Photo: "Fighter Aces of the USA"
Here's a photo of Lt. Richard Gomez Candelaria as a member of the 435th Fighter Squadron, 479th Fighter Group courtsey of the 479th FG Museum.
On April 7th, 1945, elements of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, Air Divisions of the 8th Air Force bomber command with their escorts flew across the European continent to bomb their assigned targets in Germany, as the formation of Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24’s were heading towards their targets, allied radio listening posts were picking up the instructions that were being issue to the German fighters,that were taking off to intercept the attacking force.
What they heard was the voice of a German woman, telling the German fighter pilots to engage and destroy the much hated “Viermot” (four-engine bombers), that had brought death and destruction to the Fatherland, and to avenge the death of their love ones, by ramming into the incoming bombers !!!
What the allies were listening to, were the instructions that were being given to about 120 BF-109G’s and K’s of “Schulungslehrgang Elbe”(training Course Elbe), a volunteer unit formed from inexperience volunteer fighter pilots, under the command of Oberst. Hajo Herrman (An ex-bomber pilot, who later flew as a night fighter pilot, the creator of the “Wilde Sau” method of night fighting and current commander of 9 Fliegerdivision, with 9 allied bombers to his credit, he would later be captured by the Soviets and held Prisioner of war, for about ten years).
His plan was to launch these light weight fighter, unarmored, virtually unarmed, with only one MG 131 with 50 rounds in the cowling, with the objective of ramming into a US bomber, using their propellers to hit the tail of the bomber, and hopefully the German pilot would bail out and return to base.
Oberst Hermann plan was to inflict a massive number of losses on the bomber formations, to cause the allies to suspend temporary daylight bombing, so the Luftwaffe could bring in more Me-262’s jet fighters into service.
A majority of the German pilots were inexperience, that groups were led by experience pilots, to help guide them towards the bomber formations, while the Me-262’s would take care of the escorting fighters.
By the end of the day, about 53 “Elbe” aircraft had been shot-down by the defending fighter escorts, with the death of about 30 to 40 pilots. (Other sources put the death toll to 77 German pilots). In return about 13 bombers were reported loss to ramming attacks while three more were lost to Me-262’s and one to flak. (While the German people were told in the army bulletins that 64 bombers, had been brought down by ramming!!)
The only losses suffered by the defending fighters were 5 North American P-51 Mustangs, three to friendly fire (One pilot being killed and two taken POW), plus two more lost in reported bad weather near Bremen, with both pilots being killed, while German sources claim that three P-51’s, were shot-down by German fighters.
The most notable “Elbe “ pilot was Unteroffizer Heinrich Rosner of III/JG.102, who brought down two B-24’s of the 389th Bomb Group, he rammed the B-24 flown by the group commander Colonel John B. Herboth, this collided with the B-24 flown by the deputy group commander, as both bombers went down, Rosner managed to bail out, we he woke up, he had landed among farm buildings and after receiving medical aid he returned to Stendal, one of the 29 pilots of the operations participants that reported back, while many others lay Dead or Wounded in hospitals in Northern Germany.
In return the American fighter pilots claimed the destruction of 58 German aircraft shot-down 5 probables and 11 damaged, among the top scorers was a certain 1st Lieutenant of possible Hispanic heritage that would become the only “Ace” for his fighter squadron on that particular day against the “Elbe” group, and who came close to be an Ace in a Day.
This honor fell upon 1st Lieutenant Richard Gomez Candelaria of the 435th Fighter Squadron of the 479th Fighter Group, who would claim four BF-109’s and one Me-262 probable.
THE TOP SCORER
Candelaria, was born on July 14th, 1922 in Pasadena, California, he joined the U.S. Army Reserves, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and received his wings on February 8th, 1944 at Williams Field, Arizona, he joined the 479th Fighter Group on September 22nd, 1944.
This particular fighter group, was assigned to the 8th Air Force since its arrival in May 1944 in Scotland, the unit initially flew the Lockheed P-38J twin-engine fighter, the group was assigned to the 65th Fighter Wing and was the last fighter group to be assigned to the VIII Fighter Command.
