P-38 Lightning Aces of the 82nd Fighter Group
Series & number: Aircraft of the Aces 108
Author: Steve Blake
Artist: Chris Davey
Item: ISBN: 978-1-84908-743-8
Formats: Softcover; PDF eBook; ePub Book
America’s 82nd Fighter Group ended the Second World War as one of USAAF’s most accomplished units. It was unique as forming in the United States Army Air Corps before the war with staff sergeant pilots, equipped with P-38s from start to finish. They were the second-highest scoring P-38 group, barely overtaken by the 475th FG by just 5 kills. The group earned three Distinguished Unit Citations, akin to a Medal of Honor for an entire organization. This title, described by the author as a ‘mini-history’, follows the 82nd from formation to VE day, drawing upon a great deal of archival material and personal accounts to tell the fascinating story of its pilots who fought the Axis in the big P-38.
The 82nd Pursuit Group was formed just before the USAAC became the United States Army Air Force
, changing terms again in May 1942 to the 82nd Fighter
Group. Not only was the group mainly staffed with noncommissioned officers, they were also to employ the hottest plane in the inventory, Lockheed’s twin-engine, twin-boomed, high-altitude P-38 Lightning! The 82nd was composed of the 95th, 96th, and 97th Fighter Squadrons. Following the usual shuffling from training base to base, the 82nd shipped out to England in September 1942. Thence they flew to Algeria in December to reinforce other USAAF units following Operation Torch
It was on that flight the 82nd engaged the enemy for the first time. No Germans were expected but a P-38 and an A-20 fell to a surprise attack by long-range Ju 88 fighters of 14./KG 40. Two of the four Ju 88s went down in return, Major Bob Kirtley drawing first blood by shooting down the first with just 50 rounds per gun! Kills and losses, and not even yet to their combat base!
Across North Africa and the Mediterranean the 82nd cut their teeth against cadres of the Luftwaffe’s finest, facing Jagdgruppen
with Luftwaffe Experten
such as Heinz "Pritzl" Bär, Werner Schröer, and “Macki” Steinhoff. Most early missions were bomber escorts of B-25 and B-26 groups. The Germans and Italians violently opposed these as they fought to preserve the Afrika Korps and its lifeline, and then to repel the coming invasion of Italian soil. Missions included escort, dive-bombing, CAP, and strafing missions against ground targets and enemy airfields. They also flew Operation Flax
sweeps, slaughtering Nazi aerial transports attempting to keep Afrika Korps alive. One of these encounters was the group’s greatest-kill mission, 27 Axis fighters and transports shot into the Mediterranean. Soon the 82nd held the leading air-to-air score in the MTO (Mediterranean Theater of Operations). They held it until 1945 when they were eclipsed by the P-51 equipped 31st FG.
Sicily and Italy were invaded and the 82nd was involved in the aerial reduction of Axis airfields on Sardinia and surrounding isles. Eventually based near Naples, the group was incorporated into the strategic 15th Air Force, and fanned out all over southern Germany and the occupied countries of Eastern Europe. July 8 1944 was the groups second highest kill day when they slaughtered 19 Me 410s near Vienna. The 82nd flew as bomb carriers for the large P-38 attack on Polesti, and rampaged through the Nazi rear on shuttle missions to Russia. It was during the one of those Frantic
missions on 26 July that two 82nd pilots shot their way into history as the groups last aces. The rest of the war found the Luftwaffe scarce in the 15th AF area, and few aerial victories were added. On VE Day the group boasted 548 confirmed aerial kills, 126 locomotives, and 9 ships. The cost was high for the pilots: over a third were killed in action or captured.
Mr. Blake previously published a private comprehensive history of the 82nd and this concise book seems to contain the best of the larger work. He writes in an easily read style. I found one item that is a bit confusing, contradictory numbers of aces in the introduction and on the back cover. P-38 Lightning Aces of the 82nd Fighter Group
is brought to you through 96 pages in eight chapters and an introduction, and appendices:
Chapter one: TRAINING DAZE
Chapter two: NORTH AFRICAN AIR WAR
Chapter three: MEDITERRANEAN ISLES
Chapter four: ITALY - TARGET AND HOME
Chapter five: STRATEGIC LIGHTNINGS
Chapter six: LETDOWN
COLOUR PLATES COMMENTARY
Setting this book apart from dry unit histories is that it is full of first-hand accounts by survivors, and some from pilots interviewed before their tragic wartime deaths. Their words bring the history to life in an extraordinary manner. As huge as WW2 was, this book features cases where it was personal, with the vanquished or victorious Axis pilot identified.
