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T WAS WINTER 1945, THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR. WITH GROUND FORCES PREPARING FOR THE PUSH INTO GERMANY, ALLIED AIRMEN WERE WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK TO BOMB THE ENEMY INTO SUBMISSION. ON A CLEAR JANUARY MORNING A SQUADRON OF AMERICAN B17 FLYING FORTRESSES WERE CRUISING AT ALTITUDE, THEIR TARGET A FACTORY COMPLEX ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF FRANKFURT.

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STORY FERG HANDLEY ART REZZONICO COVER IAN KENNEDY


4 THE BOMBERS WERE ARMED WITH A BRISTLING ARRAY OF BROWNING MACHINE-GUNS. THEIR MAIN PROTECTION WAS A SQUADRON OF P51 MUSTANGS – WHOSE PILOTS INCLUDED TEXAN FRANK BAILEY, A FLIGHT LEADER WITH OVER A THOUSAND AIR HOURS UNDER HIS BELT. WE’RE NOW IN KRAUT AIRSPACE, GUYS. SO STAY SHARP, OKAY? UNDERSTOOD, LIEUTENANT.

CLOSE TO THE TARGET AREA THINGS BEGAN TO HOT UP. ENEMY FLAK GUNS BURST INTO LIFE, THEN A FLIGHT OF FOCKE WULF Fw190s SPED INTO THE ATTACK. BANDITS! THEY’RE COMING IN FROM HEIGHT!

I SEE THEM. FLIGHTS ABLE AND BAKER TO INTERCEPT.


5 HALF OF THE ESCORT PEELED AWAY TO MEET THE THREAT, FRANK INCLUDED. CHOOSING A TARGET, HE OPENED THE THROTTLE AND WENT RACING IN.

ALL RIGHT, YOU SONOVAGUN, LET’S SEE WHAT YOU’RE MADE OF!

NAAAARGH!

THE FOCKE-WULF WAS A FAST, NIMBLE MACHINE. HOWEVER, FRANK HAD IT COVERED AND, AS HIS OPPONENT FLASHED ACROSS HIS SIGHTS, HE OPENED UP WITH HIS MACHINE-GUNS.

END OF THE LINE, NAZI!


6 THE OTHER FOCKE WULFES MET SIMILAR FATES. BY THEN THE BOMBERS WERE DROPPING THEIR PAYLOADS…

…SENDING THOUSANDS OF POUNDS OF HIGH-EXPLOSIVES RAINING DOWN ON THE FACTORY COMPLEX. WHEN THE RAID WAS OVER THE AIRCRAFT REGROUPED FOR THE RETURN FLIGHT. THERE WAS STILL FLAK TO CONTEND WITH BUT BEFORE LONG THE SKIES WERE CLEAR. STAY FOCUSED, EVERYONE. WE’RE NOT HOME YET.

ACKNOWLEDGED, LIEUTENANT.


7 AT THIS STAGE IN THE WAR, THOUGH, THE ALLIES HAD OVERWHELMING AIR SUPERIORITY. THERE WERE NO FURTHER ATTACKS AND, A FEW HOURS LATER, THE MUSTANGS LANDED BACK AT BASE IN SOUTHERN ENGLAND.

FRANK GRABBED A HOT MEAL AND A SHOWER. THEN, THAT EVENING, HE WAS CALLED IN TO SEE HIS SQUADRON LEADER, MAJOR CHUCK OLSEN. WELL, BAILEY, I GOTTA ADMIT, YOU’RE A CHANGED MAN THESE DAYS. YEAH, I GUESS SO, MAJOR.

THAT’S WHAT I CALL A SUCCESSFUL MISSION. SURE, WE LOST A BOMBER TO FLAK BUT AT LEAST THE CREW MANAGED TO BAIL OUT OKAY.

