1st Lt. Bill "Flaps" Fowler
of the 352nd Fighter Group
Oil on Canvas 36" x 36"
Troy White © 2018
I’ve always been a big fan of the 352nd Fighter Group I first met Flaps in 1996 at a 352nd FG reunion in Savannah, Georgia shortly after starting Stardust Studios. Flaps flew with the Group's 487th Fighter Squadron. I really took a shine to Flaps, not only was he a very cool guy but he had named one of his assigned P-51s "Stardust" after the same Hoagy Carmichael song that inspired me to name my business. I decided right then that I would paint his Mustang. I never thought it would take 20 years to get around to starting it. "Stardust" measures 90 x 90 cm and is oil on canvas.
Bill was born September 14, 1921, in Rock Island, Illinois, the son of William E. and Harriet Jacobson Fowler. He was a graduate of Monmouth High School and before enlisting in the Army Air Corps worked at Western Stoneware and Pottery Company in Monmouth. Flaps’ daughter Denise has been kind enough to send me copies of wartime memories that Flaps put into writing back in 1998. I’ve combined them here with contemporary combat reports written by Lt. Fowler in 1944 to illustrate his time in the 8th Air Force.
July 1, 1998
January 1 1944,
Left New York Harbor aboard the ship Empress of Australia, a British ship (which was) taken from the Germans in the First World War. It took us and our convoy fourteen days to cross the Atlantic.
Arrived in Liverpool and I was sick. We disembarked carrying our gear and packs, boarded a train and were in old chair cars for three days going to Southern England. We went to a base (Atcham) to be given a refresher course in the P-47 airplane.
The field was sort of odd. We were told the ground elevation east of the field was much higher than the field. When you took off to the south and made a left turn, the ground came up real fast and unless you were aware of this, you might be in trouble. Seems like they had a pilot killed due to this.
After about a week we were assigned to our new base in England. For me, George Kopecky, William Fur and Sammy Dyke it was Bodney Field. They gave us four days en-route which made it just right for a stopover in London. Kopecky and I were assigned to the 487th Squadron. This field was home for our three squadrons, the 486th, 487th and 328th. These squadrons made up the 352nd Fighter Group.
I can’t remember how we got from London to Bodney. It probably was by train to the Watton rail station near Bodney. We were usually transported around Bodney in a big old open command car. This was used for all transportation wherever on the base and to and from our quarters at the old English mansion Clermont Hall. At this time there were no quarters for us on the base. Clermont was converted for us Air Force Officers to live in. I can’t remember whether the 487th Squadron were the only ones there. The other squadrons may already have had Quonset huts for quarters on the base.
In recent weeks I have read a biography of Thomas Jefferson. As you know, Jefferson was big in the Revolutionary War. He had no love for the British. To illustrate this Jefferson wrote to his friend William Carmichael, American Envoy to Spain. “I consider the British our natural enemies and as the only nation on earth who wish us ill from the bottom of their souls.” At this time Jefferson was ambassador to France. John Adams was Ambassador to England. He urged Jefferson to come to England not only on official business but to show him some of the nice English homes and estates. After much persuasion Jefferson did agree. He went to England and Adams was showing him the country sights. The came to Clermont Hall, our wartime home for several months. It had a large veranda and off to the right a bowling green, to the left was a lake, all part of the estate. Jefferson gave Clermont two words “Nothing remarkable”. Personally I thought it was great!
After being shown around the field, introduced and being filled in on all the facts we were supposed to know, we were taken up for some combat training in the P-47 There was no period that I can remember for just going up and familiarizing yourself with the area. On March 2, 1944 I was to fly accompanying Lt. Whinnem from the 486th Squadron. He was the lead ship. I had not met him and strangely enough, to this day I still have never met him. He died this year in April. We were to fly as spotters over the North Sea. This was for spotting downed airmen and aircraft in the water. The controller in England would call and instruct us which direction to flay and for how long in each direction. If we spotted anything, we would transmit a call to the controller and they would get a fix on us and send out a rescue airplane or ship.
We were out for about an hour and Whinnem’s engine quit. He started down and this excited me. I thought he would be killed when he hit the water since he was too low to bail out. I keyed my radio and called the controller and told him we were five miles offshore. I kept my transmitter keyed and gave them a blow by blow description of the event. Never gave them a chance to reply. He crash landed on the east coast of England and I saw him climb out of his airplane.
