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P51 Mustangs encounter Nazi Mistel fighters
  DICINGWITHPIGGYBACKS  After escorting B-17 bombers to Berlin, four P-51 Mustang pilots of the 55th Fighter Group,Eighth Air Force, went hunting for targets of their own. Diving down to strafe a pair of locomotives, none of them expected what happened next… he USAAF went all out to destroy the Tempelhof rail marshalling yards in the centre of Berlinon February 3, 1945 – it was believed thatthe German Sixth Panzer Army was passingthrough them on its way to the Eastern Front. A total of 937 B-17s were send to destroy it with anescort of 575 North American P-51 Mustangs. Arrivingin waves throughout the late morning and into the earlyafternoon the bombers did their work well, shattering alarge area and starting a fire that would last for four days. Among the P-51s that had escorted the B-17s weresquadrons of the 55th Fighter Group, the ‘Double Nickel’,led by the unit’s flamboyant executive officer LieutenantColonel Elwyn C Righetti.With fuel still in their tanks and the bombers wellprotected by others, Righetti decided that his men couldconduct a ground sweep on the way home to Station 159 DICING WITH PIGGYBACKS FEBRUARY 3, 1945: THE DOUBLE NICKEL’SMISTEL ENCOUNTER – the 55th’s base at Wormingford in Essex. Strafing was hisspeciality and he organised two flights before setting out tolook for targets.His men were all members of the 343rd FighterSquadron: 1st Lieutenant Bernard H Howes, 22, fromBrockton, Massachusetts, was flying P-51K CY-C 44-63745 ‘My Li’l Honey’, 2nd Lt Patrick L Moore from Griffin,Indiana flew P-51D CY-Y 44-14235 ‘Lil Jan’ and 2nd LtRichard G Gibbs, from Nantucket, also in Massachusetts,flew P-51D CY-Q 44-14175 ‘Cherry’.‘Eager El’ Righetti himself, from San Luis Obispo,California, flew P-51D CL-M 44-72227 ‘Katydid’.  At about 12.30pm, near Boizenburg, Germany, the Americans spotted two locomotives and dropped downthrough a low layer of cloud to attack. What happenednext was a remarkable free-for-all as the Mustangs viedwith one another over a fresh set of targets that suddenlypresented themselves.  A formation of Mistel combinations, each a fighter fixedatop a Junkers Ju 88, appeared flying at low level beneaththe clouds.Howes reported: “I was flying White 3 on the missionof February 3. At about 1230 we dropped to the deck tostrafe. On pulling up from the first pass on a locomotive Isighted a formation of three pick-a-backs, Fw 190s on Ju88s, in string formation at about 400ft.“I turned into the second combo with my wingman LtMoore behind me. I fired a short burst from 90º at about350 yards, observing a few strikes on the 190. As I fired onthis, the 190 on the third unit was released.“The prop was windmilling, and on release the 190seemed to nose up for a minute and then, apparently out of control, the nose went down and it headed for the ground.I claim this Fw 190 as destroyed. As soon as the 190 wasreleased, the 88 turned sharply left. I followed, firing a shortburst but observed no strikes. I fell outside the turn and lostsight of the 88 momentarily.“My wingman behind me was in position and shotthe 88 down. When I looked back I saw it crash into the  ABOVE: Two of thethree Mistel combinationsencountered by four P-51Mustangs from the Eighth AirForce’s 55th Fighter Groupon February 3, 1945. Theyare still flying in formationwith both aircraft attached toone another, suggesting thatthis gun camera image wastaken at the beginning of the Americans’ attack.  T  024 Spitfires Over Berlin  BELOW: Gun camera footagefrom the P-51 Mustang ofLt Bernard H Howes takenon February 3, 1945, showsa crewman leaping fromthe Junkers Ju 88 sectionof a Mistel combination atextremely low altitude. Notethe water spraying frombullet impacts to the left ofthe image. The cockpit ofthe Messerschmitt Bf 109 ontop is burning and the wholecombination is stalling, with thetail dipping towards the ground. ground. On pulling up I saw the first unit I had fired at about300 yards in front of me. There were flames coming outof the 190, so I went after it again. I started firing and thecombo turned into me, dropping to the deck.