Col. Bud Anderson: Triple-Ace Mustang Pilot, Part I
In this first part of his interview, Col. Anderson describes how the Mustang came to be, the differences between allied and enemy aircraft, and an intense dogfight he had during a large-scale bombing mission near Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Col. Clarence (Bud) Emil Anderson served in the United States Air Force during World War II, and is a triple-ace fighter pilot. He’s the highest scoring living American fighter ace, and the 10th highest scoring Mustang Ace of all time.
Col. Anderson was a member of the 357th Fighter group, which was said to have “shot down the most airplanes in the shortest time of any unit in the European theater, perhaps the whole Air Force.” They had over 600 aerial victories in 14 months, and 42 aces, more than any other fighter group.
He also commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, an F-105 Thunderchief unit, during its final months of service in the Vietnam War.
Col. Anderson was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2013, was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
This year, Col. Anderson celebrated his 100th birthday. Click here to learn about his birthday celebration.
For more pictures of Bud during the war, click here.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
Warriors in Their Own Words is our attempt to present an unvarnished, unsanitized truth of what we have asked of those who defend this nation. Thank you for listening, and by doing so, honoring those who have served.
Today, in the first of a two-part episode, we’ll hear from Col. Bud Anderson. Anderson served as a P-51 Mustang pilot in WWII, and is the highest-scoring living American fighter ace.
In this first part of his interview, Anderson describes how the Mustang came to be, the differences between allied and enemy aircraft, and an intense dogfight he had during a large scale bombing mission near Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson:
My name is Clarence E. Bud Anderson.
The Mustang almost happened by accident. It was built by the North American company, right here in LA. They were a fledgling company in the early forties, trying to get into the business. The war was on. They had built a couple of trainers. The British came over to the United States on the Lend-Lease program, with a commission, trying to find somebody to build fighters for the Royal Air Force. They went to North America and asked them to build a current fighter that was in production in the United States, the P-40, built by Curtiss and powered by an Allison engine. They wanted North American to tool up and produce P-40s, from drawings given to them by Curtiss. The North American company was young and very aggressive and had some very talented people. So, they told the British, "Look, we can build you a better airplane in the same time it would take us to tool up to build P-40s for you." Well, that would probably be pretty risky. Fortunately, the British decided to bet on them. So, they built a prototype and flew it in some remarkable short time, something like 120 days. They would've flown it sooner, except the government didn't furnish them the engine in time. But anyway, remarkably short time. They flew this Mustang with their modern technology, Laminar flow wing and innovative radiator system, that actually gave it a little bit of thrust to offset the drag and came up with the early Mustang, P-51A. Because it had the Allison engine in it, with a one-stage supercharger, it was still kind of a low altitude airplane. They built them for the British.
They arrived over there, I don't remember when, but kind of late, after the Battle of Britain. The Brits used them for what they called army cooperation, reconnaissance and things like this, low-altitude flying. The war in Europe was fought at a high altitude. Therefore, it was much better than the P-40, much faster, but still considered a low-altitude airplane. Well, some practical thinking people over there in Britain said, “This is a wonderful airframe. Why don't we mate it with our best engine, the Rolls-Royce Merlin?" So, they did that and ended up with a very remarkable airplane. The Rolls-Royce Merlin had a two stage, two speed supercharger. That gave the Mustang outstanding speed at low altitude, high altitude. It was quite maneuverable and it had a lot of fuel. Ended up being the answer to the problem they had in Europe, where the heavy bombers were being shot down because they didn't have a fighter escort.
You'd like to believe that all this happened with brilliant planning here, that the Mustang arrives at the right time. There was little interest in the Mustang, in the army air corps. They had the solution already being worked on. It was called the P-67. It was going to be built by General Motors. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was already being produced in the United States by Packard Motor Company, in mass production. So, the engines were available. Now we got an airframe. But we've got this P-67, which was kind of an abortion, built all different parts of different airplanes. It was supposed to be the long-range fighter.