Then I started for home but where was home? I knew the general direction but we operated off a camouflaged field and I wasn’t familiar with it from the air. My assistant crew chief Joseph Rubin, said I flew across the field five times before I spotted it. He lied, I think? Rubin was a great guy, he kidded me all the time and kept my spirits up. My crew chief, Sergeant Murphy was a good mechanic and a great guy as well. (Cause of engine failure, forgot to switch tanks.)
July 28, 1998
Well, I’ll try to put my mind back together and recall some of our play time. It has been so long ago, it’s hard to recall the sequence of events.
March 8, 1944
While flying Crowned Prince two position, I collided with Crowned Prince Leader just before we broke through the top of the overcast. The collision caused damage to my right wing tip and his left elevator so we aborted and returned to base.
The incident occurred on my first combat mission. While waiting in our pilot's ready room over in the 487th area that morning, Colonel Meyer said to me, 'Fowler, how are you on instruments?' I replied that I hadn't thought much about it, but I'd had the usual training. This query put me on guard I guess because I thought, 'They'll never lose me in the overcast.
After our usual briefing, we took off in a twelve ship formation on a mission over Germany. The weather was foul as usual and the overcast ceiling about one thousand feet with the tops at about six thousand feet. One man, the squadron leader flies on instruments and the rest of the squadron fly off him. That’s the only way it could be when you are all twelve clumped together in this next-to-tragedy flight through the clouds. This method was used so we could all be together when we came out on top. Otherwise if we went up individually we would be scattered hither and yon. It was like flying close formation in a milk bottle as far as visibility went.
The twelve of us entered the clouds and it was scuddy at first but everyone was visible. Then it got thicker and all I could see was my leader. Then it would lighten up and I could see everyone through the misty clouds. Well this day was a bad one and about 50% of the time I couldn’t see my man so I decided to move in closer. Now I see him, now I don’t. After a little more of this I moved in closer and now my right wing was resting on Red Leader’s left elevator. It was so gentle you couldn’t even feel it happen
Can you imagine the fourteen foot propeller driven by that two thousand horsepower engine swinging so close to Red Leader’s cockpit? Well, he discovered he didn’t have control because my wing was laying on his tail surface. After trying to adjust his flight by moving his control stick with no success, he abruptly pulled his control stick back and his airplane shot straight up and out of the formation and out of sight! I was then leading Red Flight behind White Flight. Shortly we broke through the top of the clouds and it was obvious what had happened.
Both planes were damaged so the two of us aborted the mission. This could have been a real tragedy if it had happened a little differently. If we had been flying P-51s we probably would have had a major disaster. The P-47 was a very stable airplane. We landed our airplanes and I went to my squadron, 487 and Major Edwards went to the 328th and surprisingly I have never talked to him since that day. Maybe he thought he was to blame but that is not correct. I was to blame, I caused it because of inexperience. I hated instrument flying and was always troubled with vertigo.
On that day Major John C. 'Curly' Edwards was Red One and he was flying a P-47D-11, serial number 42-75523. Lt. Bill “Flaps” Fowler was flying P-47D-2, s/n 42-22492, coded HO-F.
A month later Flaps had his first aerial encounter during an escort mission to Brunswick, Germany during which the Bluenosers of the 352nd FG would earn a Distinguished Unit Citation for their outstanding performance.
8 May 1944
I was flying Red 2. Red flight was circling in the area around Neinberg to Unterlus with White flight. Shortly after the e/a were sighted, several broke for the deck. Red flight went down after them. I was flying red leader’s wing and the first e/a we picked was an Me109. We chased him from 5000 feet to the deck. When the e/a discovered we were on his tail he broke up to the right and then a break to the left in an attempt to turn into us. I had no difficulty turning inside of him firing all the way around the turn, but observed no hits. The Me 109 then went into a long straight dive for the deck. I was dead astern of him and was closing in firing and was cut out by Red leader from the right. He got many strikes all over the fuselage and cockpit. The ship crashed into the ground and was destroyed. I make no claim on that Me109.
