Captain Donald S. Bryan
Donald Septimus "Don" "Bush" Bryan Donald S. Bryan © 352nd FG Association Archive
© 352nd FG Association Archive

Units: 79th FS, 20th FG
328th FS, 352nd FG
WWII score: 13.33
Born: Hollister, California, 08/15/21
Rank: Captain
Medals: * Distinguished Service Cross
* Distinguished Flying Cross 2 OLC
* Air Medal 14 OLC
* Army Commendation Medal
* American Campaign Medal
* European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
* WWII Victory Medal
* National Defence Service Medal
* Air Force Longevity Service Award 4 OLC

P-47D-2-RE, PE B
SN: 42-8381
Little One (named after petite wife)

P-47D-5-RE, PE B
SN: 42-8508
Little One

P-51B, PE B
SN: 43-6894
Little One II

P-51D-10-NA, PE B
SN: 44-14061
Little One III

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Achieving Acedom and ace in a day

Don finally became an ace in September of 1944, after destroying two ME-109s in his new “Little One III”.

On that particular day, September 27th , two escort missions were flown. The first mission found Yellow Flight of the 328th FS mixing it up with a large gaggle of Bf 109s and FW 190s near Frankfurt. Shortly after receiving an alert from the 487th FS that many enemy aircraft had been seen in the area, Capt. Don Bryan spotted a huge formation of 100-150 fighters passing over his flight. He climbed after them, and Flt. Off. William Montgomery's report relates what followed: “Yellow leader climbed above them and we attacked as they hit the bombers. There were only three of us in Yellow Flight, and Yellow Three, Lt Richard Brookins, was unable to stay with us as we climbed with full throttle and full RPM. Capt. Bryan singled out an Me-109 and opened fire. The enemy aircraft immediately burst into flames. Bryan then opened fire on another Me-109 that was nearby, and it also burst into flames and fell away in a spin.

At this point I lost Capt. Bryan as I tried to open fire on the enemy aircraft, but my guns would not fire. After checking my gun-switch, I made several more attempts to open fire, but my guns would not fire. I immediately broke left to get out of the combat area, and as I did so, I pulled in behind a 109 that was also in a steep left turn. The enemy pilot saw me and tried to steepen his turn, but as he did so, he stalled and snapped over on his back and went into a spin at approximately 21,000ft. I went over the top of him, and could not see him for a short time. As soon as I could clear myself, I pulled out to one side and observed a 109 that was in a vicious spin. It broke into the clouds at about 2000ft. I learned later from Lt. Brookins that the pilot bailed out.”

Don's encounter report of that particular mission states: “I was leading Yellow Flight, which was composed of three ships, F/O Montgomery as N° 2, and Lt. Brookins as N° 3 man. The Squadron Leader had to abort and I took over the Sq in the Frankfurt Area.

At 1000hrs the 487th FS, 352nd FG called in many Me-109s and FW-190s. I was not with this Sq but I figured that they were somewhere in the immediate area. I was then at 20000ft. Seeing some contrails to the south and high I turned into them and started to climb. At 24000ft between 100 and 150 FW-190s and Me-109s passed over my head about 2000ft above. I swung in behind them and was able to get above them at 27000ft. I was then about 3 miles behind them.

When I made the 180 degree turn I lost or out-climbed the rest of the Squadron and my N° 3 man. My N° 2 man and I overtook the last box of enemy fighters - about 50 – just as the first part hit the bombers. I picked out an Me-190 and attacked it. I opened fire at about 200-250 yds and stopped at about 50 yds. I observed many strikes on the fuselage and wing roots almost the entire length of the burst. Smoke poured out and the E/A burst into flames just as I broke off the attack. I then picked out another Me-109 and opened up at about 200 yds. I didn't hit it very good at first but as I closed I began to get hits. From 100 yds to where I broke off – at about 30-40 ft – I got many very good hits. This E/A snapped into a spin and went down spinning and in flames, through the overcast at 8-9000ft.”

Don Bryan finished off his day by damaging another Bf 109 before leading his flight back to Bodney, these victories taking his tally of aerial kills to 6.333.

Donald would surpass himself on November 2nd , 1944, where he would become a member of an elite group within the fighter pilot community. That day, Don scored 5 kills in one day, thus making “ace in a day”.

