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david leigh-smith
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On This Day…January 11th

January 11, 2019 · in News · · 16 Comments

On January 11th, 1944, James H. Howard flew his P-51 Mustang alone into 30 or more Luftwaffe fighters that were attacking a formation of American B-17 Flying Fortresses over Oschersleben, Germany. For over half an hour, Howard protected the B-17’s of the 401st Bomber Group against the attacking fighters; time and again diving at the enemy, shooting down three confirmed and three probable targets. Even after Howard's Mustang ran out of ammunition, he continued to harass and dive at the Luftwaffe swarm.

At the post mission debriefing, Howard’s actions were noted and cited by no less than SIXTEEN B-17 pilots. The leader of the bomber formation later reported, "For sheer determination and guts, it was the greatest exhibition I've ever seen. It was a case of one lone American against what seemed to be the entire Luftwaffe. He was all over the wing, across and around it. They can't give that boy a big enough award."

And he did get an award. James Howard was the only American fighter pilot to be given the Medal of Honor in the European Theatre of Operations.


“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany on 11 January 1944. On that day Colonel Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long range mission deep in enemy territory. As Colonel Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Colonel Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME-110. As a result of this attack Colonel Howard lost contact with his group and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Colonel Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than thirty German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some thirty minutes, during which time he destroyed three enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement three of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Colonel Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the Armed Forces of the United States”.

On January 11th, 1994, on the 50th anniversary of the Oschlersleben mission, Pinellas County proclaimed the day “General Howard Day” and he was presented in person with a plaque to commemorate his actions that day in ‘44. Glad to say, Major Howard lived the long life he deserved.


Tony Vaccaro (the legendary American photographer) on 11th January 1943 with GI Greenberg (left) at Camp Van Dorn Training Camp, Mississippi.

Some of his iconic images from WW2, below...

Tony is alive and well to this day.


Lightning (A55-1) P38, photographed at Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory, on 11th January 1944, the day after a summer storm blew the aircraft into a drain.

US troops from the 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels) pull into the Belgian village of Bihain, liberated by the 83rd on 11th January 1945.

NASA’s Mercury astronaut, John Glenn sits inside the training capsule, January 11th, 1961, in preparation for manned space flight.

16 responses

  1. Interesting to see James Howard P-51. Everyone paints it with one color of O.D.. But, in looking at the photos its obvious for the publicity photo they applied fresh paint (a darker shade of O.D.) for the lettering of Ding Hao . Also, the wheel wells are painted in chromate yellow. With P-51's it can be hit or miss. Just some minor trivia...

    • COL Howard's P-51 is certainly interesting; looks like one could do a lot of creative weathering on that one. Also, note that the illustration (and the smaller photo) shows "Ding Hao" with a Malcolm hood, the one in the photo shows the aircraft with a normal, side-opening Mustang canopy. Same aircraft, or different one?

    • That's actually not the case, Steve. the "fresh OD paint" on early P-51Bs in the ETO is actually the remains of the sealant put on the airframes for trans-Atlantic sea shipment, which was not completely removed when the airplanes were reassembled, due to the high demand to get them into service. You see the same thing with P-38s in the SWPA, for the same reason.

      The Malcolm hood was added sometime after April 1944. BTW - Malcolm hoods are not painted, no "framing." They were molded plastic and "popped on" to the airframe.

  2. An interesting set! I believe that Howard was with the Flying Tigers earlier.

    • Yep, he was...

      • That's not actually Howard in the photo. The first plane is Charles Older. Howard was in the 2nd "Panda Bears" squadron. This is the 3rd "Hells Angels" squadron.

        I just got through writing a chapter on the AVG in my next book.

  3. Like that pic of Glenn...

  4. Amazing post, David.

  5. Love these. So much history to adsorb.

  6. Found some more info on Howard and Ding Hao.

    Major Howard may have flown a different airplane on 11 January 1944. A handwritten caption of the reverse of the top photograph reads, “Howard in own P-51B at Boxted, 25/4/44 not AC in which he won MOH,

    James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.

    Here is another Ding Hao;

  7. Thanks, Stephen. This is just one reason I love doing this series - lots of follow up posts to find even more reasons to look up interesting stuff on the internet late into the night!

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