355th Squadron Log (extract)
Personal Account By 1st Lt. Donald F. Snow
When he was given the assignment of organizing and training
fighter-pilots and men for combat, the nucleus of the 355th Fighter
Squadron, at Hamilton Field, California. Captain George R. Bickell was
looking toward the Land of the Rising Sun. He hoped that through his
leadership, his pilots would make a name for themselves in smashing
back at the Jap. This month of November, 1942 was less than a year
after the Pearl Harbor disaster. . . Captain Bickell had seen that
holocaust and had flown P-40 aircraft off Navy carriers during the
Battle of Midway. But there was another Big League shaping up in the
skies of Europe in which he was to play a major role. "Uncle George",
Commanding Officer of the 355th Squadron, was slated to eventually be
Group Commander of the Pioneer Mustangs, not only in the latter days of
the Air Battle over Germany, but as the Pioneers supported the Army in
the invasion of France. He would stand before this Group on May 7, 1945
to announce to his men the Victory in Europe.
Organization at Hamilton Field was completed by the middle of January
1943. An advanced detail of officers and men were sent to the Tonopah,
Nevada, Bombing and Gunnery Range for training in P-39 Airacobra
Second Lt. Bowers Espy, Squadron Adjutant, established a working
administrative system, and basic training program for the enlisted men
of the squadron. During this transition period, in the lonely, barren.
desert country, new friendships sprang up; the new Squadron insignia,
the "Pugnacious Pup," stamped an individuality of intrinsic value into
the growing 'esprit de corps' of the 355th Squadron.
On the first of March, with gunnery training completed, the officers
and men of the 355th Squadron, now better acquainted, moved on to
another station. The new set-up at Hayward Army Airdrome, Hayward.
California developed within the outfit a rich personality. The 355th
was to continue as a very separate and distinct entity for awhile . .
on its own.
It was an unique opportunity to operate 80 miles apart from the parent
Group and affiliated squadrons at Santa Rosa, Calif. At Hayward the
Squadron attained the Group's highest training efficiency record,
proving that the almost laissez-faire policy of Group was actually an
incentive to the men of the 355th Squadron. Americanly, freedom was
appreciated obvious by the outstandingly superior work accomplished at
By the first of June our personnel, ready for final training, moved to
Portland, Oregon Army Air Base. Many new pilots were joined to train
for combat. By intense work, loyalty and cooperation in every
department an impressive and highly commendable record was attained by
the Pugnacious Pups as they readied themselves for the big job ahead.
Flights were being made to all points in Oregon and some missions even
took the pilots out to sea.
We were a part of the defense set-up in the Northwest, being on the
alert for possible attacks by units of Emperor Hirohito's dishonorable
fleet. On the 18th of August the Squadron moved to Troutdale, Oregon,
for maneuvers to simulate combat conditions. With this experience. the
junior pilots had completed the last course in the training program
qualifying them for combat.
September was the month of parties and goodbyes. Wondering, speculating
as to whether crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific was in the offing.
On October 6th we departed from Portland, Oregon, by train, making our
way across the United States to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
On October 20th, after being refitted at Kilmer, we walked up the
gangplank into the liner Athlone Castle.
We were headed for England, a large number of merchant ships made up
convoy, we were protected by men-of-war. Everyone was glad to see
Liverpool. After two weeks at sea in crowded, uncomfortable quarters,
stepping on solid earth was quite a satisfaction.
Greenham Commons was the first stop, affording a slight orientation to
life in England before we journeyed to Colchester, in East Anglia, the
site of one permanent station, Boxted Airdrome [Station 150].
Scarcely two weeks after getting settled in the cold, damp Nissen huts
at Boxted. the pilots of our Squadron had completed transition training
with a new type fighter, the P-51B.
Our first mission was flown on the first of December. Led by Lt. Col.
Don Blakeslee of the 4th Fighter Group, the Group flew over St. Omer
airdrome in France. The 355th Squadron line-up, headed by Major Bickell,
included Lts. M. G. Long, "Deacon" Talbot, "Bob"
Stephens, "Cousin" Lasko "Peter" Nacy, Crocker, Dieterich and Pate.
On December 13, just a month after the first pilots had checked out in
the Mustang fighter, we made history by escorting bombers all the way
to Kiel, Germany. On the 16th of December, near Bremen, Germany, Lt.
