Friday, April 15, 2016

Log Books and Flight Summaries, December 1943

The following are excerpts from the Pilot's Log book of 1st Lt Joseph Elden Leonard and flight summaries from “417th NFS Illustrated History," edited by Dan Whitney.

1st Lt. Leonard and his radar observer Flight Officer Raymond Christensen, were night fighters for the 417th NFS, U. S. Army Air Force.  Both were killed in action when their plane was engaging a Nazi night fighter over the Tyrrhenian sea.  Their plane disappeared from radar and presumably crashed into the sea after being shot down.  F/O Christensen was my great-uncle.

Much of the work of the 417th NFS was to protect boat convoys as they transported allied suppies and soldiers.  As you can imagine, these convoys were prized targets of the Nazis.  Also, the 417th were sent on missions to check out "bogies" that showed upon their radar, and if found to be an enemy plane, engage in combat.

These excerpts resume in Tafaraoui, Algeria.  F/O Christensen was radar observer for all of these flights, so I have not mentioned him specifically.  Other passengers are noted.   The quotes are from the flight summaries of 1st. Lt. Leonard.   Notes between brackets are mine.  All crews from the 417th are named "Bishop 50, Bishop 51," etc.  Note the crazy hours these guys fly!


Dec. 2, 1943.  Beau 911, had passenger M/Sgt Swain aboard.  Mission was [enemy?] Convoy Search.  4:40 pm - 6:25.  "Went out to look for a convoy near Alboran and found another one instead.  Also saw a small one while returning to base.  Otherwise uneventful.  Ship and R/T [radio transmitter] OK."

Dec. 4, 1943,  Beau 911.  Airborn Intercept Target.  10:10 - 11:30 AM.  "[Acted as] AI target for [Bishop] 50 but his weapon bent* so I returned and pancaked [landed]."
*plane, or some part of the plane, not working properly.

During the time period between Dec. 4 and Dec. 13, the 417th upgraded from MK VI radar to MK VIII. Flight Officer Christensen was presumably training on the new equipment; 1st Lt. Leonard continued to fly with other radar observers during this time.  They were based out of Reghaia, Algeria rather than Tafaraoui until later in the month.

We resume with F/O Christensen as the radar observer:

Dec. 13, 1943.  Beau "B", also joined by F/L Quittenden and F/O Van Laecken.  Airborne Interception practice.

Dec. 15, 1943.
Flight 1: Beau "L", also joined by F/L Quittenden, F/O Potter.  Airborne Interception practice.
Flight 2: Beau 938, also joined by F/O Potter.  Airborne Interception practice.
Flight 3:  Beau 938.  Practice Interceptions with "Madbrain" [ground control].

Dec. 18, 1943.  Beau "F", also joined by F/O Van Laecken.  Acted as Airborne Interception target.

Dec. 21, 1943.  Beau 834, also joined by F/O Potter.  Flight from Maison Blanche to Tafaraoui.  3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. "MB to TAF.  Picked up at 155 MI.  834.  Flight without incident."

At this point, F/O Christensen and 1st Lt. Leonard are back at Tafaraoui.

Dec. 26, 1943.  Beau 938.  Practice interception with Woodlog [ground control]. 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm.  "PI's with [Bishop] 70 on Woodlog, but 70's radio went out so we returned to base.  Bags of clouds."

Dec. 29, 1943.  Beau 834, also joined by Lt. Johnson.  This mission was a somber one - searching for a missing aircrew (Swift and Kohrman) from their unit.  1:25 pm to 4:40 pm.  "Search - no luck.  Conducted square search in vicinity of Cape Figalo and searched north to 40-50 NE of Oran [Algeria]."

Dec. 30, 1943.  Beau 168.  Practice interceptions with Fishbone [ground control]. 6:10 am - 9:40 am.  "PIs with [Bishop] 59 on Fishbone with Joe Long giving vectors.  Beautiful ship and beautiful interceptions.  AI [airborne interception radar], R/T [radio transmitter] and A/C [aircraft] OK."

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