Brigadier General Robert Olds
Robert Olds Robin Olds © USAF
© USAF

Air Force CrossAir Force Distinguished Service Medal
Silver StarLegion Of MeritDistinguished Flying Cross
Air MedalAir MedalAir Medal
Air Force Commendation MedalAir Force Presidential Unit CitationOutstanding Unit Reward
American Defense Service MedalAmerican Campaign MedalEuropean African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal WWII Victory MedalNational Defense Service MedalVietnam Service Medal Air Force Longevity Service AwardSmall Arms Expert Marksmanship RibbonDistinguished Service Cross UK French Croix De GuerreVietnam Distinguished Service Order Second ClassVietnam Air Gallantry Medal Vietnam Air Service MedalVietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation MedalRepublic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Units: 434th FS, 479th FG
WWII score: 13 aerial kills
1 damaged in the air
11 strafing kills
Born: Honolulu, Hawaii, July 14th, 1922
Rank: Brigadier General
Medals: * Air Force Cross
* Air Force Distinguished Service Medal 1 OLC
* Silver Star 3 OLC
* Legion of Merit
* Distinguished Flying Cross 5 OLC
* Air Medal 40 OLC
* Air Force Commendation Medal
* Presidential Unit Citation 4 OLC
* Outstanding Unit Reward 4 OLC
* American Defense Service Medal
* American Campaign Medal
* European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal 6 OLC
* WWII Victory Medal
* National Defense Service Medal 1 OLC
* Vietnam Service Medal 2 OLC
* Air Force Longevity Service Award 6 OLC
* Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
* Distinguished Service Cross UK
* French Croix De Guerre 5 OLC
* Vietnam Distinguished Service Order Second Class
* Vietnam Air Gallantry Medal
* Vietnam Air Service Medal
* Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Medal
* Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Aircraft: P-38J, L2-W
"Scat"

P-38J-15, L2-W
SN: 43-28707
"Scat II"

P-38J-15, L2-W
SN: 43-28341
"Scat III"

P-51D-10, L2-W
SN: 44-14426

"Scat 5"

P-51K-5, L2-W
SN: 44-11746
"Scat VI"

P-51D-25NA, L2-W
SN: 44-72922

"Scat VII "

   
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The last P-38 ace

On August 18th, the 479th escorted 70 B-24s from the 2nd BD to Nancy/Essey airfield, on the Franco-German border. Once the heavy bombers had cleared the target area, Col Zemke led his 50 P-38s down in wave after wave to strafe the still stunned airfield. More than 40German fighters and bombers were destroyed, this tally putting the group well on the way to winning its Distinguished Unit Citation. Zemke summed up the action in his report: “Group leader and seven pilots of "Lakeside" (435th call sign) started dive-strafing for two or three runs as soon as the dust cleared, to be followed by low-level strafing by everyone. When very little flak was found, four to seven passes were made.”

About seventy aircraft were observed on the ground, although the attacks were carried out so vigorously that the P-38 pilots claimed to have hit more than 100! When the final gun camera films and post-action reports were reviewed, claims of between 38 and 43 aircraft destroyed and 28 damaged were awarded for the loss of the 434th's Lt Philip Manning (in P-38J 42-67296). Hit by flak over the airfield, he was killed when his fighter crashed near the town of Nancy. The heavy bombers were also credited with the destruction of four German aircraft on the airfield. Lt George Gleason of the 434th claimed four destroyed (revised to one Fw 190, two shared He 111s and half a Ju 88) and one (Fw 190) damaged.

Capt Robin Olds was leading “Newcross Blue Flight”, and he went into the fray with his usual enthusiasm: “A "Lakeside" flight cut across in front of me while I was observing the fight, and upon looking up I followed this flight instead of my squadron. We dive-strafed the field on the first pass, observing very little flak. On this first pass I set an He 111 on fire. Circling left, we came back for another pass. By this time there were several ships burning in the main portion of the field. All of my passes were from the northeast to the southwest, and they cut across Nancy on recovery. The pattern continued left. My wingman (Lt. Philip W. Manning) went in on his second pass. While positioning myself for a third pass, I noticed another box of bombers on a run. I called them in, and all ships strafing drew off until the bombing had been completed. We then took up our strafing again. I picked out two ships – Ju 88s parked close together in front of the hangars on the northeast side of the field. I made two passes at these two ships, and by the third pass they were both burning. I continued across the field and concentrated on another Ju 88 on the far side. I made two more passes on this ship and then ran out of ammunition. I pulled up and circled at 8000 ft., trying to count the burning aircraft.
I counted 30, but could not get the exact number due to smoke. I claim four destroyed on the ground - one He 111, two Ju 88s and one Ju 88 shared.”

