Thursday, June 18, 2020

Allied Fighter Aircraft over Normandy IV P51D 1/72

Allied Fighter Aircraft over Normandy IV P51-D 1/72

Sometimes I get the opportunity to model a relatives or friends aircraft. After chatting with one of my American friends he mentioned his father had served in the ETO with the 9th Airforce, 354th fighter group 355th Fighter squadron (pugnacious pups) predominately flying bomber escorts. I will pick up a P51-D then either buy, make or paint 355th FS decals so I can honour a friends family.

The Revell kit I will build

Below I have put together bits, predominantly from the now defunct 354th Fighter group history page, sadly no longer hosted.


A Tribute By Chris Curlee 

Robert B. Curlee was born April 20, 1915 in Ben Hur, Texas, one of twelve children. After finishing his primary education, he enlisted in the Army in 1936 and as a trooper served in the 7th Cavalry, F Troop. At the outbreak of the war he went to join the Army as an Infantryman, then joined the United States Army Air Corps as a flying officer. He would fly both the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt in combat.

As a flight instructor at Luke Field, Arizona Lt. Curlee helped trained Nationalist Chinese pilots before volunteering to fly combat in Europe.

After passing basic flight instruction, he was assigned as an instructor at Luke Field in Arizona and helped train many pilots, including some Nationalist Chinese pilots. As D-Day approached 1st Lt. Curlee volunteered to fly combat in Europe.

On June 6, 1944, 1st Lt. Robert B. Curlee arrived at the Lashenden Advanced Landing Strip, in south eastern England. One of six replacement pilots assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron. It would be six days after arriving that he would fly his first combat mission which involved dive bombing targets near La Mans, Pays de Loire, France.

On his third mission he flew in a long-range escort to Berlin, on this five hour mission Lt. "Bob" Curlee flying P-51B-7 Mustang GQ-O, SN 43-6559, made his only aircraft claim of the war an ME- 410, a twin-engine fighter damaged on June 21, 1944.

Lt R Curlee in a P51-D Mustang

For new pilots arriving into fighter squadrons it was standard procedure to be assigned wingman positions to gain combat experience. The wingman's job was to stick and cover his leader even through extreme High-G manoeuvring. This resulted in many lost opportunities for air kills, but he preformed his assigned job without a hitch. On one occasion, he did get to fire his guns on a ME-262, but speed allowed the advanced jet to escape combat. The Luftwaffe’s engagement rules insisting air combat with fighters to be avoided also played a role in the jet’s escape.

Captain R. Curlee

On January 5, 1945 he was to fly his last combat mission as Red Flight Leader. Capt. "Bob" Curlee led twelve P-47 Thunderbolts and successfully bombed the Schaafheim Airdrome without any losses.

During his combat tour, he participated in long-range escort of heavy bombers, ground attack missions, fighter sweeps and also one mission involved leaflet dropping near Nantes, France.

In January 1945 out of Rosières-en-Haye, France (A-98) a dozen tour-expired pilot went home among them was Capt. Robert Curlee. All during the war, he was a Reserve Officer, and one of the first Reserve Officers to be offered a Commission in the Regular Army Air Force. Capt. Curlee finished his tours in Europe and advanced in rank after the conflict had ended, finishing his military career in 1966 as a full Colonel.

Colonel R Curlee

Robert Curlee began to suffer from health problems in 1984. A doctor performing exploratory surgery on him found that he had an advanced case of pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave him six months to live and Col. Curlee passed from this earth on May 28, 1985.

354th Fighter Group

The Pioneer mustang group

The 354th Fighter Group was constituted on November 12 and activated on November 15th, 1942 at Hamilton Army Airfield in California. The Group trained with the Bell P-39 Airacobra, one of the principal fighter aircraft in service at the time. The group transferred to Tonopah Army Air Field, Nevada in January 1943, Santa Rosa Army Air Field, California in March 1943, and Portland Army Air Base, Oregon, in June 1943. The Group moved to RAF Boxted in England between October and November 1943 and was attached to the Ninth Air Force. The group was assigned P-51 Mustang aircraft and was the first to use them in combat.

In late November 1943, new P-51B Mustangs with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine began arriving at Boxted Air Station in standard USAAF ETO theatre camouflage scheme of Olive Drab on the upper surfaces and Neutral Gray on the undersurface. The 8th Ferry Service Command delivered the first five P-51 B's to the 354th Fighter Group on November 11, 1943 and by December 1st, the group had received 57 P-51's and flew its first operational fighter sweep with 24 planes over Knocke-St. Omer, near Calais, France.

The 354th was then used as an all the way escort for long-range heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force. The Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its activities up to May 1944. The Group then moved to RAF Lashenden in April 1944.

