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Eight F6F-5s of VF-74 took off from the escort carrier Kasaan Bay (CVE-69) at 06.25 local time for an armed reconnaissance of the Rhône Valley ahead of the advancing armies. An hour into their mission they encountered a Ju 88 north of Valence. It was heading north at 2,500 feet and reportedly lacked camouflage although it carried crosses and swastikas. It was subjected to repeated runs by four American fighters, offering no return fire and taking minimal evasive action before its engines caught fire, it crashed and exploded. This, the first US Navy fighter kill in Europe, was shared between four pilots: Lt. Cdr. Bass, Lt. Horacek, Lt.(jg) Castanedo and Ens. Pavlovich.

Six more VF-74 Hellcats on patrol to the Clermont-Ferrand area (which would be liberated inside a week) shot down an eastbound Do 217 with “brown mottled camouflage” near Issoire at 17.50 hrs. local time. There was no defensive fire and the Dornier exploded on impact. This encounter almost certainly corresponds with the reported loss of Fw. Wilhelm Krag and six other aircrew of Erprobungsgruppe 100, reported missing that day from Toulouse. The victory was jointly credited to Ens. Hulland and Lt. Castanedo.

Just 25 minutes later, F6F-5s of VOF-1, flying from the USS Tulagi (CVE-72) reported meeting two He 111s heading due south. VOF-1 had both artillery-spotting and fighter roles. In fulfilment of the latter they gave chase, noting that the hostiles carried German crosses and were “grey with black camouflage spots.” The German aircraft split, Lt. Poucel and Ens. Wood shooting down the first of them. Lieutenant Commander Sandor and Ens. Robinson then fired on the other, causing it to crash in a field. The Americans strafed the downed machine, killing members of the crew who emerged from the wreck. A third Heinkel was spotted going north at low level and Wood was able to destroy that one as well; it crashed in woods. On the homeward flight, Poucel was able to strafe a Ju 88 in a revetment on an airfield near Montélimar.

Apart from the Do 217, known Luftwaffe bomber casualties for the day were five men of I./KG 26 killed, while from II./KG 26 there were nine dead, two wounded, one wounded and taken prisoner. This would be equivalent to four crews (plus one passenger) although both Gruppen were equipped with the Ju 88 rather than the He 111. However, Paul Mathevet has pubished a photograph of the rear part of an He 111 which crashed at Chonas l’Amballan (Isère) on this date, identifying it as W.Nr. 110280. It is camouflaged in a pale meander over a darker base and is clearly marked 1H+EC, codes tying it to Stab II./KG 26. The five crew are reported to have set the Heinkel on fire and joined German troops on the nearby Route Nationale 7.

NOTE: Stab II./KG 26 had at least one other Heinkel, He 111 H-11 W.Nr. 110147, 1H+DC, which was flown from Celle to Vechta early in September for changes to its equipment.

Evelyne Py, a historian of the Lyon region, passed on information about the crash of a German aircraft on 19 August 1944, in the Tournon/Mauves area (in the Ardèche, north of Valence). She reports that there was a woman aboard whose name, according to her papers was Catherine Pomm.

New sources: I was pointed to VF-74's claims by Guy Julien. His webpages on the Squadron's part in the DRAGOON campaign included a detailed account of the day's operations and camera-gun photos of the attack on Fw. Krag's Do 217.

Thanks also to James Pratt for his information.

What they told me meant I could track down more from Naval Aviation News, May-June 1994.

Ronnie Olsthoorn kindly alerted me to the availability of USN After Action Reports on Fold3.com.

Evelyne Py's information, based on researches by Paul Mathevet of local history organisation, ARSA, added an unexpected dimension to the day's events.

M. Mathevet's own webpages are an invaluable source on aircraft crashes in the Rhône-Alpes Region.