A colonel at Wright Field flew the airplane, and was very disappointed. He came back and found out that... He told him, he says, "Hey, this airplane can't even defend itself, let alone defend the bombers. We ought to get rid of it." They'd already ordered a couple thousand of them. He was aware of the Mustang and the Merlin engine. He said, "We ought to investigate that, try to put more fuel in it and that should be the answer." Well, fortunately he prevailed, and we got the P-51B model. Once we had that, they couldn't get enough of them.
Now, you'd like to believe that once we had this airplane, they would immediately go to the 8th Air Force, so that they could escort the B-17s and help them out. By the way, our concept of bombing strategic targets with bombers, in those days, was that they could do it in the daylight and they could do it in massive formations, and they could fight their way in and fight their way out. They didn't need fighter escort. The British had tried that and got tremendous losses. So, they reverted to night bombing. Well, the night bombing wasn't as accurate as day bombing. So, they were going in and doing area bombing. Where our concept, the United States Army Air Corps, was that we had to do it in daylight to get the accuracy, to destroy the targets that we wanted.
Well, they started in 1942, '43. They immediately found out that, once they got it deep in the target, when… We did have fighters there, P-47 and P-38s, but they didn't have the range to go all the way to the targets and back, all over Europe. So, the Germans would just wait until the fighter escort left, and then they'd have at them.
They had one of the big raids too, I think it was Schweinfurt. They lost 60 bombers. I mean, and that's 10 men in each bomber. That's 600 men, went down on that day. It almost put an end to the daylight bombing. They said, now we've got to have fighter escort. We just can't do this without it.
So, the Mustang arrives on the scene, magically, due to brilliant planning right? You'd like to believe that the first ones went right straight to the 8th Air Force. Well, they didn't. They were assigned to the 9th Air Force in Europe, which was the tactical air force that was preparing for the eventual invasion of Europe, for ground support. Fortunately, they were in England. The 354th Fighter Group, the Pioneer Mustang Group, very famous fighter group, received these airplanes. They had essentially nothing to do, to get their airplanes and train and wait for the invasion. So, they loaned them to the 8th Air Force, which did the strategic bombing, as a fighter escort. They were so wildly successful that the air force demanded that we have the P-51B for escort.
That leads me to one of my philosophies about warfare. It's not brilliant planning that wins. It's the side that screws up the least, that gets the breaks. But once they got the P-51s, to show you how successful they were, they had 15 fighter groups and by the end of the war, there were 14 of them that had converted all to Mustangs. There was just one P-47 unit left in the whole 8th Air Force. It was a tremendous airplane. It was good at high altitude, good at low altitude. It was very maneuverable. And I think in the hands of a good pilot, it could hold its own or do better than any of the enemy airplanes. It had this tremendous range. We had about eight hours worth of fuel in the airplane, by the time they finished with all the modifications on it. It had fuel in the wings, it had a 85-gallon tank in the fuselage behind you, and then two huge underwing tanks. My average mission time was four and a half hours. The longest mission I ever flew was six hours and 55 minutes, on D-Day. But that was all patrolling, at cruising speed, never using very much power. P-51 Mustang, it was a great airplane.
My first impression of the Mustang, actually, I think I was in kind of a state of shock. Believe it or not, I don't have recall of it. You have to realize now, what happened. I just arrived in the theater in England. I'm a 22 year old kid, you might say, in a foreign land, just about ready to go into war. I received word that my best friend had been killed, in December of 1943, P-38 pilot. And about that time, I flew the Mustang. I don't really remember the date that I first flew the Mustang, which really isn't that important. But my general knowledge of the Mustang, in the next few days- and I was very lucky. When I got to combat, we had never seen a P-51 before, never even seen one, let alone fly one. We'd heard about them. Then I get several flights. I think I was one of the first pilots in the squadron to fly it. I was given a P-51 to go to the Royal Air Force Aerial Gunnery School. So, I got about 35 hours in it before I went into combat, which was a real break for me.
