T-BOLT KILL

by COL Burt MacDowell, United States Air Force (Retired)

 

One of the more unusual characteristics of Fred Hillis' flying career was that he was one of only a handful of pilots in the Army Air Forces to score a legitimate aerial victory against an Allied aircraft -- in this case, another P-47 Thunderbolt.

One of Fred's closest friends, Colonel Burt MacDowell, recounts the story surrounding this almost unbelievable event in his memoirs ...
 


AND AN AMERICAN FLAG??

In August 1944, I went overseas with a good friend of mine, the late Fred Hillis, originally from Brosley, Missouri. He came to Eglin Field, Florida, in November 1942 right out of pilot training school, with a beautiful new bride, Mary,

Fred was a large man about six feet three inches as I recall, and weighed more than two hundred pounds. He was a medium bomber test pilot at Eglin Field in the Proving Ground Group of the Proving Ground Command assigned to the Medium Bombardment Section and flew the North American B-25 twin engine bomber and the Martin B-26 twin engine bomber. Plus anything else he could find to fly,

Fred loved flying and used to come over to our Fighter Section and "bum" fighter time. Eventually, he flew every fighter we had. He desperately wanted to fly the Bell P-39 "Airacobra" but was too large to fit in the cockpit with a parachute so he flew around the traffic pattern without one, just to say he had flown the P-39. That was the kind of guy Fred was. Everyone liked him for he had a marvelous personality, a wide grin and a very good sense of humor.

In England he was assigned to the 9th Air Force in France to a Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighter group. When the war ended, there were five emblems designating five aerial victories painted on the cockpit canopy of Fred's P-47:  four German swastikas and one American flag, so that meant he was an ďAceĒ ... he had shot down five aircraft in combat - four German planes and one American plane.

But it was not what you are thinking. The American flag representing the P-47 Fred had shot down was unmarked and flown by a German pilot, who had just shot down Fredís squadron commander! The German ducked into a cloud and Fred went around the cloud and nailed him as he emerged on the other side. So it was a legitimate claim after all!

You would have to know Fred to appreciate this display of his sense of humor. He died in 1972 after a successful career as a businessman.
 

 


As it turned out, during the desperate last days of the war, the Luftwaffe had repaired and refitted a number of lightly-damaged Allied aircraft which had come down in German-controlled areas.  While several different aircraft types were used, P-47s and P-51s were considered especially valuable.  Their ability to easily infiltrate almost any kind of Allied formation without raising suspicions enabled them to fly along -- often for several minutes -- selecting the most lucrative targets to engage at will.  By the time the confused victims realized what was happening to them, the intruder was usually well on his way back to base.

Such was the case with Hillis' fifth and final "aerial kill;" except that this particular Jagdflieger tangled with the wrong P-47 driver.  Initially, the feint was successful, though Hillis was quick to realize what was afoot.  Before the German could line up on a second target, the hunter had become the hunted.  Though it is difficult to say for certain, it seems likely that on that day Fred Hillis became the only USAAF pilot of the war to make "Ace" by downing an aircraft of the same mission type, design and series as his own machine.

 

Watson's Whizzers at Melun, France
Watson's Whizzers at Melun, France (Hillis at right)
Cookie VII is the first aircraft in the background.

 

 

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