We then climbed up to about 6000 feet and were flying east in the same area when an Fw 190 carrying a belly tank came diving down on us. We chased him to the deck. Captain Davis, Red leader overtook him and opened fire, got a few hits but overran him and had to pull up and to the left. The e/a then broke up to the right which gave me about a 20 degree deflection shot which I took and plastered him with strikes. He then sort of leveled out giving me a dead astern shot at about 200 yards, or less. I gave him one –two second burst hitting him all over. He caught fire and exploded while I was still firing. The ship then broke violently down to the left and crashed straight into the ground. I lost Red leader in the overcast right after this scrap. I circled the area several times in an attempt to pick him up again but never saw him. After spiraling up to ten thousand feet I joined two ships in the 328th Sq. The lead ship of the two was flown by Lt. Quinn and the second, his wingman, Lt. Stott. The three of us bounced and Me 109 and another ship which looked like an Fw 190. As we closed in, the supposedly Fw 190 pulled up as if to drop back in on our tails so I pulled up to make an attack on him. As I came into range I identified him as a Yellow nose P-47. I joined up with him and started home. The two of us ended up in a group of P-47s on the way home, with whom I came home.
Serial No of A/C: 43-6658 Markings: HO-F Ammo Exp: 241 API.
William E Fowler, 1st Lt. AC.
September 2, 1998
I can’t remember the exact date but it was prior to the D-Day invasion. We weren’t scheduled to fly a mission that day. Back at the 487th pilot’s shack where we spent time if there was no mission or if you weren’t scheduled to fly. Our pilot’s shack was a Quonset hut with a fireplace, a large wall with the entire squadron compliment listed on it. It show who was flying, who was missing in action (MIA) and those killed in action (KIA). Our intelligence officer had a small room at the back of the pilot’s room. He interrogated us after each mission.
Also adjoining the pilot’s Quonset was a parachute room. This was used for storing our parachutes, Mae Wests (floatation device) and our flying togs. Several times Lt. McIntyre would take down his chute from the rack and sling the harness over his arms and back. Then he would lunge forward in a crouched position in a jumping motion. After seeing him do this for several days just before going out to our ships for takeoff on a mission I asked him, “What the hell are you doing McIntyre?” He replied, “You know one of these days I might have to bail out of my airplane and I am practicing.” We all got quite a laugh out of that.
About two weeks later no mission was scheduled. It was a nice sunny warm day for a change and we were out in front of the pilot’s shack in the warm sun on the ground. All of a sudden I saw a P-51 spinning down. I exclaimed, “He look at that!” We watched the airplane spin all the way down to the ground. As it happened, we had two new pilots in the outfit and McIntyre was given the job of giving them a little refresher course in the air of combat tactics. This was more or less some high powered aerobatic flying. It was also a check on their flying ability. They were flying in trail (rat racing) doing steep dives, climbs, chandelles, Immelmann turns, etc.
It seemed like after a long, steep dive and pull out, the second airplane made a very sharp pullout and it was assumed the pilot had blacked out and flew right into McIntyre in the lead ship. McIntyre told us he crawled out onto the win. He said he sat next to the fuselage right at the trailing edge of the wing. There were no forces acting on his body at all. He said he could have comfortably ridden all the way to the ground. Of course that would have been fatal. He got up, walked to the end of the wing and jumped off. After that I never saw him practice his jumping in the parachute room again.
Result, two airplanes lost, one pilot killed.
May 24, 1944
About 1150, Blue Flight, consisting of Lts. Luksic, Hannon, Whisner and myself, came down to the deck in the Stendal area to strafe. I first shot up some high tension wires. The four of us then made a pass at 4 locomotives. Lt. Whisner hit and damaged at least 3 of the 4 on his first pass. He maneuvered for another pass while the rest of us rejoined and proceeded on a course of due west. I shot up two flak towers on the way and another high tension line. We then attacked a locomotive freight train and shot it up. I next shot up a tug boat, observing strikes all along the waterline which probably caused the boat to sink. My next target was an electric locomotive which I damaged. As I attacked this last target, Lts. Luksic and Hannon made a pass at an A/D in the Ulzen area. I did not see the field until too late to join them. They both were shot down by very intense flak on their first pass. Finding myself alone I climbed to 30,000 feet and came home.
Claim: 2 High tension wires, 2 Flak towers, 2 locomotives (1 shared with Lts Luksic and Hannon), 1 Tugboat.
Serial No of A/C: 7167 Markings: HO-D Ammo Exp: 474 API. 682 I.
William E Fowler, 1st Lt. AC.
24 May 1944
Lt. Luksic and Lt. Hannon had just strafed and airdrome in the vicinity of Stendal, when Lt. Luksic pulled up and said his left gas tank had been hit and he was going to bale out. When he reached an altitude of about 1500-2000 feet, he half rolled, released his canopy and left the ship. I saw his chute open about three seconds after he was clear of the plane.