Olds' claims were later revised to three destroyed, but he was still the first 479th pilot to achieve five confirmed air and ground claims.

Even though the August 18th operation was the most successful attack against Luftwaffe aircraft yet conducted by the group, it represented just the start of a period in which the unit excelled in combat. Although the 479th's DUC would specify actions on August 18th , September 5th and September 26th of 1944, several other missions flown during this period would also produce successes.

Weather restricted operations between August 19th and 24th , and on the latter date the 479th escorted B-24s making a raid deep into Germany. Several bombers were lost to flak, but few Luftwaffe fighters appeared, as was typical at this stage of the war. There was a different story to report the following day, however. With the B-24s scheduled to blow hell out of the bomber parts manufacturing center and assembly plants at Wismar, the 479th took to the air at 0923 hrs, with 40 P-38s airborne for the purpose of furnishing escort for the entire trip. The "big friends" were sort of strung out, but the meeting was finally arranged in the area of Gustrow at 1212 hrs. The bombing of the target was good, with tremendous fires and smoke issuing from the clobbered area.

The 434th FS, numbering a mere 16 airplanes, took on a bunch of Me 109s, numbering over 40, between Piau and Rostock. They ended the fight with claims of five destroyed, two probably destroyed and one damaged. Capt. Robin Olds led the day with three destroyed, followed by Capt C.A.P. Duffie, two destroyed, Lt. B. E. Hollister, two destroyed, and Lt. Walter B. Drake, one damaged.

Capt Olds was leading Yellow Flight near Rostock when "Newcross Yellow Four" called out bogies dead ahead and slightly below. Olds immediately put on power and manoeuvred to get behind the unidentified aircraft, which were little more than dark shapes at this early stage in the interception. When he closed to within a mile of them, they became identifiable as Bf 109s. Ordering his flight to drop tanks, Olds started the pursuit.

In the final turn to get behind the German fighters, Olds was overtaken by his Nos. 3 and 4. The rest of the 434th FS, as well as the remaining P-38s from the 479th FG, were hopelessly out of place to repel the attackers, so it was up to Olds to relate his position and heading to the group while attempting to draw up behind the enemy formation. When he was finally astern of the German fighters, Olds picked out a Messerschmitt on the right-hand side of the formation and held his fire until he was about 250 yards behind it. Hits were immediately registered, and the German pilot took to his parachute. Olds then broke violently to the left and flew over the enemy formation, making a 360-degree turn that brought him back onto the tails of the Messerschmitts.

Lt. Berkley Hollister, who was Olds No. 4, started his pass on a group of five fighters, which Olds covered until he started his own attack. Once again, the latter pilot drew close to a Messerschmitt prior to firing, and for the second time in just a few minutes the jagdflieger took to his parachute.

The fight then became a general melee, with P-38s and Bf I09s chasing each other in the bright sunlight at altitudes descending from about 20,000 ft. Olds rolled over after a Messerschmitt that was on the tail of another American fighter. So violent was his manoeuvre, with indicated speed exceeding 500 mph, that part of his canopy blew off, “scaring the hell out of me”, as his post-action report put it. But this did not prevent him from sticking to the tail of his prey until the pair straightened out over a wheat field near Rostock. Once again Olds fired from close range until the Bf 109 pilot bailed out.

In just 25 minutes, Olds destroyed 2 German fighters, despite suffering severe damage to his own aircraft (including loss of a side window of the canopy), He managed to down another Me-109 on the way back home, making him the last P-38 ace in the ETO.

