The following is an exact reproduction of the original report, done by Group Intelligence, following the 325th FGís trip to Russia in June 1944. (Footnotes added.)

 

HEADQUARTERS 325TH FIGHTER GROUP
Office of the Intelligence Officer
APO 520

10 July 1944

SPECIAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT

 

I. Mission to Russia:

Some days in advance of the final departure Lt. Col. Sluder was informed that the 325th Fighter Group was to have the honor of being the first USAAF fighter unit to go to Russia. The move was veiled in great secrecy and was not made known, even to the men participating, until a few hours before take-off.

By 1 June 1944 3 ground officers and 39 enlisted men had been chosen to act as a skeleton maintenance crew for the P-51s while they were operating from the Ukraine. These men were issued new clothing and complete flying equipment. They left Lesina on 1 June and travelled (sic) by truck to four bomber bases. There they were assigned individually to B-17s, in each instance replacing some member of the crew. They learned then for the first time that they would be flying a combat mission enroute to their secret destination. The following morning briefings were held at the various bomber bases at 0200 hours and the importance of the impending Russian mission was impressed on all personnel participating. Lt. Gen. Eaker1 and Maj. Gen. Twining2 spoke at two of these briefings. Pilots of the 325th were briefed at 0330 hours. They were to escort the B-17s to Russia. Brig. Gen. Strother3 spoke at this briefing.

By 0945 hours the bombers had blasted a marshalling yard at Debreczen, Hungary, picked up their fighter escort and were proceeding eastward. The The (sic) target had been attacked almost without incident. One B-17 had blown up over the target inflicting one casualty on the 325th, for S/Sgt. Austin J. Cronin was on board.4 It is not known whether he managed to bail out. For the ground personnel of the group the trip held boundless interest. It was the first time that any of them had ever flown at high altitude, but even the annoyance of a five hour oxygen stretch could not detract from the beauty of the panorama below them. Shortly after crossing the Russian lines the weather closed in and obscured much of the terrain. However, occasional breaks in the clouds revealed a land, even when viewed from 20,000 feet, that had clearly felt the shock of long and bloody conflict.

At approximately two-thirty in the afternoon ground members of the group were assembled at two field in Russia, Poltava and Mirgorod. Here they were given only a brief opportunity to observe anything about them. A number of Russian soldiers, both men and women, were about the fields. The towns were too distant to be clearly seen. Within an hour or two after landing the 325th men were on their way to the fighter base at Piryatin where the P-51s had landed after having a little difficulty in locating the field. Travel to the base at Piryatin was accomplished on Russian piloted C-47s. 13 men were forced down at Mirgorod with engine trouble and spent the night there, but by noon of the third all 325th personnel were together at the fighter base.

A considerable number of maintenance men from the 8th Air Force had preceded the 15th to Russia and had the bases fairly well established. Supplies and equipment of every description had received highest priority on shipment to Russia, so not much was left to be desired. On the first day the enlisted men were assigned to pyramidal tents located just off the perimeter of the field, while pilots and ground officers were temporarily billoted (sic) in a large building in town.

Work on the line commenced almost immediately with every crew chief having a number of assistants. At Piryatin as well as the other bases there was a garrison of Russian troops. All of these people, again both men and women, had served at least two years at the front. Assignment to the American Airfields was considered a great honor. Every Russian thus occupied worked with great diligence, for they knew that by good work alone could they expect to remain at such a job. Many of the young soldiers had been studying long hours to become as conversant as possible with a P-51 aircraft5 . The men of the 325th found them, though not overly well informed, extremely capable and quick to comprehend and retain any information given them. A typical example of the preparation these men (most of them were actually boys) had received is the fellow at Poltava who quickly and accurately drew a rough sketch of the hydraulic system of a B-17 for an aerial engineer of the 99th Bomb Group.

The role of the women in this undertaking was by no means inferior to that of the men. They had worked day after day constructing the airdrome, displaying incredible strength and stamina throughout. Their working day was from four in the morning until eight at night. An American Major made the suggestion to the Russian authorities that, inasmuch as labor was plentiful, a two shift system might be desirable. The Russians, in turn, were very polite in their response to this, but could not conceive of shortening the working day for the benefit of the individual. The easy way is something that these people either donít know or donít want to know.

It was apparent on the first day that there were two things which might be called inconveniences or annoyances prevalent at Piryatin. The food was the ration "C" type entirely and became very tiresome. However the worst feature was the water. It was drawn from and apparently stagnant lagoon, chemically processed twice and then boiled before being used. For drinking it was abominable; as a coolant mixer for P-51 radiators it was very bad. Actually these are the only things that stood out prominently as a source of complaint.

On the morning of 3 June ten or twelve Allied correspondents visited the field and interviewed the pilots. The Russian mission had taken on the aspect of a very important development.

The men who went to Russia were not allowed to take their personal cameras with them, but two pilots had been appointed as official photographers for the group and managed to take two cameras in. They were permitted to take a number of pictures, but only with the approval, in each instance, of the Russian authorities.

Few Russians spoke an English, but many of the advanced echelon from England had been carefully chosen for their ability to handle the language. These men, plus a few commissioned women soldiers of Russia, acted as interpreters.

