The History of the 514th in Brief
O nly casualty suffered during the operations over the beach-heads was Flight Commander Lt. J.E. Wilkes, who had been shot down on 7 June 1944 over the Utah sector. However, as the fury of battle increased, a heavy toll of lives and good American blood was spilled. Perhaps the heaviest price in human lives was exacted from the 514th during this month.
Next to leave our ranks due to enemy action was Lt. M.E. Isbell. While on an armed reconnaissance mission four miles north of Argentan, France, on 10 June 1944, Lt. Isbell was shot down by enemy aircraft. He was followed by Lt. M.A. Benson, on 17 June 1944, who, after being critically wounded and his Thunderbolt badly damaged by anti-aircraft, plunged into a German gun position. Lt. Benson was ultimately awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Same day Lt. L.A. Burton disappeared mysteriously while participating in an armed reconnaissance mission. Details and location of his demise are still wanting.
decided to abort and was picked up intact, giving us first
close-up glimpse of this harassing implement of war.
With his great Luftwaffe torn to shreds, Adolf Hitler resorted for the time, on a new scientific weapon—The Robot Bomb—to wreak vengeance on the city of London. Placed in the path of these harassing bombs or "Doodle Bugs" as they were labeled, it was our novel experience to witness fall of them all-around our base. As luck would have it, we fortunately escaped its wrath completely. Although virtually every "Doodle Bug" released had to pass over our field on its way to London, Lt. Billington was first pilot in the Group to shoot one down.
Several days later, 24 June 1944, intensive German anti-aircraft claimed another victim in Lt. J.L. Billington. He went down about 1/4 mile east of Durval, France. Another reconnaissance mission to Dreux, France, took two more of our original and capable pilots. Going down on the same flight were Lts. L.C. Beck and E.R. Gaudet. Lt. Beck was downed by the Luftwaffe, while Lt. Gaudet's fate remains a deep secret.
Distinction of being first squadron pilot to be credited with a swastika marked plane goes to Lt. M. Jones. Claims were also made by Lts. Saux, Wood and McLane, who were involved in the dog-fight but photographs produced evidence that Lt. Jones' marksmanship was best.
The month of July proved to be an extraordinarily active one as an all-out effort by the Allies, both air and ground forces, succeeded in extending the beach heads and also was instrumental in plaguing the notorious German horde to extent that organized resistance was getting visibly weaker every day. The Air Forces, in particular, found the going more difficult with extremely adverse weather to cope with. At any rate, the 514th continued stalking its prey obstinately with an average of at least two missions per day.
Highlight of the month presented itself on 4 July 1944, a national holiday in the U.S. in commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Ironically, the long-cherished subject of peace was completely obliterated from the minds of those involved in a war to restore this same tranquility. Instead of the celebration, our unit continued to scour European skies for "bandits," strafed armored columns, disrupted communications and, in short, raised havoc with anybody or anything connected to the Axis.
While on one of these harassing raids over the Avaranche area, our inimitable airmen encountered eight to 10 enemy ships in that vicinity. The results were strictly in our favor with claims being made by Captain E.C. Heckman and Lt. U.M. Roth. Lt. Colonel L.R. Bratton, Deputy Group Commander, also scored in the aerial duel with a probable. Not to be outdone, Lt. N. Lewin-Epstein bagged his "Jerry" the next day, 5 July 1944. On the same mission Lt. E.E. Springer was missing in action.
An accidental wound inflicted on T/Sgt. C.E. Lavender on 3 July 1944, proved fatal the following day, cutting short his military career and brief combat service. T/Sgt. Lavender had been one of the original cast and one of the important cogs in our armament section.
the English Channel.
At this stage of the war, the trend of battle proceeded beyond expectations, making our position in Ashford highly unfavorable for close ground support—our principal objective. Consequently, the advance echelon of the squadron departed from the station on 18 July 1944 for France via the marshalling grounds in Southampton. The trip across the now placid waters of the English Channel was made on the Lucius Q.C. Lamarr—a Liberty ship.
While the air echelon was occupied with travel, ground crews left behind in Ashford, Kent, experienced an unusually busy time servicing our ships for any number of missions. All efforts against the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were highly successful but the three flown on 20 July proved most fruitful from the standpoint of damage. The three missions combined completely destroyed a train-load of tanks in the neighborhood of Rouen and Amiens. Then pressed forward relentlessly to bomb railroad bridges and strafe and destroy valuable goods cars intended for the front.
On 25 July 1944 our Group and squadron participated in the mass-bombing of an area between St. Lo and Perriers. The breakthrough at this point by armored and infantry troops depended largely on the success of this mission. The results, of course, hardly merit further elaboration since everything worked out as planned. Fine execution of this strategy drew commendable remarks from Brigadier General O.P. Weyland, Commanding General, Headquarters, IX Fighter Command, and other military dignitaries.
The last day of the month, our ground echelon scanned English skies wistfully for signs of another Robot, breathed a sigh of relief—then reluctantly left the station to join forces with the advance echelon on French soil. The latter reached the scene of operations at Tour-en-Bessin on 27 July 1944 while former arrived there on 4 August 1944. Combat operations continued undisturbed during these movements.
Working under severest of conditions and making the most of field expediency, 514th's "Raiders" incessantly stabbed their deadly fangs into enemy strong points facing our speeding troops. At this point, as part of the XIX Tactical Air Command, the 406th Fighter Group combined forces with Lt. General George S. Patton's Third Army to form one of the most formidable air and ground combinations in history. Success with which these two teams functioned proved conclusively for the first time the significance of a powerful Tactical Air Command.