The quiet of a Belgian morning is shattered by the growling Pratt and Whitney of Capt. David Baumeister's P-47 Thunderbolt 'The Shawnee Kid III', one of many from the 365th Fighter Group beginning their weaving journey along the patched up concrete taxiways at Advanced Landing Ground A-84 Chievres as they make their way to line up at the assigned runway ready to depart on a close support mission in October 1944. Watching on is a member of the Hell Hawks' ground crew who has settled down in the grass with aching limbs after another long stretch through the night making repairs to his assigned aircraft and prepping it ready for today's mission. In the days after the D-Day Invasion the 9th Air Force's many Fighter Groups began to relocate from southern England to temporary airfields within the Allied foothold in mainland Europe and the schedule of operations flown by these units in support of the ground troops often seemed relentless. The nature of the battle was fluid and this frequently meant that the personnel and their equipment had to move rapidly from one airfield to another as further territory was recaptured from the enemy. In the summer of 1944 the airfields were often hastily constructed affairs on farmland close to the Normandy landing beaches, but by the time of this scene, the 365th Fighter Group had progressed across France and over the border to its fourth home in three months, the Belgian airfield at Chievres. Chievres was a well established airfield, but in the preceding months it had been hammered by the USAAF while it had been home to the Luftwaffe's JG26 fighter unit and as a result, extensive repairs had to be completed by the IX Engineering Command before its new 9th Air Force owners could commence operations.
Capt. Baumeister's P-47D Thunderbolt 42-28276 C4-B of the 388th Fighter Squadron sports a dramatic painting of a Shawnee Chief on either side of the engine cowl and by this stage of 1944, the once extensive D-Day invasion recognition markings have been progressively reduced to leave only a small section under the fuselage. Loaded up with fresh ammo and topped tanks, along with a combination of two 500lb GP bombs on the wing racks and some extra juice in the 75 gallon drop tank slung under the centre line, the aircraft is sitting low on its haunches with the minimum of ground clearance.
Baumeister had joined the 365th Fighter Group back in September 1943, but temporarily transferred to the 4th Fighter Group at Debden in the Spring of 1944 where he flew several missions before returning to his original unit. The 365th was twice awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation and accounted for the destruction of a vast quantity of enemy ground targets along with over 250 aerial victories with Baumeister adding one to their tally on 18th July 1944. Baumeister continued to fly operations with his unit right up to the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, but was to sadly lose his life in a post war flying accident at Wright Field in 1949 flying an F-51.