Before Lt. Luksic had reached the ground, Lt Hannon called me and said his oil pressure was going. About three minutes later has ship was smoking badly and he called and said the engine was frozen and he was crash landing. He crash landed and I saw him stand up in the cockpit and climb out. I then proceeded home. I was the third man in the flight of three before they went down.
William E Fowler, 1st Lt. AC.
Some people say my memory is flawed and they are probably right but this I remember real well:
June 5, 1944
We had a fighter sweep mission over France this day which was very uneventful. We returned about the middle of the afternoon. Two pilots and myself were leaving the pilot’s room on the line and walking back to our Quonset hut barracks. As we walked we noticed the maintenance people were painting white stripes on the P-51s’ wings and fuselages. Old know it all “Flaps” said, “Guess we’ll have an invasion in a couple of days”.
That evening after chow we were just sitting around talking, some guys were writing letters. About eight o’clock a noncom came in and said pilots will go to bed. Well, we knew what that meant. This was it, the invasion was imminent. At eleven o’clock pm the same noncom came in and said, “All pilots will report to the mess hall.” You can bet your boots that we didn’t get any sleep between eight and eleven pm.
At the mess hall we got the finest meal we’d ever had since arriving in England but we didn’t really enjoy it. It was like the last supper!
We went from the mess hall to the Group briefing room As we entered the briefing room we noticed all the strange faces. They were flown in from the States the day before. From this we realized Colonel Joe Mason was right. These were to be our replacements as we were shot down.
Joe Mason was a bird Colonel and the field Group commander. He was a good pilot and a serious man. I think he felt the pressure of being the group commander, especially at this time. As he talked to us as a group at these briefings, I think his concern was passed on to us. He once said that we’d fly so much during the invasion that we’d have to have tooth picks propping our eyes open. We were briefed and told to return to our squadrons to await takeoff at 2:30 am.
You can imagine what an eerie sight that was, 48 airplanes taxiing around the field to get in position for takeoff! In the darkness you could see the little green, red and white wing and tail lights as these airplanes zig-zagged down around the outer edge of the field. They had to zig-zag because in position on the ground you couldn’t see over the nose of the P-51. We were instructed to take off as we did in the daylight, four ships abreast.
The first flight of four planes made the takeoff OK but in the process the tail wheel of one caught the wire of the guide lights and ripped them out of commission. The second flight lined up using a compass. Well the second flight leader made a slight error and that put the other planes in error for the takeoff. Without a guide light to help line up, the compass is a pretty poor tool for line up at night.
As a result Lt. Robert Frascotti flew into the new control tower which was under construction. Carrying better than four hundred gallons of gasoline it made quite a fire when it impacted. The field lit up like daylight and the men at the 328th barracks said the .50 calibre bullets were going off like mad.
I remember my mouth dropped open and I just sat there staring at the fire. Colonel Mason came on the radio and said, “We’ll take off individually.” I don’t know how long I sat there in a daze, but someone came on the radio and said “Get out there Fowler, you’re next.” I taxied out to the corner of the field and took off into the blackness of that night. You see after looking at that burning airplane and control tower the night looked black as ink.
I don’t know where the rest of my outfit went, I could not locate them. I eventually joined up with an airplane from the 328th Squadron. As it turned out he was a Colonel who was supposed to be leading the big show. Because it was so secret, he happened to be off the base when it all started and he was late for takeoff. We flew together for the rest of the mission. I turned my recognition lights on and he kept calling me telling me they were on. Finally I said “Don’t you see those ships down there? I want them to know I’m friendly.
We flew the whole mission and never saw a German airplane. As I recall there was only one German plane seen all day. The invasion must have been a surprise move on them.
July 18, 1944
I was leading Red Flight. About 0915 our squadron sighted a large formation of about 50 plus T/E A/C (Twin Engine aircraft). I kept my flight up for cover since I knew there were probably Me 109s or Fw 190s giving top cover for the T/E ships below. I sighted and chased two ships which from a tail view appeared to be 190s. They were at 27,000 feet. Upon overtaking them I saw they were Me 109s. As I closed into range they attempted t out climb us but failed. I opened fire at 200 yards or less, slight deflection, and got hits all over the fuselage of the last 109. He started smoking and went down out of control. Lt. Clark, flying Red 3 saw this E/A explode at 24,000 feet according to his statement annexed. I immediately pulled over and took a ring lead on the lead 109 and opened fire. After increasing my lead to about two Radii, I saw strikes covering the cockpit and wing roots. The 109 then went into a spin and started burning at 20,000 feet according to Lt. Clark’s statement annexed. I believe the pilots of both ships were dead since I saw no one bale out of either ship. In addition to Lt. Clark Lt. Littge saw both ships burning and spinning down.