They would be assigned to the 2nd Bomb Division, and finally to the 2nd Air Division with the 65th Fighter Wings in January 1945.
The 479th made its first operational mission on May 26th, 1944 with two fighter sweeps along the Dutch coast, while flying the Lockheed P-38J Lightnings from May to October 1944 the 479th would claim 52-2-13 German aircraft in the air and 102 destroyed and 66 damaged on the ground.
With the arrival of the North American P-51D’s and K’s, its reported that Lt. Candelaria was assigned a P-51K squadron code J2-K, s/n.44-11755, which was named “My Pride And Joy”, his crew chief was T/Sgt. Leslie A. Mullen and the armourer was Sgt. Morris Gohring.
Lt. Candelaria opened his scorecard on December 5th, 1944 on a mission to support the bombers to hit targets in the Berlin and Munster area, a total of 89-13-20 where claimed in the air with 2 damaged aircraft on the ground.
While US losses were 18 P-51’s with 10 pilots listed as KIA and 8 taken POW (10 P-51’s were lost to enemy fighters and 1 to ground fire). On that day Lt. Candelaria shot-down 2 FW-190’s, about NW of Berlin. While his squadron, the 435th shot-down 3 more German aircraft, 1 damaged and one damaged Me-262 on the ground.
On March 3rd, 1945, Lt. Candelaria with Lt. B.C. Means attacked German aircraft on the ground at Dummer Lake. Candelaria claimed 3 BF-109’s damaged on the ground, while Lt. Means claimed a BF-109 destroyed on the ground.
But his big day would be on April 7th while protecting the bombers from Schulungslehrgang Elbe , while other sources claim was Sonderkommando Elbe.
“ I HAVE A BUNCH OF GERMANS CORNERED!”
This statement is reportedly what Lt. Candelaria radioed to his squadron mates on that particular day as noted in the book: “The Last flight of the Luftwaffe” by Adrian Weir:
“…..one of the 435th FS pilots searched the sky around him for signs of contrails. Already feeling alone 1st Lieutenant Richard G. Candelaria had lost contact with the rest of his flight and on reaching the rendezvous with the bombers had decided to attach himself to the low squadron of Liberators. Finding no signs of the German fighters, Candelaria held his position and held on his tanks. Little did he know that he was about to experience a day to remember.”
While other elements from his squadron were engaging a rotten of Me-262’s in which a jet fighter was shot-down by Capt. Verner E. Hooker. Candelaria would be in the fight of his life.
“From his position alongside the lower bombers, Lieutenant Candelaria was at last alerted to the presence of the jets when the bombers began to fire flares as a general warning to the rest of the group.”
“Spotting a pair of Me-262’s which had started to climb back towards the bombers, he turned towards the jets, facing the leading aircraft head-on. Hoping to divert the jets from their approach, Candelaria must have began to have doubts as to the wisdom of his move as the rotten made no attempt to alter its course.”
“With only fractions of a second separating the fighters from a collision, the Me-262 pushed his aircraft into a shallow dive beneath the Mustang. In a very unusual move, Lieutenant Candelaria tried to drop his tanks on to the jet below, them half-rolled his fighter into a position on its tail just as the German pilot opened fire on the bombers”.
With the drop tanks tactic having no effect, Candelaria opted for his more conventional armament and let loose a burst which scored direct hits on both fuselage and wings.
With the fighter still in his sights, his concentration was broken by the sight of streams of red and white tracers, the size of golf balls flashing past him.”
At that moment the second Me-262 was right behind him and firing on him, before he could free himself from the danger, he receive hits on his aircraft right wing, luckly the damage was not serious.
“At the same time the leading jet broke to the left and entered a half-roll which became a steep dive with smoke trailing behind. Hoping to catch the second jet Candelaria attempted to haul his fighter into a turn, but the jet was diving at high speed, perhaps in a attempt to assist his crippled Kamerad.”