He also claimed 3 probable kills whilst flying P-38s, but these were never accredited of confirmed.

Olds flew four P-38s between May and September of 1944, the first lasted him through the D-Day period until he was issued with Scat II (P-38J-15 43-28341), which was destroyed in a landing accident on July 7th , 1944. He scored all of his P-38 kills while flying Scat III during August.

 

Enter the Mustang

The 479th had taken high honours for aircraft destroyed on the ground, even though the rest of VIII Fighter Command would soon take up the challenge to inflict further punishment on the faltering Luftwaffe. It was a curious feature of this stage of the post-invasion period that more German aircraft were destroyed in low-level strafing attacks on airfields than were shot down by fighter escorts defending heavy bombers. Priorities had shifted for the Jagdwaffe due to the more efficient and aggressive escort tactics that had been introduced by the USAAF in the spring of 1944, and because of a pressing need to counter tactical Allied air attacks on retreating German forces during August and September.

Whilst the Wehrmacht was finding it difficult to regroup and reform its defensive lines due to constant air attacks upon its retreating troops, the Luftwaffe was facing continual demands to protect lines of communication on the ground. Allied air attacks were destroying rail, river and air transport targets, while retreating fighter and bomber units were being crowded onto improvised staging airfields, where they presented tempting targets for marauding AAF fighter-bombers. This situation had arisen following the successful Allied breakout from Normandy in July of 1944, and the usually efficient German war machine remained in a disorganized flight that would not be halted until late September.

The Luftwaffe was also experiencing a severe shortage of experienced fighter crews. The great air battles of April of 1944 had accelerated the drain of veteran pilots, and their numbers continued to be attrited for the rest of the war. Starting with the Jagdwaffe's response to the Normandy invasion, there was a growing practice of committing novice pilots to the battle, led by a handful of battle-hardened veterans.

By September, Luftwaffe fighter units were better established at airfields in southern and western Germany, and VIII Fighter Command once again began to encounter more opposition during its bomber escort missions. This in turn meant an increased opportunity for Allied pilots to claim aerial successes.

For the 479th, this period coincided with its switch in equipment from the P-38 Lightning to the P-51 Mustang.

Olds received his in the first days of October and named it “Scat 5” (44-14426). He scored his his first kill in his new Mustang on October 6th , 1944, which was his 6th aerial kill in total.


Drawing of Robin Olds' "Scat #5"

Like his CO Hub Zemke, Robin Olds was also a P-51 enthusiast, but he was not as anti-P-38 as Zemke (he achieved ace status in the Lightning after all). “Mutual admiration” best describes the relationship between Zemke and the young Olds. Zemke was aware of the spirited, youthful Olds from the youngster's days as a "military brat" (he was the son of Maj. Gen. Robert Olds, who commanded the 2nd Bombardment Group in the late 1930s) and firebrand who had gained his wings just prior to his graduation from West Point. Olds reciprocated the feeling, considering Zemke to be a great fighter leader and group commander.

In the 1970s, Brig. Gen. Robin Olds gave his opinion on the two types of fighter aircraft that he had flown with the 434th FS. He wrote: “The P-38 was a wonderful fighter in many respects, and having been weaned on it, I loved it, up to a point. It was fast, easy to fly (once you really knew it) and would turn with the best of them, providing you had an exceedingly strong right arm. It was honest in most respects, giving ample stall warning under all flight conditions, and easy to recover if you ignored it. With proper power management, it had fine endurance, and could cover the bombers all the way in and out again. Its four 0.50-cal machine guns and its single 20 mm cannon gave it good firepower. It was acceptably rugged and could absorb a respectable beating and still get you home.”