Serial No of A/C: 4807 Markings: HO-X Ammo Exp: 340 API.
William E Fowler, 1st Lt. AC.
I was flying Red 3. Red Leader, Lt. Fowler attacked the rear one of two Me 109s and after getting hits, the E/A started burning, went into a spin and exploded at 24,000 feet. Lt Fowler then attacked the other and after getting strikes on it, the E/A went spinning down, burning as it went.
Submitted in corroboration of claim of Lt. Fowler to 2 Me 109s destroyed.
John F. Clark, 1st Lt. AC.
I was flying Red 2 Wingman to Lt. Fowler. The first 109 he attacked went spinning gown and exploded. The second 109 went down in a violent spin, burning as it spun.
Submitted in corroboration of claim of Lt. Fowler to 2 Me 109s destroyed.
Raymond H. Littge, 2nd Lt. AC.
11 September 1944
While sweeping in above area on route to R/V with bombers we sighted bomber formations from the preceding task force 50 miles SE of us pulling contrails. About ½ distance between the bombers and ourselves were 30-plus S/E fighters in 3 gaggles of 10 each. They were pulling contrails and appeared to be forming up. We headed toward them and as we got closer they dove down out of contrail level in ones and twos. Contrail level was 28,000’ plus. At 29,000’ I identified two of them as Me 109s and attacked one as he headed down in a 60 degree dive. The whole squadron then engaged small groups of the e/a after their original gaggle had been split up. At about 17,000 feet the e/a I was chasing leveled off and I closed rapidly. He saw me and started in a steep climbing turn, my first burst was about 20 degrees deflection at 300 yards. I observed a few hits. I closed on him in the climbing turn and at 30 degrees deflection and 200 yards I got hits on the rear portion of his fuselage, pieces coming off. He split S’d, recovered and turned into me. I had little difficulty in overtaking and in turning inside of him. At 20 degrees deflection and 300 yards I got good strikes on wing-root and e/a started to smoke. It rolled over and crashed straight into the deck from 8,000 feet. Pilot seemed inexperienced, his breaks were conspicuously non-violent. He was hesitant in all his maneuvers.
After completion of this engagement I was separated from my squadron and seeing what appeared to be a dog-fight to the NW proceeded to that area at 14,000 feet to discover that it consisted of a gaggle of 15-plus bandits, (109s & 190s) at 12 to 8,000 feet. They had belly tanks and appeared to be forming up. I approached them from out of the sun and attacked the # 2 of a pair of e/a that were farthest from the mass. I fired at 15 degrees deflection from 300 yards to point blank range. The e/a burst into flames. I broke into the sun, cleared my tail and attacked the element leader, at 300 yards I got strikes in the vicinity of the cockpit and wing-roots. The e/a rolled over and spiraled down, crashing into the ground. Neither of these e/a indicated having observed my attacks, until in the case of the element leader, he was hit.
Then I saw a lone Me109 emerging from a cloud in the vicinity of the large enemy gaggle. And as I was not yet under attack I attacked the e/a. Only my right wing guns were now firing so I opened at 200 yards and no deflection closing to point blank range and 10 degrees deflection. I saw strikes all over the e/a and pieces flew off the tail and fuselage. He caught fire at his left wing-root. I broke off the attack and headed for the deck and home. Shortly thereafter 2 Me109s attacked me from slightly below and directly astern. I pulled 67 inches for 30 seconds and when I got detonation reduced throttle to 55 inches. I climbed at 1,000 feet per minute. The e/a remained at about 300 yards astern and always 3 or 400 feet below. Occasionally they would pull up their noses and fire but would then drop behind. They chased me from the vicinity of Kassel to Bonn, breaking off their attack when I reached the Rhine River.
Claim 3 Me109s & 1 Fw 190 destroyed.
Serial No of A/C: 3597 Markings: HO-F Ammo Exp: 587 API.
John C. Meyer, Lt. Col, AC.
After finishing his tour Flaps returned to the United States. He was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster. With Flaps’ combat tour completed “Stardust” was reassigned to Lt. Jack “Moose” Landrum. Landrum nicknamed the Mustang “Moose”. Lt. Landrum was flying this P-51 on 24 October when he was shot down and killed while strafing at Hannover, Germany. William E.“Flaps” Fowler Jr. passed away on 24 January 2008. He is buried at Monmouth Cemetery, Warren County Illinois.