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US Air Force

Lieutenant William W Patton. WWII Pilot

Lieutenant William W Patton. WWII Pilot

Born in 1918 in Granby, MO, and enlisting in the Army at the age of 16, William Wyatt Patton was refused the first time due to his being of a small, thin build.  He then forced himself to eat banana crème and hamburgers to gain weight, so he could reapply three months later, which he did with success.  Incorporated into flight school, he climbed the ladder and became a full-fledged and commissioned pilot at 20 years of age, a very respectable accomplishment.  It was clear that Will Patton was an extremely competent, determined, and hard worker.  The first assignment of the Missouri farm-boy took him to the Pacific.  On December 7th, 1941, he was at Hickam Field when the Japs attacked.  Later, he successfully participated at Midway, downing three enemy planes.  Without doubt, Patton was an experienced and skilled pilot.
 
 William W. Patton
 
In May of 1944, he was attached to the 8th Army Air Force, based in England, with the 560th Bomber Squadron of the 388th Bomb Group flying the B-17 “Flying Fortress.”  Bombing missions took him to the heart of Germany, and, at that time, with fighter escort only part of the way there.  The P-47 Thunderbolt did not have the fuel economy to fly to Germany, fight, and return.  However, in November of 1944, the P-51D Mustang was able to do the job.  Thus, between the months of May – August, for Lt. Patton, bomber losses were 20% on average, sometimes worse.  This made the 10 men B-17 crew highly stressed and very well-seasoned.  Finally, Lt. Patton successfully completed his 25th mission, meaning that his term of being a bomber pilot was over. 
 
Afterwards, in August of 1944, Lt. Patton received an offer to fly the magnificent and gallant P-51D Mustang with the 3rd Scouting Force at Wormingford, England.  What would be the mission? – to fly reconnaissance prior to bombing raids to check visibility, weather conditions, and status of the target.  This type of work was ideally fitted to Lt. Patton, as he knew what conditions were needed for a successful bombing mission. 
 3rd Scouting Force
 
The Scouting Forces were to check for German flak, bad weather, and enemy activities.  This group was created by Colonel Bud Peaslee, commander of the 384th Bomb Group, as he had suggested this to General James Doolittle in 1944.  Just like Indians, Naval convoys, and armored divisions, the Army Air Corps also had scouts. 
 
The 1st Scouting Force (experimental) was at Honington, England on September 19th, 1944, and was attached to the 364th Fighter Group, which maintained its logistics, and detached pilots on a 15-day rotational basis.  From this base, 107 missions were accomplished, and then the 1st SF was attached to the 857th BG at Bassingbourn, and logged another 24 missions.  The 2nd Scouting Force was formed at Steeple Morden, where it received support of the 355th FG.  These pilots were gathered from many different fighter units, and successfully finished their first 136 missions on September 26th, 1944, and the last mission on April 21st, 1945. 
 
After these pilots had completed their transition into the P-51 at Goxhill, the 3rd Scouting Force was formed at Wormingford, with the support of the 55th FG.  Not a lot is known of the 3rd Scouting Force, which had been recognized as a combat unit, when, in 1996, it became known as an auxiliary squadron of the 55th Fighter Group. 
 
At the beginning, the pilots of the 55th FG were detached to fly the P-51D’s as scouts, but quickly the older bomber pilots replaced them.  The 3rd Scouting Force conducted the first of its 140 missions in the P-51D on September 15th, 1944, and the last mission on April 21, 1945.  The 3rd SF had the uniqueness of having some B-17’s in their fleet, for doing weather reconnaissance over Grand-Brittany and ‘The Sleeve’ [the peninsula of Upper Normandy]. 
 
Although the 3rd Scouting Force was not meant for combat, the outfit downed 22 German fighters while defending bombers.  During their 6 months of existence, the Scouting Units lost 24 pilots: 9 in training and 15 in combat. 
 