FRANK HAD ALWAYS BEEN AN EXCEPTIONAL PILOT AND HAD EXCELLED IN FLIGHT SCHOOL BACK IN THE STATES. GOOD WORK, BAILEY. YOU CAN TAKE HER DOWN NOW.

YES, SIR.

IN DECEMBER 1942 HIS SQUADRON WAS SENT OVER TO ENGLAND, WHERE THEY IMMEDIATELY BEGAN ACTIVE OPS.


8 BACK THEN THE AIR WAR WAS MUCH MORE EVENLY-BALANCED. BUT FRANK – FLYING A P47 THUNDERBOLT – WAS IN HIS ELEMENT.

READ ‘EM AND WEEP, FRITZ!

SOON HE HAD CHALKED UP FIVE KILLS, OFFICIALLY MAKING HIM AN ACE.

WHEN THE SQUADRON WAS RE-EQUIPPED WITH MUSTANGS FRANK CONTINUED TO DO WELL. BUT HE WAS HOT-HEADED AND HAD PROBLEMS WITH AUTHORITY, OFTEN BREAKING FORMATION TO GO AFTER ENEMY STRAYS. GET BACK HERE, BAILEY, THAT’S AN ORDER.

SORRY, LIEUTENANT. YOU’RE BREAKING UP, OVER AND OUT.


9 OLSEN MUSED THAT FRANK ONLY MADE IT TO FLIGHT LEADER BECAUSE GOOD OFFICERS WERE IN SHORT SUPPLY. THE AIRFORCE HAD TAKEN A GAMBLE IN PROMOTING HIM BUT, DURING THE LAST SIX MONTHS, IT SEEMED TO HAVE PAID OFF. YEP, I HAD MY DOUBTS. BUT THESE DAYS, YOU’RE ONE OF THE STEADIEST, MOST CAPABLE PILOTS IN THE SQUADRON.

JUST TRYING TO DO MY JOB, MAJOR.

THE SENIOR OFFICEE NODDED, THEN ANNOUNCED THAT FRANK WAS TO BE BOOSTED UP TO CAPTAIN AND GIVEN HIS OWN SQUADRON – THE 986TH. YOU’RE KIDDING, MAJOR. ME, A SQUADRON LEADER?

THAT’S RIGHT, BAILEY. HOWEVER, THERE’S ONE SLIGHT CATCH…

FRANK WAS TOLD THAT THE PILOTS UNDER HIS COMMAND WERE ALL ROOKIES SO HE WOULD BE GIVING THEM ADVANCED TRAINING IN THE LAKE DISTRICT BEFORE COMMENCING OPS. MAJOR, I’M A COMBAT PILOT. CAN’T SOMEONE ELSE BRING THE GREENHORNS UP TO SCRATCH?

FORGET IT, BAILEY. IT’S YOUR SQUADRON SO YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO GRIN AND BEAR IT.


10 FRANK LEFT THE BRIEFING WITH MIXED EMOTIONS.

DARNED AIR FORCE…I KNUCKLE DOWN AND THEY SADDLE ME WITH THIS LOUSY POSTING. STILL, I HAD A GOOD REASON FOR GETTING MYSELF TOGETHER SO I SHOULDN’T COMPLAIN.

THE FOLLOWING WEEK FRANK ARRIVED AT AN AIRBASE NEAR KENDAL IN CUMBRIA. AFTER HE HAD SQUARED AWAY HIS KIT AN ORDERLY TOOK HIM TO MEET THE REST OF THE SQUADRON. THE BOYS CAN’T WAIT TO MEET YOU, SIR. QUITE FRANKLY, THEY’RE COMPLETELY IN AWE OF YOUR RECORD.

DARN IT, SERGEANT, I’M ONLY HUMAN.


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STORY FERG HANDLEY ART REZZONICO COVER IAN KENNEDY WITHGROUNDFORCESPREPARINGFOR THEPUSHINTOGERMANY,ALLIEDAIRMENWERE WORKINGAROUNDTHECLOCKTOB...

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