As Donald remembers: On November 2nd, 1944, I first damaged two ME-109s, then preceded to shoot down three ME-109s in pretty quick succession. Then I encountered ‘THE ACE'! I don't know what that German was flying because his plane was hotter than any ME-109 I had encountered. My P-51D was the fastest Mustang in the 352nd FG (my crew chief did some ‘magic' that hopped up the engine). Whoever this German was, he was good, very good, and he was getting close to clobbering me. I did the ‘inverted vertical reverse' (see higher in this biography), and lost him. I didn't go back looking for him. It took a while for me to calm down, but I engaged two more ME-109s and got them, the last one with only one gun firing. The entire engagement lasted only 15 to 20 minutes.”

The target for November 2nd was a familiar one: the petroleum refineries in and around Merseburg. In an all-out attempt to destroy these often bombed facilities, the 8th AF despatched a massive force of 1100 bombers and nearly 900 fighters to carry out the task. Knowing that these targets would more than likely be well defended, mission planners laid out an erratic routing for its strike force in the hope that it would disguise the bombers' true objectives. German controllers were not fooled by this plan, however, and concentrated at least ten gruppen over the target area. At approximately 1200 hrs these forces met, and one of the largest air battles of WWII commenced.

The 3rd Air Division was struck first, and its escort fighters downed 19 enemy aircraft in the opening engagements. Twenty minutes later it was the 1st Air Division's turn to do battle with a huge force of enemy aircraft. As the German fighters began to close on the B-17s, their movements were watched by 328th CO Major George Preddy. Moments after he reported spotting this formation of 50 enemy aircraft, other gaggles of German fighters were seen moving into the area, so the three Bluenoser squadrons split up and chose their respective targets.

The 328th FS charged into one of the gaggles, and within 15 to 20 minutes Preddy's pilots had downed an astounding 25 BF 109s, a new 8th AF record for victories by a squadron in a single mission. Captain Don Bryan led the way with five kills and two damaged, and close behind him were Lt. Arthur Hudson with four and Capt. William J. Stangel and Lt. Charles Goodman with three apiece. Three pilots, Maj Earl Abbott and Lts Charles Rogers and Glenn Clarck, scored doubles, and the remaining four enemy aircraft were claimed by Maj George Preddy and Lts Eugene James, Francis Hill and DeWayne Maxwell.

Don Bryan, already an ace with 6.33 kills, nearly doubled his score on this mission, and he described this big day in a detailed encounter report:

“I was leading Yellow Flight with Lts Hill, Montgomery and Briggs as my Nos 2, 3 and 4 men respectively. I was flying at about 28,000ft. Just before reaching the target, many contrails were called in coming from the east. I turned on my switches and prepared for combat. Shortly after that I saw the contrails, and was able to identify them as Me 109s. There seemed to be about 50 of them – approximately 40 in a box, with several more above as top cover. By the time I could get into position for my bounce about 10-15 of them had started down on the bombers – the others were preparing to start down. I figured that if I hit the middle of them I could break up the attack.

I led my flight in a diving attack into the midst of the enemy aircraft. I closed to about 100 yards on one of the Me 109s. Using the K-14 gunsight for the first time, I got only a few strikes. I overran this enemy aircraft by diving under him about 20ft. As I did so I looked back and saw that his cooling system was shot out. I claim this enemy aircraft damaged.

My number 3 man called and said there was an enemy aircraft positioning itself on me. I did a snap roll and lost the Me 109 very effectively, plus the rest of my own flight.

For the next 10 minutes I was in at least 15 separate combats. During this time I made a stern attack on enemy aircraft flying in string (one behind the other). I attacked the last enemy aircraft in the string and observed many strikes. This Me 109 went down in flames. I claim this enemy aircraft destroyed.

There were many other formations of enemy aircraft in the immediate vicinity. I then proceeded to attack another Me 109 from astern and got many good hits on the fuselage and wings. Many pieces flew off and the enemy aircraft began to emit much black smoke and started down from about 10,000ft. I last observed this enemy aircraft in a steep dive going through the overcast at 4000ft with a great deal of smoke pouring from it. I claim this enemy aircraft as destroyed. During the melee I attacked another Me 109, getting strikes. I claim this aircraft damaged. While I was making these attacks I was being constantly engaged by other Me 109s.

I then saw a single Me 109 and a P-51, which I later learned was being flown by Lt Milton Camerer of my squadron. These two aircraft were in an engagement, bobbing in and out of the clouds. I attacked the enemy aircraft, which dove into the clouds at about 4000ft. This Me 109 came out of the clouds shortly after that, and I made several attacks on him as he went in and out of the clouds.