"The results of this mission were six enemy aircraft and a ship destroyed. Muir's victim was evidently Sottotenente Vincenzo Graffeo of the Regia Aeronautical 151° Gruppo, 367* Squadriglia, who was killed after reportedly shooting down one of the two P-38s that were lost."
'In any direction one looked, there were P-38s and Me 109s diving straight down or going straight up - many in vertical banks, leaving two silver vapour trails from their wingtips. We fought for approximately 20 minutes from 10,000 ft down to zero. There would be a flicker of a '109 - you led him, fired a short burst, and you would see another out of the corner of your eye doing the same thing with you. You'd twist toward him to shorten his firing period, get a burst in if you could, break off your attack and then start in on another that was coming your way. It wasn't at all unusual to see a P-38 firing at a '109, with another '109 on the P-38's tail, as well as a P-38 on that '109's tail. But the train would only last a second or two, before breaking up as soon as the situation was realized by those in it.’
‘Behind me was another P-38 with a Focke-Wulf on his tail, and a P-38 on the Fw 190’s tail. We were all playing follow-the-leader. I was very close to the Fw 190 in front of me and hit him with three quick bursts. He went over on one wing and then fell into a spin, before crashing in Sicily. I recall I was very concerned about the P-38 on my tail, who was following my manoeuvres and who was being pursued by the second Focke-Wulf. I would fire, then look back and yell over the radio for my friend to watch out for the enemy fighter on his tail. I was the luckiest, I guess, because the guy behind me was on my side. The other Nazi aeroplane in our game of crack-the-whip apparently was damaged, as he dropped out and left the area. Another Fw 190 cut across and in front of me from the right. I led him and fired, hitting him as he flew through my fire, but he kept on going and cut back to the right. I claimed him as a damaged We then dived down looking for more of them, and I found my third whilst descending. I looked down and saw him skipping along close to the water, heading for Sicily. He had a P-38 chasing him some distance back, but he was pulling away and leaving the Lightning behind. I had plenty of speed, so I dove down between them and started to shoot. My first burst got him and he looped over and crashed into the sea.’
Mr. Blake not only relates the combat history, he also discusses the pilots. Top ace was 1Lt William J. Sloan, a.k.a. “Dixie” due to his southern drawl; after a nasty fight over enemy territory lead to the loss of his best friend, “Dixie” rearmed, refueled, and set off across the Mediterranean alone to search for his friend. Another pilot, 2Lt Lloyd E. Atteberry, came up with a maneuver in the heat of combat that bore his name for the rest of the war. The fates and fortunes of many are offered to varying degrees of detail. Many completed their 50-mission tours and several volunteered to fly extended tours to help out. A few also returned for a second tour with the group. A few 50th missions were extraordinary for different reasons, i.e., a commander shot down and crashing in flames, yet surviving to be captured and then repatriation; another shooting up his potential 5th kill only to have his guns jam before the coup de grâce
. Each new ace is acknowledged, such as Larry Liebers who became the group’s 12th ace with a trio of Macchis while escorting 310th BG B-25s over the Aranci Gulf.
Fighting against the 82nd were Luftwaffe Geschwadern
; Italian Gruppos
; the Hungarian 101st ‘Puma’ Group; and Romanian units. Often the Axis units are identified.
Moves and Missions
Group movements and host bases are mentioned. Some include the locale character such as North Africa’s ‘Gooey Tafaroui’, and an RAF base in Tunisia nicknamed “Marylebone” after a ritzy area of London.
Many missions are presented in a great deal of detail, including to where; with which units; nature of the mission; routes; and who fought against. This includes the infamous deadly dogfight between the 82nd and Soviet Yaks! Many an exciting dogfight is recounted in these pages!
