July 7, 1944: Six in one day
Seventy years ago this week, Capt. Fred Christensen, 62nd Fighter Squadron, was the first American fighter pilot to shoot down six Luftwaffe aircraft in one day. In fact, it took him under two minutes.
Christensen was already a triple ace with 15.5 kills on July 7, 1944, the date of the action. His first aerial victory came on Nov. 26, 1943, and became an ace three days before Valentine’s Day 1944. Prior to July 7 he scored multiple kills four times.
That day’s mission was escorting bombers targeting the German’s synthetic oil industry. Allied planners thought without oil, the German war machine would grind to a halt. The escort mission was to the east to Brandenburg City, Germany.
Christensen led his flight of four at 25,000 feet. As they passed over the Gardelegen airdrome in Germany, Christensen saw about 35 aircraft parked on the ground. He led his flight to the east and down to 5,000 feet. He then turned back to set up the attack. As the flight made the turn toward the airfield, they saw 12 Junkers Ju 52s in trail trying to land. Ju 52s were a three engine transport aircraft.
Christensen put rounds into the wing of the trailing Ju52. As he flew past, the Junker blew up. He then picked up the next one in line and hit the engine and one wing. It exploded forcing the captain to pull up to avoid the debris. As he began firing into the wing of the next aircraft, the Junker pilot tried to take evasive action, but was so low, he ran into the ground.
Starting his attack on the fourth aircraft, Christensen’s engine stopped. As he checked his gages, he realized that the gas tank was empty. He switched to the main gas tank and air started his motor. He then rejoined the attack. Christensen fired several shots into an engine and the fourth aircraft dived into the ground.
He pulled off in a slow turn and ran across another Junker. He fired into the wings and the Ju 52 exploded. Another Junker was in the process of landing according to Christensen. The captain fired into one wing and a motor and the transport blew up.
The rest of the flight did well. Second Lt. Billy Edens also shot down three Ju 52s, which took him to seven kills and made him an ace. Capt. Michael Jackson, Christensen’s wing man, shot down one and brought the flight’s total to 10 Junkers shot down.
For Christensen and Edens, those were their last credited aerial victories of the war. In September 1944, combat ended very differently for both them. Christensen went home with his 21.5 aerial victories. Edens was not so lucky. While attacking a German airdrome on the nineth, Edens’ P-47 was downed by ground fire. He spent the rest of the war as a Prisoner of War, but the rest of his story will have to wait for another day.