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Meet America’s Highest Scoring Living Fighter Ace

Bud Anderson (Randy Glass Studio)

The 357th Fighter Group was the primary within the U.S. Eighth Air Force to enter fight from the outset of World War II outfitted with the North American P-51 Mustang. Credited with 595½ aerial victories—together with a document 18½ Mes-serschmitt Me 262 jets—and 106½ plane destroyed on the bottom, the group additionally produced a document 42 aces.

Of the 357th’s 9 double and triple aces, one stays. With 16¼ victo-ries to his credit score, Clarence Emil “Bud” Anderson Jr., 100, is the highest-scoring residing American fighter ace. His many actions within the postwar U.S. Air Force included flying Republic F-105D Thunderchief fighter bombers over Vietnam as commander of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing from June to December 1970, earlier than retiring on Feb. 29, 1972. On Dec. 2, 2022, the Air Force capped off his profession by selling him to the honorary rank of brigadier common.

As a boy rising up in Oakland, Calif., how early did you set your sights on aviation?

My brother and I each grew up fascinated by aviation. There was a mail airplane flying by each day and at the least one airport inside 30 miles of us. Douglas B-18s had been primarily based at Moffett Field. Our mother and father would take my finest pal, Jack Stacker, and me to the airport, dump us there and choose us up.

Did you might have any flight background earlier than enlisting within the U.S. Army Air Corps on Jan. 19, 1942?

I used to be already a non-public pilot—it helped in my early army coaching. I flew a forty five hp Piper Cub, a very early mannequin. I flew tail wheel plane all the best way as much as commencement.

What was the state of affairs when the 357th Fighter Group arrived at England’s RAF Leiston airfield on Jan. 31, 1944?

There was a “Pioneer Mustang Group,” the 354th of the Ninth Air Force, which lent its P-51s to the Eighth Air Force. We loaned some pilots to the 354th, and so they had been so wildly profitable that the Eighth ordered P-51s and made us the primary P-51 unit within the Eighth. They additionally fired all of the generals within the Eighth and changed Maj. Gen. Ira Eaker with Jimmy Doolittle. [Doolittle] took the calculated danger of adjusting the bomber escort process, with us not simply escorting the bombers however eliminating the enemy fighters. It was pursue and destroy.

this text first appeared in Military History journal

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What do you recall of your first fight mission?

By February 5 the 357th’s complement of P-51s had reached 74, almost its quota. Two nights later I flew all the way down to the 354th at [RAF] Boxted with a half dozen others, assigned to make my debut the following morning. We weren’t too involved till morning, once we discovered the lark over France was to be, as a substitute, an escort mission deep into Germany. The goal was Frankfurt, 360 miles from our base in East Anglia. We had been liable to see German airplanes up shut on this type of mission—Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts, good planes manned by skilled pilots. I had logged 893 flying hours already, however solely 30 hours and 45 minutes of that in Mustangs, and what I used to be serious about, earlier than prodding the Merlin to life, was of not getting misplaced, not screwing up.

I used to be assigned to a veteran pilot, a fellow with a few kills already. We discovered the bombers in lower than an hour. They would fly at 20,000 to 25,000 ft, and if the atmospheric situations had been proper, they would go away huge, billowing, cottony contrails that widened behind them for miles. We climbed to 30,000 ft or extra and started flying zigzags above them, which was how the escorts (“little friends” to the bomb-er crews) stayed near the bombers (“big friends” to us) and nonetheless saved up their airspeed.

Then somebody calls, “Bogeys!” and I’m all of the sudden about as alert and totally alive as I’ve ever been in my life. The very first thing I do is tuck in nearer to my chief. And then up goes his wing, and he’s sliding away, and he’s yelling one thing. I do what he does, on a regular basis wanting round, wanting down…after which right here’s a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, a half mile off, perhaps much less. I’m virtually the other way up, and I’m wanting straight up/down at this lethal and exquisite factor, robin’s egg blue with massive black crosses, and the person I’m defending is sliding in proper behind it. “Mustang! Mustang! There’s one on your tail!” Huh? I go searching. Nothing. The Mustang in entrance is lining up on the German now, and once more via the earphones: “Mustang! Mustang! He’s still on your tail!” At most vary he triggers his weapons, sending a protracted, futile burst on the 190 along with his 4 .50 calibers, after which he slides that Mustang up into the damnedest sequence of gyrations I ever did see. Somehow, I stick with him. It comes a 3rd time: “Mustang! Mustang! He’s still on your tail!” And then a lightweight winks on in my head. Maybe the Mustang he’s warning is me! I throw my airplane about, plummet down, go searching…and see nothing. Now I’m feeling like an fool. And worse, I all of the sudden discover—I’m alone over Germany. No. There’s a airplane within the distance. I slide nearer, warily. It’s clearly a Mustang, alone, like me. Against all legal guidelines of chance the airplane is my chief’s.

