One Man Airforce - Major James Howard. On 11 January 1944, Major James Howard, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, was the leading a group of P-51Bs providing fighter support for bombers on a long-range mission deep inside Germany. As Major Howard’s group met the B-17 bombers in the target area, they found the bomber force already under attack by enemy fighters. Major Howard’s group immediately engaged the enemy. During the attack he lost contact with his group and returned to the level of the bomber formation. Approaching the bomber stream, he saw that they were being heavily attacked by enemy airplanes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. There was little time to attempt to re-assemble his group before engaging the enemy. Major Howard chose instead, to single-handedly attack the formation of more than 30 German fighters.
With utter disregard for his own safety, he immediately pressed determined attacks for over 30 minutes.
“He was all over the sky!” reported one bomber crew. “Never seen anything like it!” exclaimed another. “A one man airforce”, reported yet another. Although the bomber crews are all adamant, they he definitely destroyed 6 enemy aircraft… Major Howard only claimed two destroyed, two probable and two damaged.
Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply became dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insurmountable odds against him, Major Howard continued to press his attacks in an attempt to protect the bombers. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang 'Ding Hao', had just a single bullet hole. Reporter Andy Rooney called it “the greatest fighter pilot story of World War II”.
His skill, courage, and determination earned him the Medal of Honour.
He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theatre to have received this.
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