3 March 1945 — Prague, Czechoslovakia
1st Lt. Brooks Johnathan Liles was the pilot of the Mustang P-51D 10NA 44-14175 nicknamed “Sweet Marie II”. He was flying his 70th mission when he ran into some trouble. From MACR No. 12989, 1st Lt. Marvin Satenstein gave this first hand report:
At about 1300 hours on 3 March 1945, while cruising around at about 2,000 feet in the Prague (Czechoslovakia) area looking for targets of opportunity, Prague/Letnany (Klecany) airdrome was observed full of parked A/C. My flight, Red flight, and the remainder of Yellow flight decided to attack it. We did so, making our passes individually. On Lt. Liles’ pass from north to south he was hit on the right side of his engine by light flak from the guns at the southwest end of the field. I observed flame coming from the engine. Lt. Liles said that he had been hit. I was directly above and behind him and could see that he had the A/C under control but could not bet much power. He flew the A/C for about 3 or 4 miles south of the airdrome where he bellied it in successfully on an open field. I saw Lt. Liles get out of the A/C, just after it caught fire.
The remaining six A/C circled the spot, and Lt. Howes, Tudor Yellow 3, called over the R/T that he was going to land to try to pick up Lt. Liles. After one try, Lt. Howes made a successful landing in the same field. After discarding their parachutes both Howes and Liles were able to get into the aircraft. It appeared as if it was ha(r)d to get the plane started rolling from its parked position. As they started to roll, Howes called, “Gang keep your fingers crossed and we’ll make it.” The A/C rose into the air once, but apparently didn’t have enough flying speed because it settled to the ground again. The aircraft bounced into the air, dropped off on its left wing in a stalled attitude, and cart-wheeled to the left eventually flattening out. The A/C caught fire but when I buzzed the wreck I saw both Howe and Liles walking away in an easterly direction towards a large highway. Both pilots looked alright and they waved to me as I passed over them.”
According to Lt. Col. Robert M. Littlefield, who wrote the book Double Nickel – Double Trouble, Visalia, CA, Jostens Printing & Publications, 1993, ISBN 0-9623080-3-X, the history of the 55th Fighter Group, both Howes and Liles were close friends for many years. Howes was born on 1 December 1922 in Brockton, Massachusetts. They went to flight training together, their serial numbers were only 10 digits apart, they went overseas together and were assigned to the same 343rd Fighter Squadron in September 1944. They had agreed that if one went down the other would do everything in his power to come to the rescue of the other. Lt. Howe had already become an Ace with the 343rd having five kills before the events of 3 March 1945. On this day, 1st Lt. Bernard H. Howes (O-744710) was pilot of the P-51K 44-11370 “My Li’l Honey” with the markings CY-C.
After the war, Lt. Howes recalled that they both discarded their parachutes so they could squeeze into the single seat of the tiny cockpit. They began to take intense small arms fire from near the airdrome. The takeoff roll was good, but just prior to lift off there was a moment of hesitation and their plane struck a ditch, bounced into the air and cart-wheeled to a stop. Liles suffered a broken nose and other minor injuries. Howes received a severe blow to the forehead which resulted in a temporary blindness that lasted for two days. A single bullet had hit the throttle quadrant which reduced power at the critical time of take-off. The two ran for cover with Liles leading the blinded Howes by the hand. They were both caught by the Luftwaffe a number of hours later. They were taken to Prague and interrogated and received treatment in a local hospital. A move to Oberursel for further interrogation (where these photographs were taken) was followed by a short stay at Dulag Luft-Wetzlar, and after that to Stalag Luft III. They ended up at Stalag VIIA at Moosburg. Part of this gruelling experience was their 19 day march to Moosburg. Lt. Howe’s diet of bread and barley soup reduced his weight from 160 pounds to 126 pounds in the two months that he was imprisoned.