Candelaria was later given a probable Me-262 destroyed, it appeared later that the jets were being used to draw away the escort fighters away from the bombers, so that the Elbe pilots would commence their attack runs, with no problems from the escorting P-51’s.
Formation of P-51's of the 435th FS over Europe.
At that particular moment the 434th Fighter Squadron received the warnings from a lone pilot who had spotted a formation of about 15 BF-109’s heading directly towards the bombers, as the pilots of the 434th immediately headed at full speed to assist the lone pilot, that had given the warning, that pilot Lt. Candelaria was preparing to meet the attack.
The enemy formation consisted of three four aircraft flights lead by a experience leader, Candelaria decided to attack the nearest flight leader, but this tuned out to be a very competent German fighter pilot.
Candelaria tried to put himself in the best firing position, as he followed after the the flight leader BF-109, he noted that the rest of the flight did not attemped to fire on him or even the bombers they simply followed the leader, as he made several passes on the bomber, which he shot-down one of the bombers.
Its guessed that the flight was formed from pilots of the “Elbe: group but probably lead by pilots from JG 300 and JG 301, and the aircraft that Candelaria was following had enough conventional ammunition to carry out a conventional attack on the bomber formation and flown by a experience pilot, but he failed to notice the P-51 that was right behind him as he was firing on the bombers even rolling his fighter.
“With mounting frustation Candelaria chased after the BF-109 and for a split moment found him in his sights. The luck of the Luftwaffe pilot had finally run out: the brief burst of fire struck his fighter. Perhaps in order to escape the confines of the bomber stream to concentrate on the annoying American.”
“The BF-109 broke away from the B-24’s with his formation remaining in close contact. None of the other BF-109’s made any attempt to intercept the P-51, which reinforces the belief that they were very inexperienced in the techniques of aerial combat.”
“The leading BF-109 now aware that the Mustang on his tail was out for blood, would have to fend for himself and eliminate the danger by his own skills. However with a number of aircraft in close proximity he selected the wrong direction to attempt a roll and the battery of Browning machine guns being aimed at him unleashed a burst of hot metal which ripped into the Messerschmitt.”
With a trail of smoke and coolant erupting from the BF-109, panic erupted amongst the now Leaderless Schwarn. Breaking their formation, they belatedly attempted to discourage Lieutenant Candelaria but the damage had already been done and the leading BF-109 continued to lose altitude until the pilot jumped free at about 2,000 ft.”
The leaderless flight formation tried to hit or chase away Candelaria, that a second “Schwarn” leader arrived to assist them, but the German pilot misjudge his speed and overshot the Mustang, which put him in the center of Candelaria’s K-14 gun sight, Candelaria opened fire after firing a short burst, the German pilot cut his speed that the two fighter found themselves flying side by side. Candelaria looked over to the BF-109 and saw the German pilot bailed out.
Now with two “Schwarn” with no flight leaders, there was now confusion with the German fighters, now the subject of attention of many BF-109’s Candelaria continued to fight it out.
“Able to out-turn his pursuers, he again opened fire and almost instantly a third BF-109 stalled out and the pilot jumped free. A fourth BF-109 followed only seconds later as the pilot lost control of his fighter attempting to follow the Mustang. This Luftwaffe pilot was trapped in his wildly spinning machine as it crashed to earth.”
“As Candelaria claimed this fourth BF-109, his fifth victim of the day, help finally arrived as other P-51’s reached the bombers. The first pilots to arrived included 1st Lieutenant Charles Heathman and William Barksky who were both in position to observe the final moments of Candelaria’s combat and confirm the burning wreckage of four BF-109’s all within a radius of less than five miles.”
This combat is reported to have taken place between 1225 to 1230 hours.
After his hectic aerial combat, Candelaria decide not to risked it and stayed with this Group of pilots for the remainder of the mission, later in his after combat report he credits the arrival of these P-51’s that saved him for the surviving Bf-109s.
