12-08-1944. 361FG, 375FS, 8th USAAF P-51D 44-13410, Col. Christian
Operation: Arras Marshalling Yards, France. (Dive Bombing)
Date: 12th August 1944 (Saturday)
Unit: 361st Fighter Group, 375th Fighter Squadron, 8th USAAF
Type: Mustang P-51D
Serial: 44-13410 (LOU IV) (4th aircraft named after Col. Christian’s baby daughter)
Location: Arras France
Pilot: Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson J.R. Christian
REASON FOR LOSS:
Report by 2nd Lt. Robert J. Bain, pilot in Colonel Christian’s flight.
"I was flying position number three of a three ship flight, lead by Colonel Christian. We approached the railway marshalling yard at Arras France, from the north east direction at an altitude of 11,000 feet. We circled the target receiving instructions from Colonel Christian to make the bomb run from south to north, pulling up to the left after bombing. We were then in string formation, my position number two trailing our leader. Colonel Christian executed a half roll and split S, from an altitude of 11,000 feet. I watched his descent to at least 6,000 feet and then made my dive. Pulling out of my dive at 3,000 feet. I banked left and climbed to 6,000 feet and looked for the leader. Number three ship pulled up near to me, but neither he or I could find Colonel Christian. I observed a very good hit in the centre of the railway yard, not caused by number three man or myself and assumed it was the Colonel’s bombs. I repeatedly called our leader over the radio but never received an answer. The attack took place 15.05 hrs. 12th August 1944."
Shortly before his death Col Christian was photographed in his P-51D Mustang 44-13410 leading a group of four P-51s from the 361st Fighter Group. At the beginning of August 1944 the squadron increased the size of it’s yellow nose band identification colour, to include the whole of the engine cowling, it is therefore believed that these photos were taken just a few days before he was tragically killed in action on the 12th. Below is a selection of photos that were taken that day.
Col Christian pulls in close to the camera ship to show off the new all yellow cowling, squadron identification.
A graduate of the West Point Class of 12 June 1939 and great grandson of the Confederate General Thomas J 'Stonewall' Jackson, Col Christian was lost on operations on 12 Aug 1944, whilst attacking the railway marshalling yard at Boisleux au Mont, a few miles south of Arras. He was 28 years old and had commanded the 361st FG since its activation with the P-47 at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia, on 10 Feb 43. The 361st FG sailed to the UK onboard the Queen Mary on 23 Nov 43, arriving on the Clyde 6 days later. The unit operated from Bottisham in Cambridgeshire from 30 Nov 43 till 26 Sep 44, from where Christian flew his last sortie. The unit acquired its P-51s from May 44 onwards. Colonel Christian took his last steps on a free and unbeaten nation's land on 12 Aug 44, took to the air and fought in order to bring freedom to a country under the heel of Nazi tyranny. Given Christian's Confederate lineage, it might appear incongruous that his death was so eerily in keeping with the pledge contained in this line of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: 'As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free'. Given that Generals Jackson and Lee are framed in stained glass either side of the text of the song in Washington National Cathedral, perhaps it is not surprising at all.
As a B-17 pilot flying from Guadalcanal, Christian had been shot down earlier in the war and posted as 'M.I.A.' over the South Pacific, but managed to make it back to friendly lines after surviving a period in the jungle with the help of natives. After returning to the United States, he married Marjorie Lou Ashcroft on 2 January 1943. His P-51D depicted in the accompanying photograph, Lou IV, was named after his daughter, Lou Ellen, who was born in January 1944 and whom he never saw. Lou IV had another name, 'Athelene', emblazoned on the starboard cowling. It is believed to be the name of the wife or partner of the aircraft's crew chief, S/Sgt D Jameson. Christian was piloting 'LouIV/Athelene' when he perished. Although Christian did not achieve any air-to-air victories, 'Lou IV' did in fact account for 2 German aircraft in the hands of other pilots. In Europe, Christian flew more than 70 combat missions and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.
On 12 Aug 44, the day on which Col Christian was lost, the US 8th Air Force launched 1330 aircraft (B-17, B-24, P-38, P-47 and P-51s) against targets in central, east and north-east France (8th Air Force Mission 545). 18 aircraft failed to return (including four P-51s from the 361st FG, including Lou IV). 6 enemy aircraft were claimed as destroyed in the air (1 by an escort P-47 and 5 by P-38s); 13 further enemy aircraft were claimed as destroyed on the ground by P-47s. Colonel Christian went missing during an attack on the railway marshalling yard at Boisleux au Mont, a few miles south of Arras. Approaching the marshalling yards from the North-East, he had briefed his formation to attack from the South. After performing a half-roll and split-S from 11,000 feet to acquire the target, Christian led his formation's attack at 15.05hrs and was not seen again, although his No 2 believed he had made good hits with his bombs. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen a wing come away from Christian's aircraft before it crashed, but the precise cause of Lou IV's destruction is not known.
Additional information supplied to Aircrew Remembered by Wing Commander James R. Beldon MBE
Royal Air Force, Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham, U.K.
Col Christian leads a formation of four 361FG P-51s in the first aircraft 44-13410. Other aircraft are, 2nd ,P-51D 44-13926 E2-S, 3rd, P-51D 44-13568 E2-A “SKY BOUNCER”, 4th, a veteran P-51B 42-106811 E2-H.
In this photo Col Christian’s Mustang 44-13410 is seen with the whole of the top cowling painted in yellow, adopted by the squadron in August 1944.
Shown here only Col Christian’s aircraft has the new paint scheme, all other aircraft still carry the pre August 1944 scheme.
Faubourg D'Amiens, Arras Northern France (courtesy James R. Beldon MBE)
The Boisleux au Mont memorial (courtesy James R. Beldon MBE)
Unconfirmed, but believed to be buried at Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas d Calais, France.
Notes: Ellen Wilson Loving died at home in Austin after a courageous battle with cancer on June 30, 2011. She was 67. Lou touched countless lives with her love, generosity, grace and unending smiles. Lou was born to Marjorie and Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian in Dallas, Texas on January 31, 1944. Her father was the most photographed P-51 Mustang pilot of WWII. Lou would only know him through letters and photographs, but his love for her was clear and his pride was obvious, as he named his plane "Lou IV" after his only daughter.With thanks to many sources, not least to Scott Glover of the Mid America Flight Museum who contacted us in January 2016.