With the Mustang over Berlin

The report of a P-51 Mustang pilot, who escorted bombers to Berlin in March 1944.

"The first warnings for an attack on Berlin came in the morning of March 4th, 1944, toward 4 o'clock, as us lay in the Nissan huts in our sleeping-bags, wakened by the far off roar of B-17 squadrons which had just started up. Time was always scarce and since it was far too cold for shaving, we hurriedly got dressed and stumbled out for breakfast. When we gathered for the usual briefing after this, we noticed the gigantic illuminated map of Europe. A 2.5 m long red tape led from our base in Southern England, to the big B for Berlin.

P-51 of the 361st FG

According to the plan we would join up with the bombers deep inside hostile territory. The P-47's would accompany them up to their last drop of fuel and then change course. A couple of minutes later, we would arrive and accompany the bombers during their attack on Berlin and on their way back, until further P-47 and P-38 groups arrived to replace us. We expected heavy resistance from the German interceptors and the anti-aircraft guns the entire way. The fight would start to the north of Amsterdam, once over the enemy coastline. As soon as we arrived over the Zuidersea, we would be in the hunting ground of the Luftwaffe.

The bomber crews however, probably wouldn't escape unharmed despite our efforts. As a rule, the flight path passed over Brunswick and Magdeburg, Osnabrück and Hanover. The German fighter units stationed in Magdeburg were always on the watch and would be in the air fast.

130 km further south would be more Bf 109 squadrons climbing up from Kassel, Erfurt, hall, Leipzig and others bases. These were the most important points covered in the briefing, along with the weather forecast, the altitude, timing and the rest.

The aircraft always start out in pairs, a leader and a wingman. Two of the three squadrons rolled onto the unused part of the runway up to the intersection point with the active runway close by. The third rolled up close to the takeoff point with the squadron leader and his wingman leading. The flights started right behind each other.

The escort commander circled the base until the complete lead squadron was in the air and formed up. Three times around and all three squadrons were in formation; 16 aircraft per squadron and two as replacements.

In this formation we got underway. After 200 km we were at approximately 20,000 feet. We would only find our bombers over Hanover or Brunswick. When we crossed the Zuidersee, we could already see the first signs of the battle, with the ground below strewn with the wrecks of burning aircraft.