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P-61s I N EUROPE

GREEN BATS
and the

BLACK WIDOW
Some felt that the P-61 Black Widow was too slow and unwieldy to be
an effective night ghter, but the USAAFs 422nd Night Fighter Squadron,
the Green Bats, used it to good effect
WORDS: WARREN E. THOMPSON

f 14 US Army Air Force


squadrons that used the
Northrop P-61 Black
Widow in World War
Two, the highest-scoring was the
422nd Fighter Squadron in Europe.
Part of the Ninth Air Force, it notched
up an outstanding 43 kills onethird of the total amassed by all P-61
units as well as bringing down five
V1 flying bombs. Three Green Bats
pilots made ace. Much of that success
was down to timing, as the unit flew
during the Battle of the Bulge, in
which campaign it claimed the lions
share of those successes.
This all came after an inauspicious
start. Formed in Orlando, Florida on
1 August 1943, the 422nd deployed
to Charmy Down, Somerset (AAF
Station 487) on 7 March 1944.
However, it did so without aircraft.
With the P-61s delayed, its crews had
to learn the theatre with RAF units.
When the Black Widows arrived at
Scorton, North Yorkshire (Station
425) in late May, just days were left
before the Allied invasion of Europe.
Combat-readiness could not be
achieved in time for D-Day. Even
afterwards, it would take some time to
work up in the night fighter role.
Instead, the 422nd took on a new
menace. In their first days of combat,
flying from Ford in West Sussex, its
aircrews went after V1s coming across
the English Channel in the so-called
anti-diver patrols. Future Black
Widow aces Lt Herman Ernst and
his SCR-720 radar operator (R/O)
Lt Edward Kopsel claimed the Black
Widows first Doodlebug kills of the
war on 15 July.
Ernst remembered an early V1
engagement. We were cruising at
7,500ft and suddenly spotted a diver
down low at 2,000ft. I dropped the
nose of my Widow and pushed the
throttle forward in an effort to close
the gap as quickly as possible. The V1
was moving at about 340mph. All of
a sudden, there was a loud boom and
a tremendous amount of noise in the
cockpit, to the extent I could not hear
a word that my R/O was screaming. I
thought a German fighter had shot us
down and here I was on my very first
mission.
Seconds later, I realised that the
aircraft was still responding, but the
noise level was terrific. I aborted the
mission and flew back to our English
base. After we landed, we discovered
that the Plexiglas tail cone had
blown out and it was the high-speed
dive that had done it. We corrected
the problem by putting a flat piece
of Plexiglas over the opening and
everything was back to normal.
The next night we went out again
and it wasnt long before we spotted
another one. The scenario was the
same as last night dive down,
overtake and fire. This time we closed
the gap, lined it up and fired several
rounds of 20mm. Being as close as

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LEFT: Lt Herman
Ernst poses for the
camera in his P-61,
42-5547 Borrowed
Time, before ying
a mission from
one of the 422nds
French bases. Ernst
had a total of ve
manned aircraft
kills in P-61s
along with one V1
destroyed.
HERMAN ERNST

OPPOSITE:
Lt Bob Bolinder ies
P-61A-10-NO
42-5565 Double
Trouble on a postmaintenance check
ight with his crew
chief in the gunners
seat. Bolinder scored
four kills, three of
them occurring
on the night of 17
December 1944, just
after the start of the
Battle of the Bulge.
BOB BOLINDER

we were, the rocket blew up and I did


not have a chance to keep out of the
debris I was lucky to make it back
to base.
That base changed in late July
when the 422nd became fully
operational. It moved to France, first
to Maupertus near Cherbourg and
then Chteaudun. Night interdiction
sorties proved the big, stable Black
Widows effectiveness as an air-toground platform using its four 20mm
cannon. However, aerial targets were
at a premium by night. Between July
and mid-September the P-61s shot
down three manned aircraft before
relocating to Florennes, Belgium.

On rare occasions the Northrop


night fighters saw action just before
nightfall. Prior to the Battle of the
Bulge, on 24 October 1944 squadron
commander Lt Col Oris B. Johnson

that time had moved to Belgium and


was very close to German soil, so there
was no telling what the Germans might
throw up at night.
I kept at my normal altitude over
the area I was assigned to patrol,
10,000ft, and I immediately responded
to the call from GCI. I dropped down
to the altitude they said the enemy
aircraft was, but didnt notice any
activity and returned to my original
altitude. Minutes later, GCI told us
they were picking up several more
blips, this time at 5,000ft. I quickly
rolled over and down to close on the
intruders location. This time it was the
real thing: three Fw 190s loaded with
bombs, on a straight and level course,
flying at 250mph.
We wasted no time as I headed
into the middle of the formation, and
within seconds the German pilots
sighted us. Two of the enemy fighters
broke off sharply, but the lead aircraft
stayed on course. I closed rapidly to

