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.