The first Merlin engined version of North American’s supurb fighter, The “B” model of the Mustang would provide a shock to German leadership and garuntee the effectiveness of the American Strategic Bombing offensive.
After the jump, a look at an early long range escort.
In the months since I started this site I’ve used a lot of “best” “top” and “iconic” type adjectives. This is all part of what makes this subject interesting to me, and no doubt all these words can be used for the Mustang. So let me throw out another, this airplane was flown by the 354th Fighter Group, known as “The Pioneer Mustang Group” because they were literally, the first Mustang group in combat. But the 354th was also the top scoring fighter group in England.
Previously I had talked about the rivalry between the 4th and 56th Fighter Groups as the best of the 8th Air Force. The 354th scored more kills than either, but due to an administrative eccentricity they often get overlooked. Because the 354th was actually a part of the tactical 9th Air Force. The original Allison engined Mustangs were used mostly for tactical support and reconnaissance. So when the 354th was being outfitted in England it was envisioned as part of the 9th’s mission against the German Wehrmacht (Army). But after Eighth Air Force’s massive casualties in summer and fall of 1943 it was finally recognized that there was a need for long range escort fighters that could accompany the heavies all the way to targets in Germany and back. By the time the 354th was operational, escorting those bombers was by far the highest priority in the air war. So this “tactical” group found themselves provided the deepest escort legs on deep penetration bombing missions. Fairly quickly it was arranged so that Eighth Air Force Fighter Groups would be the top priority for re-equipping with Mustangs. But the 354th remained with the Nineth, on loan to the Eighth from late 1943 until mid 1944. After D-Day, the group was re-equipped with Thunderbolts and reverted to Nineth Air Force control.
But that period as the first and most experienced Mustang group led to the 354th leading all other fighter groups in air to air kills, and they never gave up that lead, finishing the war with 701 victories.
This particular subject is from the Tamiya kit. But the decals are from a much older Monogram kit. The airplane “Ding Hao!” (Chinese for “okay”, or something like that) was flown by Maj. James H. Howard.
James Howard had joined the US Navy in 1937, and became a carrier pilot on the USS Enterprise. He resigned in 1941 to join the Flying Tigers. He scored six kills in China. The Flying Tigers were absorbed in the Air Force on July 4, 1942; and James Howard was in demand as an experienced ace. Eventually that meant command of the 356th Fighter Squadron, part of the 354th Fighter Group.
On January 11, 1944, Maj Howard found himself alone when he spotted 30 German fighters closing on a Bomber Group. He attacked without hesitation. In a battle lasting 30 minutes he claimed three kills, but was credited with six by the crewmen in the Bomber formation. He ran out of ammunition in about 15 minutes, but stayed in the fight until the Germans broke off the engagement. For his actions, James Howard was promoted to Lt Col, and was the only fighter pilot based in England to win the Medal of Honor.