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Biography of Arthur W. Heiden

Capt, 79th FS, 20th FG, 8th AF

      Arthur W. Heiden was born on February 22, 1923 and subsequently graduated from High School, Class of 42. He entered service from Nebraska in June of 1942 and attended USAAF Flying School 43-H. Assigned to 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, at King's Cliffe, England, he attained the rank of Captain and flew the P-38J and the P51D in combat over Europe from February to August 1944.

It's Hard to be a Hero if your Story has been heard before!

       "Ice Wagon" was Col. Cy Wilson's description of a P-38. It's cockpit heat was so inadequate that it became nonexistent at altitude. The longer the mission at altitude, the more severe the frostbite on fingers and toes. With bombers, the open gunner's windows were a far worse problem than our's. Consequently, they had priority on the new electrically heated gloves and spats. They had our heartfelt sympathy, so we waited. A frostbite could be compared to a bad toothache or migraine. However, the pain of frostbite would subside with restoration of circulation.

       After an especially long mission and an unusually cold day, Bradshaw and I were sitting in the pilots room with our shoes and socks off trying to get circulation back so we could walk to the old 6x6. It served as our bus to the O-Club where we could get something for our hurt.

       The trouble started when Doc Roberts came by to check on us. "Doc, if we ever needed you, we need you now. Our feet hurt-like-hell. Can't you break out that Old Grandad we saw in your medicine locker?" "Sorry, but i haven't been resupplied. I'll have to keep that for tomorrow's mission." Excuses, excuses, how about letting your ambulance take us to the O-Club? We can't even walk." "Both you guys look in very bad shape. It might be that you have frozen your feet. I will have to put you in the hospital ward so that I can keep a watch on those feet. You will need something better than booze too."

       Via ambulance and litter-bearers we were taken to our hospital beds. "OK Doc, what kind of a third rate joint is this? Where are the nurses?" Three medics moved closer. Doc Roberts says, "haven't you met Tom. Dick, and Harry?" We jabbered away at the Doctor with our opinion of someone's planning and procurement.

       "Geez Doc, getting in a hospital means Purple Hearts, doesn't it? Drag them out." "Well, the only way to get a Purple Heart for frostbite is to have an amputation. Who's first?"

        Doc Roberts knew, all along, that he didn't have the "Right Stuff" in that hospital. No heroes today.

On flying the P38 in combat

       The old throttle chop and stuff everything in opposite corners was in every P-38 pilot's bag of tricks, if someone had managed to slip up his Six. Theory was, that it would make it nearly impossible for the attacker to get his gunsight on him and if he did, you would be going somewhere else from what it appeared.

       This idea had a downside, in that you would be giving up A/C performance, in such as airspeed, and rate of climb. Hence, the only practical time to use this, would be if the other guy was getting hits on your A/C, before you knew he was there. Other words, if you suddenly thought you had run into a hail storm, no time to think, last resort.

       The P-38, without boosted ailerons, was heavy/stiff on controls and if a lazy pilot, some would think about using this procedure. Us gorillas, would get our leg in to full rudder and lay into the aileron with everything we had. The latter worked with any fighter.

       A Fighter pilot needs to be a rudder man. It's the essential control, and the only one that will control the A/C in a stall and also make the A/C go in another direction than it appears to be.

April 29, 1944 Mission

       From the German side, let me recommend Heinz Knoke's "I Flew for the Fuhrer", this is the best I've found, and his account of April 29, 44 was a particular memorable date for the 20thFG, everything was all screwed up, Bombers were late, lost, separated, and got the hell beat out of them. The 20th was trying to get to a bomber group which were under attack and separated, and were pleading for help. We were trying to get to them, but were under attack too, continually bounced. The armor plated FW-190's were hitting the bombers. Droves of Me-109's were hitting the escort fighters. The worst mess that I experienced and heavy bomber losses.