After several attacks, I was able to make what I thought was going to be a head-on pass – as it turned out I was at about 90 degrees to the enemy aircraft. I opened fire at about 500 yards and closed to about 150 yards, observing strikes in the cockpit and on the wing. This enemy aircraft nosed over sharply and went down through the undercast, with gas pouring from his wing root. I followed him down and observed him in a very steep dive towards the ground at about 1000ft, indicating about 350 or 400 mph. I later learned from Lt Camerer, who had joined me and was flying on my wing, that this Me 109 crashed and exploded. I claim this enemy aircraft destroyed.

I then started back up towards the bombers, with Lt Camerer on my wing. At about 10,000ft I observed two Me 109s (F or G) flying just above the undercast at 5000ft. I moved into position and split-essed onto the last one. I had only two guns firing as I made my attack. At about 500 yards I opened fire and hit the enemy aircraft very hard around the fuselage and wings. At about 300 yards I hit in on the wing, and either the wing-tip or the top of the wing flew off. The enemy aircraft snapped into a very violent spin to the left and spun through the undercast in flames.

I claim this enemy aircraft destroyed.

I proceeded to attack the lead ship of the formation then, and got strikes on him. One of my guns stopped firing at this time, so I had only one gun firing, and it threw me off a bit. I found if difficult to get many strikes while closing from 350 to 150 yards. When I closed to about 80 yards I got strikes through the fuselage and wing roots. I broke off the attack and the enemy aircraft went through the undercast at 4000ft in a very steep dive, indicating about 350mph, with much black smoke pouring from it. I claim this enemy aircraft destroyed. I then climbed back to altitude and returned to base without further incident.

I claim 5 enemy aircraft destroyed and 2 enemy aircraft damaged (air)”

The remaining 13 victories of the day were claimed by the 486th and 487th FS. Two bluenosers were lost during the engagement (Capt Henry Miklajcyk was killed and Lt Glenn Clark became a POW). After losing an astounding 134 aircraft on November 2nd , the Luftwaffe again went into hiding for several days.

For his efforts in the November 2nd , 1944, mission, Donald Bryan was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Donald Bryan chatting with his crew chief (
© 352nd FG Association Archive)

At this time of the war German jets were making their appearance and Donald saw several but was not in position to attack. He saw one of the German twin-engine jet bombers which he mistook for a B-26. The enemy bomber was the Arado Ar234. Two weeks later he saw another Arado and pulled in behind but before he could fire, the Arado simply pulled away.

He got another chance on December 21st, 1944. During a bomber escort mission one of the Arado bombers passed under their flight. Donald, upon first sighting, spun around and pursued the jet. He was able to fire and see one hit on the bomber but it raced away.

The date is now December of 1944. The Battle of the Bulge was raging, a major German offensive, launched through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia (Belgium), France and Luxembourg. Weather at the time of the offensive was dreadful, with temperatures far below 0°C and constant heavy overcast weather, which grounded the Allies' overwhelmingly superior Air Forces.

The 352nd Fighter Group was ordered to prepare their move to an advanced airfield on the continent. The push into Allied territory and the fact that Axis airfields and terrain for new airstrips were over run, made it possible to shift Allied Air Forces onto the European mainland.

This had several benefits. The tactical Fighter Groups, which bombed and strafed in support of ground actions, could stay close to the ground troops. They could, as a result, provide faster response and an increased number of attack missions per day. Escort units were given the opportunity to fly farther into German territory and stay in that area for a longer period of time.

So it became that the 352nd FG, temporarily attached to the 9th Tactical Air Force at that time, was given the task to move to Y-29 airfield at Asch, Belgium. The airfield was located just north of the current town of Zutendaal.

Y-29 was the home of the 366th FG of the 9th Air Force at that time. The 352nd had been moved there on December 23rd, 1944, in response to the heavy activity of the Luftwaffe in support of the German Ardennes Offensive. The plan was for the 352nd's Mustangs to fly fighter sweeps to clear the enemy from the skies and provide top cover for the Thunderbolts attacking ground targets.

Because of heavy fog, finding the forward airfield is not an easy feat as Raymond Littge of the 487th FS, 352nd FG recalls: “We arrived at the continent on the afternoon of December 23rd. After completing an escort mission to a target in the Ruhr Valley we landed at A-84 near Brussels towards evening, having been unable to find Y-29 due to weather. "

Donald Bryan recalls: “On December 22nd , we were told we were deploying to Asch (Y-29). We were told that it was to be a deployment and we should take all of our clothes and supplies we'd need to stay for an extended time. Since we were told to take our clothing, we all dressed up in our Class A uniforms (storage space was limited in the P-51). I even had my Bancroft hat in the cockpit.

