 German night fighters for a total of 25.5 aircraft (N.B. V1 ‘Flying bombs’ shot down over the English Channel counted as a full ‘kill’, whereas those shot down over England were only awarded as a ‘half kill’). In June 1944, “Russ” Bannock was transferred to 418 Squadron RCAF, based at Holmsley South. The squadron flew day and night intruder missions over Europe with the Mosquito FB VI fighter-bomber. Although they had the latest radio navigation equipment, they flew night missions over enemy territory without any RADAR, relying solely on the “Mk.1 Eyeball” to find and shoot down enemy aircraft, in the dark. He quickly became successful at this type of operation and achieved early victories, in his Mosquito, named ‘Hairless Joe’ after the well-known cartoon character of the time. The figures depict Russ Bannock showing colleagues the best way to attack V-1 flying bombs, diving on them from 10,000 feet and from one side, because attacking from directly astern, and therefore flying into an exploding debris, was not to be recommended. In October 1944, he was promoted to Wing Commander and took command of 418 Squadron. Bannock also flew ‘Diver’ operations against the German V-1 ‘Flying Bombs’ launched against London and southern England. On one mission he shot down four V-1s in the space of one hour. A bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) was added for his missions against the V-1 ‘Flying Bombs.                                                                                       The Mosquito will be displayed alongside a model of a V1, being prepared by its ground crew, for a June 1944 launch towards London.“Russ” Bannock (left) with Robert Bruce, both in flying gear, in front of “Hairless Joe”.

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Remembrance Sunday – 11th November 2018

Sunday’s 100th Anniversary of the Armistice in World War I in 1918, was commemorated with a short Act of Remembrance at the New Forest Airfields Memorial at Holmsley South. It was well attended by a wide variety of 50-60 visitors, from far and near, including the loyal group of thirty motorcyclist supporters, who come back every year.  John Brooks, Honorary Treasurer and former Chairman of Trustees of FONFA, led the commemorations, supported by other Trustee Board Members. Photos above and below show that sunshine prevailed between the showers, on Sunday 11th November, the 100th Anniversary of the ending of the First World War (Photos kindly courtesy of John Brooks and Steve Robson).

 

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The Olivier Le Floch Newsletters – Issue No. 15

As summer 1944 progressed, The Battle of Normandy was won and the front was moving east rapidly, which meant frequent changes of airfields for the 367th Fighter Group.

This month’s published issue of the Olivier Le Floch Newsletter describes the hectic progress of the American 367th Fighter Group across France, their brief stay at A-44 Le Peray, near Le Mans, and their onward drive via A-71 Clastres Airfield, towards Germany. Several notable personal recollections are included, with the highs (French hospitality, food and drink) and the lows, (pilot comrades lost, repeated airfield moves, at short notice) all crammed together in a few short months, once the Allied breakout from the Normandy beach head had been achieved. The logistics are mind-boggling.

Amazingly, the multiple problems encountered are described in a wholly ‘matter of fact’ way, such as the use of torches (flashlights) to light the runway (!) and the destruction of the tar paper (burlap) runway covering, which could have been disastrous to landing aircraft. Many unpublished photographs abound, especially of French civilians climbing all over the aircraft.

Individual accounts give a flavour of what this constantly changing life was like. Also described are the logistics of the massive effort by the truck drivers, inherent in moving the unit often over a hundred miles, from base to base, around France, whilst maintaining a Group operational capability throughout.

French civilian interest and support was available in abundance, too much at times (!) in areas that had not suffered so much bombing as Normandy, with Calvados giving way to various local wines.  Recorded too, is the Lt Robert Dillon’s ‘write off’ of Col. ‘Buck’ Rogers’ P-38J-20, Serial Number 44-23579, which had come all the way from Stoney Cross unscathed. The aircraft had superb nose art, depicting a young steer kicking a swastika to pieces, as shown in the photograph in this edition. Col. Rogers, who hailed from a ranching family in the USA, was not best pleased!

Overall, the sense of immediacy, urgency, energy and organisational power run through the personal stories, the impression of an unstoppable machine steamrollering its way across France to eventual victory. However, ‘Mee-Mee’s Snack Bar’ followed them wherever they went, even though Stoney Cross seemed by then a very long time ago, although the original Stoney Cross sign now rests in a barn in Marolles-les-Braux, a village very close to A-44 airfield at  Le Peray. The Newsletter ends with a tribute to Lt Donald Elgin, another of the pilots lost in the onward drive to victory.

We remain greatly indebted to Olivier for his dedicated research, bringing together so many disparate and varied recollections and photographs, a truly unique record of a time that should never be forgotten, when men in their teens and early twenties, from ordinary backgrounds, did extraordinary things, day after day, for the freedoms that we enjoy today.