On the evening of 3 June a dance was held in the village for the pilots. It was a somewhat stiff affair, but enjoyable. Some of the girls were quite good, but none of them was allowed to become too familiar with the Americans. Lt. Barkey reciprocated for the 325th by singing some American songs accompanied on the piano by Lt. Cobb. This dance came as a relief to the pilots, for they had been confined to their building since their arrival and were allowed to leave only if they were on alert or had very special permission form the Commanding Officer.

There was no flying on the third or fourth of June. The weather had been bad ever since arrival in Russia. During these two days the pilots pulling alert shifts had made the acquaintance of several of the P-39 Russian pilots on the field. They learned that every man in the squadron based there had pledged himself to fly to the death. There was one fellow who had downed twelve German planes and had flown over 300 sorties. On the evening of four June pilots and ground officers moved out to the field and started living in pyramidal tents. Neither officers or enlisted men had any great opportunity to really see the country, but a few managed to go into the village where they attended dances and saw Russian movies and plays. They were particularly impressed by the extreme realism of Russian Cinema.

5 June passed uneventfully until 1800 hours when the group was alerted to return to Italy. This move seemed mysterious and gave rise to much speculation. The ground crew was flown to Mirgorod by transport, but no sooner had they arrived than it was learned that plans had been changed and that a complete mission would be flown from Russian bases on the following day.

6 June found the 325th once again at Piryatin. A word should be said here about the Russian transport pilots who were responsible for these rapid moves. They take off from one field, never climb to an altitude exceeding 300 feet, navigate by land marks and land at the next field. These fellows are well-trained, very proud and extremely self-sufficient. On one occasion, when forced to land with a faulty engine, a pilot climbed out and tore into the engine himself, politely refusing the aid of a dozen American radial engine experts who were his passengers. The result? Amazingly enough, a smooth-running engine.

The mission of 6 June had as its target Galati Airdrome, Roumania. The 325th Fighter Group escorted the four bomb groups at this time.6 The planes returned to base at about noon and put on an aerial show resembling a flying circus. This was done primarily to impress the Russians and secondarily to celebrate victories. The flying was in some instances very good and in others quite crazy, but on the whole the show was impressive. Six enemy aircraft had been destroyed on the mission while the group lost two P-51s.7 No bombers were lost. This was also the day that the second front had opened, so the Russians were doubly jubilant.8 Thus far, though not over active, the Russian move had been a success.

There were some interesting highlights stemming from the Galati mission. No bombers were lost even though there were a number of enemy fighters in the vicinity. Lt. Hoffman became the first USAAF pilot to destroy an enemy aircraft while operating from Russian bases. Captain Hogg destroyed two FW-190s, bringing his total to six. Lts. Barkey and Hoffman each got their fifth. Lt. Barrie Davis was wounded and thus became the first man to earn a Purple Heart while operating from Russian bases.

Late in the afternoon of 7 June the group was once again alerted for the return to Italy. Ground personnel again flew to Mirgorod where they proceeded to wait for three days. These were days of complete listlessness both for the ground men at Mirgorod and the pilots at Piryatin. Chow lines were tremendous, food was poor and everyone suffered from an over sufficiency of ennui. Evenings were spent roaming the streets on the eternal G.I. quest for female companionship. Few were successful. While at Mirgorod some of the men decided that they would like to sample some of the notorious Russian Vodka. Much to their dismay they found that what there was to be had cost a little better than twelve dollars for a small bottle. There was a compensating factor, however, for cigarettes brought up to a dollar a pack and soap better than four dollars a bar. They had their Vodka, which, as Major Hoar so aptly put it, tasted like a high grade of rubbing alcohol.

Early on the morning of 11 June 1944 the bombers took off for Italy. On the return trip they bombed Focsani Airdrome, Roumania. This mission was not the milk run of the trip over. There was plenty of heavy, accurate flak, and enemy fighters were kept away from the bombers only by the very excellent escort work of the 325th pilots. Three German planes were destroyed by the group and no losses were suffered.

This initial mission to Russia was apparently successful. The men of the 325th who participated behaved admirably and produced good results. They brought back with them only a number of fleeting impressions of Russia and its people. When ansering (sic) truthfully the question of what they thought of the Russian people they can not answer very clearly. Perhaps the dominant reaction to the people of that nation is one of admiration and respect. Men who formerly felt deep pangs of sympathy for the plight of these people changed after seeing them. They do not need sympathy. They are a strong people, extremely competent, intelligent and, perhaps most important of all, they are imbued with an unconquerable determination. The experience of the men who went to Russia was, for them, intensely interesting and very broadening.

1 - Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker commanded Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF).
2 - Maj. Gen. Nathan F. Twining commanded the 15th AAF.
3 - Brigadier General Dean Strother commanded the 306th Fighter Wing.
4 - AC belonged to 414th BS, 97th BG, serial #: 42-30319, 11 men on board, Cronin was a member of the 319th FS.
5 - Author probably means "pilots and crews" of a P-51 aircraft.
6 - The four Bomb Groups were: 2nd, 97th, 99th, and 483rd. (All B-17s from the 5th Bomb Wing)
7 - They were AC# 42-103432 flown by Lt. Donald J. MacDonald, and AC# 42-103369 flown by Lt. John Mumford, both from the 318th FS. MacDonald became a POW and Mumford MIA.
8 - Reference to the Allied invasion of Normandy, 6 June 1944.

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