Early Life

Flying for Canada

Flying the Spitfire and Mustang

D-Day Dog Fight

Flights After D-Day

Battle of the Bulge

Second Dog Fight Victory

Reconnaissance Flights

Dog Fights Over Germany

War's End

Korean War

Reflections

Annotation

Clyde East was born in 1921 on a Virginia tobacco farm. He had eight brothers and sisters. His father was a share cropper who eventually bought his own farm. Many of the young men of the area worked in the fields as soon as they physically could. East completed his high school education. When World War II commenced in September 1939, his interest in flying made him investigate joining the Air Force. In the early days of the war, East kept up with much of the air warfare from both the Allied and Axis sides. He read books about pilots and the aircraft used. He was familiar with both British and German pilots from his readings. He wanted to join the Air Force but being on a tobacco farm, his opportunities were not great. He did not see much of a chance to fly an airplane, but the onset of the Second World War in 1939 changed that. The Battle of Britain made an impact on him. Every day, he checked losses and victories of each side. He kept up on status of major pilots. When East graduated from high school he was familiar with the war events. He and a friend thought they would go to Canada and become pilots. Americans were being trained there from early in the war. The age limit for Air Force in the United States was 19 or 20 and half years of age. East did not meet that requirement, but he did meet the needs of Canadian Air Force. The stipulations for their enlistment had been sent to him and he met the requirements. He joined the Air Force in Canada.

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Clyde East experienced a slow training program after entry into the Canadian Air Force. He was in flying school during the Pearl Harbor attack [Annotator’s Note: on 7 December 1941]. The United States joined the war so some Americans left by walking off and going back to the States. The age limits may have been changed by that time [Annotator’s Note: the age limit in the United States Army Air Forces had been 18 or 19 and a half years of age when East was accepted by the Canadian Air Force at an earlier age]. East was pleased with the way training was going so he remained in the Canadian Air Force and received his wings in November 1942. He was transferred to England and selected as an officer. It surprised him because 90 percent of the graduates were made sergeants. He also received an overseas assignment with the stipulation that he was a fighter pilot in training. That was what he wanted. He trained on the Fleet Biplane which was similar to some of the World War II fighters. It was a little more reliable than that. Halfway through his training East was switched to the Tiger Moth which was a British design from the 1920s. There was a newly added canopy which helped with flying in severe cold weather conditions in Canada. East managed to train with both planes then went to the AT-6 Harvard. The AT-6 was what he used to complete his training and receive his wings. At this point, he was in the Canadian Air Force and wore a Canadian uniform. The training program for the Americans was no different than that for the Canadians. When he reached England, he went into training as a Mustang [Annotator’s Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft] pilot. He flew a Mustang with the Canadians while in England. The Eighth Air Force had just received the latest version of the Mustang. East decided to transfer to the United States Army Air Forces. He did so in January 1944. That was after two and a half years with the Canadian Air Force. There was no complication in the transfer. East joined the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. The 15th was flying Spitfires at the time of his transfer. Soon, Mustangs were brought in for them. East had trained with the Canadian Air Force in central England near Chester. It was terrific training by both the Canadians and the RAF [Annotator’s Note: British Royal Air Force]. American Air Force training was similar. By Pearl Harbor, there were ten percent American trainees in Canada. After Pearl Harbor, Canada did not allow Americans to enlist but none of the Americans in training were sent home. By the time East transferred, less than five percent remained in the Canadian Air Force. Those were the individuals without combat training. If the prospective transferee had not been combat trained, the United States Army Air Forces did not want them. East was welcomed because he had extensive combat training. East was stationed at a major prewar civil air base at Gatwick. It's now an international airport.