“As I fired, another large burst of flame came from the190. On making a second pass, the right engine of the 88burst into flame, and I saw them both crash into the ground.From this entire encounter I claim two Fw 190s and one Ju88 destroyed. Ammunition expended: 1440 rounds.” The aircraft attacked by Howes are clearly visible on hisgun camera footage.Righetti reported: “Near Boizenburg on the Elbe River Ilocated a small hole in the unbroken overcast. Through thehole I could see two locomotives and called them in andstarted down.“Visibility was about two miles and scattered fuzz on theovercast ran down in some places to 500 to 600ft. I rolledout of my turn and started my final approach to the locosabout four miles off. I had already assigned the locos andparts of the train to the flight. We were echeloned to theright with my position on the extreme left.“At a distance of two miles from the train I spotted threepiggy-back aircraft at 10.30 to me, at our same altitude of about 600ft, heading almost directly at us, and half a mileoff. I mistakenly identified them as buzz bomb equipped He111s and broke off rapidly, left and up, in a 200º chandelle, Spitfires Over Berlin 025Spitfires Over Berlin 025  DICINGWITHPIGGYBACKS positioning myself on the tail of the middle one. “I started firing two short bursts at 600 yards andmissed. I swung into trail and closed to point blank range,firing a long burst, I saw many excellent strikes on thefuselage and empennage of the large aircraft and scatteredstrikes and a small fire on the fighter.“Both aircraft, still fastened together, went into a steepdive straight ahead. I was about to overrun them and didnot see them crash, but a few seconds later I saw a largeexplosion and spotted considerable burning wreckage.“I still did not know what we were attacking; I turnedslightly to port for another look. As I closed, and beforeI could open fire, I discovered that the buzz bomb wasactually a Focke-Wulf 190 fastened atop the heavy twin-engined aircraft. As I was closing to fire, the heavy aircraftseemed to be jettisoned, went into a shallow diving turn tothe left, and crashed and burned in a small hamlet.“Apparently it carried no bombs, for the gasolinethrown from its tanks burned for some time, and I didnot observe any unusually large explosion. The Fw 190,relieved of its load, snapped to the right and then began awild evasive action, I drove up to 200 yards directly in trail,firing intermittently, and secured excellent strikes along thefuselage, wing roots, canopy, and induced good fire.“Jerry went out of control and crashed straight ahead. At this time I noticed a few tracers too close and comingbehind. I broke sharply left and up into a low cloud. I don’tknow who or what was firing at me, but it might have beenthe third Fw 190 having jettisoned its bomber.”Gibbs was also attacking the Mistel combinations. Hereported: “I was flying Tudor White 2 on the mission of February 3, 1945. We were on the deck and about to strafea loco in the vicinity of Boizenburg, when Tudor LeaderLt Col Righetti called in a gaggle of three Fw 190-bombercombos, flying a sloppy ‘V’ formation at about 600ft. Weattacked from a level turn port stern. “Lt Col Righetti took the middle combo of the three,and I took the third and last one of this gaggle. I startedfiring on the Ju 88 at about 45º from about 800 yards,closing to about 300 yards with a two second burst. Iobserved many strikes on the left wing root of the Ju 88,where it began to burn. “After a short dive the Fw 190 was released. The190 appeared rather unstable in the air, but managedto conduct violent evasive action during the ensuingcombat. I fired a short burst from astern, beginning atabout 200 yards and closing to zero yards. I saw strikesall over the aircraft and observed parts of the cowling andcanopy fly off.“There was also a fire in or around the cockpit. I thenoverran the enemy aircraft and skidded out to the right. As I looked back I saw where the 190 had crashed intothe ground.”  