Stories from the Hell Hawks
Back from the Dead
"I don't recall the date for this four plane road interdiction mission, or who led it, but it was launched from A-7 by the 386th with each plane carrying 2 500# GP bombs. The specific targets, road intersections essential to the Wehrmacht's westward panic retreat. This happened while the 365th was still based at A-7. Lt Henry Vaghts, Tail end Charlie member of a four ship Flight, 386 Squadron, was the last to a dive on the road intersection near Isgny, France—located not far from Omaha Beach. According to the other members of the Flight, Vaghts dove on the cross roads target, released his bombs, but did not pull up at 1,000 Ft—he dove straight into the roads intersection. According to the members of his Flight, the 2 bombs and the airplane exploded at the same time, and there was no sign of Pilot ejection. Logically, Lt Vaghts couldn't have possibly survived, and was reported, KIA.
But, less than 2 weeks later, who came into the Ops tent at A-7, threw down his Pilot's Wings on the desk, said before all there present, me included, said: 'Take these Goddam wings, I'm never gonna fly again!' It was none other than the guy, who we knew had 'bought the farm' on the intersection target he flew his airplane squarely into. How could he have not been killed, as previously reported? There was no doubt it really was, Lt. Henry Vaghts, in the flesh. A thing like this can make you wonder.
Here's the story he told to us: 'I remember initiating the attack and releasing the bombs—that's all. After dropping the bombs, the first thing I remember, I was walking on the road and met a French girl, who spoke English. She happened to be the English Teacher in a school, somewhere near, and she was scared because she said a lot of Germans were all around. She got me off the road and then managed to keep me hidden until yesterday, when the Krauts pulled out.' You can imagine all the conversation that followed.
How any living thing could withstand being in the explosions of two 500# bombs and his airplane defies all imagination, but Vaghts did, and had not one scratch, bruise, or other visible mark to show for such an unbelievable experience. Lt. Vaghts declared the War to be over for him. The 365th FG issued orders relieving him from duty, and that sent him to London for Orders that returned him to the USA, and the that's las I ever heard about him. Oh yes, as I recall, that mission earned him an AIR MEDAL".
—Dave Harmon, 365th Group Command
The Perfect Plane for Close Air Support
"If we weren't on a mission we could listen to the loud speaker. One day, we heard a lot of frantic transmissions coming in from one of the boys who took a direct hit from a 40mm shell in the right side of his engine. It was burning and he lost some power, but he managed to get back to the field. We watched him coming straight in trailing smoke. He made a good landing and stopped the plane just as soon as he could. When he did stop, he jumped out of the cockpit and hit the ground running to get away from the plane. They put the fire out and towed it over to our area. There was a big gaping hole in the side of the engine and you could see the cylinders mangled and that all the oil had leaked out. That's how tough the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine was."
—Gordon Briggs, 386th Squadron
"We flew one mission with napalm and were supposed to fly right through the city of Cologne. If you've ever been to Cologne, you've probably seen the cathedral there. Just east of there were a couple of railroad roundhouses and repair shops. The heavy bombers hadn't gotten to them, so they wanted us to go into there. I'll tell you, the center of Cologne was the worst flak I ever saw in my life. We were flying at 75-100 feet off the ground to stay away from flak and I looked to my left and saw the spires of the cathedral and said, "My gosh, that's exactly the same picture as I saw in Miss Gunderson's sixth grade geography class!" I continued to fly, dropped the napalm and turned on the water injection at full power and was flying down the street, practically until I got out of the area and flew home. There are strange things that go though your mind. "
—Matt Ruper, 386th Squadron
"Once, flying Arlo Henry's wing, we were out looking for targets along the Rhine, North of the Ruhr Valley, when we spotted two locomotives with steam up. So, Arlo said for me to take the one on the right and he'd get the one on the left. Diving-in, I began firing from about 200 yards out. I hit my locomotive and it blew steam in the air as I went by, but I noticed the other took no hits. I got on the radio and asked Arlo if I could finish off the other, and he replied, 'Go ahead.' So I headed up and out of town to set up my second pass from a different direction. I was coming in low, down a road which led into the village near the tracks, and as I passed by a building I got a glimpse of a German soldier firing a sub-machine gun right at me through an open window. Of course he missed me as I was coming in so fast and he wasn't leading me quite far enough, but I'll never forget that sight. As soon as I hit that second locomotive I made immediate evasive maneuvers and got out as fast as I could. Back at base I asked Arlo what had happened. He admitted, though he hated to, that he'd forgotten to turn on his gun switch before the first pass."
—Herb Prevost, 387th Squadron
" 'Doc' Glaubitz, the 388th's flight surgeon, liked to be included in squadron life, whether a baseball game or a good meal. While at Fritzlar, a group of 388th FS pilots decided that going months was far too long without any meat to eat. They slung carbines, headed into the nearby Harz Mountains to hunt for deer, and were successful. Soon a fire was built and venison grilling. Rags used to wipe the charred meat and grease from the grill were soon blackened, giving some pilots an idea for a laugh at the 'chow-hound' Doc's expense. One of the deeply stained rags was rolled up, placed between the halves of a bread roll, and offered to Doc. He made a grand entrance, and we made sure he had the spotlight, Glaubitz bit and tugged at the grease-blackened rag, pulling it out of the bread. He then stood a second or so with the rag hanging from his mouth before it registered what happened and he spit it out. Everyone had a hearty laugh—after such long period of fighting, it was much-needed."
—Archie Maltbie, 388th Squadron
The Worst Job in Nazi Germany
"We blew up a lot of locomotives. If we could hit them with their steam pressure up, there would be a big geyser of steam when they blew. Sometimes we would have to fly right through it as we couldn't duck it. With eight 50 caliber machine guns, we could throw a lot of lead at them. Some of our pilots would come up behind the train and hit them right in the cab before they even saw us. The biggest wreck I ever saw was when one of our guys dropped both his bombs and hit the track about 100 yards ahead of a speeding train. The train hit the hole and really piled up. We figured the least desirable job in Germany at the time was to be a railroad engineer."
—Gordon Briggs, 386th Squadron
The Best Plane in WWII
"The P-47 was a big, mean, and nasty looking-looking airplane. It looked every bit the part for the job it had to do. All of us that flew it absolutely loved it."
—Frank Luckman, 388th Squadron
"We'd get some P-51s or even a Spitfire come into our bases sometimes. The Spitfire you could just walk right up to and put your head in the damn cockpit. It was pretty for sure, but tiny. Of all the guys I talked to in my Squadron, no one wanted to fly those little planes over the Thunderbolt—for all the punishment it could put out and take back. I personally never wanted to fly any of those pretty planes."
—Jay Harrington, 388th Squadron
Read More about the 365thThunderbolts of the Hell Hawks
(Barnes, Crump and Sutherland)
320 pages, 500 photos and 98 illustrations of the group's P-47s.
(Dorr & Jones)
The story of the band of young American fighter pilots, and their gritty, close-quarters fight against Hitlers vaunted military. The "Hell Hawks" were the men and machines of the 365th Fighter Group.