16,766 were built making them the most numerous fighter plane ever built. Perhaps, the most memorable event occurred on October 7, 1944 when US Army Air Force Lieutenant Urban Drew flying his P-51D Mustang named Detroit Miss (pictured above) shot down two ME-262's (Nazi Jet Planes, the first air combat jets produced, nicknamed Der Schwalbe, "The Swallow') as they were taking off from the German base at Achmer in Czechoslovakia.
Why single out this event as being significant? After all the Mustangs, first produced by North American Aviation in 1942, had been engaged in aerial combat and bomber escort duty over Europe and flew tens of thousands combat sorties.
The hard facts of war are this: most Mustang pilots had at most 60 hours of flight time in the plane before heading on their first mission . Drew had about 700 hours in the model because he began his WWII career as a flight instructor--thus he knew the craft. Second, the ME-262 was a superior craft since it was a jet plane capable of flying at over 560 MPH, whereas the Mustang was a propeller- driven air machine with a top speed 438 MPH. ( In fact, while on a mission the same month, Drew first saw a German jet, gave chase, fired his guns, but the jet outran him). Third, the deployment of ME-262's was a failed mission. Though first flown in 1942 and hampered by a lack of suitable engines, they were first introduced into air combat in July, 1944 and then only in small numbers; they failed to help the German offensive because by this time, the allies had virtually demolished the Nazi Air Force and there were little or no resources for further production or for purchase of adequate supplies of fuel.
While we laud the skills of Drew, let's recall some of the Aces that flew her in the Europe Theater in 1944: Colonel Donald Blakeslee (15 victories) and Commanding Officer for the famous 4th Fighter Group (which destroyed over 1000 German aircraft), Captain Dom Gentile (32 victories), Captain John Godfrey (31 victories total, 18 with 4th Fighter Group); On March 8, 1944, the 4th Fighter Group group was back in Berlin relieving P-47's escorting B-17's and were approached by 60 enemy craft. Teaming up together, Gentile and Godfrey knocked down 6 opposing planes as parachutes dotted the sky and several B-17's went down. Winston Churchill called Major Gentile and his wingman, Captain John T. Godfrey, Damon and Pythias, two legendary Greek characters who symbolized trust and loyalty in a solid friendship.
Let's also hail General Chuck Yeager (the first to break the sound barrier). At the October 17. 2009 Air Show at Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager, 86, broke the sound barrier again flying an F-16 at 30,000 feet.
Next, we recall Colonel Glenn T. Eagleston (23 victories) who was commander of the 354th Fighter Group of the Ninth Tactical Air Force and top ace of the 9th. He gets special mention as an ace who mastered aerial combat in two different wars piloting different machines in each--a piston performer, the Mustang in WW II and a high powered Jet, the F-86-Sabre jet in the Korean theater. On January 5, 1944, his 354th Fighter Group was escorting bombers withdrawing from Keil when they encountered a gaggle of Luftwaffe fighters. Flying at 23,000 feet, Eagleston peppered a Focke Wulf 190 with short bursts. The enemy craft dove away steeply as he gave pursuit. Then the FW-190 entered into a violent uncoverable spin and crashed into the ground; this gave him his first victory. In all, the 354th downed 18 enemy aircraft on that January 5th.
Major James Howard was also in the 9th and the only American ace in both theaters of the war (6 victories in China flying P-40's and 6 victories in Europe flying P-51's). The following letter written by Col. Howard B Bowman is recorded in the June, 1944 article for TRUE Magazine by Christian Gilbert, titled "One Man Air Force"; the letter describes the awe Howard was held by other airman who witnessed his sensational exploits in fighting off 20-30 Luftwaffe Messerschmitt 110's attack planes and protecting a group of tight knit B-17 bombers over The Oeschersleben Halberstadt Brunswick area, on January 11, 1944:
"In the full knowledge that words can not be found which will adequately express our feelings, I wish to convey on behalf of our group the heartfelt appreciation which we feel as a result of the unbelievable courage and heroism you displayed on the recent Oeschersleben mission. "Your unprecedented action in flying your P-51B alone and unaided into a swarm of German fighter planes estimated at between thirty and forty in an effort, to protect our Fortresses in the target area is a feat deserving of the highest commendation and praise. The fact that the odds were overwhelmingly against you and that you had no hope of receiving assistance in your unequal struggle did not deter you in your determination to engage the enemy. As one officer put it, 'It was a case of one lone American taking on the entire Luftwaffe.' Members of our group were lavish in their descriptions of the way you shot down enemy planes and, in particular, spoke in glowing terms of the attempts made to protect the combat wing against enemy attacks. I personally feel that your exploits that day evidenced the spirit of team work which is the sina qua non of successful military operations. Let me assure you that should you ever have occasion to visit this station your welcome will be a warm one. There is not a man in our group who hasn't sung your praises . ."
Lastly, the Tuskegee Airmen deserve recognition for their heroism as Mustang pilots flying in the 99th Fighter Squadron .. On January 27 and 28, 1944, a formation of FW-190 Luftwaffe warplanes raided Anzio, Italy. The 99th was one of eight fighter squadrons involved in the air defense. All together, all squadrons shot down 32 enemy war planes. The 99th alone accounted for 13, the highest score, whereas the second highest score by another squadron was seven. This proved that Black fighter pilots were equal to their white counterparts in shooting down enemy planes.
Nor were their exploits over; on Feb 5th and 7th, 1944, the 99th chalked up four more aerial victory feats. And during July 1944, the Tuskegee airmen claimed 36 enemy aircraft victories, the most ever scored in single month.