For this particular mission Lt. Candelaria achieved the status of “Ace” with a score of six German aircraft destroyed plus one probable, while the rest of the 435th fighter Squadron put in claims for one Bf-109 and one Me-262 shot down by Capt. V. E. Hooker, while the rest of the 479th claimed 4 more Bf-109s plus one Me-262 shot down plus one more damaged.
But on April 13th 1945 the Germans got even with Lt. Candelaria, while straffing a German airfield South of Tarnewitz , he was shot-down by ground fire, while flying his P-51K “My Pride and Joy” as reported by Capt. Theo J. Sowrby of the 435th fighter squadron:
“I was leading lakeside on a dive straffing pass on Tarnewitz airfield at 1630 hours on the 13th of April. On pulling up after the first run Lt. Candelaria called me on the radio and asked if he could make another pass as he had something spotted. I OK and he started a shallow dive 30 degress from the bay in toward the airfield. We picked up a lot of flack and soon called on the radio that he had been hit and had no oil pressure and asked for the best steer for friendly territory. I told him to fly 200 degrees which he did for about five (5) minutes. He them called and said his ship was pretty hot and guessed he would have to bail out. This was right near the town of Wittenburg. He bailed out O.K. and on reaching the ground ran into some near by woods. There was no traffic or persons seen near by. His plane exploded in the woods some ways to the North of where he landed in his chute. I think that Lieut. Candelaria had made good chance to escape.”
But Lt. Candelaria was captured and reportedly taken to a POW camp. But other sources say that he and a RAF aircrew man managed to escape by taking a German Officer hostage and driving his staff car westward, reaching an approaching British armor unit.
After the war is reported that Candelaria became a restaurant owner in California, serving better food that the he had at the POW camp and served in the Air National Guard, reaching the rank of Colonel. He is reported to be living in California.
KNOWN SUCCESFULL SCHULUNGESLEHRGANG ELBE PILOTS
Rank and Name Former Unit e/a Unit Status
Uffz. Heinrich Rosner. (ex-III/JG.102). 2 B-24 389thBG.
Obfw. Werner Linder. (ex-EJG.1). 1 B-17 388th BG KIA
Fhr.Eberhard Prock 1 B-17 452nd BG KIA Shot-while descending in his parachute.
Fw.Reinhold Hedwig 1 B-17 452nd BG. KIA
Shot-down by 339FG P-51’s.
Uffz.Werner Zell 1 B-17 452nd BG WIA Shot-down by P-51’s.
Ogfr.Horst Siedel 1 B-17 452nd BG KIA
Lt. Hans Nagel (ex-IV/JG.102) 1 B-17 490th BG KIA Shot it down by conventional armament, damaged a second B-17 by ramming .
Uffz. Klaus Haus 1 B-17 WIA
Unknown BF-109 pilot 1 B-17 100th BG KIA
Unknown BF-109 pilot 1 B-17 490th BG KIA
KNOWN AMERICAN BOMBER LOSSES BY RAMMING.
3RD AIR DIVISION
388TH BG 2 Ramming attack
452nd BG 1 Ramming attack + 3 to fighter attack.
100th BG 1 Ramming attack + 1 Rammed damaged RTB.
385th BG 1 Ramming attack
490th BG 1 Ramming attack + 1 landed in Continent
487th BG 1 Ramming attack damaged landed in Belguim.
2ND AIR DIVISION
389th BG 1 Ramming attack
Total Bomber Losses:
2AD: 3 B-24’s
3AD: 14 B-17’s
Minus one to Flak, one to accidental bombing and 3 to Me-262 jet fighters, its is calculated that 13 bombers were destroyed by Elbe Pilots.
