I’m often asked about the paint job on our Piper Turbo Arrow III (PA-28R-201T) and I intentionally do not give a short answer. We’ve been restoring the Arrow for about 10 years and finally completed all the internal and structural updates that would affect the quality of the paint job. In 2014 that was completed and it was time to decide on the paint scheme. We wanted to do a “Greatest Generation” tribute, but were challenged on how to go about it since there were so many sacrifices and so many worthy people from that generation. A strong lesson I’d learned years before was that it was more important to recognize someone, rather than try to recognize everyone. While that mindset made my decision easier, there were still so many worthy candidates. From the Tuskegee Airmen, Flying Tigers, WASPs, Pacific Theater, European Theater, North Africa, Hump Pilots, to Rosy the Riveter; how does one choose? I wanted to recognize a special group of flyers who performed above and beyond, but were also perhaps a little less known. Still a hard choice; but when I learned of the “Battle of Y29” the choice became clear. When you hear their story, you’ll understand as well.
Up until New Years Day, 1945 the exploits of the 487th fighter squadron had been much like other fighter squads. Days filled with hard work, sacrifice, triumph, and loss; words that could be used to describe any unit.
As part of the famous Battle of the Bulge, the German Luftwaffe launched a series of raids known as Operation Bodenplatte. Loosely translated, Bodenplatte is German for “bottom plate” meaning the sole of ones boot; with the inference being their intention to crush allied air forces in the region and break the stalemate the Battle of the Bulge had become. Early in the morning on January 1st, 1945 the Luftwaffe launched approximately 800 fighters to attack 15 allied air fields in the area. Y29 was one of them.
The Commander of the 352nd Fighter Group was a young (he was 25 at the time) but distinguished Lt. Col. named John C. Meyer. On instinct, Col Meyer ordered his men to not to celebrate that New Year’s Eve and spent the night requesting permission to launch a dawn patrol. Headquarters flatly denied his request as his unit was scheduled for a bomber escort mission later in the day. But the young commander had a feeling and persisted through the night and into early morning hours to repeatedly request permission to launch at first light. Without authorization, Col. Meyer ordered his men to their airplanes and had them running at the end of the runway awaiting orders.
The accounts differ over whether Col. Meyer finally received orders at the last minute or launched his unit without them. In either account, there were 12 P-51D’s turning at the end of the runway as approximately 30 Focke-Wulf Fw 109s and Messerschmitt Bf 190s came into view low on the horizon (approximately 30 additional German aircraft attacked the nearby RAF field of Ophoven just 3 miles north). Several P-47D’s of the 366th fighter group had already taken off and were circling overhead, but the P-51’s would take off under fire. In the lead, Col. Meyer saw a 109 about to begin its strafing pass on the airfield and rolled into to a head on shot before retracting his landing gear. He scored his first kill of the day and the battle was on.
The routine of WWII fighter units was that they launched for a faraway objective while ground crews waited to see who would return and in what condition. In the case of Y-29 the 45 minute battle was fought directly overhead in full view of everyone at the base. An excellent recreated account of the battle can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZxQAeQGUVQ .
In the final tally about 28 German aircraft were destroyed with 24 pilots killed or captured. German ace Gunther Specht was among those killed.
The American losses were minimal with only 3 P-51’s damaged (1 on the ground) and none lost. One P-47 was lost while its pilot successfully landed it. No American pilots were killed.
For their performance in the Battle of Y29, the 487th fighter squad earned the only Distinguished Unit Citation given to a fighter squadron in the Northwestern European Theater of Operation during World War II.
In December of 1950, John C. Meyer would lead a flight of eight F-86 Sabres against 15 MiG-15s in the first all-jet fighter battle in history during the Korean War. They would down six MiGs with no losses. Later he would go on to become the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) as a four star General. During his career in the Air Force he would earn:
Distinguished Service Cross (3)
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (7)
Air Medal (15)
He passed away in December of 1975 at the age of 56.
The excellent book “Fighter Group” by Jay A. Stout (ISBN 978-0-8117-0577-6) details the complete exploits of the Blue Nosed Bastards.
Remember this article started about a paint job. The paint job was a means to remember and pay tribute to those special Americans we call “The Greatest Generation” who sacrificed and accomplished so much.
Who will you remember and how will you do it?