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Q: What squadron were you in?
Spears: When I first got overseas I was with the 302nd Fighter Squadron, which was later disbanded. The guys with the 302nd Fighter Squadron went to the 99th Fighter Squadron, the 100th Fighter Squadron and the 301st Fighter Squadron. I went to the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332 Fighter Group.
Q: How come the 302nd Fighter Squadron was disbanded?
Spears: Well, a group with four squadrons would be a bit much, logistically and tactically. What they did was beef up the three
squadrons. Instead of having four lesser squadrons they had three larger squadrons.
301st fighter Squadron patch
Q: Did the markings of 302nd Fighter Squadron Mustangs stay the same when they were transferred to the other three squadrons?
Spears: The planes came with you, all the markings were the same from the previous squadron. My P-51 strangely enough had the number 51 on the side when I received it!
Q: Were their dorsal fins added to the P-51's vertical stabilizers?
Spears: That's was one of the things that was a big help because it was in front of the rudder. This device disturbed the air flow from the propeller. You see, the air flow from the propeller doesn't just go back. it goes around the airplane. The dorsal fin in front of the vertical fin broke the airflow up to the point that you always had good control of your airplane. My P-51 "Kitten" did have the dorsal fin.
Q: What was your first combat experience in a P-51 Mustang?
|Ed. note: From Ramitelli, Italy the 332nd Fighter Group escorted Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Germany. Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive combat record.
Spears: We flew from Ramitelli to an area were they are having that war in Yugoslavia right now. It was a place around the Udine Valley. We were escorting bombers over Yugoslavia. Coming back from the target we were told that we could take out targets of opportunity, which means that we could go down and do a little strafing. I remember we went down into the Udine Valley and I saw a train going through the valley. All of us jumped on that train. We stopped it from moving. I made two or three passes. On one of the passes I made, I saw steam and smoke from the engine. It shot straight up into the air. I liked strafing because I liked to fly close to the ground.
Q: When did you arrive at Ramitelli Air Base?
Spears: Sometime in November of 1944. That's when I first saw the P-51 Mustangs.
Q: Were you assigned your own plane?
Spears: Yes! It was a C model. It was a hand-me-down from someone who had rotated back to the States. I think my plane was previously flown by Charles McGee.
He had his time in and rotated back to the States. As a replacement pilot I was given his plane. I remember very clearly that the Mustang had some nose art on it , which just said Kitten written on the side. I left the nose art on there, because I remember the first time I flew it and came down, my crew chief asked me what I thought about the plane's performance. I said it's justifiably named because the engine sure did purrrrr like a kitten !
Q: How would you describe the maintenance done on the Mustangs?
Spears: They were very well maintained. We had very fine crew chiefs!
Q: Did any representative from the North American P-51 factory come to Ramitelli to consult you guys on the P-51 Mustang?
Spears: No. The instructors were our own guys. We went through the technical manual and did a little ground school work. There was no class room type thing to it. It was mostly hands on. After it has been assumed that we had enough training to fly into combat, we were assigned missions. When a combat mission came along, you were just assigned to it. Three flights would take off daily to go into combat.
End of interview