VICTORIES CLAIMED BY THE 479TH FIGHTER GROUP ON APRIL 7TH 1945
Rank & Name Claims Location
434TH Fighter Squadron:
Maj. Robert Olds 1 BF-109 +1 Me-262 Damaged Dummer L-Bremen
Lt. G.E. Jacobson 1 BF-109 Celle
Lt. R.L. Munson 1 BF-109 Celle
Lt. J.K. Nagel 1 BF-109 Soltau
Lt. H.O. Thompson 1 Me-262 Luneburg
435th Fighter Squadron:
Lt. R.G. Candelaria 4 BF-109 + 1 Me-262 probable SW Luneburg
Capt. V.E. Hooker 1 BF-109 + 1 Me-262 SE Bremen
SHORT HISTORY OF THE 479TH FIGHTER GROUP “Riddle’s Raiders”
The 479th Fighter Group was activated on October 15,1943 at Glendale, California, with the 434th, 435th, and 436th Fighter Squadrons, after arriving in the ETO the 479th, flew the Lockheed P-38J’s Lightning twin engine fighters and later the North American P-51D and K models from September 1944 to the end of the war. With the P-51’s the group claimed 103-11-26 in the air and 166 destroyed and 95 damaged enemy aircraft on the ground plus flying a total of 351 combat missions.
On the debit side the 479th suffered 77 aircraft lost and 16 pilots killed during the war. This unit received the Distinguish Unit Citation for its actions while strafing enemy airfields on August 18th, and 5th and 26th September, and air combat near Munster September 26th 1944. Other Claims to fame accredited to the group was the last FG to Join the 8th Air Force, the first unit to fight enemy jet fighters, on 29 July 1944, when Capt. Arthur F. Jeffery shot-down a Me-163 Komet jet fighter.
The 479th also claimed the last air to air victory claimed by the 8th Air Force, during the war, when Lt. Hilton Thompson of the 434th FS shot-down an Ar-234 jet bomber on April 25th, 1945.
After the end of the war the 479th, returned to the USA and was inactivated at Camp Kilmer New Jersey on December 1st 1945.
479th Fighter Group Aces
Lt. Col. Arthur F. Jeffrey 434th FS 14 aerial
Maj. Robin Olds 434th FS 13 aerial and 11 ground victories
Capt. George W. Gleason 434th FS 12 aerial and 2.5 ground victories
Lt. Richard G. Candelaria 435th FS 6 aerial victories
SOURCES AND REFERENCES:
THE LAST FLIGHT OF THE LUFTWAFFE, THE
SUICIDE ATTACK ON THE EIGHT AIR FORCE, 7 APRIL 1945 by Adrian
Weir. Cassell Military Paperbacks. 1997.
FIGHTER UNITS & PILOTS OF THE 8TH AIR FORCE. September 1942- May 1945, Day to Day Operations- Fighter Group Histories by Kent D. Miller. Schiffer Military History book.
STARS AND BARS A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace 1920-1973 by Frank Olynyk, Grub Street, London.
USAF HISTORICAL STUDY NO.85 USAF CREDITS FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF ENEMY AIRCRAFT, WORLD WAR II. AFSHRC Air University Office of Air Force History HQ USAF 1978.
MACR #13904 Lt. Richard G.Candelaria POW 13 April 1945.
AIR WAR EUROPA, America’s Air War Agaisnt Germany in Europe and North Africa 1942-1945 by Eric Hanmel.
ACES & WINGMEN Men, Machines of the United States Army Air Force, Eight Fighter Command and 345th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, 1943-5. by Danny Morris.Neville Spearman.
MIGHTY EIGHT WAR DIARY by Roger A. Freeman.
EAGLE’S WINGS, The Autobiography of a Luftwaffe Pilot by Hajo Herrmann, Motorbooks International.
GREEN HEARTS, FIRST IN COMBAT WITH THE DORA 9, The Men of III/JG54 and JG26 Unite in Defense of their Homeland 1944-1945 by Axel Urbanke.
ACES OF THE EIGHT by Gene B.Stafford and William N. Hess, Squadron/ Signal Publications.
FIGHTER ACES OF THE LUFTWAFFE by Col. Raymond F. Toliver, USAF (ret) & Trevor J. Constable. Schiffer Military History book.
Side view of a P-51D of the 435th FS, 479th FG
Profile: "Aces & Wingmen"
2001.07.12, © WW II Ace Stories.