Charles F. Gumm shot down the first enemy plane to be destroyed by the
In the first month of 1944, our pilots were probing even more deeply
Krautland, with missions being flown to Frankfurt, Brunswick. and the
Halberstadt-Oschersleben area. [this was when the air war went all out
- see Newsweek picture below].
March first marked another tragedy which clouded our spirits. Lt. Gumm
first ace of our Group was killed at the little Village of Nayland, not
far from our field. He experienced engine trouble [in his P-51
42-106749] while on a training
flight. While avoiding crashing into the town, his aircraft struck a
tree, was thrown out of control and destroyed.
The above details have been obtained from the
excellent 354th Fighter Group
website, where the complete squadron log can be found.
Note: By April 1944, the 354th had completed
over 30 missions and downed 200 enemy aircraft. On 17th April, the
Pioneers moved to Lashenden in Kent to prepare for D-Day. (Source: A
Short History of Boxted Airfield, Michael Smith)
345th Fighter Group and the Combined Bomber Offensive
The operations undertaken by the 345th from Boxted were part of
Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) that was authorized at the Casablanca
conference Jan. 1943, to integrate American and British forces, against
key targets. This resulted in a major escalation of battle in the air.
By the time the 354th Fighter Squadren arrived in England in November
that year, the CBO was well established and achieving good results. Lt.
F. Gumm flew with the following offensives:
Dec 1, 1943 - Raid over Belgium and Pas de
Dec 5, 1943 - Raid over Amiens area of France
Dec 11, 1943 - Raid over Emden, Germany
Dec 13, 1943 - Raid over Kiel, Germany
Dec. 16, 1943 - Raid
over Bremen, Germany
Lt Col Blakeslee was leading the group again on
16th December, with39 Mustangs helping to provide penetration support
for 631 bombers attacking the German city of Bremen. This time the
354th scored its first confirmed victory when Charles F. Gumm sighted
Bf 109s queuing up to the rear of some fortresses. He later reported;
"Lt. Talbot and I climbed after them, and when
within 400yards range two of the enemy aircraft saw us and broke left
and straight down. We closed on the other two and I dropped back a
little to cover Lt. Talbot's tail, but the enemy saw him and broke
left and down. By then I was almost in a position to fire on my '109,
which was still flying straight for the bombers. Lt.. Talbot pulled
up and to the right to cover my tail while I closed to about 100
yards and fired a two-second burst, noticing no effects. I then
closed to about 59 yards and fired a three-second burst, noticing a
thin trail of smoke coming from the right side of the engine. I fired
again at very close range and was showered with smoke and oil and
pieces which I pulled up through and glanced back to see the fighter
going down to the left with a large plume of smoke coming from the
right side of the engine. Then I looked for Lt. Talbot again, and saw
him chasing an Fw 190, with another '109 closing on him. I went down
after the latter fighter and they both broke down and away, so we
went back to the bombers." (Source: William N Hess, 2002, 354th
Fighter Group, Osprey Publishing).
Lt. Gumm credited with first actual enemy kill by
a P-51 Mustang pilot over Europe.. He returned to base with a claim of one JU 88 damaged and one Bf 109
shot down at 1330 hours.
The Focke-Wulf aircraft works and the Bremen submarine base were
the main targets.
Dec 20, 1943 - Raid over Bremen and
Dec 30, 1943 - Raid
over Ludwigshafen, Germany
Dec 31, 1943 - Escort Duty
Jan 4, 1944 - Raid over Kiel, Germany
Jan 5, 1944 - Raid over Kiel, Germany
Jan 11, 1944 - Raid over Halberstadt and
Maj. Howard led the Fighter Group to
Halberstadt (where the a plant producing parts for the Ju88 was
sited) and Oschersleben (home of a large Fw 190 factory). Mj. Howard
scored two enemy kills and two damaged. The total for the 354th was
16 destroyed, 7 probable and 19 damaged. Following this successful
mission, Maj. Jim Howard was commended for his heroic action in
tackling between 30- and 40 enemy fighters in protection of a flying
fortress with no chance of receiving assistance. He was acclaimed by
the Fortress flyiers and was subsequently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Jan 14 , 1944- Raid over Pas de Calais,
Jan. 21, 1944 - Raids along French Coast
Jan 24, 1944 - Raid over Frankfurt, Germany
Jan 29, 1944 - Raid over Frankfurt, Germany
Jan 30 , 1944- Raid over Brunswick, Germany
Jan 29, 1944 - Raid over Frankfurt, Germany
Feb 8, 1944 - Raid over Frankfurt, Germany
Maj. Howard led 41 Mustangs where after
clearing the target area, they strafed locomotives, airfields and
other targets of interest. However, flak was very intense and they
lost four pilots. Strafing action was halted until further notice.