The only fighter I'd flown before was a P-39. I instantly realized that this was a much better airplane. It was much more honest, a lot more maneuverable and just, it was powerful. Hell, it looked good in the air and it sounded good and it flew like a dream.
The Spitfire was a great airplane. It was a great airplane, but it was built to fly right over the airfield. It was built for point defense. So, it didn't have that much fuel. It would take off and fight right over its field and then come in and land. It was very maneuverable. What a Spitfire could do in an hour, we could do for eight hours.
The early Mustangs, I already talked about maneuverability, speed, range, and we could out-dive anything. It was still a tail dragger. And of course, you'd had this tremendous big nose up ahead of you. You couldn't see very good on takeoff because you had this big nose up there. So, you had to work with that. That was a bad feature because it was a tail wheel airplane.
The other thing was, the early B models had a bird cage canopy. It was a wrap-around and you opened it like this, over the top of you. So, you had these crossbars on both sides, and you couldn't see out of it very well.
So the first thing we did was, when we got over there, we put on what they called a Malcolm Hood. This was a replacement canopy that the British built for their early Mustangs. It essentially was like a fishbowl, turned upside down. Take the old cockpit off and put this thing down. It bulged out over the side. You could look out and count the engine stacks, exhaust stacks on the engine. You could turn around and look this way, behind your tail. It was tremendous. The visibility out of it was great, with this canopy. Then later, the D-Dog model had the long bubble canopy of the classic Mustang and a tremendous visibility out of it, another good feature.
The only bad points that I can think of in the Mustang, was that to get that tremendous range in, they put so much fuel in it that the aft fuselage tank, the one right behind you, gave it an aft center of gravity. The airplane was actually unstable with a full fuselage tank. So, you had to manage your fuel properly, if you were going to get into combat early. You didn't want to fly in a maneuvering flight with a full fuselage tank because it gave you a stick force reversal. I'll try to explain that:
When you're in a turn, you're pulling back on the stick, you have a positive force there and the airplane is balanced. But as you tighten up the turn with the aft CG, the airplane tends to want to come up this way. You end up pushing forward on the airplane, to keep it from doing that. It's unstable. If you'd let go of, it would tuck right up and stall on you. It's not a natural thing for a pilot to do. You have to counter it, and you have to fly very carefully. On instruments, it was pretty much unstable. If you went up or push it down, the airplane stayed there. It had very light forces.
So to counter that what we did is, if we knew we were going to get in combat, a short range mission, you took off and you burned half your fuel down. So then, when you got into combat and you dropped your external tanks, you were ready to fight.
If you wanted every bit of fuel, you kept that fuel. You took off on a left main or right main. One of those fed some fuel back from the carburetor in there. You took off. You went to your drop tanks immediately, ran them dry, drop them. Then go to your fuselage tank, run it halfway down. Now you're ready to fight. But if you wanted all of that fuel, you took off, go to the externals. Then when they're dry, you'd burn this thing down. Well, if you got jumped before your drop tanks were dry, you would have an unstable airplane. That did happen to me once. It's kind of a long story, but it's another good dog fight.
The other thing was, a negative aspect of the P-51, I told you the war in Europe was fought at a high altitude. The airplane, we're talking 30,000 feet up, unpressurized cockpit, cold, very cold. Frost would build up on the canopy. Sometimes you have to scrape it off. It was very cold in the cockpit.
We had this little tube down there and it said on the top of it, heat. That was supposed to keep you warm, but there was no heat coming out of it. Very cold airplane. Other than that, that's about the only deficiencies that I could say about the P-51.
After I flew the Mustang for enough time to be very comfortable in it, and after I got in the experience of dog fighting with some enemy airplanes, I gained the confidence in the Mustang. I didn't worry about whether it was an ME-109 or a Focke-Wulf 190. If I saw one or the other, I would attack them, in whichever one I had that was closest or had the advantage over. I felt that I could defeat either one of ‘em.
