The USAAF 370th Fighter Group at RAF Andover

The USAAF 370th Fighter Group was established in mid-1943 at Westover Field, Massachusetts, and comprised of the 401st, 402nd, and 485th fighter squadrons. The pilots were equipped and trained with P-47 Thunderbolts and then assigned to Ninth Air Force in England. However, upon arriving at RAF Andover in February 1944, they were given P-38 Lightnings to fly.

p38 lightning at Andover
Lieutenant Wirt of the 370th Fighter Group in the cockpit of his P-38 Lightning at Andover. Looking East, behind the P-38, was the road running East to West in and out of Andover Field.

The 370th Fighter Group did not become fully operational until the 1st of May 1944, due in part at least, to difficulties in coping with the unfamiliar aircraft. But once operational the 370th Fighter Group undertook a variety of missions including the dive-bombing of radar installations and flak towers, and escorting bombers that attacked bridges and marshalling yards in France as the Allies prepared for the invasion of the Continent. 

370th at Andover
Personnel of the 370th Fighter Group at Andover, possibly late February or March. Left to right: Powers, Christman, Babcock, Hugenien, Cragg, Ogrin, Looking east.

The three squadrons of the 370th FG also provided cover for Allied forces that crossed the English Channel on D-Day and flew armed reconnaissance missions over the Cotentin Peninsula until the end of the month.

Herb Forman at Andover, KIA on 23 May 1944.
Herb Forman at Andover, KIA on 23 May 1944.

The photo above shows Herbert Forman who served with the 401st Fighter Squadron. On 23 May 1944, he was Killed in Action flying a mission over Germany in P-38 42-68179. He is commemorated on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery.

The wreck of a P-38 Lightning of the 370th Fighter Group at Andover
The wreck of a P-38 Lightning of the 370th Fighter Group at Andover. 

On July 20, the 370th Fighter Group moved to their Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Cardonville, France (ALG A-3). The USAAF lost a total of thirty one P-38s from Andover before the move to France.

A P-38 Lightning of the 370th Fighter Group at Andover.
A P-38 Lightning of the 370th Fighter Group at Andover.

Photos from the 402nd Fighter Squadron at RAF Andover

Many of the photos and information below were originally provided to the now defunct Hampshire Airfields website by Mike Coenen whose father, Cyril Bernard “Cy” Coenen served with the 402nd Fighter Squadron at the RAF Andover airfield during WW2. 

Cy Coenen, born on January 6th 1919, joined the Army Air Corps after the Pearl Harbor attack and , having completed basic flight training in the South, trained on P-47s at Westover Field, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He then joined the 402nd Fighter Squadron.

Bradley Field p-47
Training in P-47s at Bradley Field.

The photo above was taken at Bradley Field in the United States during training in November or December of 1943 and shows the Squadron personnel. Mike’s father, who was the Squadron’s historian, is on the extreme left, second row.

Major Jim Tucker
Major Jim Tucker in front of his P-38 at Andover.

The photo above shows Major Jim Tucker, Commanding Officer of the 402nd Fighter Squadron in front of his aircraft. Major Tucker, who was with the group from its formation in the USA , was unfortunately killed in action on a mission to Chateaudun on August 10th 1944. He had a great sense of humour as can be seen by the nose art on his ship (the outhouse being struck by lightning).

P-38 Lightnings on dispersal at RAF Andover.
P-38 Lightnings on dispersal at RAF Andover.
Crew maintain at P-38 Lightning at Andover.
Crew maintain at P-38 Lightning at Andover.

The two pictures above show the 402nd Fighter Squadron dispersal area at Andover.This was on the south-west side of the airfield close to the railway line.

P-38s taking off from Andover.
P-38s taking off from Andover.

Above shows a line of P-38 Lightnings carrying out a magneto check before takeoff, either in May or June of 1944.

Peg O' My Heart II at Andover.
Peg O’ My Heart II at Andover.

Shown above is Peg O’ My Heart II. This was 1st Lt Coenen’s P-38 Lightning. The aircraft was named for his wife Peggy O’Neill. The original “Peg O’ my Heart ” was written off in a crash (possibly near Southend) on 23rd May 1944 after sustaining damage from ground fire while attacking a German train near Koblenz .

After the crash
After the crash.

Peg II was lost on September 6th 1944 when (by then) Captain Coenen was forced to bail out over St.Brieux in France whilst on an armed reconnaissance mission. The next photo above right shows the wreckage and Captain Coenen stood next to a french lady wearing his Mae West.

Captain Coenen completed his tour of duty on September 29, ending with a fighter sweep which took him over Aachen, Cologne, Nijmegen and Arnhem. He left the Ninth Air Force with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with eleven Oak Leaf Clusters, four battle stars and was Cited in the Order of the Day, Belgian Army. He retired from the United States Air Force Reserve with the rank of Colonel in 1967, after 27 years of military service.

He sadly died in a road accident on 2nd November 2000. Friends of his son, Mike, have visited the crash site at St Brieux but no trace remains of the wreckage.

RAF Andover in WW2
Airmen of the 402nd Fighter Squadron, 370th Fighter Group at RAF Andover in WW2.

The above photo shows some of the pilots of the USAAF 402nd Fighter Squadron sitting in front of the entrance to the BOQ at Andover. The picture, taken in early July 1944 shows a mix of original pilots and replacements.

The pilots are (back row left to right): Lt. William Osborne, Lt. Ian MacKenzie, Lt. Richard Lesselyong (killed upstairs in the BOQ on 7-11-44 when a live 20mm round that he kept on the marble mantle piece fell off and into the fire detonating and striking him in the forehead), Lt. Edward Weber (KIA 7-8-44), Lt. James Ward, Captain Gordon Roberts (Exec Officer), Lt. Virgil Mary (KIA over Sanborne 7-17-44), Lt. Albert Rovner (Comm Officer), Lt. Glenn Smeltzer (Arm Officer), Lt. Harry Marshall.

Front row- (left to right): Lt. Michael Stefanchick, Lt. Cyril B. Coenen (holding “High Ball” the Scottish Terrier), Major Joel Owens. Behind Major Owens are brothers Lt. John Stevens (KIA on 7-17-44 along with Virgil Mary in a mid air collision over Sanborne) and Lt. Harry Stevens. Next to Major Owens are Lt. Oscar Carlson, Lt. Mel Clark, Lt Clark Fitts (in front of Mel), Lt. Marshall Post and Lt. Ray Clark.

Below is a modern photo of the same building.

An existing building at RAF Andover airfield.
An existing building at RAF Andover airfield.

Below is a photo of Richard Lesselyoung who featured in the group photo above. On D-Day he piloted a P-38 Lightning from Andover and managed to down a Luftwaffe Me-109. But the way he died was so pointless. A so-far unverified account said he kept a live 20mm round on a marble mantlepiece at Andover airfield. It fell into the fire below, went off, and hit him in the head, killing him on July 11, 1944. He is buried at Cambridge American Cemetery.

Richard Lesselyoung
Richard Lesselyoung died on 11 July, 1944 at Andover.

The final three photos photos shown below, although not relevant to Andover airfield are included here as they first show Captain “Cy” Coenen, in the cockpit of his P-38 at Cardonville , France.

Coenen in the cockpit
Coenen in the cockpit of his P-38 in France

This next photo was taken at Florennes in Belgium in late September 1944. The 1000 pound bomb carries a personal greeting to the Germans.

Sending a message to the enemy

The final photo below shows Cy Coenen with his crew chief Jack Goforth in front of Peg O’ My Heart III at Florennes in Belgium.

Peg O’ My Heart III

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