17.04.1945 Headquarters 55th Fighter Group, P-51D Mustang 44-72227 'Katydid', Lt Col. Elwyn G. Righetti, SS, DFC.
Operation: Bomber support (Mission #957), Dresden and strafing
Date: 17th April 1945 (Tuesday)
Unit: Headquarters 55th Fighter Group, 66th Fighter Wing, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51D Katydid
Base: Wormingford (Station #159), Essex, England
Location: 32 km NW of Dresden.
Pilot: Lt Col. Elwyn Guido Righetti, Silver Star (SS), DFC, O-396312 AAF Age 30. MiA/Died in captivity
He was credited with the destruction of 7 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, 1 shared, 1 probable, 2 damaged, and 27 destroyed on the ground. The latter fact made him the top strafing ace.
Above: P-51D 44-72227 CL:M of Lt Col. Elwyn G "Eager El" Righetti, Commanding Officer 55th Fighter Group. Replaced his earlier P-51 44-14223 similarly marked. (Credit: American Air Museum in Britain)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Above: Lt Col. Elwyn G. Righetti of the 338th Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group stands beside his P-51 Mustang, "Katydid". Print signed 'Best of everything your big loud Elwyn', 1944-1945. (Credit: Roger Freeman Collection, American Air Museum in Britain)
Above: Formal portrait shot of Lieutenant Elwyn G. Righetti, 1940 (Credit: Roger Freeman Collection, American Air Museum in Britain)
Pilots of the 338th Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, consult a map at Wormingford air base, 17 April 1945. In the centre is Lieutenant-Colonel Elwyn G. Righetti. (Credit: Roger Freeman Collection, American Air Museum in Britain)
An after mission witness statement by 1st Lt. Henry D. Carroll O-767225 describes the loss of Lt Col. Righetti and his aircraft
"I was flying Acorn White #2 position off Lt Col. Righetti’s wing. We broke and started looking for A/D’s (Air Deports). One was called out at ten o’clock. We let down under about 5/10 clouds with base at 5,000 feet and made one 360 degree port turn at 3,000 feet. Windsor called in and told the rest of White flight to orbit while he went down and checked for flak. I then called and asked if I could come down with him and he said yes. We were going across the north edge of the A/D at about 500 feet from east to west. One Fw190 was landing at the time from NE to SW, and he told me to go in after it since I was between him and the A/D. I made the pass and drove past the filed on the deck for about 3 miles evading flak. I then came back around and made a pass on a large field, which was a large dispersal area about one half mile NW of A/D. I pulled up and was orbiting A/D again when I saw a P-51 streaming coolant as he was making a pass on the field from west to east. I called him and told him. He called in saying “This is Windsor and I am hit bad, oil pressure dropping. I can’t make it back. I have enough ammo for one more pass".
He made one more pass from west to east destroying a Fw190. I called him telling him I was tracking on. He acknowledged say that he was heading out on 270 degrees. I was at about 3,000 feet and over-ran him due to excess speed gained while letting down. He was at six o’clock to me and I rolled out on 270 degrees. I chopped my throttle and when I looked back I couldn’t locate him. About 30 seconds later he called in saying, "I broke my nose but I am OK, I got nine today, tell my family I am OK, and it has been swell working with you". I made one orbit and couldn’t locate him on the ground. Being by myself I then headed out ".
Note: Windsor = 55th FG flight leader radio callsign
The airfield being strafed was Riesa-Canitz, located 62 km east of Leipzig and 42 km NW of Dresden. The airfield is located 4 km west of Riesa-Canitz.
On the 17th April 1945 the airfield was strafed by a low-level attack by 8th Air Force P-51s. Claimed 3 x Bf109s, 1 x Fw190 and 7 x unidentified aircraft destroyed, plus 1 x Fieseler (Fi) 156 damaged. (Luftwaffe Airfields 1935-45 German (137 Borders) by Henry L. deZeng IV).
After being hit Lt Col. Righetti headed out of the area on a heading of 270 degrees and crash-landed his Mustang to the SW of the Riesa-Canitz airfield and some 32 km NW of Dresden. This was on his 30th Birthday and 4 days before the end of hostilities.
His name was not posted in any PoW lists and at the end of hostilities his whereabouts could not be established because the area where he had come down was within the Soviet zone of occupation. Efforts by US Officials to gain access to the scene were frustrated by the Soviet authorities. From the limited inquiries that could be conducted it was assumed that Lt Col. Righetti had been killed by German civilians.
The Daily Oklahoman, dated Monday April, 30th 1945
This assumption was based upon the strong animosity felt by the Civilian population toward Allied airmen because of the number of casualties sustained through air attacks. It was also reported that he often carried a sidearm and his fellow pilots believed that he would not have hesitated to use it if threatened. However, his fate remains speculative as no grave has ever been located.
This animosity was particularly strong against low-level strafing pilots who had the reputation of indiscriminately attacking anything that moved. German propaganda made much of this and labelled them “Terrorflieger”, but it is also a fact that such lack of distinction between military and civilian targets did occur.
Above: Memorial Building at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium (Credit: American Battle Monuments Commission)
Col. Righetti was officially declared dead on the 18th April 1946.
Col. Elwyn Guido Righetti. DSC, SS, DFC (Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal (21 Oak Leaf Clusters (= 4 Silver)), Purple Heart. He is memorialised on the Tablets of the Missing at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium. Born on the 17th April 1915 in San Luis Obispo, California. Son of Guido Attilio and Elizabeth M. (née Renkert) Righetti. Husband to Edith Cathryn (née Davis) Righetti from San Antonio, Texas, USA.
Lt Col. Righetti was posthumously promoted to full Colonel (Col).
DSC Citation read: “Col. Elwyn G. Righetti, the United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) (Posthumously) for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-51 Fighter Airplane in the Headquarters, 55th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on April 17, 1945, flying escort for a bombing mission over Dresden, Germany. Colonel Righetti's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 8th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces."
Vanished Hero: The Life, War and Mysterious Disappearance of America's WWII Strafing King, by Jay A. Stout, Casemate Publishers, 2016. ISBN 10-1612003958.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz and dedicated to the family of this pilot. With thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ (Mar 2022).