Love That Lightning?
Legendary Lockheed steed P-38 is one of the most well-known fighters of WW2. Aside from the Me 262 jet it was the only successful twin-engine air-to-air day-fighter of the war. Yet the P-38’s record is varied and still the source of debate amongst air-warologists. Over the Pacific the P-38 was the mount of America’s two top aces and swept the Japanese from the sky for USAAF; yet it was so bad over Northwest Europe that General Doolittle banned it from the 8th AF. However, over North Africa it brought the pain to the Luftwaffe, who called it ”der Gabelschwanz-Teufel,
The Fork-tailed Devil.” Mr. Blake does not endeavor to explain that dichotomy of Lightning success between fighting over the ETO verses the MTO; the author does present the incredible maneuverability and performance of the P-38 through pilot stories. Many pilots recount outturning and outclimbing Messerschmitts, Focke-Wulfs, and Macchis.
Aircraft are given attention, too. Many accounts of victories and losses list a particular P-38 including its model, block number, serial number, and squadron code, e.g., P-38G-10 42-13150/‘AZ’. One is the amazing veteran of 183 missions and many kills: “THE SAD SACK”
, P-38F 43-2112/’AS’. Kill symbols were swastikas and unique fasces for the Regia Aeronautica
. For reasons recounted in the text, one P-38 included a pair of question marks!
Photographs, Art and Graphics
Enhancing the text are dozens of black-and-white photographs, and a color photo. While the majority of the photos -- even air-to-air images -- are of good quality, many seem a bit dark. Most were shot on the spot by amateur photographers although several seem professionally done. Some are not sharply focused although again, they were probably shot by casual photographers. These pilot and aircraft portraits provide a great wealth of detail for uniforms, equipment, and markings. Plus they offer great ideas for dioramas and artwork.
Chris Davey created 34 excellent aircraft profiles and 10 images of the center cockpit/nose component. The 82nd was not the most colorful group of the USAAF yet there is lots of “airplane eye candy” for you. Sharp-eyed readers will find a couple of P-38s that seem out of place, although the reasons for including them is explained. Each plate has its own commentary in the back.
There are no maps to orient you to the arena the 82nd fought over. I find this a disappointing omission in Aircraft of the Aces books. There is a list of 82nd aces, and also pilots who scored 4 kills. Air-to-air kills and ground kills are separately listed.
I was assigned to the 82nd while in the USAF but did not know what an esteemed unit it is. This book does an excellent job of revealing its WW2 history. The author did an excellent job of presenting their story, fortifying it with pilot accounts and not just relating official records. It is full of many ”there I was” stories. I also appreciate the detail given to the combat missions and groups the 82nd flew with – and against. Attention given to the aircraft is sure to be helpful to researchers and modelers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it quickly once I cracked the cover. I enjoyed this book because it is about the MTO. History and enthusiasts seem to focus upon the Memphis Belles
and Wolf Packs
of the 8th AF flying from England. Many of the vets of the 12th and 15th reminisce that the 8th pilots looked upon them as bush league, until shuttle missions made them realize the MTO air forces were fighting the same Germans the 8th was. I personally find MTO missions more interesting because of the diversity of aircraft involved. While it is not so, reading many accounts of the air war fought from England could lead one to believe that the only airplanes in Germany were single-engine Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts. In this book you will find the 82nd dogfighting not only ‘109s and ‘190s, but also Zerstörers; Macchis, Reggiannes, and Fiats; “Nazi lend-lease” French Dewoitine 520s; Romanian IAR-80s; and multi-engine Junkers and Dornier heavy fighters. They rampaged against CANT Z.506 and Arado seaplanes; Breda and Savoia-Marchetti and Junkers bombers; shredded Ju 52 and Me 323 Gigant transports; and varieties of biplanes and liaison planes and trainers. Oh yeah, even a P-51…and those Yaks!
Photographic support richly enhances the text, and the artwork is wonderful. My only nitpicks are some dark photographs, the confusing ace totals, and lack of maps.
I definitely recommend this book to enthusiasts, historians, and modelers of the 82nd, European air war, MTO, P-38, and USAAF.
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