17.11.1944 No. 366th Fighter Group P47D Thunderbolt 42-27194 1st Lt. Rufus O. Barkley
Operation: Armed Reconnaissance
Date: 17th November 1944
Unit: No. 366th Fighter Group
Type: P47D Thunderbolt
Base: Laon France (USAAF ALG. A-70)
Location: Sportplatz der Ortschaft Schlich S.W of Düren Germany
Pilot: 1st/Lt. Rufus Osborne Barkley 0-770134 USAAF Age 21. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
On November 17, 1944, the 391st Fighter Squadron of the 366th Fighter Group flew what was perhaps the worst mission of the war for the squadron.
A major ground offensive had begun the day before along the Western Front from the northwest edge of the Hurtgen Forest up through Eschweiler, Germany.
Report from a pilot on the patrol:
"The weather was terrible with low hanging clouds and light rain, but we were able to take off with each plane loaded with two 500 pound bombs and a 150 gallon belly tank.
Sixteen planes from the 391st were involved in the mission. When we reached the target area, we had to come in under the overcast at 4,500 feet.
Left: 1st/Lt. Rufus Osborne Barkley (courtesy Joerg Dietsche via Michel Beckers)
Everything was dark and eerie – we could see flashes of the big guns on the ground and the flak explosions in the air. Light from the exploding shells was reflecting off the clouds -- it was as if we were looking into a segment of hell.
Dive bombing starting from such a low altitude is a challenge in itself, but each of us in turn did our best to hit our target.
I was hit in the canopy right behind my head just as I rolled over to start my dive and was hit again as I pulled out of my dive. It was apparent I was in deep trouble as I fought to keep my plane in the air.
In the meantime, the other 391st pilots were fighting for their lives. Lt. Rufus Barkley dived to strafe a German vehicle, and flew into the ground and exploded.
Two of my tent mates, Lt. Richard "Red" Alderman and Lt. Gus Girlinghouse attacked a column of tanks and trucks along a road near a castle on the edge of the Hurtgen Forest, and both were shot down within seconds of each other."
Statement of 1st. Henry W. Collins:
"Lt. Barkley was leading the second element in my (yellow) flight. We had just strafed three horse drawn supply wagons moving in the vicinity of Duren, Germany and had just set course for our rendezvous point, Eschweiler. Lt. Barkley apparently but without a call to me sighted enemy target and made a strafing pass.
His tracers were seen to hit a vehicle just outside a small chateau on the edge of the woods and he never recovered from the dive.
His plane was seen to burn about 100 yards from the edge of the woods. This was about 3 and 3/4 miles south west of Duren, Germany. In my opinion he did not have a chance to bail out. I am not certain whether he was hit by enemy anti-aircraft or crashed into an obstacle whilst strafing."
Left: Grave of Rufus Barkley (courtesy Lanny Golden)
1Lt. Rufus Osborne Barkley. Sylvan Heights Cemetery. Oliver Fayette County, Pennsylvania, USA
Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered December 2014.