As stated by Howes, Moore also claimed a Ju 88. There had been three Ju 88s and three fighters but thefour US pilots had claimed one Ju 88 each and a total of five Fw 190s – two for Howes, two for Righetti and one forGibbs. In the confusion of combat, it was difficult to decidewho had destroyed what.In fact, German records show that at least two of thecombinations were Mistel 1s, with Messerschmitt Bf 109smounted atop Ju 88s rather than Fw 190s. The Ju 88  ABOVE: Lieutenant ColonelElwyn G Righetti sits on hisP-51 Mustang ‘Katydid’. Heflew as Tudor White Leaderon February 3, 1945. Note theunusual victory markings onthe nose of his aircraft – asmaller version of his ‘Katydid’logo with wings spread over astylised swastika. RIGHT: Tudor White 4, 2ndLt Patrick L Moore, gives thephotographer a cocky grin. FAR RIGHT: The Ju 88section of a 6./KG 200 Mistelbacks to the left to avoid theP-51 Mustang firing on it frombehind. The Bf 109 that hadbeen attached to its back hasalready detached. None of thethree Bf 109s involved in thisencounter survived. 026 Spitfires Over Berlin  pilots were Feldwebel Willi Kollhoff, Oberfähnrich FranzPietschmann and Feldwebel Fritz Lorbach of 6./KG 200,based at Kolberg but on their way to Tirstrup in Denmark.Lorbach managed to put his Ju 88 down safely in thewoods, albeit with the left engine on fire. Pietschmannwas killed when his Ju 88 dived into the ground andKollhoff was injured after he made a forced landing andwas strafed by a P-51. His gunner, who also survived thelanding, was killed. All three of the fighter pilots were shotdown and killed. WHERE THE MISTEL CAME FROM  The three combinations shot down on February 3had been on their way to participate in UnternehmenDrachenhöhle orOperation Dragon’sLair, a plan devised byHermann Göring withthe goal of attackingthe Royal Navy’s homefleet at Scapa Flow andinflicting a high profilePearl Harbor-style blow against the British. The genesis of the Mistel, however, had come aboutthree years earlier in 1942, when work was carried out inGermany to enable a glider to carry a full military load bylaunching it into the air using a smaller powered aircraftmounted on its back. This combination was eventually to become known asthe Mistel (mistletoe) since the powered aircraft could begiven an extended range using fuel drawn from the gliderbelow – like mistletoe drawing sap from its host tree. The upper portion was to be a Bf 109E fighter, the lowera DFS 230 glider. Both were piloted. In June 1943, it was decided that this technologycould be used for launching a ‘grossbombe’ or largebomb at a ground target. The Bf 109 would still be theupper portion, now a 109F, but the lower would be a ‘warweary’ unmanned Junkers Ju 88A-4 filled with 3.5 tons of high explosives. The Bf 109 pilot would control the whole Mistel up toits arrival over the target, whereupon the Ju 88 would beaimed and an autopilot unit within it activated. The Bf 109would separate from the Ju 88 by firing explosive boltsand then peel away as the flying bomb flew serenely downto its target.  The Ju 88’s highexplosive warheadwas a huge hollowcharge with a plungerdetonator at its tipwhich was fitted inplace of the aircraft’scockpit. They were to be used against high value targetssuch as capital ships, power stations or bridges.When a Ju 88 was converted for Mistel use, its crewcompartment was removed at the aft bulkhead. Fourquick-release bolts were then fitted which allowed thecompartment to be re-attached for training or for ferryingthe combination around. The warheads were movedseparately by road or rail for safety.  ABOVE:  A close-up of 1stLieutenant Bernard H Howeswho flew as Tudor White 3 onFebruary 3. LEFT: The srcinal P-51D‘Katydid’ of Lt Col Righetti,44-14223 CL-M. TOP LEFT: P-51 pilot 2ndLieutenant Richard G Gibbswas Lt Col Righetti’s wingmanon February 3 and was TudorWhite 2. TOP: Lt Col Righetti’ssecond and longest servingP-51D, the second ‘Katydid’,44-72227 CL-M.  ABOVE:  ‘Eager El’Righetti’s P-51D CL-M44-72227 ‘Katydid’. ART BY MARK STYLING “The Bf 109 would separate from the Ju 88 by firing explosive bolts and then peel away as the flying bombflew serenely down to its target.”    aunc ng n o e ar usng a sma er powere arcramoun e on s ac . This combination was eventually to become known asthe Mistel (mistletoe) since the powered aircraft could begiven an extended range using fuel drawn from the gliderquc -reease o s were en e w c a owe ecompar men o e re-a ac e or ranng or or erryngthe combination around. The warheads were movedseparately by road or rail for safety.  ABOVE:  ‘Eager El’Righetti’s P-51D CL-M44-72227 ‘Katydid’. ART BY MARK STYLING Spitfires Over Berlin 027
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