On January 15th, 1945, Lt. Patton embarked upon his 60th mission, and had recently written home announcing that he was engaged to be married.  Under the direction of Lt. Col. Vince Masters, eight fighters and eight bombers took off from their base in Wormingford destined for Lechfeld, Germany.  They were to do reconnaissance work for a bombing run by the 338th Bomb Group on the Augsburg Train Station.  At the English coast, difficulties started.  Climbing to an altitude of 11,000 meters (3700 feet), the visibility was found to be quite bad.  Twenty minutes into the flight, the 8 Mustangs were struggling to remain in a tight formation when Lt. Ed Beaty saw two Messerschmitt on his right, which had already decided to engage them.  In order not to compromise the mission, two Mustangs broke formation to move the two Germans away from the squadron.  Before losing all contact with the other pilots, a third pilot left the squadron in hopes of attracting any other Luftwaffe planes away from his team members.  In the thick fog, different maneuvers made the enemy think that the formation was completely broken up. 
 
Since it is not officially known what happened in the cockpit of Lt. Patton’s Mustang, the following lines explain what may have happened: 
 
“On board of his P-51 Mustang, Lt. Patton struggled to remain in the formation.  His instrumentation panel began showing alarming signs, and he tried to communicate with his squadron commander, but his radio produced only inaudible static.  His instruments are clouded, and he can no longer trust them.  Now he must face an extremely dangerous situation, best faced by the experienced pilot – and Lt. Patton was.  Being an experienced pilot, William Patton realized that he was in an extremely dangerous situation, and that he had to utilize all his experiences.”  As explained by Dick Atkins (historian of the 8th AAF), “a pilot who cannot depend on his instruments in heavy fog is in trouble.  Hence, it is impossible to be confident of maneuvering the airplane.  If the plane would begin to descend to the left, even an experienced pilot might think the descension to be to the right.  If then the plane went into a spiral under these conditions, a pilot could easily make incorrect corrections in an attempt to correct the situation.  And of course, what needed to be done that wasn’t done makes things all the worse.  This is what happened to William Patton, and more recently, John Kennedy, Jr.”  
 
Three combat planes were lost in the sky, while five others were trying to find their way.  The 15th mission of January was plagued with misfortune.  The squadron commander, Vince Masters, sent an order out to those who could hear it to make a 180-degree turn.  Flying with Lt. Patton, Lt. Brian J. Booker began the turn, and, in the fog, never saw Lt. Patton again. 
 
“Lt. Patton did not hear the order, and was struggling to maintain his P-51, that was progressively losing altitude in a circular movement to the left.  In spite of all of his efforts with the control stick, he could not regain control of the plane.  Without his instruments or visibility, it was virtually impossible to know whether he was flying level, up, or down towards the ground.  Counting on having held the altitude when he began having instrument difficulties, he estimated the distance to the ground to be 1000 meters (3000 feet).  If he were not to regain control of his machine, he knew what the inevitable tragedy would be, which would happen in minutes at the most.  In a situation like this, explained Dick Atkins, the pilots have a good chance of parachuting out of the plane.  But, at the time, there was not an ejectable seat, and the maneuver which enabled the pilot to be able to bail out was difficult.  It was first necessary to unhook oneself from the cockpit, get out of the seat and then onto the wing, and make sure to clear the tail when jumping (a common and frequent accident).  Overall, a pilot always had the temptation to regain control of his plane to avoid the decision to abandon ship, which caused a pilot grief, and even humiliation.”  Probably, William Patton did not give up fighting for his plane until he saw the ground at 500 meters (1500 feet) below.  In the community of Longueville, France, certain citizens remember to this day the tremendous noise made by the crash.  The P-51 Mustang of Lt. William Patton crashed into the ground.  
 
The particular place that Lt. Patton crashed was well known to the French, as it happened to be a low area that collected water from a spring, and also accepted drainage water from heavy rains.  The ground was a bog area, made of clay and silt, such that it was virtually like quicksand.  A farmer’s horse had previously walked out into it, and sank, while onlookers watched, unable to help.  Thus, Lt. Patton’s Mustang was almost entirely embedded into the soft ground.  The tail was yet visible, and the French knew that it was an American pilot, whom had come to liberate them, yet they could do nothing – emotion was running high. 
 
At the base in Wormingford, nobody worried much about the return of William Patton.  During this era, it was common for pilots to stop in France for minor repairs, before returning to England.  On January 18th, a search began for Lt. Patton since nothing had been heard.  Without knowing where to look for him, it was a difficult task.  Hours passed, but Lt. Patton was not found. 
 