Feb 10, 1944 - Friendly Fire during Mission
One of the most frustrating, and potentially
deadly, threats that the group had to face was from attacks made by
P-47s and, at times P-38s. Unfortunately, the silhouette of the P-51
closely resembled that of the Bf109, and although Mustangs had
visited all VIII Fighter Command bases so that pilots could view the
the aircraft close-up, the attacks continued. During a skirmish with
some Bf109s over enemy territory, future ace Lt Glenn Eagleston's
Mustang was badly damaged by P-41s that inadvertently mistook him for
the enemy and attacked his P-51. The oil system began to haemorrhage
as he headed back over the English Channel. Fortunately, Eagleston
was able to bail out just miles from Boxted at Ardleigh. He descended
by parachute during a heavy snowfall and was picked up by some
Homeguardsmen who duly drove him back to his base.
Feb 11, 1944 - Raids over Frankfurt,
Ludwigshafen and Saarbrücken,
The 354th notched up its 25th mission. Col Martin
led 38 Mustangs that were tasked with escorting 223 B-17s sent to hit
targets in Frankfurt, Ludwigshafen and Saarbrücken.
The 354th had run into a large formation of twin-engined fighters
just as the bombers had approached Frankfurt. Now very much combat
veterans, the Mustang pilots acquitted themselves well with claims
for 11 enemy aircraft destroyed - Lt Charles Gumm top scored by
downing an Me410 and a Ju 88, leaving him just one victory short of
Feb. 13-26, 1944 - "Big Week" - op. ARGUMENT
3300 planes from 8th AF and 500 from 15th AF dropped 10,000 tons
to destroy Luftwaffe factories in central Germany.
Germany lost many pilots and 500 planes, moved factories
underground, built fake Skoda factory at Pilsen in Czech to fool
bombers, added more AA flak by 88 mm guns able to reach 6 miles high.
The 500-lb bombs used by the Allies were not large enough to
inflict significant damage on Germany factory building interiors,
usually only causing damage to rooftops.
The city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands was bombed by mistake on
Feb. 22, killing 200 Dutch civilians.
21st February, Lt. Gumm
became the first of many 354th Fighter Group aces (five kills) by downing a
BF 110 over Brunswick at 1430 hours - the accepted definition of a
fighter pilot ace is one who has shot down five or more enemy
25th February, Lt. Gumm scores again on a mission
to Nuremburg, bringing his confirmed kills to six.
Mar 1, 1944 - Tragedy Strikes
Lt. Gumm dies in tragic accident during a routine training
flight whilst heroically steering his stricken aircraft from the
houses in the village of Nayland on which it would certainly have
Tragedy struck the group on the first day of March
when the 355th's Lt Charles Gumm met his fate in a desperate attempt
to save others. Ironically, having scored the 354th's first victory,
and duly become one of its early aces whilst completing more than a
dozen missions deep into enemy territory, Gumm was to lose his life
on a routine training sortie over Norfolk when his assigned
P-51-1 (43-106749) suffered engine trouble.
He could easily have bailed out, but instead he made an attempt to
bring his ailing Mustang back to Boxted. Gumm was within visual
distance of his base when his engine finally quit just as he was
approaching Nayland, on the Essex-Suffolk border. The ace continued
to fight the controls of the rapidly descending Mustang in an effort
to clear the rooftops of a small terrace of houses that lay directly
in his path. He succeeded in guiding the fighter away from the
village, whereupon he attempted to land in a nearby field, but one
wing hit a tree and the P-51 smacked into the ground, killing Charles
Gumm. He had saved the villagers at the cost of his own life.
Apr 17, 1944 - 354th Moves to Lashenden
The CBO continued until February, 1945.
Combined Bomber Offensive
2) William N Hess, 2002, 354th Fighter Group, Osprey