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!
Oct. 10, 1943.
Beau #843. Practice interceptions. 11:00 pm - 1:10 am. "Ran a PI with Bishop 70 and made two interceptions. Bounced twice on first attempt to land, so I went around-starboard engine three fire when I gave it the gun. The mechanics checked up and found two stacks out."
Oct. 11, 1943.
Flight 1: Beau #806, Night Fighter Training. 2:05 pm - 3:05 pm. "NFT with Bishop 70 who ran interceptions."
Flight 2: Beau #822, Night Practice interceptions. "PI on Fishbone [ground control group] with [Bishop] 53, made 5 interceptions and controller was pretty damned good. 822 is still the best ship on the line except that the throttles are out a little. Beautiful night!!"
Oct. 13, 1943.
Beau #822. Formation and Night Fighter Training. 1:30 pm - 3:30 pm. "Formation with [Bishop] 53, 56, 70 and it stunk! Ran NFT with [Bishop] 59 and checked canary with Stalecrust [ground control group]. A/C [air craft] fine."
Oct. 14, 1943.
With Lt. Fitzgerald along as well. Beau #822. Practice interceptions and S/L [?]. 6:50 pm - 10:05 pm.
"PI with [Bishop] 70 and Fishbone [ground control]and they made 6 interceptions - all gone but one. Both 70 and I went over to S/L and flew for about an hour. We both had S/L officers as passengers. S/L can really hold on to you if they find you."
Oct. 16, 1943.
Flight 1: Beau #831. Night Fighter Training. 3:00 pm - 3:50 pm. "Finally found Bishop 55 for target and ran one interception. Set was very good. Beautiful clouds about 6500 ft. so I did a few steep turns and a buzz job on them, stooged around for awhile, then came in. At last - a good landing."
Flight 2: Beau #831. Practice Interceptions with Perform [ground control group]. 6:50 pm - 10 pm. "PI with Perform with Bishop 65 as playmate. Al Withers did a very good job of Controlling, making 7 interceptions. Perform on the ball. (Al Withers). Pancaked [landed] at 2200."
Flight 3: Beau #831. Capt. Lathrop joined. Practice interceptions with Fishbone [ground control]. 4:10 am to 7:10 am. "Bishop 63 [acted] as target. [Bishop] 65's set went out so he flew target for me. The controller made 5 interceptions that weren't too hot. Cloud layer at 10,000. Plane and AI [airborne intercept radar] Ok."
Oct. 17, 1943.
Beau #743, practice intercepts with Stalecrust [ground control]. 11:05pm to 1:40 am. PI on Stalecrust with Bishop 59 and had three interceptions apiece. My stbd [starboard] transmitter had a squeal in it so I used it to signal the controller with. The port tachometer was fluctuating from 200-700 rpm. And after landing it went out. Beautiful night."
Oct. 20, 1943
Flight 1: Beau #831, with two additional passengers. From Tafaraoui [Algeria] to Reghaia [Algeria]
Flight 2: Beau #831, from Reghaia to Tafaraoui, 2:30pm - 5:40pm. "X-C [cross country] Reghaia and return time 1430-1740. Had two passengers going up and came back with observer only. The trip was uneventful and came back the water route which is pretty nice scenery. Radio and A/C [air craft] both in good shape. Logged 2:30."
Flight 3: Beau #831. Practice interceptions with Stalecrust [ground control], 10:55pm to 1:40 am. "PI with Bishop 60 and Stalecrust. They were breaking in some new controllers and things were rather rough. My interceptions were without incident as the target did not use any evasive action. A/C [air craft] and R/T [radio transmitter] OK.
Oct. 22, 1943. Beau #822. Convoy patrol, then landed at Reghaia. 12:55 am. to 3:40 am.
"On patrol with Perform [ground controllers] and was told to return to base. 80 miles from base Bradshaw [Tafaraoui RAF Aerodrome control] told me to go to Blida and Perform vectored me for there but Blida had me to go Reghaia. No damn sleep and a lousy breakfast. Sector said our field was closed in and I finally got fed up and took off anyway."
Oct. 23, 1943.
Flight 1: Beau #822. Flew from Reghaia back home to Tafaraoui, 9:40 am to 11:00 am. "Reghaia to Tafaraoui, very uneventful. ceiling 1200 ft. over field."
Flight 2: Beau #822. Night Fighter Training. Flew from 1:50-2:50 pm. "NFT with Bishop 59. Very uneventful. My canary checked very weak with Stalecrust] ground control]. A/C [air craft] and R/T [radio transmitter] both OK.
Oct. 25, 1943. Beau #822. Convoy Patrol with Perform [ground control], Flew from 11:20pm to 2:40 am. "Convoy patrol with Perform giving the vectors. Ran two interceptions but neither Bishop 59 or myself was on the ball so we called the whole thing off. Lots of oranges [?]."
Oct. 26, 1943.
Flight 1: Beau #822, Night Fighter Training, 1:40pm - 2:40 pm. "Checked Canary with Stalecrust and Fishbone [ground controllers]. Unsatisfactory on both stations. Had a practice homing by puncture which turned out OK. Radio, AI [airborne intercept radar], and R/T [radio transmitter] were OK."
Flight 2: Beau #822, Practice Intercept (Stalecrust ground control), 10:00pm - 1:10 am. "PI with Stalecrust, Bishop 57 was playmate but went back with a rough engine so I stooged around until he got another plane. 57's I/C [intercept control??] went out on the first interception so he ran target for me. The control was very good, visuals at 1000 ft. Landing poor, very poor show."
Oct. 28, 1943. Beau #806. Night Fighter Training. 2:30 pm t0 4:00 pm. "NFT with [Bishop] 59, his weapon was bent*, ship, R/T [radio transmitter] and AI [airborne intercept radar] OK."
* something wrong with the plane or a component of it
Oct. 29, 1943.
Flight 1: Beau #819. S/L. 9:10pm - 9:50 pm. "Flew S/L with Bishop 53, A/C [air craft] seemed to run rough - control cable caught when turning port, R/T [radio transmitter] very bad so returned to base."
Flight 2: Beau #760. Practice Interceptions with Stalecrust [ground control]. 10:00pm - midnight. "Flew PI with Bishop 53 whose weapon was bent* so he flew target. Joe Howard did a pretty good job of controlling but the night was dark as hell and I lost three visuals the first interception [required to visually confirm the target plane as "enemy"] Completed about 4 with target's altitude varying from 10,000 - 7,500. A/C [air craft] OK, R/T [radio transmitter] noisy."
* something wrong with the plane or a component of it