In Granby, Missouri, the Patton family received, on February 7th 1945, a telegram stating that Lt. Patton was MIA (missing in action).  For Rhoda and Robert Patton, this uncertainty raised many doubts: Is he still living?  Wounded?  Prisoner?  Dead?  For many years, Rhoda and Robert Patton maintained contact with the U.S. Government to find out what really happened to their son.  Gradually, while the chances of seeing their son lessened, the Patton’s still remained hopeful. J oyce Montez, a niece of William Patton, recalls that his father would often say “that he had envisioned all the possible scenarios: that William would come one day knocking on the door, or that he had been struck with amnesia, and lived somewhere in England under another name.  We have grown old with his memory, and now we finally know that he was successful in life, and we are very proud of him.  He died for his country.  He is very close to his mother, and he writes her often.  Shortly before his disappearance, she told me that he had written a letter saying that he would marry after the war.  He never had the chance, and we never knew who his fiancée was. 
 
A statement made by the “North Voice” (a French newspaper) on January 17th, 1945 briefly spoke of the incident, based on the report of a police officer, Lt. Bernard, made on January 16th: “At 11:30 a.m. on January 15th, an American fighter plane came from the North and crashed at Longueville, just 500 meters from the train station.  The aircraft was embedded nearly 9 meters into the ground, and was completely destroyed.  The pilot was not found.  American authorities are at the sight.”  
 
Since the crash was unapproachable, it was left as was, and wasn’t heard of again until February 22, 2001; 56 years after Lt. Patton had been declare “MIA”. 
 
Wanting to drain a low area, a French farmer uncovered the cockpit and remains of Lt. Patton and his P-51D Mustang.  This greatly upset some of the local townsfolk, who had been there when the plane had crashed.  The French still felt badly that this pilot, which had come to fight in the name of liberty, had died doing so.  These townsfolk of the village of Feignies, even as badly as they wanted, could not help, due to the ground conditions at that time.  The location of the crash is as follows: 
The identity of the pilot found at Feignies was not greatly doubted, since this identity was verified with U.S. Air Force archives as having been in P-51 no. 44-15331, although the identity wasn’t officially confirmed. ;Following, the pilot’s dental x-rays were compared to the original records, in addition to a DNA analysis. 
 
The circumstances in which the wreck was uncovered, then the pilot, whom was still dressed, caused the recollection of the terms drawn up during a 1947 convention between France and the U.S. which states that all materials of the American Air Corps removed from French soil would remain property of the U.S. Air Force. 
 
The police department of Maubeuge, in addition, started a procedure to insure that the integrity of a corpse is maintained (article 225-17 of the penal code).  This means that anyone who locates a corpse or parts thereof, must, by penalty of the law, notify the police.  In France, the extraction of a wreck (overall military) can only be accomplished by adhering to strict rules and regulations.  Otherwise, serious law violations would occur. 
 
The Mustang was recuperated in parts: the fuselage, prop, engine, gas tanks, radiator, 5 of the 6 machine guns, and an identification plaque bearing the number P-51D no. 44-15331.  Several remains were found with the pilot: his flying suit, tie, bomber jacket, parachute, and most importantly, his identification (dog) tags, which read, “William W. Patton, 0-758480.”  This farmer, whose father was a German POW during WWII, was greatly touched to have unearthed this pilot.  Many of the French citizens in the area were also greatly touched by this event.  So, the French scheduled a day of remembrance on January 15th, 2003, including the dedication of a memorial and a special room.  Attending the event were Connie Patton (another of Lt. Patton’s niece’s), U.S. Ambassadors and Council Members, officers of the U.S. Air Force from Germany, members of the French police, army, and a French veterans association. 
 
After a Catholic mass in Longueville, the group walked to a location near the crash site where a memorial now stands.  During this inauguration, WWII fighter planes passed overhead.  The group then moved to Fort Leveau in the village of Feignies, and the mayor led a ceremony to dedicate a room, assembled by the French, in the fort to the remembrance of Lt. Patton.  The room contains memoirs of Lt. Patton: his parachute, aircraft engine and 50 caliber armament, and photos.  This room shall remain a permanent remembrance of Lt. Patton and the sacrifice he made in the name of freedom.
 
Thad J. RUSSEL