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Tom Cleaver
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Tamiya P-51Ds of the 361st Fighter Group

November 25, 2017 · in Aviation · · 17 · 3.5K

Two P-51Ds done around 15 years ago. "Lou IV," flown by group commander Thomas Christian, and "E2-S" flown by Urban Drew.

Both kits done with the True Details resin cockpit and Falcon vacuform canopies. "E2-S" has (if you look carefully at the photo) the early 'tear drop" canopy, available in the Falcon "Mustang Special" set.

The 361st Fighter Group, comprising the 374th, 375th and 376th Fighter Squadrons, came into existence on February 10, 1943 at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia. The unit was formed with trained personnel from the 327th Fighter Group, and new graduates of flight schools and technical schools. The Commanding Officer was Major Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., great-grandson of the famous Civil War general “Stonewall” Jackson.

On May 1,1944, the 361st received 17 new P-51B Mustangs and began re-equipment from the P-47. The first all-Mustang mission was flown on May 13, and on May 19 the 361st flew their first escort mission to Berlin. On May 27, Maj. George L. Merritt, Jr., commanding the 375th Fighter Squadron, became the group's first ace when he shot down a Fw-190 near Lille.

The 361st was in the thick of things with the invasion of Normandy in June, flying six strafing and dive-bombing missions on June 6 alone, during which 15 locomotives and an ammunition train were destroyed, as well a 23 trucks and armoured cars and two enemy aircraft on the ground. The group continued to fly ground attack missions throughout June and July during the Battle of Normandy, demonstrating real proficiency in dive-bombing, and also demonstrating the vulnerability of the Mustang, with it's liquid-cooled engine, to ground fire as 10 pilots were killed or posted Missing in Action during that time. On June 29, the group scored 16 aircraft destroyed on a strafing mission to Oschersleben, Germany. On August 12, 1944, four dive-bombing and strafing missions were flown against rail transportation targets in France with the loss of Lts. John E. Engstrom and Merle C. Rainey of the 375th FS, Lt. Clarence E. Zieske of the 374th FS and the Group Commander, Col. Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr.

In September,1944, the group provided air cover for Operation Market Garden, the airborne assault on northern Holland that ended in the defeat of the British 6th Airborne Division and the likely extension of the war by 5-6 months as a result of the British failure.

Urban L. Drew joined the USAAF in October 1942 and graduated in Class 43-I, where he was assigned to the replacement base at Bartow, Florida to learn to fly the ; after completion of the course he remained as an instructor until receiving an assignment to the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group in May 1944. While a junior pilot, Drew had more P-51 time than anyone else in the group, which had just transitioned to the P-51 that month, and he did quite a bit of instruction of pilots with more combat experience than he had. During his tour with the “Yellowjackets,” Drew flew 75 missions and rose to command first “A” Flight and later the 375th Squadron, during which time he scored 6 victories. His most notable combat came on October 7, 1944, when he shot down two Me-262s of Kommando Nowotny and became the first Allied pilot to shoot down the new jet fighter, and one of very few to shoot down two. Years later, he was awarded the Air Force Cross for this. He also sank the Bv-238 V1 prototype six-engine flying boat at Lake Schaal by strafing with the three other pilots of his flight. Following his ETO tour, Drew was assigned to the 413th Squadron, 414th Fighter Group, flying P-47N's at Iwo Jima in 1945. After the war, he helped organize the 127th Fighter Group of the Michigan Air National Guard and later was appointed the first Air Adjutant General of the State of Michigan.

Reader reactions:
10  Awesome

27 additional images. Click to enlarge.

17 responses

  1. Nice work on both (and who doesn't like to look at Mustangs)..? 🙂

  2. Glad to see they weren't painted in a shade of blue... as they are sometimes depicted.

    • Speaking of the blue finish, does anyone know how that got started?

    • Actually, they were painted blue! Dana Bell published a study over at HyperScale earlier this year, using color-corrected photos. Turns out Lou IV has a combination of British Dark Green and Insignia Blue. And that "Bald Eagle" was indeed blue. You can't go wrong with Dana's research. I'm attaching here some of the prints he used to demonstrate this.

      I'm doing the new Revell 1/32 early P-51D with Dana's information (for the wing, insignia blue over the D-Day stripes, same as over the upper D-Day stripes on the fuselage, with RAF Dark Green outer area)

      3 attached images. Click to enlarge.

      • I believe you were correct in your previous post Tom. Although I respect Dana's work a great deal I don't agree with him and this is why. Back in the 90's Ben Drew was a guest of honor at one of the the CAF airshos in Midland, TX. and I made the trip there just to meet him for research work I was doing on the 361st. He was still mentally sharp and I had the opportunity to grill him for the better part of the day; spending time discussing everything from his training to his double jet kills and also a lengthy discussion regarding how he ended up flying E2*S (Sugar) for the photo shoot that produced those controversial photographs. He stated unequivocally that "there was no blue paint on any of those aircraft or any other 361st aircraft and had no idea how that nonsense continued to keep being brought up over the years." His words not mine. He was fairly confident that it was most likely a film development issue that produced the bluish hue that appears in those images. I think I'll stick with the first hand account rather than a 70+ year post dated assumption. Just my two cents.

  3. Very nice story and builds Tom and thanks for pointing out the different canopy

  4. Great builds and extra info as always, Tom!

  5. Very nice indeed Tom.

  6. Good looking Mustangs (but aren't they all?).

  7. Great colour schemes on both models.

  8. Nice brace of ponies!

  9. Very nice build Tom.
    Christians "LOU IV" was also done by my friend "Eberle" around 6 years ago and painting of his model rely on the research of Tom Cleaver. Finished model,workshop and also comparison with photos of the real aircraft you can see on :

  10. Nice builds Tom, a few years ago Ben Drew unexpectedly showed up at Carlsbad with his family. It was quite the honor to show him around Betty Jane. He was great to talk to and really perked up around the Mustang. He still had that gleam in his eyes.

    1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

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