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david leigh-smith
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On This Day...March 8th

March 8, 2019 · in Photo Collections · · 10 ≡

8 March 1944: the bombardment of Berlin continues with 8th Air Force Mission number 252. The index target is a ball bearing plant at Erkner (a suburb of Berlin) and enemy opposition, as usual, is fierce.

In total, 37 bombers were lost from 414 B-17s (28 lost) and 209 B-24s (9 lost). Casualties are 4 KIA, 14 WIA and 364 MIA.

16 escorts were lost; cover provided by 104 P-38s...

...613 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47s.

...and 174 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51s.

This B-24J (serial number 42-100353) of the 703rd BS, 445th BG took several hits from the the Luftwaffe, but managed to nurse the Liberator back to England. Unable to make it all the way to home base at Tibenham her crew was apparently attempting to land at Metfield Aerodrome. All crew survived, March 8th, 1944.

March 8th 1944. Captain Bud Mahurin returns to base at Halesworth, with the news that he has added three more victories to his tally, making him the top ace in the European Theatre.

Walker Mahurin joined the 56th Fighter Group in July 1942, arriving in England on January 1943, where he was promoted to Captain and Flight Leader of the 63rd Fighter Squadron.

He claimed his first victories during the Schweinfurt- Regensburg mission, when he shot down two FW 190s, one flown by Luftwaffe Ace, Major Wilhelm Galland.

By November 1943 Mahurin had become the first American "Double Ace. Mahurin would claim 20 kills in the European Theatre of Operations. His final kill in March 1944 was a Do-17, which he shot down over France, his aircraft had sustained heavy battle damage and Mahurin was forced to bail out. He described the experience:

"The next thing I know, I'm in the French countryside at high noon with 35 of my fellow fighter pilots circling around me like a beehive... I ran like hell." After hiding in a haystack Mahurin was picked up by the French Resistance and returned to England, successfully evading capture for five weeks. Mahurin's knowledge of the French Resistance grounded him (in case of further capture and torture) and he subsequently returned to the US.

In October 1944 Mahurin was shipped to the Pacific Theatre of Operations to command the 3rd Fighter Squadron, he claimed two more kills flying Mustangs from the Philippines. He finished the war as Lieutenant-Colonel with a promotion to Commander of the 3rd Air Commando Group.

Following World War II, Mahurin stayed with the US Air Force and during the Korean War he commanded the 1st Fighter Group, training in F-86 Sabre, then serving as assistant to Colonel Francis S Gabreski with the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, before leading the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing in combat.

Flying F-86 Sabres, Mahurin claimed another kill, becoming the only American pilot to score victories in the European and Pacific Theatres and the Korean War. Mahurin was shot down and taken Prisoner of War in North Korea in May 1952. He had been credited with shooting down three MIG-15s, and taking part in another downing, when he set out to strafe a rail yard in North Korea on May 13, 1952. He decided that before heading back to base he would shoot up a truck he had spotted in the area...

“I should never have gone after that truck,” Mr. Mahurin told the Gannett News Service in 2006. “You never want to trade a $500,000 airplane for a $50,000 truck. I figured, well, I’d go shoot that up and then I’ll have a good story to tell the boys at the officers’ club when I get back to base. And of course I never got back.”

Mahurin endured psychological torture, intense questioning and solitary confinement whilst imprisoned before making a false confession that he undertook germ warfare tactics. He was released in 1953 and later promoted to Colonel after working to develop courses on interrogation survival.

Mahurin retired from the US Air Force Reserve in Dec. 1978 and died peacefully aged 91 in May of 2010.

Quite amazing photo of USS Saratoga's (CV-3) incomplete hull at New York Shipbuilding Company shipyard, New Jersey, United States, 8th March 1922.

PBY-5A flying over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, United States, 8th March, 1942.

Reader reactions:
13  Awesome

10 responses

  1. Another fine write-up, David! Thanks for such an interesting history lesson!

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Wouldn’t be so grand to call it a history lesson, just a story and some photos.

  3. Always the highlight of my day! Again awesome photos and stories from the Military History Vault!

  4. Morne, you have no idea how much that means to me.


  5. Another great set! The Sara was laid down originally as a battle cruiser CC-3, as was the Lexington.

  6. Ah, I love the ‘Sara - really.

  7. Thanks David, I really enjoy reading these posts.

  8. Interestingly, Bud's experience as a POW led to a modification of the Code of Conduct, allowing a POW to "confess" to "crimes" that were obviously faked, rather than go through the torture he did to not confess to "germ warfare," which he eventually did.

    Also, the Soviets recovered his crashed F-86E, which had the all-flying tail (which the Soviets were unaware of) that allowed the Sabre to maintain control when going supersonic. Every Socviet fighter from the MiG-19 on has had that mechanism from that Sabre.

    I knew Bud out at Planes of Fame, where he would often speak. He'd start by saying "I crashed every airplane I ever flew." Not a confession of incompetence, but rather that he would fly to the outer edge of the envelope. By then he was flying a Piper Cherokee, which he said had a "40 minute range." "Forty minutes is as long as I can go before I gotta land, stop at the FBO and make a run for the outhouse."

    During the 1960s, he did a lot of the first flights out at the museum as they began making airplanes flyable, first the P-26, then the P-47G and then the Ki. 84 they had (till they gave it back to the Japanese, who have allowed it to rot - which is why they won't give them the Zero).

  9. Yet again, thanks, Tom - for not only adding to the series, but sharing some history - it’s just amazing to have first hand experiences. Thanks...a lot. I knew someone professionally, a very eminent person who had lunch twice with Adolf Hitler, and I was really excited to pick his mind and ask questions. Can you imagine, talking to someone who’d met and talked with Hitler.

    Anyway, on my first meeting with him it became very apparent, very quickly, that this man’s memories were ‘not quite’ what you’d hope. He garbled his way through our session and all I thought was “this man has had a front seat at historically important events, and can’t remember a thing”. Tragic.

  10. Really fine narrative

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