1943: 100th aerial victory for 56th Fighter Group
Col. Hubert Zemke, 56th Fighter Group commander, made a promise to his group, which was to be the first fighter group in the European theater to reach 100 aerial victories by Sadie Hawkins Day, Nov. 6, 1943. Lt. George Hall, 63rd Fighter Squadron, helped fulfill the commander’s promise Nov. 5 when he downed the last kill of the day.
Just 206 days earlier on April 13 the group flew its first combat sortie from Royal Air Force Horsham St. Faith, near Norwich, Norfolk County, England.
As the Americans honed their skills, their combat effectiveness improved and they began to rack up victories beginning with Capt. Walter Cook who earned the group’s first aerial victory on June 12.
The group flew a bomber escort mission Nov. 3 and tallied three kills. Zemke influenced 8th Air Force planners to also put the 56th FG on another mission Nov. 5 to Münster, Germany, in support of two combat boxes of B-24s. Bomber combat boxes were designed to provide mutual supporting defensive firepower against enemy fighters.
Two minutes after the 56th crossed the Dutch coast, they jettisoned their fuel tanks. Five minutes later they joined the bombers. The 63rd FS flew on the right side of the lead bomber box, with the 61st on the left side. The 62rd FS covered the rear bomber box.
Just south of the town of Rheine, Germany, 30 enemy fighters flew in from the north at about the same altitude as the bombers. When they saw the American fighters, they hesitated in their attack. That pause gave the two lead squadrons a chance to gain the advantage and attack the German fighters.
The 56th Fighter Group recorded six kills that day, including one each for Zemke, and Maj. Francis Gabreski. The last aerial victory for the day went to Hall.
During the fray, Hall saw a Messerschmitt Me 210 about 5,000 feet below and to the right of him. Diving out of the sun, the enemy gunner did not see Hall until he was within 5,000 yards. The Messerschmitt turned left. Hall fired at a 300-yard distance and watched his bullets strike the aircraft around the pilot.
The Messerschmitt flipped to the left and then to the right, causing Hall to make an evasive hard right turn. Even so, his aircraft was struck by debris, but he was close enough to see the enemy pilot who appeared dead and the gunner who jumped from the aircraft. Hall watched as the enemy aircraft spiraled toward the earth.
With Hall’s victory, the 56th FG’s tally was 100.5 aerial victories.