Newsletter 367th Fighter Group_issue15 (2) (1)

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Christchurch Mayor visits the FONFA Museum

The Museum Open Day on Sunday 14th October was a ‘Red Letter’ Day. when the FONFA Trustees welcomed Councillor Lesley Dedman, the Mayor of Christchurch, on an official Mayoral visit to the New Forest Airfields Museum at Bransgore.                                                  She has family Service connections and has held a longstanding interest in local education, so as keen to see what we are able to offer young people, through the various exhibits, models, memorabilia and limited edition prints housed in the Museum.                              The Mayor spent almost two hours on a guided Museum tour, accompanied by Dr. Henry Goodall, FONFA Chair of Trustees, and met long serving Trustees John Brooks and Lynn Corbin, who were also in attendance.                                                                                                  
We hope that this visit will promote new contacts with more local schools, through her personal interest and recommendations, and that this will in turn lead to us being able to expand our outreach to the local community, with greater publicity and community involvement in the work of our Heritage Charity, going forward.                                                  Our aim thereby is to tell the story and spread the knowledge of our local WWII aviation heritage far and wide, to all young people in the New Forest area, by informing and educating them about the dedication and heroism of past generations, without whose sacrifices, they would not enjoy the freedoms that they do, today.

 

 

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New Memorial to Stoney Cross pilots unveiled in France.

Many of you familiar with our website will have read Olivier Le Floch’s Newsletters, chronicling the life and times of the American 367th Fighter Group, in WWII, who were based at Stoney Cross and Ibsley, between April and July 1944. Olivier is active in searching out information and crash sites in France and in making contact with living relatives of the Group’s pilots in the USA. He has kindly sent us the report below, about a recent ceremony in France honouring the pilots, held in July. (His report is supplemented by details from the Group’s history, ‘The Dynamite Gang’ by Richard Groh – ed. Henry Goodall)On June 17, 1944, the US 9th Air Force’s 367th Fighter Group launched aircraft from all three squadrons of single seat, twin engined, twin tailed fighter-bomber P-38J Lightning, a few minutes apart, from their Stoney Cross base in the Southampton area, in the south of England. The stakes were high, when all three squadrons were assigned to the same mission. Fifty-two pilots left to bomb different targets in the area of Dreux, Evreux and Epernon. The targets are railway lines, railway bridges and yards. Since the Allied landings in Normandy had commenced only 11 days earlier, the attack on these targets was part of the plan to prevent German reinforcements and equipment from being sent to the front.

However, the mission was unsuccessful, as the Group’s history, ‘The Dynamite Gang’, records, and many aircraft failed to reach their objectives. Flying beneath a 3000 foot overcast, the airmen of the 367th Fighter Group were suddenly attacked by eight German Messerschmitt bf109  fighters in the vicinity of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais, Maillebois and Dampierre-sur-Blevy, 55 miles west south west of Paris.  The experienced Germans made one pass before climbing into the cloud to repeat their attack. In the confusion, the inexperienced American pilots jettisoned their bombs and some broke away from the formation.

Leading the 393rd Fighter Squadron, Captain Joe Griffin engaged in a wild chase with a bf109 at tree top height, eventually driving the German into an even tighter turn, in which he stalled and spun in. Joe made a pass over the crashed bf109 but saw no signs of life. He had not fired a shot at his adversary, but had simply outflown him. In the ensuing mêlée, Lieutenant Earl Peters of 393rd Fighter Squadron managed to shot down one of the enemy fighters. Unfortunately, he was himself shot down a short time later, having been seen by the other pilots with an engine streaming smoke. His plane crashed landed on the town of Maillebois. Another pilot of the same squadron, Lieutenant George White, was also shot down in flames towards Dampierre-sur-Avre.

In his attempts to support the pilots already engaged in this dogfight, Lieutenant Henry Gillespie of the 392nd Fighter Squadron, who had been flying as top cover for the Group, led his flight down and dived into the battle, but was swiftly shot down. He crashed landed with his Lightning in the town of Dampierre-sur-Blevy, but was killed in the impact. The Americans shot down two other German fighters before the end of the fight. The final score was ‘a score draw’, three planes lost on each side.

This dogfight was the first true aerial combat for the 367th Fighter Group. The Americans considered that the loss of three of theirs for three Germans was a terrible price to pay. However, the engagement showed that the Group could hold their own in combat with the much more experienced Luftwaffe airmen, but that there was a lot of room for improvement.  It is sobering to recall that the Group lost a further nine pilots over the next five days, all but one on June 22nd, due to ground fire. This amounted to ten per cent of the ninety lost in total, during the whole of the Group’s year in Europe.

Having bombed the Cherbourg area with relative impunity between June 17th and 22nd, when the worst summer storm in 40 years lashed the Normandy coast, destroying the American ‘Mulberry’ harbour beyond repair, Colonel Charles Young led the Group at low level into the same area on 22nd June. The defenders threw up a devastating wall of flak.