By Spring 1944, American fighter units began to exhibit their own unit identities by applying bright colour markings on their aircraft. The 354th Fighter Group was no exception, by D-Day combat aircraft were displaying brightly coloured spinners and distinctive nose band designs on olive drab and natural metal finishes.

On D-Day the flew in support of the US parachute and Glider Landings, then flew in the ground attack and support role throughout Normandy, Brittany and Pays de Loire.

The Group was the first fighter group stationed in France at Cricqueville Airfield A2 (south of Point de Hoc and Grand Camp Maisy) in France in June 1944, to Gael Airfield, Brittany in August 1944, Orconte Airfield, in September 1944, and Rosieres En Haye Airfield, in December 1944.

The 354th received a second Distinguished Unit Citation for destroying a large number of enemy aircraft on the ground an in the air in support of the airborne attack on Holland in September 1944.

The Group participated in the Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 to January 1945 supporting ground forces and supported the crossing of the Rhine between February and May 1945. The Group moved into Germany in April 1945 to Ober Olm Airfield (Y-64) then to Ansbach Airfield and to AAF Station Herzogenaurach in May 1945.

James Howell Howard (April 8, 1913 – March 18, 1995) the only fighter pilot in the ETO in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor. He single-handedly defending a formation of B-17 bombers of the 401st Bomb Group against 30 German fighters on January 11, 1944. Howard had the rare distinction of being an ace in two operational theatres during World War II, with over 6 kills with the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group in the Pacific and 6 kills over Europe with the United States Air Force

The 354th achieved the highest record of 701 enemy aircraft destroyed in air-to-air engagements. 


This North American P-51B-1-NA Mustang is in the standard European Theatre camouflage finish, white squadron code letters and yellow painted serial numbers. "Peg O'my Heart" was assigned to Maj. George R. Bickell, Commanding Officer of the 355th Fighter Squadron, Boxted, December 1943.

All Fighter Groups in the European Theatre were ordered to paint their spinners white with a 12" white nose band and 12" bands on the upper/lower wing surface and elevator tailplane section to help bomber crews and other fighter pilots identify friendly fighters. The P-51B Mustang was often mistaken for a German ME-109. Mustangs of the 354th Fighter Group wore this colour scheme up to when they began receiving natural metal finished aircraft. This P-51-5-NA Mustang "DING HAO!", fitted with a Malcolm hood (a bulged Perpsex frameless canopy developed by R Malcolm & Co) was the personal mount of Lt. Col. James H. Howard, Commanding Officer of the 356th Fighter Squadron, Lashenden, April 1944. The Japanese kill markings are from his time with the Flying Tigers in 1941-42, officially destroying 2.333 in the air and four on the ground.

When natural metal finish Mustangs began arriving with 12" black nose bands from Air Service Depots, units applied black squadron code letters and black bands on upper/lower wing surface and elevator tailplane section. The top engine cowling panels were painted in olive drab to eliminate glare. This P-51B-15-NA Mustang "Easy Rockin' Mama", was assigned to Lt. James G. Burke, 353rd Fighter Squadron, Lashenden, May 1944.


The definitive colour scheme applied to 353rd Mustangs during this period on both olive drab and natural metal finish Mustangs was a yellow spinner with a wide yellow and black sawtooth nose band. Invasion strips were applied to all Allied aircraft for D-Day operations and would remain on aircraft through the rest of 1944. Other photographed colour schemes used before the one shown above saw a black spinner with a wide black nose band and another was a yellow spinner with wide black nose band. This P-51D-5-NA Mustang "Arsons Reward", was assigned to Maj. Wallace N. Emmer, Criqueville (A-2) Normandy, France, August 1944.

Mustangs of the 355th Fighter Squadron were painted with a blue spinner and wide blue and white checkerboard nose band on a natural metal finish with standard D-Day Invasion markings. Photographs also show Mustangs from this unit with the typical blue spinner, leading small blue nose band, followed by a blue and white diamond pattern on the engine cowling (Click the Reference Photos box below to view images). This P-51D-20-NA Mustang "KILLER!", was the mount of Maj. Robert W. Stephens, Commanding Officer of the 355th Fighter Squadron, Gael (A-31) Brittany, France, August 1944.

Mustangs of the 356th FS sported a white spinner with white stars on a wide black nose band on a natural metal finish. Note: Sgt. William W. Louie, the artist responsible for a significant number of the nose art on 356th aircraft stated that they began receiving natural metal finish Mustangs with existing black nose bands. It was Maj. Richard E. Turner, CO., who devised the design that would be used to identify the unit and so instructed S/Sgt. Mark Hanson and Sgt. Louie to paint a ring of white stars on the black band. The design would also be applied to P-47s in late 1944 (See Figure 9). This P-51D-20-NT Mustang "SHANTY IRISHMAN", was assigned to Capt. Franics P. McIntire, Jr., Gael (A-31), Brittany, France, September 1944.