Annotation

Clyde East was provided a week of instruction after his transfer to the United States Army Air Forces. That was to acclimatize him to the particulars of the American military. Following that, he was sent to the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron near Salisbury, England. He was competent in fighters at the time and enjoyed flying the Spitfire. He acquired over 200 hours in that aircraft before he was equipped with the new Mustang [Annotator’s Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft]. Although the Mustang was a better fighter, the Spitfire had proven itself in the Battle of Britain. It had a good reputation against the German planes of the 1942 and 1943 period, but was dated by 1944. As a result, East never flew combat missions in Spitfires. After picking up his Mustang, East was assigned to Middle Wallop. That was in preparation for the invasion of 6 June 1944 [Annotator’s Note: the Normandy D-Day invasion]. Prior to that day, he had completed 25 or 30 missions in the Mustang. He knew it was the best aircraft he ever flown. It could challenge with any German airplane. After the Mustangs arrived in Europe, the Eighth Air Force experienced reduced bomber loss rates that were more acceptable than earlier. The first 25 or 30 missions in the Mustang involved reconnaissance photograph missions. It involved low altitude ground observations captured on film. This was in preparation for the invasion. The pilots were allowed to act as fighter aircraft. They could fire on targets of opportunity but their primary objective was to take photographs. Military information would be gleaned from the pictures. Some enemy aircraft were met but not many offered opposition until D-Day. On D-Day, the first mission in the late afternoon, East and his wingman encountered a flight of four Fw-190s. Three enemy aircraft were thought to have been shot down; however, only two could be confirmed. East and his wingman were credited for one victory each. That was two of the four enemy planes shot down that day. That made quite a bit of news in the military and back home in the newspapers. D-Day was a big thing and those victories were great news. That was the start of East’s rather unusual career in fighter combat. On 5 June the airmen were brought in for a briefing that revealed some of the details of the impending invasion. The pilots were assured that they would have a very active day. When the men went back to their respective squadrons, more details were provided on their individual roles. The morning fog the next day, delayed the start of flights but the haze lifted by late morning. Early on, East served as base runway alert to intercept any German air response. There was none. By late afternoon, East was flying with his regular wingman on his first mission well south of the invasion beaches. With Daylight Savings Time, there was plenty of daylight left for their two hour mission to observe enemy road and rail traffic in the invasion zone. There was little traffic. The Germans did not react as expected. An hour into the flight as East and his wingman were turning back for England, they observed the four enemy fighters and confronted them. The most interesting part of the flight was observing the invasion fleet and the activity over the American invasion beaches of Omaha and Utah. It was unforgettable and probably will never happen again. Surprisingly, the Germans never mounted a serious counterattack against the invasion fleet or the resisted the Allied aircraft that protected the ships and the troops.

Annotation

Clyde East and his wingman engaged four enemy fighters as they flew along a railroad they were assigned to observe. His wingman spotted the planes. East suspected they were friendly planes. There was no indication by Allied intelligence that day of any German air resistance the day of the invasion [Annotator’s Note: the Normandy D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944]. An enemy Messerschmitt Me-109 aircraft shot down earlier that day was the first German to be downed. East shot down the second. His wingman eliminated the third. A British pilot in a Typhoon would get the fourth and final German plane shot down on the day of the invasion. Three of the four downed Germans were shot down by East’s squadron. That was a matter of pride for his fellow squadron mates. Getting the first kill was a thrill and somewhat unbelievable. The German was surprised, and after only a short encounter, he was shot down. It was a thrill because East had worked toward that goal for months and months. It was an incredible experience. The Allied side fielded some 1500 aircraft and the great majority had no enemy air contact. There were only four enemy planes destroyed that day.