Out of the seventeen 392nd Fighter Squadron aircraft led by Major ‘Buck’ Rogers on the mission, only seven emerged undamaged. Lieutenant Delbert Smith’s aircraft was badly hit; he managed to make it back to one of the Allied Advanced Landing Grounds, recently established near the Normandy coast. Twisting and turning at very low level, to avoid the flak, Lieutenant Eugene Fleming “flew full bore into a tree”. With both engine intakes clogged with leaves and branches, he was forced to fly home on alternate engines, turning them on and off to avoid overheating.  A long lonely flight across the Channel, after which he landed back successfully at Stoney Cross.

Lieutenants Earl Peters and Henry Gillespie were subsequently buried next to each other in the local cemetery of Dampierre-sur-Blevy on June 21st, 1944. Their bodies were relocated in 1946 to the Blosville Provisional US Military Cemetery near Carentan in Normandy before being finally buried in the American Cemetery of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, which is today the permanent American Battle Monuments Commission Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which lies on the bluffs above the WWII D-Day Omaha Beach landing site. Lieutenant Earl Peters was from San Diego and Lieutenant Henry Gillespie was from El Paso, Texas.

Lieutenant George White’s body was moved to the temporary cemetery of Saint-André de l’Eure before being buried in the Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer cemetery. Lieutenant White was from Philadelphia. In June 2004, the French ‘Forced Landing’ association helped to organise a ceremony in honour of Lieutenant George White. A plaque in his honour was inaugurated by his wife, Mickey.

This year, on July 7th 2018, the French ‘Forced Landing’ Association also helped to organise a ceremony to honour Lieutenants Earl Peters and Henry Gillespie. A plaque was also inaugurated. It was unveiled by Earl Peters, the nephew of Lieutenant Peters. Earl and his wife Karen made the trip from northern California to attend the dedication. The French veterans of the area attended the ceremony, holding the French flag.

After the ceremony Earl and Karen were taken to the cemetery where the two pilots were initially buried and next to Lieutenant Peters’ crash site.Credit: Olivier Le Floch, with additional information from ‘The Dynamite Gang’ – Richard Groh ISBN 0-8168-9770-0. Pictures: Earl and Karen Peters during the ceremony, the Veterans during the speeches, Earl and Karen Peters with the plaque inaugurated on July 7th 2018.

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The Olivier Le Floch Newsletters – Issue No. 14

This month’s Issue is Number 14 in the series. Those of you who read Olivier’s ‘Issue 13’ will be familiar with the level of detail and intimate descriptions of life for members of the US 367th Fighter Group, during and immediately after their transition from the relative calm and safety of the New Forest airfields, to the more uncertain and demanding existence on the hastily prepared front line Advanced Landing Grounds, among the age old hedges and banks of the ancient Normandy ‘Bocage’ countryside.

Issue 14 contains more personal stories and some rare colour photographs, never before published outside of the Group members and their families, and we are truly privileged to host these unique recollections on the FONFA website.  A few of the photos have found their way onto the Internet, but many will be new to our readers and to the wider world.

It is not widely appreciated nowadays that colour film (early Kodachrome) was not generally available outside of official Signal Corps channels, even in the American forces, so these colour photos are of great significance, even if the colour balance is not up to modern standards. Very few press reporters were ever flown on a bombing raid, especially in a P-38, so these photos are unique, in more ways than one.

The Issue ends with 1944 Christmas Menus and a very personal message to the 392nd Fighter Squadron personnel, a kaleidoscopic sequence of snapshot memories of the nine months past, for reflection, and to give thanks, for their survival.

The western end of the runway at A-10 Carentan (392nd Fighter Squadron’s first base in July 1944) was submerged decades ago, under the new N13 Cherbourg to Bayeux route, (on the right in the photo below, which was taken standing on the centre line of the WWII and present grass runway, looking east), but most of it survives today as a grass airstrip for light aircraft, alongside the new Normandy Victory Museum, which is well worth a visit, to see its life size dioramas and many well displayed documents, depicting both military and civilian life and experiences, in those dark days of 1944.The original wooden village sign still welcomes visitors to the airfield site, alongside the approach road!Finally, the YouTube links are well worth viewing, especially the sequences, shot by two separate photographers, showing Generals Eisenhower and Quesada arriving at A-2 Criqueville, in a converted P-51B Mustang. They didn’t seem to worry much about smoking restrictions around fuelled aircraft, in those days!

Note also the dust, the basic living conditions, the impromptu rodeo with local horses, the camouflaged aircraft dispersals, the medal ceremony conducted in a small field and the young pilots, all around twenty years old. The exuberance of the young P-51 pilots is wholly understandable, ‘beating up’ the airstrip at Criqueville, when they were being given the equivalent of today’s Formula 1 racing cars to play with, even if their lives were on the line daily, for months on end.

Newsletter 367th Fighter Group_issue14

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