The flights over there were going to be in two sections with the 487th leading the first flight and the 328th was to lead second section. Earl Abbot led the second flight.

We all loaded up and started engines, but got a call from the tower: “shut down, you're on a mission.” Squadron CO Earl Abbott went to get codes and found we were going on a mission before landing at Y-29. Fine. We got the signal to start engines again.

Shortly after takeoff, Earl wobbled his wings to signal that he had to abort, so I had to lead. I had no information because Earl knew all the code names and who to talk to.We milled around for some time, not knowing where Y-29 was. We called the 9th Air Force radar station, since we knew their callsigns, and they would go “roger, roger, roger”, and then dead silence. The damn radar stations wouldn't help us because we didn't know their code names.

All of a sudden, Hank White calls in: “Yellow lead, you've got two 190s coming in on you. I'll give you break”. I was feeling kind of itchy because I couldn't see them. They were back there, but Hank was legging behind me, so he would give break and I got all set to go.

When he gave the go, the four of us did a complete 180° turn and I saw the 190 filling my windscreen. I fired a couple of rounds and hit the airplane and the pilot bailed out. I called to ask where the other airplane was. Our flight leader, William H. Sanford, got him, so we formed up again.

At about that time, the 487th , flying up above us, had dropped their wing tanks, so now we had to dodge a bunch of falling tanks through our formation.

After a while we spotted an airfield with P-47s on it and landed there. Now remember a few things. One, we were all in class A uniforms. Two, our aircraft were all polished and waxed. Three, we didn't have a clue as to where we were – just on a 9th AF base.

They parked me alongside a P-47 with the other 328th men to my right. I filled out the Form 1, popped my Bancroft Fighter on my head, and walked up to two pilots that were standing alongside of the P-47. This P-47 was about as cruddy as anything I've seen with dirty exhaust stains all over the side, muddy and just crappy looking. The pilots looked worse if anything. Dressed in OD's with those combat boots. They looked like they hadn't shaved in a week or changed their clothes either. They might have had a shower a month or so ago.

Anyway, I hopped out of “Little One III”, walked up to them and said “Hi, where am I?”. The 9th AF pilot looked at me, looked at “Little One III”, looked at each other and said “God Damned 8th AF” and walked away. “

The next day (December 23rd ), they finally got to their newly assigned base, Y-29. Conditions were hard compared to the comfort of their previous home base at Bodney. In the roughest winter in anyone's memory, the officers and enlisted men were housed in tents, with virtually no protection from the pervading cold and deep snow other than their heavily layered clothing.

The skeleton force of the 352nd FG comprised of 75 pilots, 6 ground officers and 100 airmen. Rather than a ground crew team being assigned to a single plane, the hard-pressed selected crews found themselves individually maintaining numerous planes with no shelter.

Conditions at Y-29. Lt. George A. Middleton taking off in P-51K 44-11628 (© 352nd FG Association Archive)

Don recalls: While we were stationed at Y-29 in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, I don't think there was a hotter fighter group on the planet! I checked the records, and our newest pilot in the 328th had 190 combat hours, and the second newest had 210 combat hours. Each wingman and element knew exactly what to do. The problem wasn't getting pilots to fly, it was telling them they couldn't fly. They all wanted to fly, especially missions that looked like they had the potential for enemy action. Our air-to-air victory ration while at Y-29 was 79 to 1. At Y-29, there was a bunch of junked airplanes at one end of the field, including a B-17 and P-61 Black Widow. We went over to the junked planes and removed the fuel. We set tanks on stands outside our tents and ran copper tubing from the fuel tanks into our tent stoves. We had 110-octane gas drip on the fire to help keep us warm. We did have fresh eggs over there for the first time. I mean, we could hear the enemy guns firing near the frontline, but we had fresh eggs. ”

To make matters worse, the 352nd FG top ace at that time with 26.83 aerial victories and the 328th FS commanding officer, Major George Preddy, was shot down and killed by friendly anti-aircraft whilst persuing a FW-190 at tree top level on December 24th .

With George Preddy gone, Don took over operations and became flight leader.

Don recalls that the 352nd was red hot in the period between December 23rd , 1944, and January 1st , 1945. The Group shot down over 70 aircraft in that period against 3 losses of their own.

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