26 February 1945 — Zupthen, Netherlands
The 20th Fighter Group, 79th Fighter Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 367, Kingscliffe, England. Located twelve miles west of Peterborough, Kingscliffe aerodrome was the most northerly and furthest west of all Eighth Air Force fighter stations. Originally a grass surfaced runway, a new 5,100 foot main runway with two intersecting runways, several blister type hangers and several barracks were built so that the 20th Fighter Group could begin operations in late December 1943. With their P-51 Mustangs, the group completed 312 combat missions by the end of the war.
232 P-51s took off this day from King’s Cliff airfield to escort 446 B-17s on their bombing mission to railroad facilities in and around Berlin. Two P-51s were lost. One was the Mustang “Lil Bit.” 1st Lt. Ralph Dahlstrom Whitley (O-710804) was pilot of the Mustang P-51D 44-13846 “Lil Bit.” MC-C on a black rectangel with white C markings identified the aircraft. At about 14:30 hours, Whitley was over Belgium and ran out of fuel. While attempting to return home, he made was forced to land near Lochem bridge over the River Exel, 15 kilometers east of Zupthen, Netherlands. Missing Air Crew Report 12767 was filed when he failed to return to base. 2nd Lt. James W. Hahn, an eyewitness, had made radio contact with Whitley, was told he was OK and even saw Whitley wave as he departed the downed aircraft. Later recovered German records M 183 J 3137 reported the downed aircraft occurred at 14:45 hours.