Annotation

After D-Day, Clyde East and the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron began to work in a rather routine fashion. The pilots covered the Normandy battlefields and worked with Army controllers. The 15th provided advanced information on the outlook of enemy activities ahead of the front lines. The front was normally well defined so the reconnaissance pilots knew where the enemy positions were located. Best efforts were made to advise the troops on the ground as to what they could anticipate ahead of them. This was the first experience with ground support for many of the pilots. The requirements to support the troops were new but came to them fairly rapidly. The major emphasis was to assist the Army on things they could not see or had not yet encountered. Tanks and road blocks would be of particular concern to the men on the ground. Flights were mostly in the proximity of the front lines although on occasion some missions reached well beyond the immediate front. Those further flights were intended to see what threats the Germans had over the horizon. The information would be communicated to the ground troops to aid them in preparation. It was easy to determine the enemy threats as their tanks looked quite different from the Allied tanks. By 6 July [Annotator’s Note: 6 July 1944], East was called in by his commander and told that he would be allowed to return to the United States for a 30 day leave. East mildly protested that he was finally in the war and was not prepared to leave when he had just started in the action. The commander insisted that East take the time away from the battlefields. East returned to the States and was home for about three months between July and October. While in the States, East was ready to return to combat; however, he did take the time to marry a Canadian girl that he had met while he served in the Canadian Air Force. He had two weeks of honeymoon but afterward reluctantly returned to Europe. He had learned that life with his new wife could be very appealing. East would not see his wife for two years after his departure. Upon returning to Europe, East’s squadron had moved to Saint-Dizier which was near Switzerland. The squadron was supporting General Patton’s [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton] Third Army which was moving quite fast. During the early Fall, supplies became an issue and Patton’s advance slowed down.

Annotation

Clyde East stayed with the 15th Squadron [Annotator’s Note: 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron] and continued his combat flights through the very cold winter of 1944 and 1945. Just prior to the Battle of the Bulge, East encountered a German airplane which he destroyed. On 16 December in the area of the Battle of the Bulge, East and his wingman were flying a reconnaissance mission but did not notice the movement of enemy troops. The Germans made their movements at night so that daytime flyovers could not detect them. On the first real day of battle, East’s wingman spotted a German airplane on his flight commander’s tail. The wingman shot down the German before he could damage East. With the terrible weather that held on for over a week, the Allied air power was not able to support the ground troops. It was not until Christmas Eve that the weather cleared and the Allied air power could be brought to bear. Thousands of German tanks and guns were destroyed by the Allies either through fighter-bomber or artillery concentration. The battle was lost by the Germans as soon as the weather cleared.

Annotation

Clyde East shot down his second German fighter just prior to the Battle of the Bulge near Frankfurt, Germany. He was on a long range reconnaissance mission at the time. On the mission, East noticed a single German airplane flying along the Autobahn. He looked like he knew where he was going but followed the highway to be sure to get there. East dropped down and shot down the enemy plane. It is the only case that East knows where the name of the enemy pilot who was shot down is known by the pilot who gunned him down. The plane was a 109 [Annotator’s Note: Messerschmitt Me-109] which was a good airplane. It was not as advanced as the plane he had shot down earlier [Annotator’s Note: the first plane that East shot down was a Focke Wulf FW-190]. The surviving pilot in the 109 contacted The Fighter Aces Association and mentioned the circumstances of his downing by a Mustang [Annotator’s Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft]. In tracing it back, East was the only plane along with his wingman in the area. Without a doubt, it was East who shot him down. Other instances have been similarly researched, but this was the only case where there is certainty on the name of the pilot who fired the guns and the pilot who was shot down.

Annotation

The sole duty of Clyde East and his squadron during the Battle of the Bulge was to perform reconnaissance flights in support of the troops on the ground. They were committed to saving the lives of the soldiers below [Annotator’s Note: East was a pilot flying a North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft with the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron]. The reconnaissance pilots wanted to do as much as possible for the men on the ground. There were hundreds of planes over the area at the time. A located target would get immediate attention by P-47s [Annotator’s Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber aircraft]. The P-47s would come up with their bombs and eight machine guns and wipe out the enemy. Every day the situation got better and better. It was an interesting but dangerous period. One pilot was shot down twice in a short time. He got a seven day leave after the second downing. The stated mission of the squadron was to make ground observations to the limit of the pilot’s ability. Getting the right count and location on the enemy was important. If possible, confirmation of the information with a photograph was preferred. There was a camera that fired out of the left side of the airplane. Marks on the wing help provide orientation. There was also a camera that could fire vertically. Either option was available to the pilot based on best and safest shot. As soon as the pilot determined a valuable target, a position call-in and photograph should be made. A report would be turned in to confirm the value of the target. Most of the target opportunities turned out to be very good. There were some occasions where the pilot misjudged the opportunity so that not all missions were successful. The control system for the cameras was immediately in front of the pilot. It was rare to need shots from both cameras simultaneously. Usually, the vertical camera shot was best to capture the target.

