At 06.40 hours (local time) six Spitfires of the 5th Fighter Squadron, led by Lt. Harold A. Taff, took off from Borgo, Corsica on a “ recce strike” for which two of them carried bombs. Fifteen minutes into their mission, they spotted a Ju 88 on the deck inshore, just northwest of Civitavecchia. The two Spitbombers jettisoned their loads and Lts. Boyd and Quisenberry after the Junkers while the others gave top cover.
The two pursuers were lost to view in the haze but kept up a running commentary over the R/T so that their comrades could follow their course eastward. Despite scoring hits, they used up all their ammunition without being able able to bring down the Ju 88, perhaps because of what they described as the “balls of fire” (signal flares, perhaps?) it launched at them. Boyd then reported a glycol leak so Quisenberry turned to escort him back to the coast, the pair attracting intense Flak from the Viterbo area. They lost the German over Lago di Bolsena.
At 08.15 hrs. Boyd was at 1,500 ft. over the sea and about eight miles from the top cover element when he radioed in that a Bf 109 had just made a pass at him and he was going to bail out. Both aircraft could now be seen and Lts. Allen and Atkins were ordered after the Messerschmitt which by now was 500 yards off their 3 o’clock but they were unable to close and turned back, seeing Boyd’s parachute slowly descend as his Spitfire hit the sea. He was then seen in his dinghy, paddling away from nearby shore and waving to his comrades as they turned for home, short of fuel.
The Americans seem to have called ahead because although they did not land until 08.35, four more Spitfires scrambled from Borgo at 08.20 on an air/sea rescue mission led by Capt. Eugene C. Steinbrenner. After 25 minutes they were nearing the crash site when Steinbrenner spotted two “egg-shell blue” Bf 109s on the deck, heading south. He and Lt. Walter H. Winnard took the bait, giving chase as they made a 180º climbing turn. Then 12 Fw 190s and more Bf 109s came out of the sun. The Spitfires were now at low level and just inland, 3 miles south of Montalto di Castro. Clearly at a disadvantage in numbers and position, Steinbrenner ordered his men to “hit the deck and head for home.”
Lieutenant Louis M. Weynand circled to cover his comrades as they came out over the coast. making a steep turn he saw his leader taking hits from a Fw 190 on his tail. The stricken Spitfire half-rolled and went into the sea about mile from land but Steinbrenner did not get out. Finding himself alone with four Focke-Wulfs, Weynand tried to get away by making steep turns and taking shots while edging toward home. Two of his assailants soon gave up but he broke into another, firing head-on from 300 down to 50 yards and seeing it fire in return. Breaking to get on the German’s tail he saw it heading for shore when a large piece fell off it and splashed into the sea; the other Fw 190 had meanwhile disappeared. Clearing his tail, he was able to join up with Green 2 (Winnard) and a pair of 253 Squadron Spitfires that had come to their aid. Weynand reported afterward:
“The FW’s were also egg shell blue. Either two or four would attack one Spit with hit and run tactics, diving up and pulling up to regain position. I could easily out turn e/a and they made little attempt to stay with me turning away and climbing as soon as a deflection shot was impossible. By making 360 degree turns it was possible to clear my tail and still gain ground toward home before another break was necessary. Landed at 0955.
My a/c was unhit. Weather was CAVU except for haze up to 5000 feet which limited visibility to 5 miles into sun, otherwise about 8 miles.
The dinghy was not seen although the oil slick caused by Lt. Boyd’s plane was still visible. I expended 180 rds of 20 mm and 720 rds of .303 ammunition.
CLAIM: One FW 190 damaged.”
Lieutenant Charles E. DeVoe was less fortunate. He suffered wounds on the left side of his head near the eye (which he would later lose) and his Spitfire had many small shrapnel holes while there was a 20 mm shell hole through its starboard flap. On landing, the flap would not come down and the aircraft nosed over incurring further slight damage.
Siegfried Lemke was among those scrambled from Plana del Diavolo to protect the Junkers and was in the air for 25 minutes, reporting an encounter with a Spitfire which he claimed as shot down, 5 kn off Montalto di Castro at 07.50 hrs. That location is a good match for Boyd’s loss even though the given time is 25 minutes too early and the Americans thought they had met a Bf 109. Conversely, Lt. Großfuß’s claim at 08.54 corresponds closely to the time and location of Eugene Steinbrenner’s fall or DeVoe’s wounding. Lemke claimed two more Spitfires off this stretch of coast at 09.54 and 10.02 hrs. and again it is likely that the stated times are incorrect and the claims were against the 5th FS.
After claiming the two Spitfires, Lemke’s engine caught fire and he bailed out into the sea (according to Jochen Prien this was not attributed to enemy action). Based on a propaganda reporter’s account, Erik Mombeeck has written how Lemke eventually swam to shore and arranged the rescue of an American pilot in a dinghy (evidently Boyd) and corroboration comes in the shape of two deciphered signals from the fighter control post at Orbetello. At 09.40 local time the post saw a hostile aircraft shot down, the Duty Controller going by motorcycle to Montalto di Castro to organise a rescue attempt by fishing boats but nothing was found. However, at 19.20 the post was able to report that “the missing fighter pilot [i.e. Lemke] rescued himself and captured an American swimming in the water”.
2 Spits IX were scrambled to search for a pilot of 5th Squadron, USAAF, reported to be in a dingy [sic] 5 miles north of Civitavecchia, half a mile off the shore. 1 Spit searched on the deck between Civitavecchia and Point Clemintine but no dingy was sighted. Meanwhile the other Spit provided cover. On reforming the Spits heard “Birthday Green” on the R/T remarking “There are two on the deck” followed by “I’ll take the one in front and you the rear.” Another remark was intercepted by the Spits to the effect that there was a large number of enemy aircraft in the vicinity. The Spits altered course east and later headed for base with 2 Spits of “Birthday Green.”
Main source: USAAF Missing Air Crew Reports