Later, again at Boxted, sorting issues out, we puzzled if perhaps somebody might need mistaken me for a German closing alone chief’s tail…however nobody ever admitted to yelling the warning, which appeared a reasonably good clue that any individual blew it and knew it and was embarrassed about it. Man, was my flight chief pissed! He might have gotten that Focke-Wulf, and he wished the victory.

My first mission hadn’t been a confidence builder, precisely. But I’d seen the unhealthy guys up shut, and I used to be slightly bit smarter by night than I’d been within the morning.

How about your first confirmed victory?

Our first pilot to get a kill was not the sharpest knife within the drawer. On Feb. 20, 1944, 1st Lt. Calvert L. Williams of the 362nd Fighter Squadron received misplaced on his first mission. He got here out of a cloud and all of the sudden discovered this German fighter alongside him, apparently simply as misplaced. He simply slid again and blew it out of the sky. So right here I’m, the most popular pilot in the entire world, and up to now…nothing.

On March 8, 1944, we had been heading house with 1st Lt. John B. England together with us. We noticed a Boeing B-17 [Flying Fortress] beneath us, smoking, so we had been headed over there when three Me 109s got here up. We reduce them off on the go, and I noticed one and stated, “This one’s mine.” Our preliminary engagement was considered one of concentric circles, pulling a number of g’s. I fired blind, and black smoke was popping out—I received him within the coolant system. He bailed out. I used to be patting myself on the again when there was a man on my wing, and it was England, masks down and grinning. Then I assumed, Wait, did Johnny England shoot that down from below me? After we had a debrief, I went straight to the officer’s membership, and the primary man I noticed was Johnny. He got here working over, and I used to be considering: What do I say? What if he claims it? Should I argue or what? Hell, I’m undecided myself! But I didn’t need to ask. “Goddamn, Andy,” he gushed. “Best shooting I’ve ever seen in my life! You hit that sonofabitch out there at over 40 degrees!” I stated: “Aw, shucks, Johnny. Lucky shot. You know how it is.” And the second he turned, I ran—actually—to get on the phone and declare my first victory. [Editor’s note: England was also credited that day with his first of an eventual 17½ victories, placing him among the 357th’s leading aces. An Air Force base in central Louisiana is named for him.]

Test pilot Anderson poses within the late Nineteen Fifties in entrance of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter at California’s Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

What had been the circumstances of your double declare on April 11, 1944, by which you had been credited with an Me 109G and 1 / 4 share of a Heinkel He 111K?

On April 11 the goal was a Focke-Wulf manufacturing facility at Sorau [present-day Zary, Poland], deep inside Germany, and the Germans got here up in drive. While dropping my tanks and jamming the throttle ahead, I picked out three Messerschmitts. They introduced down two bombers beneath us, rolled over, went down and rotated, clearly making an attempt to re-form up forward for an additional head-on assault. I fell in with one. He breaks exhausting, I wheel about, see a big transferring shadow on the bottom, and I see my opponent reversing his flip, making an attempt to come back at me head-on. He doesn’t fairly make it. The propeller flies off. The engine cowling is blown away. Then off comes the cover, and out comes the pilot.

Now…what the hell was that shadow? The remainder of my flight has caught up. “I think I saw a multi-engined plane heading west,” I inform them. We choose him out straight away, a Heinkel 111 twin-engined bomber, scooting proper alongside on the deck. He is making an attempt to make use of his camouflage paint job to mix into the countryside. But within the vibrant daylight his shadow betrays him. From barely above and off to the aspect we assault, rolling over separately, making what we known as a “high-side pass.” I am going in first, set an engine to smoking. Eddie Simpson goes for the smoking left engine and blows it to hell. Bill Overstreet rakes the bomber from as shut as 100 yards. Henry Kayser, a brand-new man, hoses the cockpit till he runs out of ammo and burns his barrels out. I come round for a second go and hit him from tail to cockpit till my ammo is gone too. Losing altitude shortly, the Heinkel pilot tries setting it down in a subject, however there’s a pole in his path, and it tears the left wing away. The bomber slews round and explodes into flame. We go over the wreckage and see two males leap out. One takes off, the opposite simply stands there, wanting up at us. I say, “Everyone get hits?” The solutions come again, “Rog.…Rog.…Rog.” So we shared the credit score, 1 / 4 kill on every of our data.