On November 13, 1944 the Pioneer Mustang Group received word that they would have to transition from Mustangs to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. The P-47s coming in were a mixture of bubble-top and razorback models.

It was at A-98 Rosières-en-Haye that the Group would begin using their "Thunderbuckets" as they became known on dive-bombing, strafing and supporting troops on the ground but that did not deter 354th pilots from aerial engagements against the Luftwaffe.

All yellow cowling with black cowl flaps and black winged skull and crossbones. This would became one of the most memorable designs on a Thunderbolt. This P-47D-28 Thunderbolt was assigned to Capt. Kenneth H. Dahlberg, 353rd Fighter Squadron, Rosières-en-Haye (A-98), Moselle, France, December 1944.

Leading blue nose band followed by a blue and white diamond pattern on the engine cowling identifies this Thunderbolt from the 355th Fighter Squadron. Some Thunderbolts painted a grinning bomb (see art work above) on the engine cowling. This P-47D-26 Thunderbolt named "Scatter Bain", was the personal mount of 1st Lt. Raymond P. Bain, 355th Fighter Squadron, Rosières-en-Haye (A-98), Moselle, France, February 1945. 1st Lt. George J. New and P-47 were lost in action on 10 February 1945. Lt. Bain's replacement aircraft was a brand new P-51D-20 Mustang, coded GQ-S (S/N: 44-63193) also named "Scatter Bain". On 21 February, Lt. Bain flying his new Mustang was hit by flak while pulling off the target. Trailing long vapor and a smoke trail his Mustang caught fire. He was forced to bail-out near the German town of Neustadt, becoming a POW.

The 356th Fighter Squadron applied the same design as they had on their Mustangs, white stars on a black cowling band and white nose band. This P-47D-30 Thunderbolt "Shorty Miriam", was assigned to Lt. Norman E. Davis, 356th Fighter Squadron, Rosières-en-Haye (A-98), Moselle, France, December 1944.


In mid February the group returned to mustangs. Identifying colours placed on their Mustangs were very reserved and uniform and would remain that way through to the end of hostilities in Europe.

Yellow spinner with wide solid yellow nose band on a natural metal finish. This P-51D-20-NA Mustang "MARGIE MARU" in 353rd Fighter Squadron colors, was assigned to Lt Col. Jack T. Bradly, Deputy Commanding Officer, 354th Fighter Group Head Quarters, Rosières-en-Haye (A-98), Moselle, France, April 1945.

Blue spinner and wide solid blue nose band on a natural metal finish. Some 355th Mustangs had the "Pugnacious Pup" emblem painted on the vertical tail. This P-51D-20-NA Mustang "Wee Speck", was assigned to Maj. Lowell K. Brueland, 355th Fighter Squadron, Ansbach (R-45), Germany, May 1945.

Red spinner with wide solid red nose band on a natural metal finish. This P-51D-5-NA Mustang named "Uno-Who?", was assigned to Maj. George M. Lamb, Rosières-en-Haye (A-98), France, March 1945.

354th Fighter Group videos

These are superb and worth watching as a lot of interviews and insights among the survivors of the group.

References and Books about the group

Modelers' Society Journal - Special Limited Edition: The 354th Fighter Group In World War Two; Walt Fink, Doug Gifford and Jim Pierce; IPMS/USA

THE PIONEER MUSTANG GROUP, The 354th Fighter Group in World War II, By Steve Blake

354th FIGHTER GROUP - Osprey Publishing: By William Hess

I HAD A COMRADE , By Paul M. Sailer (353rd squadron)

THE ORANGES ARE SWEET, Major Don M. Beerbower and the 353rd Fighter Squadron - Nov 1942 to Aug 1944, By Paul M. Sailer

ONE STEP FORWARD, The Life of Ken Dahlberg, By Al Zdon and Warren Mack

LIVE BAIT, WWII Memoirs of an Undefeated Fighter Ace, By Clayton Kelly Gross

ROAR OF THE TIGER, From Flying Tigers to Mustangs - A Fighter Ace's Memoir, By James H. Howard

BIG FRIEND, LITTLE FRIEND, Memoirs of a World War II Fighter Pilot, By Richard E. Turner

TARGET LUFTWAFFE, The Tragedy and the Triumph of World War II Air Victory, By William A. Ong

THEY ALSO SERVE, An Armorer's Life in the ETO, By John Henkels

HISTORY IN THE SKY, 354th Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group, By Captain Arthur F. Brown, 354th FG Public Relations Officer



  1. Not usually my area, but this was a very cool read, thanks!

  2. Simply great and very handy as I just placed the same theme in my blog but without all this knowledge.