Yeah. We're talking about difference between the P-51 and the Me-109 from armament standpoint. There were several models of the ME-109s, and also a couple of models of P-51s. Three different ones and Germans ME-109s had many, many models. But let's just stick with the P-51 B and the D.
P-51 B Model had four, 50 caliber machine guns. And I forget the total rounds on the B Model. But I think, we still probably had about 30 seconds of fire, of ammunition, at the rate of fire versus the load. The B Model had six guns, three on each side, and we had 2000 plus rounds, and still about 30 seconds of fire. The Germans, the ME-109 had the cannon through the nose, 30 millimeter. And then, either two or four, 7.9 millimeter or caliber. I don't know which. And the ME-109 had a cannon, plus maybe two or four machine guns, 7.9 millimeter and a 30 millimeter cannon. I think they had less ammunition than we did. You would say that the cannon would be the heaviest. That would be the heaviest firepower between the two, but the ammunition with less time that they could fire.
And then, the 50s were heavier than their 7.9s. So, I don't know whether you'd call it a draw or what. But the big cannon, if you got hit with that, would've been devastating. It was designed to shoot down bombers.
P-51 versus ME-109, I felt that the Mustang was superior in all ways, personally. I've learned later that at a low altitude, the ME-109 was a formidable enemy in maneuvering flight. But in my personal experience, the airplanes were pretty close in performance, as far as maneuvering flight. That's one thing we're talking about. The Mustang was faster, could dive faster. I think it was better at high altitude. At low altitude, maybe the 109 had the edge. I'm not real sure. But I think in the hands of a good, good pilot, the Mustang could certainly hold its own.
One thing that we had over the enemy was the fuel. We flew to Poznan, Poland. We went down to Czechoslovakia. We went all the way to Russia on shuttle missions. I didn't go any, but I mean, the Mustang did.
For example, I could fly deep into Germany, drop my tanks, and I still had bags of fuel. The ME-109 was a very short-legged airplane. It probably had maybe an hour and a half endurance. We could sit there and dog fight all day with them, and they're going to run out of fuel. We can still dog fight and fly all the way back to England.
I think most historians agree that we broke the back of the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1944, which gave us air superiority, which allowed us to invade Europe, the invasion, D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Air superiority was mandatory, to accomplish that invasion of Europe, with masses of boats and men and things like that, that came across on Normandy.
As we know now, only two enemy airplanes came up that day, to counter that massive invasion. Remember my things about brilliant planning or screw-ups? The Germans really screwed up on that one. They thought it was a feint at first. They had their forces tied up and Hitler was... because the only one that could give the permission to release certain units and he was asleep. They didn't dare wake him up to ask him. So again, the side that screws up the least, more important than brilliant planning.
But we're talking about German Air Force, German pilots and things like that, skill. The German Air Force had very skilled pilots, very experienced. Experience is the way you judge a fighter pilot. The more experience he has, the better he is. It's like anything you do in life. Their air force, of course, started flying combat in Spain, way before '39. And then of course, '39, '40, '41 '42, they were fighting. Battle of Britain was all they had, and across France, into Poland, into Russia. So, they had a lot of experience. And they had good airplanes, a very formidable air force.
What they lacked was a replacement pilot training program, follow-on pilots to come later. I don't know what they were planning. They figured they were doing to do a quick war and it would be all over and they'd be in charge and they didn't need it. What happened? We started with the idea of going in, bombing their factories, going after the oil, ball bearings, critical things for production.
I remember one thing, when I first got to Europe, we started reading the intelligence reports. I looked at the figures on how many fighters they were producing. I remembered, at the time that I left, when I finished my second tour of combat, I looked at these same figures and they had more airplanes. They were still pumping out airplanes, faster than they were when I first got there, which kind of amazed me. Here we are bombing these factories. I thought we were shutting them down. What they were really short of was pilots.