We closed the gap, lined it up and red


several rounds. The V1 blew up and I had
no chance to keep out of the debris
and Capt James Montgomery were
patrolling in their P-61, No Love!
No Nothing! Johnson recalled, At
18.05hrs, GCI [the ground-controlled
intercept station] radioed that they
had picked up multiples coming from
the east at 4,000ft. The squadron by

about 1,000ft dead-astern and put


my sights squarely on the fuselage
and wings. Two short bursts from my
20mm found their mark, but were not
fatal. The Fw 190 absorbed the hits in
his right wing and drifted into a slow
turn to port.

www.aeroplanemonthly.com 93

P-61s I N EUROPE
RIGHT: Two of the
422nds aircrews
from left to right,
John Anderson
(pilot) and James
Mogan (R/O) ew
in Tennessee Ridge
Runner, while
Robert Elmore
(pilot) and Leonard
Mapes (R/O)
crewed Shoo Shoo
Baby.
JOHN ANDERSON

BELOW: A scene
from the 422nds
period at Scorton,
North Yorkshire,
with Lt Herman
Ernsts Borrowed
Time beyond the
Black Widow in
the foreground.
Among the aircraft
in the distance can
be seen No 604
Squadron Mosquito
night ghters, two
Typhoons and an
Oxford.
JOHN ANDERSON

By this time, Johnson continued,


the range had narrowed down to
500ft, and the next five-second burst
delivered the lethal blow. Hits were
observed all over his fuselage with
black smoke pouring from his engine.

intruders had disappeared into the


darkness.
Missions involving single kills
occurred during October and
November, but in December things
began to hot up. Eighteen kills were

Fire was opened with one long burst,


which caused the Bf 110 to explode
The doomed 190 nosed down into a
near-vertical dive and exploded upon
impact with the ground. We didnt
see a parachute and the other two

scored that month, the first big


night for the Black Widows being
17 December when the 422nd shot
down five enemy aircraft.

Capt Robert Elmore, whose R/O


was Lt Leonard Mapes, recalls: We
were over 1st Army positions right
after midnight and I remember it
was a black night, overcast without a
star to be seen. I first started noticing
activity from the brilliant searchlights
on the ground, shining west. At that
time [our] GCI Marmite started
seeing several aircraft come into our
area and one of them passed overhead
going in the opposite direction.
Marmite vectored us onto a
target and Lt Mapes immediately
found it on his scope. He directed
me until I was to get a visual on it.
We came in below it and identified
it as a Ju 88. We dropped back, got
directly behind and fired a short
burst of 20mm. The enemy aircraft
went into a diving turn as we saw
two parachutes open. This had been
a textbook kill with no evasive action
by the Ju 88 pilot.
Five days later Elmore and Mapes
were out again, covering an area
between the Meuse river and St
Vith. This time they would run into
more difficulty. Mapes recounted:
After some time on patrol, our GCI
vectored us onto a bogey at 7,000ft
with a range of eight miles coming
head-on. I got radar contact at
8,000ft and completed the head-on
interception by directing Capt Elmore
to 1,000ft astern, where he was able to
get a visual but could not get a definite
identification due to the bogeys
position with respect to the moon.
We pulled off to one side and at
500ft identified the bogey as a Bf

110, flying on a course of 300 at


800ft. His airspeed was only 190mph.
Dropping back to dead-astern at
100ft, fire was opened with one long
burst from the 20mm cannon, which
caused the 110 to explode in mid-air.
It had been another easy victory
for the P-61, but we were far from
getting free of the encounter. Flying
through the debris and flames from
the explosion caused Cat A damage
to our Black Widow. Our left engine
was on fire; however, Capt Elmore
maintained control of the aircraft. We
were going to bail out but it appeared
that the left engine fire was burning
out in the dive [Elmore initiated] to
accomplish [that]. Finally it did go
out but the engine was inoperative.
On one engine, which was not
running 100 per cent, we were ready
to return to base when we were advised
that all the [nearby airfields] were
socked in at zero-zero [visibility]. We
were informed that a Royal Air Force
base in Brussels had barely minimum
ceiling so we headed for it. We had
never been there before but found the
base through my radar interpretation.
GCI was a big help. At the time,
we were very low on fuel and the
ceiling was around 100ft, but with his
excellent flying ability Capt Elmore
got us on the ground. Our P-61 was
junked, but the durability of this
aircraft with only one Pratt & Whitney
engine, along with Elmores flying skill,
had shown us safely to the base.
During the Battle of the Bulge,
other units sent a couple of crews and
aircraft up to help the 422nd. Among

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them was a senior R/O from the 12th


Air Forces 416th NFS, Lt Earl R.
Dickey, who had flown in Mosquitoes
down in the Mediterranean theatre
and seen a lot of action. Now he was
to encounter a Messerschmitt Me 262
jet fighter for the first time.