Annotation

In late January or early February [Annotator’s Note: late January or early February 1945] the Battle of the Bulge ended and Clyde East and his squadron had to cover the front lines to help the fighting troops. Another mission requirement would be to range out far ahead to see what enemy strength could be anticipated in the next few days. East preferred to take the longer range flights. Those long range missions were the ones when East got most of his victories against enemy aircraft. Getting deeper into Germany, he found enemy pilots in training and the last of the Luftwaffe reserves. During February and March, he encountered numerous planes and was able to shoot many of them down. Some enemy aircraft spotted him first and fled. A few times, East was attacked. East always flew as the flight commander with a wingman. He was able to choose the missions he wanted to fly. That was when he got the deep penetration flights. He never worried about being attacked because he knew he had a better plane. Additionally, his wingman was always a competent pilot. Quite a few pilots were not as lucky during that time. The winter and spring offensive witnessed the loss of eight or nine of the squadron’s pilots mostly to ground fire. A few were due to enemy aircraft. East ended the war with a total of 13 downed German planes. His wingman ended the war with six victories. Other wingmen who flew with East ended up with two additional downed Germans. Deep into Germany, the P-47 [Annotator’s Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber] and P-51 [Annotator’s Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft] aircraft were mostly used for ground support. Nevertheless, if they spotted an enemy airplane, they would go for it. In April 1945, East was on a mission beyond Hammelburg. He led the flight and noticed Stuka dive bombers were attacking American positions. They were well behind forward German positions so he immediately gave chase to the dive bombers. East shot down three of the four attacking Stukas. The fourth attacker left the area. It turned out that the Americans below were a task force sent by General Patton [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton] to rescue POWs at Hammelburg. The POWs included General Patton’s son-in-law. There is a book about the activities of the task force written by an individual named Baum [Annotator’s Note: Maj. Abraham Baum]. There is no mention in the book of the air attack against the Stukas which drove them off. East does not understand the omission. East personally shot down two of the three Stukas. In total he shot down four or five Stukas. The Stukas on this occasion was the first and only ones that East saw used against Allied ground troops. The highest number of enemy planes East shot down in one day was three over Dresden. Two were Stukas and one was a He-111 bomber. The flight was south of Dresden when East and his capable wingman saw the enemy and lit into them. They shot them down and cleared the sky. One of the burning planes on the ground had an He-111 circling it. East shot it down and took a picture of it. He has the confirmation photograph and a rendering of the event. Another mission over Eisenach saw East and his wingman attacked by a flight of four 109s [Annotator’s Note: Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter]. Seeing the incoming enemy, the Americans made a break and East shot down two of the attackers. It was the most active fight he participated in although it lasted less than two minutes. Dog fights did not last as long as they did in World War I where they could be ten minutes in duration.

Annotation

By the early days of May [Annotator’s Note: May 1945], Clyde East and most Americans knew the war was over. The Allied ground forces were advancing ten to 20 miles a day. The Russians and Allied forces had met and Berlin was near falling. On the last day of the war, one of the squadron’s pilots shot down a 109 [Annotator’s Note: German Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter] that attacked him. On 8 May there was a good celebration. East stayed in Europe for about a month but was given to understand that his squadron would be transferred to the fight against Japan. While on stateside leave, the two atomic bombs were dropped and the war against Japan ended. Everyone was quite pleased. East wanted to stay in the service as a pilot but was not sure of how to work it out. He was assigned to a Mustang [Annotator's Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft] group at Brooks Field. Shortly thereafter, he volunteered for a jet squadron. In July 1946, he was transferred to March Field for checkout in a jet. He stayed there for almost three years and would accumulate 1000 hours in jets before he transferred to Langley Field. The jets were reconnaissance aircraft. He was in the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron but upon its deactivation he was sent to Langley Field again. East was flying reconnaissance flights during this time. He was later transferred to a base in Charlotte, South Carolina.