Again, this is another lucky break. When we first got to England, the 8th Air Force was really run by the bomber command, the bomber elements of the 8th Air Force. They had this concept that the B-17 could fly to the target, fight its way in, fight its way out. Remember, we called it the Flying Fortress. They flew in these massive formations of 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, over here. With all those 50 caliber guns forward and aft and sideways, they felt they were invulnerable, Flying Fortress. As I explained earlier, they found the sad news was, that didn't work. They had to have fighter escort.
Well, the concept of fighter escort in those days was, you stay with the B-17s. They wanted to see you. They wanted you to fly almost in formation with them. That wasn't the way to do it. We actually had instructions, if the bombers were attacked, you drive the enemy away, drive them away and then come back. If you went through it, you could chase them through 18,000 feet. And then you had to leave them, come back and escort the bombers.
Fighter pilots complained about it, but the 8th Air Force was run by bomber pilots. They said, " Mm-mm [No]. You fly formation with us, drive them away." Okay.
Shortly after I got there and started flying combat, General Jimmy Dolittle took over the 8th Air Force. One of the first things he did was he changed the rules. He said, "Okay guys, now when you engage the enemy, you pursue and destroy." And that gave us the green light to follow the enemy down, take them down and kill them. And that's when the victories started to soar, in the spring of 1944. And eventually we just overwhelmed them with, we had so many airplanes and we killed so many of their pilots that it began to show. Now that's not to say that they didn't have good pilots to the end of the war. After all, we had Gunther Rall, Adolf Galland, Erich Hartmann, all these guys survived the war.
But later on after the war, well after the war, I learned that, well, sometime after that they had a lot of inexperienced pilots in the air because they just didn't have the program. So you had great pilots and you had inexperienced pilots, in reality. Now we didn't know that. So when you saw a German airplane, you treated him like the Red Baron. I mean, you used every advantage you had over him and without the knowledge of knowing who was in that airplane.
We're talking about a mission was flown on May 27th, 1944 by the Eighth Air Force, a huge bomber mission and our job was to do fighter escort. The mission was to go to Ludwigshafen, Mannheim area and bomb strategic targets there. I don't know what they were, but. I don't even know, it was a massive attack, probably 800 bombers and 800 fighters escorting them. Something like that, I don't know.
By the way, on that particular day the weather was incredibly clear, which was very unusual there. Most of the time we had weather to climb through and overcast and rejoin and things like this and added to the difficulty of things. But this was one of the days it was just incredibly clear almost all the way to the target and back. And our mission would be to escort the bombers. Now I need to explain a little bit how we did that.
This was in May, so we still have the pursue and destroy option. The way we did that after Jimmy Doolittle told us that to kill the enemy, let's say the bombers fly on this long stream and they fly in these clusters of, I don't know how many airplanes, but three, six, nine, nine, nine, nine, here and then another big formation here, another one here, another one here in these long, long stream. And they pretty well would assemble, fly along a pretty straight line, make a turn, do their bombing run, fly on out, and then come on back, kind of a big triangle you might say, from England. And it was remarkable sometimes. You'd see these huge formations of airplanes going over and you've seen the days when you leave the contrail behind the airplane? And on certain days you have a little short contrail, on some days you have these long persistent contrails that stay in the sky. Can you imagine what a thousand bombers and a thousand fighters must have looked like from the ground ? It must have been pretty intimidating.
But on this particular mission, no contrails, B-17s, fighters, our job's to escort. So we put the close escort a couple thousand feet above them, and you just kind of did a zigzag or a big slow S turn over the top of them. Then we'd send fighters out to the side to patrol up and down and then we had a few others that were kind of freelance. They could go on up ahead and break up the big formations of enemy airplanes that were getting assembled in large formation to come and attack the bombers.