Late one night, Dickey recalled,


we were vectored by ground control
to intercept a bogey that was flying at
a very high cruise speed and making
mild evasive turns. Obviously, the
enemy pilot was not aware of any
interception action from Allied night
fighters. My target blip, in elevation
and azimuth as well as range, was
very clear as we turned in behind. We
had to continually increase the power

settings on our P-61s engines to keep


from dropping behind. Finally, at
absolute maximum cruise power, we
were able to match the speed, but not
better it.
After observing the casual, curving
flight path of the intruder, I asked my
pilot to take up a southerly heading
and hold it so we could close in on
him by flying a straight path in the
general direction he was headed.
We were flying at a slightly higher
altitude, approximately 10,000ft, as
I recall. Sure enough, we were able
to slowly close on the bogey and
still keep him from leaving the radar
scope left and right. His altitude was
fairly constant. We closed to within
a mile without incident. The weather
was hazy and he was not showing
lights, so we had no visual at that

ABOVE: Three Black


Widows from the
Green Bats on a
training mission
out of Scorton.
Leading the trio is
42-5564 Jukin Judy;
nearest the camera
is 42-5536 Husslin
Hussey, and furthest
away 42-5573
Lovely Lady.
JOHN ANDERSON

LEFT: When Lt
Herman Ernst got
too close to a V1
before pressing
the trigger, the
explosion was big
enough to burn off
most of his P-61s
fabric and do a
lot of structural
damage. He was
nevertheless able to
land safely. It was
the rst kill of a V1
during the early
part of the 422nds
tour. HERMAN ERNST
FAR LEFT: Gun
camera lm was
practically useless
at night. However,
this was taken
by Raymond A.
Anderson on the
night of 21 March
1945 when he shot
down a Do 217.
RAY ANDERSON

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P-61s I N EUROPE

ABOVE: Right after


a blizzard, these
Black Widows
are lined up at
Florennes ready
to go on a night
mission. Crew
chiefs and other
personnel have
cleaned the snow
from the aircraft.
JOHN ANDERSON

distance and continued to gradually


close successfully, with the GCI still
tracking until we were within range
of our 20mm cannon still no
visual identification.
Just as we had agreed to fire on
the aircraft without a visual [but]
with GCI approval the target left
us like we were standing still. On
my scope, it chandelled right and
climbed out of range, off my scope.
We were later informed that we had
got close enough to trigger the early
tail warning thought to have been
incorporated into the Me 262. This
meant we had a good chance of
hitting him with our 20mm from
the minimum range we had reached
behind him, if only we had had a few
seconds more.

around Bonn, Germany. It was about


23.00hrs before we hit our area.
The overcast was at 4,000ft with a
beautiful, moonlit, clear sky above.
Suddenly, I picked up a bogey
on my radar that was high above us
and travelling at a terrific speed. Just
as it was about to pass over us, Capt
Elmore put us into a hard 180 turn.
I could not find it on my radar and
looked out above us. The sight was
unbelievable! It appeared to be shaped
like a wedge of pie, with a long plume
of flame coming from its rear end.

I kept watching him and calling


out where he was over the intercom.
He appeared to be in a tight circle

This strange aircraft broke off and went


into a vertical climb with a long plume of
ame... we agreed it was a new Me 163
Elmore and Mapes were flying a
night mission on 15 November 1944
when the most bizarre bogey they
had yet seen showed up. Mapes said:
We were flying what was known
as a Freelance intruder mission

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directly above us. About the time


that Capt Elmore got a visual, the
flame died down to a glow and it
started to spiral down on us. I could
see intermittent bursts of fire from
the nose and knew it was cannon or

machine gun fire. I relayed this on


and we began taking violent evasive
action.
Suddenly, this strange aircraft
broke off and went into a vertical
climb, again with a long plume of
flame After several manoeuvres
like this, we agreed that it was a new
German Me 163 rocket [fighter]. We
never could get in a position to fire
on it because of its tight spiralling
and rapid climbs. Finally, it left
the area and we never saw it again.
Although we never fired a shot at it, it
was a very impressive sight. This had
been the first night sighting of the
Komet by an American night fighter
squadron. If the 163 had decided
to take us on, it would have been a
challenge to stay away from his two
30mm MK 108 cannon.
The squadron achieved 11
confirmed kills between 24 and
27 December 1944 alone. On one
occasion, Ernst and Kopsel were
flying in Black Widow Borrowed Time
with 422nd NFS intelligence officer
Lt Phillip Guba riding in the gunners
seat. Ernst recalled, We were flying at
8,000ft in a westerly direction toward
our base when I noticed an aircraft
below us at 2,000ft with its red and
yellow navigation lights on. Believe
it or not, it was dropping flares. I