       You are always asked, "what do you sweat about most in combat?". This mission is the ultimate answer, April 29, 1944. Starting with takeoff, assembling your flight, the squadron, the whole group, penetrating the overcast, all in formation, yet, and that the bombers can do the same and be able to assemble in formations we can escort and protect. This day all went wrong. we were to pick up our division after target withdrawal. We never found them. One box was 20-minutes early, the other 25-minutes late. All this due to wx, weather, on assembly and on the way to target. We were just abreast of the trailing formations on their way to target, when the r/t, radio transmitter, started blaring an unending string of "BANDITS, BANDITS. BANDITS", no location, just more screaming on the r/t, making any communication hopeless. Then here came strungout bounces of flights of ME-109s. The whole group broke into the attacks. Only Reimer, the 77th lead, got some hits, though his tec looked like he was hit but was full power and a tight vertical break by Fiebelkorn. R/T was crazy, but Colonel Franklin learned that one box was alone and lost, and under heavy attack. We headed in search of them, but the Luftwaffe departed as we came in sight.

       I just have always thought that the 4-29-44 mission, if ever told properly, could explain air-combat in all it's mayhem, better than most. The 3-18-44 mission had a lot of meat in it too. It's hard to adequately describe such a mess. Enclosed is the battle report, and you can see it can't tell the story either.

       All these mission reports are very vague as the writers hadn't time to digest what had happened, plus caution. If certain people had been paying attention, they would have been causing a big hub-bub, which would have been damaging. I happened to be the CO's #3 and was tasked to monitor the bomber channel, while the CO was desperately trying to find out what was going on. Remember all this was over our 5-channel VHF, where there was only less than 3-channels available and one was 121.1 emergency channel where it's use was mandated to stay clear of, but in this case was used in desperation and Franklin was trying to get people to use it to find out the problems. Meanwhile the battle had jammed that. No one had thought of using our traffic and radar control channels. So I guess that was why I had an unusual insight that no one else was privileged. You can imagine how busy our leaders were.

       Fellow 20th FG pilot Melvin C Pannell of the 55th Squadron, recalled, "After 63 years details of all those missions tend to get bleary, but if I remember correctly this was one of the hairiest. I remember seeing the most enemy fighters I ever saw in one place. They were well above us and looked like a swarm of bees. The mission description in King's Cliffe says it was estimated that the group saw 150 enemy planes most of which stayed at 30,000 feet or higher and refused to engage. They sure made us nervous though."

       This wasn't the only battle of the day, over 300 German fighters, armor plated FW-190's with diverting ME-109's, alot of action for P-47's and P-51's, Knoke flew 3-missions and ended up shooting down a P-47 that also shot him down. A very busy day.

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.

       This was 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.

       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 because that 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 Messerschmidts, 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 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 shredded 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. Too much giggling caved the roof in.

       Later, State Side, I was assigned to Tallahassee as a fighter-training instructor, training pilots on two types, the P-40N and the P-51D Mustang.. 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!

After The War

       Mr. Heiden then served during the Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1947 being assigned to the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force. His position was as Combat Operations Officer 5th Fighter Command. During this time he flew the P-38L and the P-51D.

       After leaving active service in August of 1947, Mr. Heiden remained in the USAF Reserve until 1960. His assignment during this time was with the Fighter Operations Section, Strategic Air Command HQ.

       Mr. Heiden is also a professional Civilian Pilot. He has flown as a Charter pilot, Flight Instructor, A & P Mechanic, Agriculture Pilot, Corporation Pilot, and Weather Modification Pilot in the such far flung places as Greece, Caribbean, Central & South America, Middle East as well as the United States. His Professional Certifications include Airline Transport Pilot, A & P Mechanic, Flight Instructor SMEL-Instrument, Ground Instructor-Advanced. He has Civil Type ratings with the DeHavilland DH-125, and the DA-20.

       Over 50 years of Flying, Mr.Heiden has accumulated 25,000 hours of flight time.

-------  Art Heiden


Biography of Art Heiden, from 20th Fighter Group Page, With Photos and more, Use Back Key To Return (link leads to internet archive of the original now defunct site)

20th Fighter Group, By Syd Edwards, Use Back Key To Return (link leads to internet archive of the original now defunct site)

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It's Hard to be a Hero if your Story has been heard before!, By Art Heiden

The Flak House Capers, By Art Heiden



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