I think the German pilots were under orders to knock down the bombers. That was their primary mission. And so the dedicated ones, generally speaking, that's what they tried to do. We did get attacked by fighters. Sometimes they brought in fighters escorting fighters, or ones to jump the fighters and try to get them away so the main body could come in and attack. In this case of our dog fight, the subject of our dog fight here, we were attacked first by probably enemy fighters trying to drive the escort away, so a major force could come through. I don't know the total statistics of that day. I looked it up, and we lost four airplanes and we claimed 20 plus destroyed on that day. That was a major attack in that area.
Normally, the German fighters would go after the bombers, but occasionally they would have other fighters come in and escort, especially early in the game, when they had ME110, the twin engine things, they would always have other Messerschmitts, Fockes go with them to kind of protect them. And their job would then be to, if the 110s got attacked, they would go after the fighters. But their primary mission was always to go after the bombers. And it wasn't rare, but occasionally they would attack the fighters first, but it might have been a tactic.
Some people always wondered why they didn't jump the fighters early when they came in over the Dutch coast, make them drop their tanks, and they didn't do that. I think it would've been a mistake for them to do it because we would've had nothing to do except go after them, and they probably would've lost more airplanes that way. It's kind of speculation. They just didn't do it. Probably didn't have the airplanes and their primary mission was to go after bombers anyway, so who knows?
So on this particular day, I was on the close escort, right over the top of the bombers, And on the close escort, we had two of these four-ship flights doing the close escort on our particular thing. We're talking, when we go on these missions, we are taking 48 airplanes, that's three squadrons of 16 airplanes and then we'd break up and put them up and down the bomber, our assigned bombers. And then there were other fighter groups doing the same thing.
So I'm on the close escort. We were deep on the mission. We were still in France. Now this is well, all the way across France. We were darn near down to Switzerland. I think Strasbourg was the closest big city and there's a big river that runs through there. And I knew when we passed that river, we're in Germany. France was occupied, of course, at this time.
So we're cruising along. We hear on the radio that up front ahead of us they were being attacked. So we pushed our power up, dropped our tanks, pushed our power up. And I was on the second flight and as we turned like that, we kind of got strung out and this put my flight as tail-end Charlie. Whenever you're tail-end Charlie, you want to look around behind you because you're vulnerable. So as we added power trying to pick up speed, I turned around to look at my six o'clock and about that time, my wingman's on the inside. He calls out, "Hey, we got four bogies, unidentified airplanes attacking us, coming down on us from five o'clock high." All right, we're right here, this is the four of us and we're being attacked from here. We're very vulnerable. If we continue around, they're just going to come right in and get us from the six o'clock position. We see them, plenty of time. I've identified them immediately as ME-109s. And what you do there to break an attack, you turn around and come at them head-on. This is a standard tactic. And if they get a shot, it's going to be very difficult, it's going to be head-on, like this. And I had one of those once too. That's very exciting.
So we turn like this, very hard. When you do that, that puts your flight into what we call string formation. You're inline of a trail, in trail one, two, three, four. Just kind of following each other. Then you can maneuver very hard with that. So I get it turned around. We come at them head-on, go like this, right through us. They didn't have a chance to shoot. Now, what do you do? You're both, you're separating from each other. I'm looking back at them to see what they do. They start a left turn. They don't dive away. They turn left. So I turn left. Now we got four ME-109s on this side, and got four Mustangs coming around like this. And they had the initial advantage because they had altitude above us so they had speed. We broke the attack, they decided they wanted to fight.
So they're coming around and we're coming around now in a big left circle. This goes about two times. The Mustang was right at the altitude that it performs best at, high altitude. Exactly where I needed to be, full power, take off power, 3000 RPM, and we gradually gained on them. So we've turned their advantage now to our advantage. They're across the circle and each time we come around, I'm a little closer to getting in trail with them. They see that. And when they came around, they roll out. They're still one, two, three, four, in trail and they went back towards Germany. They tried to climb a little bit and then they leveled out. This was the ME-109G, their best high altitude fighter. And they probably thought, "Hey, we can outperform the Mustang at this altitude." They either hadn't engaged us before or had limited experience, I don't know which. But they were pretty good pilots. They, flying good formation. So as I just turn out and follow them.