That was the extent of his praise for the P-38, which had three limiting factors. According to Olds, they were virtually non-existent cockpit heating, the illogical ergonomics of the cockpit design and the severe dive limitations posed by the fighter's tendency to enter the potentially lethal realm of compressibility when descending at high speed from high altitude. Another negative feature mentioned by Olds was one that was really never solved: “Apparently, the P-38's turbo superchargers were next to impossible to trim during ground maintenance for, at altitude, the pilot, more often than not, got too much boot from one and not enough from the other. In spite of all this, the P-38 was a good air-to-air fighting machine. “

One of the negative derail aspects of the Lightning that seemed to particularly irritate Olds was the installation of the gun-camera in the nose under the cannon. To him, the individual who decided to place it there was a “knothead” who failed to realize that the vibration of the cannon firing would jerk the picture into blurred uselessness. Some of the probable kills attributed to P-38 pilots might have been confirmed if better gun-camera pictures had been available. After the 479th FG relinquished its P-38s, the camera was moved from the nose to the left wing drop rank shackle, and perfectly acceptable images were produced from then on.

Robin Olds next to Scat #5

His appreciation of the P-38 was outweighed by his enthusiasm for the P-51: “Much as we liked the P-38, we knew what the P-51 "Spam Can" would do, and we wanted a piece of the action. For the pilots who had never flown a single-engined fighter before, the conversion was something of a minor trauma. This little beauty had prop torque a-plenty, and we quickly found it necessary to convert our strong right arms to strong right legs. It also took a bit of self-hypnosis to ignore the peculiar sounds the Merlin engine always made the moment you flew over any stretch of water. But the joy of flying that absolutely fabulous machine far out-matched any of its annoying little habits. At least we sat in comfort, plenty of room for legs, arms, shoulders and head, ample heat at any altitude, fantastic pilot visibility all around (except over the nose, of course, and who cared what was in front) and a range capability we hadn't dreamed of. In all, the Mustang was truly a fighter pilot's dream, and today it still remains one of the best machines I have ever flown.”

Between October and the end of December, 479th pilots quickly improved their proficiency with the P-51 and added much to the USAAF's combat record in the ETO by claiming to have hot down some 50 German aircraft. The first of these victories fell to Lt. Thomas Myers of the 436th FS and to Capt. Robin Olds - the first of his eight Mustang claims - on October 6th .

Old was restrained in reporting his victory: “I was flying as “Newcross Yellow” Leader on an escort mission to Berlin. We were top cover on roving escort, investigating bogies just northwest of Berlin at 30,000 ft., when the rear boxes of bombers were hit by enemy aircraft. On order, we dropped tanks and rushed back to the fight. The enemy aircraft attacked the bombers in waves of eight to ten in flat "Vees" from "six o'clock" slightly high. I dove to a point in front of the box of bombers being hit and followed the last wave of Fw 190s that I closed on. They immediately took evasive action, so I switched my attention to a third group and closed in. It is my opinion that this particular German Formation was intent on hitting the next box of bombers in line because they were heading right for them, and they showed no signs of split-essing from their initial attack.

I opened fire at the Fw 190 I had selected within good range, but did not see any hits. I realized then that some of my guns were frozen, so I proceeded to walk the gunsight back and forth across the enemy aircraft. Then I observed strikes and the canopy came off immediately, followed by several other large pieces. The Fw 190 went into a violent skid, giving me a three-quarter beam shot with no deflection. I fired again, observing many hits in and around the cockpit. Then I passed on over the enemy aircraft as it plunged down trailing smoke.”


Scat "5

Despite a general lack of aerial opposition in October, there were still shocks in store for the 479th FG before the month was out when the group lost two popular leaders in the same mission.

One of them was their CO, Col. Zemke. On a mission on October 30th , 1944, while flying in unforecasted turbulence, the wing of Zemke's P-51 was torn off. Zemke was forced to bail out over enemy territory and was captured.

Zemke's combat service ended after 154 missions and 17.75 confirmed aerial victories, of which 2.5 were achieved while leading the 479th .

In a weird twist of fate, it was already to be Col. Zemke's last day with the 479th FG as he had been ordered to report to the 65th FW Headquarters to commence a staff job.

In another twist, Zemke was replaced in command by Col. Riddle, whom he had succeeded in August when the latter had been shot down. However, Riddle managed to evade capture and returned and returned to the UK in late September. He was able to work his way back into the executive commander's job at the 479th , and he duly assumed command again when Zemke failed to return on October 30th .

Upon his repatriation, Zemke joked that Riddle had sawn through the wing of his P-51 so as to reclaim his old job!

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