Annotation

Clyde East was in Japan flying missions over Korea three or four weeks after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. He flew two tours from Japan on reconnaissance assignments. He piloted the RF-80 [Annotator’s Note: Lockheed RF-80 Shooting Star fighter aircraft] which was the type of jet that he had previously been flying. East had flown that type aircraft since he was stationed at March Air Base in 1946. It was determined that Mustangs [Annotator's Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft] were needed in Korea. A Mustang squadron was established with some of the same aircraft that had been flown in Europe. East was named the Operations Officer for that squadron on his second tour. The squadron was tasked with ground support of troops fighting the communists. Prior to the Mustang deliveries, the jet reconnaissance squadron that East served in was the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. That was the same squadron designation as the one he had served in while flying Mustangs in Europe during World War II. After the arrival of the Mustangs in Japan, they were flown as the 45th Squadron. He would complete his first tour over Korea with the 45th. He was given command of the 15th Squadron on his second tour during the Korean War and stayed there until September 1951. After departing the 15th, he returned to Charlotte. He had 300 to 350 hours of combat time with close to 200 missions. Korea was different from the World War II. While flying Mustangs in Korea, there was little worry about being attacked from the air. The American F-86 [Annotator’s Note: North American F-86 Sabre jet fighter] jet fighters kept them busy. Losses were due more to intensive enemy ground fire. Close to 300 Mustangs were lost over Korea for that reason. The Mustangs had to come in close to the ground to support United Nations troops. That made them vulnerable to the heavy enemy antiaircraft fire. Although East had seen a couple enemy jets in World War II, he never actually had a fighting encounter with them. He came close when he flew with a pilot named Jeffery. East looked up and saw a jet coming toward them. East turned to confront the jet, but he had to assist his wingman who was being pursued by a 190 [Annotator’s Note: Focke Wulf Fw-190 fighter aircraft]. That was the closest encounter in the war against Germany that he had to combat with a jet. East would adopt the same nickname for his three Mustangs. Each time, they would be named for his wife. The first P-51 was flown for the Canadian Air Force. The 15th Squadron Mustang was and upgraded model. It was also named “Lil Margaret”. His wife was a petite lady. He lost the second Mustang when he returned to the United States on leave and got married. When he returned to Europe, his third P-51 was also named for his wife. That plane, like most other aircraft of the war, was later sold for scrap after the conflict. East agreed to allow his paint scheme on “Lil Margaret” to be used in a painting. He now has a copy of the art work. The image of his P-51 looks exactly like his personal aircraft he flew over Europe.

Annotation

Clyde East's combat philosophy worked for him as a pilot. When he caught sight of an enemy aircraft, it scared him, but he began to react as needed. He had to forget about being frightened. He gave himself five or ten seconds and then got beyond the fright. He was then fighting for his life. He used his training and knowledge to guide his every reaction at that point. He feels that the study of World War II should be promoted. Veterans are being lost every day, but it is important to educate young people about the critical actions that were taken in the conflict. That knowledge can assist tomorrow’s leaders in handling the next crisis situation that may evolve. War today is totally different from that in the 1940s. Nevertheless, education on the previous war can teach people about the reaction of American fighting men. East anticipates that we will always have good people coming to the forefront just as we did in the two World Wars and the Civil War. Both sides in the Civil War exhibited great courage and strength of character. The Confederates did not give up easily. East never misses a chance to visit a museum no matter what the subject is. He has been to the Louvre in Paris. He has seen British and Italian museums also. It is interesting to see the weaponry and decisions and actions taken in those foreign conflicts. Being an Ace is nice. East was pleased when the American fighter Aces were organizing a group of pilots.To be a member, a pilot had five or more victories in the air. East has supported them from the beginning and has continued to do so [Annotator’s Note: East had 13 confirmed victories over German aircraft during World War II]. The last meeting, there were 20 participants in attendance. When the group first met, there were over 100 members present. That initial gathering represented only about a third of those who had achieved the distinction. East enjoys the meetings even though the stories have been told and retold. Reunions have continued to the satisfaction of East. In closing, East feels that those who fought World War II are no different than those who have fought for the country before and after that war.

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