Now we got four Mustangs and four ME-109s. The last German, the last ME-109, he starts to climb and he is climbing like this. So here I'm coming under him. I'm after the three, but I'm looking at this guy and I don't want to get too far up or he can drop down on me. So I sent my, remember we had two and two? I sent my element of two. I said, "You chase number four and me and my wingman and I, we'll chase the other three." He did that and he shot that number four guy down later. So now we got three ME-109s, two Mustangs. Now when you shoot somebody down, the best way to do it is to get right here. What we call six o'clock, dead astern, no angle off, no angle off and just close in as close as you can and shoot him down. In this case that's what I did with this number four guy. I just drove up behind him, shot him and pieces start coming off, start smoke coming off. And he did an incredible thing at that time, he rolled over and flew inverted like this. And I thought, "What the heck's he doing?" If he's going to run away, he just would roll over and pull away. I don't know whether he was inexperienced or very experienced because it's pretty difficult to fly at that altitude upside down and maintain it. Well, it didn't matter because I'm sitting there right side up very comfortably and pumped some more shells into him. And then he really came apart and was smoking badly and out of control. And I'm not white, I'm gaining on him and I'm after the other two guys, those guys now are dancing around a little bit, trying to look back and see what's happening. Maybe this guy was hollering, "Hey, I'm getting my butt shot off back here. Let's do something."
And anyway, he's gone. I'm sure he is shot, killed or out of control. And I'm pressing on to get the other two guys. They were dancing around like this and all of a sudden they made up their mind one guy's going to run and the other guys going to stay and fight. And the leader rolled over and went back and the wingman came around like this. And remember what I told you about how shooting at somebody? You don't want to be at this 90 degree angle.He has a fixed sight, so he has to estimate that range. He has to point his nose ahead of me to get a successful shot. If he's down here, there's no way he can do it. He's got to get up like this so he can point ahead of me. That's a very difficult shot to shoot here at a very high angle off. And so you want to get in that 10 degree cone or maybe a 30 degree cone at maximum, but never out here like this. There was a point there, where he was close, but I felt confident because he just did not have a lead on me.
So this guy comes around at a hard left turn. I'm out of range. I could try to turn in here, but he's got a good angle already. I could pull at the idle and maybe get down here and get behind him. But I've lost my energy and he might still have his energy and come around here.
So what I did was I decided to cut across to the top, he'll be over here and you do all this stuff by instinct. You don't have it all figured out. You just, you do it instinctively. You know that he lost some of his energy by making a high turn. So I went across the top of his path there, pulled up, traded my airspeed for altitude so I could gain some advantage over him. He's going to turn hard. I'm going to keep my speed up, get a little altitude, then watch and see what he does. If he continues to turn around, then I can come back around and drop on him. If he dives away, I can chase him. The one thing he might do, if he thinks he's got an advantage, is to reverse his turn and try to come after me. But I feel at that point that I have the energy, I've out maneuvered him and will have the advantage.
What did he do? Okay. He makes this hard turn. I go across. Sure enough, he turns back and tries to follow me. I'm pulling up. I've got a wingman over here and I'm looking back at him and I see him going like this and I know he is going after my wingman. So I told John Scaram, I said, "John, he's coming after you. You do a defensive maneuver, take it down, just roll it. Do whatever you can to defend yourself and I'll drop in behind him and maybe we can get him that way."
So John did that. Sure enough, boy, he went right after him. But there I am, I just pulled out and now I'm in a good position to shoot at him, I will be. He sees that right away. He comes out, straightens out, pulls away. Then he comes around on this hard turn again. Well, I said, "I out zoomed him last time. I think I'll try that again." So I cut across him, pull up, hoping that he's going to do something else, continue turning, but no, he comes around and he starts following me, pulling up. And now I've got the problem. So I pull the airplane up as steep as I want to, full power. Got everything just going as I can.