Any particular recollections of the “double play” you scored close to Strasbourg on May 27 or the “triple” southwest of Leipzig on June 29?

On May 27, 1944, the Luftwaffe got here up in drive, and I had my hardest combat ever, the “straight up” encounter I’ll all the time bear in mind. We had been excessive over a bomber stream in our P-51B Mustangs, escorting the heavies to the Ludwigs-hafen-Mannheim space. For the previous a number of weeks the Eighth Air Force had been concentrating on oil, and Ludwigshafen was a middle for artificial fuels. We’d picked up the bombers at 27,000 ft, and virtually instantly all hell started breaking free up forward of us. This was nonetheless over France, lengthy earlier than we’d anticipated the German fighters to come back up in drive. They’d labored over the bombers up forward, and now it was our flip. I begin to name out, “Four bogeys, 5 o’clock high!” We flip exhausting to the suitable, pulling up, spoiling their angle. The Me 109s change course, and we start turning with them. The Mustang is a superb airplane, just a bit quicker than the smaller German fighters and in addition just a bit extra nimble. Suddenly the 109s, sensing issues will not be going effectively, roll out and run, turning east. Then one climbs away from the remaining. I ship Simpson up after him. My wingman, John Skara, and I chase the opposite three. I near inside 250 yards of the closest Messerschmitt—useless astern, 6 o’clock, no maneuvering, no nothing—and squeeze the set off. He slows, rolls over. I pour one other burst into him, and the 109 falls right into a spin, belching smoke. My sixth kill.

As we take up the chase once more, two in opposition to two now, the trailing 109 dives for house, and the chief pulls up into a pointy climbing flip to the left, passing in entrance of us at an unattainable angle. My wingman is susceptible. I inform Skara, “Break off!” and he peels away. The German goes after him, and I am going after the German. He sees me coming, dives away, then makes a climbing left flip. I am going screaming by, pull up, and he’s reversing his flip—man, he can fly!—and he comes crawling proper up behind me. He’s bringing his nostril up for a shot, and I haul again on the stick and climb even tougher. He stalls a second or two earlier than I stall. Good outdated Mustang. He is falling away now, then he flattens out and begins climbing once more, as if to come back at me head-on. I determine to show exhausting left inside him. I pull again on the throttle barely, put down 10 levels of flaps and haul again on the stick simply as exhausting as I can. This time the Messerschmitt goes zooming straight up. I comply with him up, and the hole narrows. He should know that I’ve him. I carry my nostril up, he comes into my sights, and from lower than 300 yards I set off a protracted, cruel burst. The bullets chew on the wing root, the cockpit, the engine. There is smoke within the cockpit…after which he falls away, straight for the deck. No spin, not even a wobble, no parachute. At 25,000 ft I ease out of the dive and watch him go down. Eddie Simpson joins up with me. Both wingmen, too. Simpson, my outdated wingman and pal, had gotten the one who’d climbed out. We’d bagged three of the 4.

As for the three [Focke-Wulf] Fw 190s I received on June 29, that simply went bang, bang, bang. The final man, he was on my tail as soon as, and I needed to shake him off, and all through these maneuvers he was exhausting to get, however I lastly received him.

The storied World War II triple ace proudly poses beside a restored P-51C Mustang on the Imperial War Museums’ Duxford Air Show in Cambridgeshire, England, in 2013.
(Chris Radburn/PA Wire (Associated Press))

Your final victory got here on Dec. 5, 1944. What do you recall?

The high quality of the Germans had gone down by then. One Fw 190 dived below the clouds; I simply slid down and blew it up. I received two kills in that final combat.

So you emerged out of your Air Force profession and not using a scratch?

When it was performed—the 480 hours of fight flying in P-51s and one other 25 or so missions in Vietnam, virtually all of these in F-105s—I by no means as soon as suffered successful in air-to-air fight. The sum whole of the harm all my plane absorbed amounted to 1 small-arms spherical that discovered considered one of my wings throughout a strafing run after D-Day.

By then, we presume, you’d made up your thoughts in regards to the P-51?

The P-51 was an awesome airplane. I feel it saved the world.

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