The Flak House Capers

Capt. Art Heiden, 79th FS, 20th FG, 8th AF

       Written for the TN Chapter 8th AFHA. Requested by their President John Bacon, 357thFG. Attempt to bring out our manor of talk and how we tested people for character on the spot. The Insult Humor of Jack Benny and Bob Hope had been adapted. The sport was to challenge everyone, other units, bomber crews to see if they would come back in kind but without hateful animosity. Forget them if they failed. Pass and you were family.

The Flak House Capers

       May 24.1944 was a good day to have a friend. Fortunately I found one . . . Tom Morris McKinney of the 357th FG (P-51's).

       That day 720 B-17's escorted by 18-fighter groups had been dispatched to Berlin, and 386 B-24's with 7-fighter groups to the Paris area. The B-17's were confronted with heavy flak and several hundred German fighters. Losses were 33-Forts and 20-fighters.

       At rendezvous with the last 3-combat wings coming off the target, my 79th FS of the 20th FG (P-38) found the Forts under attack by 50+ Me-109's with top cover. We were successful in driving them off.

       Sometime later, coincidentally, two of us from the 20th FG and two from the 357th FG were ordered to a Flak House the same day. Upon arrival, and impressed by this grand old Mansion and surrounding estate, a butler type picks up our B-4 bags and leads us to our two-man room. A brief orientation and he closes the door behind him. Revealed on the door is a sign which reads something like this:

17:00 hrs Social Hour. Gather in the Great Room, Gentlemen

18:00 hrs Dinner will be served, Class A uniforms

07:00 for morning serving

As Gentlemen you will deport yourselves as such at all times

No alcohol allowed

All guests are confined to the estate--No visitors allowed

       OH! OH! We've been had. With a trapped feeling and anger welling up we go outside. We are met by Sally, a cultured young Red Cross director just out of Byrn Mar. She asks, "Would you like Croquet?" Answer, "Not really." "Cards?" "Don't see an honest face around here." "How about some blue-rock shooting?" "Afraid of guns." "Bird watching?" "Don't trust them." "In Jack Benny fashion, "Well, what would you like?" "Just leave us alone. We'll catch some rays." A discouraged Sally walked away wondering just where her career was going.

       A couple of disgruntled combat types were sitting at a lawn table, suspiciously eyeing us. We asked, "What are you two in for . . . molestation or murder?" 'Big mistake, we're innocent." "Yea, I'll bet. Where do you operate your racket from?" "Yoxford, the 357th gang, Mustangs." "Man! You really fly those Spam Cans with toothpick wings? Isn't that dangerous?" "OK! What kind of a fur-lined foxhole outfit are you with?" "King's Cliffe, 20th, P-38's" "Good Lord! How do you happen to still be alive?" "We get an escort of Mustangs. They are sugar to the Luftwaffe."

       McKinney says, "Now let me tell you about the May 24th Berlin mission. On the withdrawal near Hamburg about 60+ Me-109's were having their way with a Squadron of 16-Lightnings when some FW-190's decided to get in the fun. I was with my flight of Mustangs. It looked so bad I thought we better help out so we got on the 190's. When they saw us, they and the 109's split-S'd for the deck."

       McKinney's story was slightly exaggerated, but true. I knew about it becausethat was my outfit and I was one of those in a bit of trouble, But, I still couldn't let him completely dominate the BS-session. "So that was you! I want you to know that I've been upset ever since. We had those 109's cornered and a trap set for the 190's. Then here you came and messed it all up." That was my first meeting with McKinney. There would be many, many more.

       Actually, our squadron, on withdrawal escort, had run head-on into this gaggle of 109's. Neither side had seen the other until both formations were intermingled. All made a hard break into the other invoking a big fur-ball. Wall-to-wall Messerschmits, with flight leaders with their nose in their gun sights trying to bring their guns to bear. The rest of the flight in overload protecting the their flight's rear.

       Our Squadron Operations Officer Jack Ilfrey (first P-38 Ace in the war) shot one down immediately. Then warned of one under him, rolled his wing down and stuck it into the cockpit of that 109. Spinning out and recovering, he had a slow trip home with schredded wing-tip.

       Attempts to maintain our flight's integrity in this mess had gotten us into a stupid Lufbery with 4-Me-109's hard on our tail. There just isn't enough room in a Lufbery for eight airplanes. Someone will quickly get in trouble and it looked like my wingman (Blue 4) was it. Having already asked Blue 1 (Bradshaw, Memphis boyhood) and Blue 2 (Jesse Carpenter, Dresdon, TN) to suck it in, as the lead 109 was about to hose Blue 4. I told Webb to go to combat flaps and shove his throttles through the wire (war emergency power) so he and I could go for altitude and a tighter turn. The old P-38 could climb and out turn anything.

       Now, at the same time I was watching our tails, a FW-190 made an appearance diving at us from above. Thinking he was after us made for a whole lot of discomfort. Then there were more 190's. But, hot on their tails was a flight of Mustangs. Watching their six, all the German aircraft in the sky rolled over and headed home. Score: Two 109's destroyed, many more with holes in them; one P-38 missing (Huarte), several with holes.

       OH yes, back at the Flak House, that misconceived adrenaline dump. We had walking orders the next morning and a jeep was waiting at 06:00 AM. "Socially incapacitated. Beyond help by this facility." McKinney's room mate had gone over the wall, to town, and rounded up 6 English nurses, 2 Johnny Walkers, and brought them back to the Mansion. To much giggling caved the roof in.

       Later, State Side, I was assigned to Tallahassee as a fighter-training instructor. On entering the O-Club for dinner, there on bar stools sat McKinney, C.D. Sumner, and Jimmy Jabera plotting their escape and return to combat . . . Animals!

-------  Art Heiden


Biography of Art Heiden, Capt, 79th Ftr Sqdn, 20th Ftr Grp, 8th AF, USAAF

20th Fighter Group, By Art W. Heiden, Capt, 79th Ftr Sqdn, 20th Ftr Grp, USAAF, Use Back Key To Return

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