So I pull up. He took this option of coming around and tried to follow me. Now, we've got fixed guns, and I know that he has to pull a lead on me. He has to get his nose pointed ahead of me. He's below me. I can see him. I can look back. I can see that hole in the prop where the big cannon is, and I'm in big trouble if he can get that gun pointed right at me. I'm pulling up.
We're both losing air speed at a pretty significant rate. And pretty soon, one of us is going to stall first, and whoever does that is going to be in big trouble. If he stalls first, he's going to have to drop out. That'll put me on his tail. If I stall first, I'm going to slip down and he'll be able to get a lead on me and blow me out of the sky.
I know that I've got a little more energy than his, but I'm thinking about plan B. I tell you what, I can close my eyes and I can look over my left shoulder and I can still see the nose of that Messerschmitt. It has a big hole in the end of the propeller hub with a big cannon designed to shoot down bombers. And I can look over my shoulder and still see that airplane. Now he's down below me and I know that he has to get up here like this. He has to lead me and he's actually below me. I see him pulling. So I'm pulling, we're both pulling. Well, pretty soon we're going to run out of air speed and ideas and like I say, I'm thinking of a plan B and I see the airplane shutter and I see he's starting to lose control and I'm still flying good. He has to rudder it over to keep from stalling and go down. So I'm back following him down again. This time he straightens out, we separate a little bit and I'm figuring out what is he going to do next? Here he comes around with another hard turn to the left. I didn't want to be up on front of that guy again so I thought I'd try a different tactic this time. It was a little bit different. I had a little better angle on him. So I pull it in hard and I say, "I'm going to try to stay with him and get a lead on him and try to shoot him in this position." I put down a little 10 degrees of flaps, which you could do in a Mustang, a little maneuvering flap, made you turn a little bit tighter. I cracked the throttle back just a little bit, not a lot. And pretty soon I see I'm going to make it. He sees that and he's either got to do one or two things. He's either got to roll in and dive away and try to get away. Or he can, he probably thought that I had pulled the thing to idle and lost all my energy to get inside, and then he could out climb me.
So he turns the airplane, reverses it and pulls up as steep as he can. And I just shove the throttle forward. He pulls up, he's in a left hand turn. I come up here and he starts a little right hand turn. I start firing right in here and I saw some tracers go across his right wing a little bit. And I pushed a little bit of left rudder and then pow, hit him right in the middle, right in the wing root, all around the cockpit and the engine area, tremendous white vapor came out of it initially. And then he just suspended in the air. He almost stopped. Prop was probably just windmilling and I shoot right up to him and I'm flying close formation with him right there. And he, I was almost where I could see in the cockpit but there was smoke in it. And he rolls very slightly and I'm right here. I'm so close I can see the wheel well and the rivets and the grease and everything and he just rolls over and goes down, starts down. I followed him down through, oh, 20,000 feet. I was going faster than I ever been in my life. I was going too fast and I pulled the throttle back and I said, "Well, I'll follow him and I'll just stay up, stay higher. And if he levels out I'll just cut across and I'll still have the advantage."
Well, he was smoking now, he's just black smoke pouring out. It must have been a mile long and he's just going straight down. And remember I said it was a very clear day and beautiful day and I got down to about 10,000 feet and pretty soon I see down there. I see his shadow and he and his shadow met and just a tremendous explosion. It was a pretty exciting day. And I got there, we rejoined, got my other flight back together. John saw this explosion up in the air and he knew it was either me or the German. So he came over and found me and Eddie Simpson and his wingman joined up and we went back escorting, we'd shot, been attacked by the ME-109 Gs, their best high altitude fighter. We'd defeated their attack and turn around and shot down three out of the four. It was a pretty successful day. And I'm glad it was me and not them.
That was Col. Bud Anderson. To hear him describe how and why he joined the Air Force, his training, his appreciation for his squadron, and more, listen to the second part of his interview, coming out on June 23rd.
Thanks for listening to Warriors In Their Own Words. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.
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Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.
Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
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