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A few pleasant days with some of the World’s Greatest Air Combat Pilots of all time!

Recalled conversations with Colonel Erich Hartmann, which took place during the summers of 1970 and 1971, while we were attending World War Two air shows in combination with many air unit reunions. He was the world’s top fighter ace with 352 aircraft shot down during World War Two.

I asked him to explain how the German Air Force gave credit for enemy aircraft shot down. It seems some persons had the idea the reason many German pilots had such high combat scores was because if they shot down a four engine bomber they received credit for downing four planes. He went on to explain—in the Luftwafee a single deed was not a reason to be awarded a medal. Their awards for medals were based on a given number of points being required to receive a particular medal. If you shot down a single engine plane you would be given credit for one point. In the case of a four engine aircraft you would receive four points etc. Each of the German awards required a set number of points before a particular medal would be awarded.

When the Messerschmitt –262 twin jet became available for combat, Hartmann was reassigned to an Me-262 outfit. Previous to that time all of his combat flying had been on the Russian front with the Me-109. He said that he did not like the Me-262 type aircraft, and requested to be sent back to the Russian Theater of War where he resumed flying his favorite type of aircraft, which was the Me-109.

Colonel Hartmann and I were standing next to an Me-108, this type was a four place currier plane. Herman Goring had one of them for his personal use during the war. Bob Hoover a well known aerobatic pilot was putting on quite a show with his bright yellow P-51 Mustang. He swept down across the airport flying upside down. Hartmann turned to me and said, "He flies crazy, and someday will crash!" I mentioned to him that during one of his flying shows in the past, he indeed did crash when his engine lost power while flying inverted. Hartmann looked at me and replied, "See!"

I first knew of Bob Hoover when he was a chief test pilot for North American Aviation, when I worked there as a design engineer in the early1950’s. He flew a Spitfire and was shot down early in the war and became a P.O.W. After the air show concluded all of us World War Two guys attended a dinner in one of the hangars on the flight line. Colonel Hartmann gave a toast to all the good guys on all sides of the war. Then he added, "After seeing Bob Hoover fly this afternoon, I’m glad we got him before he got his hands on a P-51. There was a roar of laughter from the assembled—Bob Hoover being the loudest!

Brigadier General James Howard, a Medal Of Honor recipient, and multi ace P-51 pilot, as well as a P-40 Flying Tiger ace earlier on. Also there was his wingman Lt./Colonel Richard Turner, also a multi ace P-51 pilot was in attendance, both from the 9th Air Force. The 8th Air Force was also represented by Robert Garlich who was a P-51 ace from St. Louis. Another St. Louis flier Leroy Keith a Navy Hellcat Fighter ace, some of his awards were, the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the Air Medal. On February 16, 1945 He led 72 Hellcats into a dog fight with Japanese fighter planes over Tokyo. His squadron shot down 71 enemy planes, Captain Keith managed to shoot down five of the enemy fliers. Another navy pilot of renown in attendance was George Gay, Jr. He was the only survivor of 30 airmen from Torpedo Squadron 8 that attacked the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway June 4, 1942. All of the planes in his squadron were shot down. To conceal himself in the water he held an aircraft seat cover over his head while floating in the water. He cheered on his fellow fliers as the American dive bombers arrived to work over the Japanese task force. Thirty hours later he was picked up by a U.S. Navy seaplane. That was our nation’s first sea victory in the Pacific, which was a turning point in the war.

Another veteran from the Pacific air war was Major General Tamotsu Yokoyama, he commanded fifty Zero’s in the Philippines. In 1943 and 1944 he led his fighters from Rabaul, near war’s end he commanded a fighter wing in the defense of the Japanese Home Islands. His Pacific air unit was credited with destroying 350 Allied aircraft. He was a multi fighter ace, some of his victories included P-39’s, P-40’s, P-38’s, F-4F’s, and one B-17 which was the first one shot down in the Far East. I heard that he was an aviation historian—I gave him a copy of a magazine article I had written concerning the 1908 Quick Monoplane powered by a 1907 Ford Model R engine. He was delighted to receive it. A group of my fellow Experimental Aircraft Association members restored the flying machine to pristine condition. It now hangs in the Space Museum located in Huntsville, Alabama. A copy on my article along with the aircraft’s patent papers are on file in the Air And Space section of the Smithsonian Institution.

A few more American fighter aces were Kenneth Martin a P-51 pilot, and Commander of the 354th Fighter Group. His Group took over Boxted Airdrome at Colchester, England when our 386th Bomb Group moved to Great Dunmow, England. Laurence Blumer was a P-38 pilot.. He was known for being an "Ace In A Day", shot down five German planes in one day. I asked him what his total count was for the war? He said, "Six!". Another pilot in attendance was Wing Commander and Battle Of Britain Ace, Peter Townsend, he told me he thought the B-26 Marauder was a good, "Kite!"

Later in the evening, General Howard, Lt./Colonel Turner, William Dolan a B-17 crew member from the 401st B-!7 Bomb Group and his son retired to my home. The 401st Bomb Group was the B-17 outfit that General Howard was defending the day he won his Medal Of Honor. After a few scotch toast’s I proceeded to run off my collection of 16mm World War One air combat movies along with some World War Two fighter gun camera films. A good time was had by all.

Chester P. Klier
Historian, 386th Bomb Group

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