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peeled off and quickly reached the


unidentified bogey, approaching from
the rear. I pulled in behind him at a
distance of about 1,500ft. With the
help of the night goggles, Lt Guba
was able to identify the aircraft as a
Ju 88. By this time, the enemy aircraft
had altered course to the true north
and was flying straight and level at
2,000ft with an air speed of 250mph.

LEFT: Conditions at
the bases in France
were crude. Future
ace Lt Paul A. Smith
(who claimed ve
manned aircraft
and one V1) shaved
next to his tent
along the ightline
in the late summer
of 1944.
JOHN ANDERSON

At that moment, we were spotted


and the German pilot initiated violent
evasive action. I still had him in
my sights and the gap was steadily
closing. From 500ft directly behind,
I gave him a short burst. I observed
many hits over the targets fuselage.
The Ju 88s dorsal turret opened up
on us as I moved over to the right
side to avoid overshooting. I dropped
slightly low and, lining him up again,
squeezed off three short bursts. The
hits caused both of the 88s engines
to explode and the aircraft fell away
to the left and down. It impacted the
ground in a huge ball of fire. A second
before it hit, I vividly remember
seeing it fire off another red flare.
Those 20mm cannon we were armed
with mutilated any of the Luftwaffe
aircraft and the aircrews didnt have

much of a chance to get out, plus we


were flying at such low altitudes.
The Battle of the Bulge was
productive for the 422nd and the
other Black Widow unit involved,
the 425th NFS. Aside from nocturnal
air-to-air engagements, both carried
out a significant number of daylight
strafing sorties against German
forces. But once the enemy retreated
from the Ardennes in January 1945,

Luftwaffe aircraft seldom ventured


over Belgium. The 422nd increasingly
found most trade in German skies.
On the night of 20-21 March
1945, P-61 pilot Capt Raymond
Anderson received a call from
Marmite saying that an unidentified
aircraft was headed in their direction.
After several vectors, they picked up
the bogey one-and-a-half miles out. It
was already engaged in violent evasive

BELOW: Double
Trouble over the
English countryside
during a ight from
Hurn in June 1944.
BOB BOLINDER

P-61s I N EUROPE
opening. Seconds later, the aircraft
was witnessed hitting the ground in a
massive explosion.
The advance of Allied forces saw
the 422nd leaving Florennes in April
1945, bound for Strassfeld near
Euskirchen in mid-western Germany.
The P-61s were only stationed there
for a few weeks, moving eastwards to
Bad Langensalza, their location at the
time of VE Day. For some months
they remained in Germany on
occupation duties, now stationed at
Kassel. The unit went back to France
before disbandment in September, its
job as a night fighter outfit done.

RIGHT: P-61
42-5558 No Love!
No Nothing!, the
aircraft assigned
to the 422ths
commander Lt Col
Oris Johnson, here
has Lt Bob Bolinder
in the cockpit.

IWM/ROGER FREEMAN
COLLECTION

BELOW: Framed by
the tail of a third
P-61 are 42-5536
Husslin Hussey
(left) and 42-5564
Jukin Judy.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND


RECORDS ADMINISTRATION

action. After losing contact several


times, they locked on again, Anderson
getting a visual with the aircrafts
twin exhausts and twin tails. Getting

straight and level. Anderson lined


up the target and fired a long burst
with his 20mm cannon. The Dornier
immediately burst into flames with

Turning and diving, the Black Widow


crew saw a wing come off the Do 217
closer, it was identified as a Dornier
Do 217K-2.
At this point the enemy pilot quit
the evasive action and began flying

98 www.aeroplanemonthly.com

debris falling off. Turning and diving


to avoid a collision with the Do
217, the Black Widow crew saw a
wing coming off it and a parachute

Assessing the Black Widows


effectiveness in the European theatre
brings inevitable comparisons with
the night fighter variants of the
Mosquito. Both, naturally, had their
strengths and weaknesses. One aspect
of the American aircraft that Green
Bats crews had to address was the
lack of its intended top turret. Only
37 of the first 45 P-61A-1 models
had one, while the -5 was produced
without a top turret, as priority for
this item went to B-29 Superfortress
production. Later models reinstated
it, but, thanks to the 20mm
cannon, the 422nd NFS had
all the firepower it needed.

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