Chuck Yeager had no idea how the next few years would change his life. To start with, when he enlisted in the Army air Corps he didn't even know that he wanted to be a pilot, he enlisted as an aircraft mechanic at Tonopah, Nevada.
The first time he went up for an airplane ride(as a passenger with a maintenance officer ) he threw up all over the back seat, Yeager states in his autobiography that " I'd have rather crawled across country than go back up". Little did he know that a scant few years later the Colonel in Chief of the USAF flight test center would say that he was one of (If not the) finest, most instinctive pilot he had ever seen. Soon after this flight, the Air Corps(as it was in 1942) decided to start a "Flying Sergeant" program, meaning that you didn't have to be a college graduate to become a pilot for the Air Corps. This program did not last long, and just before Yeager earned his wings, the programme was scrapped. So when Yeager got his wings, he became a fighter pilot with the rank of Flying Officer.
His fighter training was completed in a Bell P-39 Airacobra(5 years later, he would become the most famous pilot ever of a Bell Aircraft). The P-39 had a strange layout, with the engine being behind the cockpit with a long prop-shaft conecting from the gear box to the propeller(it was this reason that the P-39 wasn't too popular with the US pilots flying it, but Chuck later stated that the P-39 was one of his favourite machines to fly). After raising hell for a few months raising shingles from roofs, buzzing cows and clipping old Pa Clifford's tree, meeting the woman who would later become his wife(Glennis Dickhouse), Chuck and his squadron would be sent over to England to fight the enemy.
The photo above is of the then Captain C E Yeager with his crew chief Sergeant Harry Webber to his left in front of Chuck's P-51D Glamorous Glen III.
Based at Leiston in Norfolk, England, Yeager flew a North American P-51 Mustang for the 363rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 357th fighter group. Flying in combat against the might of Hitler's Germany,Yeager shot down one ME-109 and a HE-111K before being shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944.
He evaded capture when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border. Yeager remained in Spain until the summer of 1944 when he was released to the British at Gibraltar and returned to England. When he returned to his squadron, they could not believe that this was the same Yeager that had been shot down. He was twenty pounds heavier and had looked like he had been on vacation with a serious suntan. He was the first evadee to make it back to his base.
Initially being told he could no longer fly missions over Europe (he could have been tortured by the Gestapo into giving away secrets of the French Maquis and then shot), he took his case to General Dwight D. Eisenhower and pleaded to be allowed to continue his tour. Yeager said "I don't want to leave my buddies after only eight missions. It just isn't right. I have a lot of fighting left to do". Pretty soon after his return, the Maquis were openly fighting the German's on the ground. Yeager's squadron commander Ed Hiro gave him the news that General Eisenhower had decided in his favour that he could continue his fight.
He returned to his squadron and flew 56 more combat missions, shooting down 11 more German aircraft. Between July and October he was promoted from second lieutenant to captain.
On October 12th 1944, Yeager was leading the group on bomber escort duty over Bremen. He scored five victories (5 ME-109’s) on that mission, the first ever ace in a day. Stars and Stripes put Yeager on the front page, the headline went – FIVE KILLS VINDICATE IKE’S DECISION. His group CO subsequently recommended him for the Silver Star. Yeager was also the first to shoot down one of the German's Me-262 twin-jet fighter's, and this he accomplished in the veritable North American P-51D Mustang - surely the greatest fighter of the war.
Below is a list of the top scoring aces and their number of kills from the 357th Fighter Group that were based at Leiston during WW2.
Leonard K "Kit" Carson - 18.5 kills
John B. England - 17.5 kills
Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson jnr - 16.25 kills
Richard A. "Pete" Peterson - 15.5 kills
Robert W. Foy - 15 kills
Donald H. "Don" Bochkay - 13.75 kills
John A. Kirla - 11.5 kills
Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager - 11.5 kills
John A. Storch - 10.5 kills
There were many other "aces" in the 357th fighter group, for a deeper history, please visit the 357th Fighter Group website by Frank Aldridge and 357th Fighter Group photo album by Hoyt Parmer, Bud Anderson's Old Crow websitethese are wonderful sites full of information on the the fighter group that scored 701.5 kills in a fourteen month period.
All Photographs courtesy of the AFFTC/HO at Edwards Air Force Base(Many thanks to Raymond Puffer PhD. for the beautiful 10x8 photos).
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Use the links below for more on Chuck and his WW2 exploits.
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