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 Many unpublished photographs abound, especially of French civilians climbing all over the aircraft.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.