THE BIG B
by Eric Hammel
Copyright © 1992 by Eric Hammel
Major TOM HAYES, USAAF
364th fighter Squadron, 357 Fighter Group
Berlin--March 6, 1944
Portland, Oregon's Thomas Lloyd Hayes, Jr. dreamed of flight throughout his youth, but he saw no means for making his dreams real until 1937, when he was a high-school senior. Early that year, a Soviet airplane bound on a much-heralded flight from Moscow to San Francisco was forced to end its journey in Portland's neighbor, Vancouver, Washington. Young Tom Hayes was one of the first civilians to greet the Russian aircrew. Emboldened by his brush with reflected glory, Hayes attempted to enlist in the U.S. Navy flight program as soon as he graduated from high school that June. However, he was turned away on account of his age and advised to earn a college degree in order to qualify. Hayes dutifully matriculated at Oregon State University, but all he really cared about was qualifying for Navy flight school. However, in May 1940 -- the month Germany invaded the Low Countries -- Hayes attended an Army Air Corps air show in Corvallis, Oregon. When he learned at the show that he needed only two years of college to qualify, he signed up on the spot.
Within a month, Cadet Hayes was attending Primary flight training at Glendale, California, and he graduated with Class 41-A at Kelly Field, Texas, on February 7, 1941. Lieutenant Hayes was assigned to the 35th Pursuit Group. In November 1941, the group was ordered to the Philippines, but by December 7 one-third of the group--Tom Hayes included--had not yet shipped out. In January 1942, Hayes's group of pilots, crew chiefs, armorers, and P-40 fighters ended up on Java, battling the Japanese. On February 19, 1942, Hayes was shot down by a Japanese Zero fighter, and severely injured. He was evacuated to Australia just as the American survivors of the one-sided air battles were being withdrawn. After recuperating from his injuries, Hayes helped to recommission the 35th Pursuit Group. He flew Bell P-39 Airacobras with the 35th in New Guinea until he was ordered home in October 1942 to help prepare newly trained fighter pilots for the rigors of combat flying in the Pacific.
After completing a month-long War Bond tour, Captain Hayes was assigned as a flight leader to a P-39 replacement training group in northern California. In May 1943, he was selected by the commander of the new 357th Fighter Group to replace a squadron commander who had been killed in a training accident. Hayes assumed command of the 364th Fighter Squadron in Tonapah, Nevada, and helped train the new P-39 unit. By October 1, 1944, the 357th Fighter Group was ready to ship out from its base at Marysville, California; it had been trained to perfection and was, in every respect, ready to go to war. Instead, the group was ordered to leave immediately for several bomber bases in Nebraska, Wyoming, and North Dakota.
We didn't know what was going on. It turned out that we had been scheduled all along to ship out to England on October 1. The new groups bound for England were scheduled to complete their phases of training every six weeks and then move on to new bases. The 354th Fighter Group had finished up at Marysville and left for England six weeks before we were supposed to have shipped out, and another group was right behind us. In fact, it moved into Marysville the day we left. But, as we eventually learned, we couldn't go straight to England because our base there would not be ready by the time we would have arrived. We were sent to the upper Midwest to mark time. As long as we were there, we got to keep up our flying skills by simulating German fighter attacks against heavy bombers. That helped get the B-17 and B-24 crews certified a little more quickly for deployment overseas.
The stopover turned out to be of great importance. We quickly learned that the war-time shortage of small-arms ammunition had caused a huge increase in the local population of pheasant and other game birds, so fifteen or twenty of us sent for our shotguns. After we finished flying each day--sharpening our flying skills in aggressive, high-speed attacks that lacked only real gunfire--we went bird hunting. We shot so many pheasant every day that we were able to feed the entire squadron--300-plus people--every night. More important, we sharpened our shooting eyes.
After about a month, we left the P-39s behind and boarded the Queen Elizabeth for a high-speed run to Scotland. We spent Thanksgiving at sea. Only when we finally got to England and had been assigned to the Ninth Air Force were we told that we were going to be the second fighter group in England to be equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs. We didn't know a thing about the Mustang except that it was a so-so dive-bomber with no high-altitude capability. We also didn't know that the 354th Fighter Group (our immediate predecessor in the Stateside training cycle) had been reequipped with an upgraded version of the Mustang when it arrived in England in mid October.
The Mustang we knew about had been built by North American Aviation under contract to the RAF as a ground-support airplane. The early Army Air Forces version was known as the A-36, and it had been used for some time as a dive-bomber. There was also a fighter version known as the P-51A, but it and the A-36 were equipped with a 1,200-horsepower Allison engine that was inadequate. The P-51A and A-36 could not get above 17,000 feet.
Unknown to us, the Mustang had been the object of an intense development program beginning in late 1942, and the key to that development had been the marriage of the 1,430-horsepower Packard Merlin engine, a licensed version of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Very late in the development process, the urgent need for long-range fighters in Europe had resulted in the addition of an 85-gallon fuel tank behind the P-51's cockpit, and this had led to some delays. The result, when all the bugs had been ironed out, was the P-51B, which the 354th Fighter Group was just about to take into combat when the 357th Fighter Group arrived in England.
Unfortunately, there were not enough P-51Bs for us or the 4th Fighter Group, which was also supposed to be reequipped with the new type. The 354th had been suffering operational and training losses, and it was bound to suffer combat losses as soon as it began escort duty with the heavy bombers. The entire early production output had gone to the 354th, and all or most of the replacement Mustangs that arrived in England would be used to keep the 354th up to strength.
By the time we had been in England for a month, we still had no airplanes. All we did was slosh around in the mud and take classes in the morning and in the afternoon on aircraft identification. But we were doing no flying. I got checked put in a P-51, but only because I was a squadron commander. We eventually got a few of our own, but barely enough to check out the other pilots in the group. Finally, on January 24, an important decision was made. Outside of keeping the 354th up to strength, all the available P-51Bs in England would be assigned to the Eighth Air Force. A few days later, the 358th Fighter Group, a P-47 group from the Eighth Air Force, was transferred to the 9th Air Force, and the 357th Fighter Group was reassigned to the Eighth Air Force's 66th Fighter Wing. Within a few days, the 358th moved from its base, Leiston, to our base, Raydon Wood, and we moved from Raydon Wood to Leiston. That way, we would be in the north, about 40 miles closer to the bomber routes to Germany, and the 358th would be in the south, closer to France.
The Eighth Air Force couldn't get us operational quickly enough. In a week's time, our group's strength in P-51Bs went from something like a dozen airplanes to seventy-five. It was busy. In addition to checking out the airplanes, we had to get all the pilots checked out. And, in the meantime, our command pilots--group, squadron, and flight leaders--started going out on missions with the 354th Fighter Group, to learn about the war over northern Europe. One captain from the 363d Fighter Squadron was shot down and taken prisoner on a combat mission with the 354th on January 25. I flew my first mission, also with the 354th, on February 5. There was some action that day--our group deputy commander damaged an FW-190--but I didn't fire my guns.
The 357th Fighter Group was declared operational on February 8, 1944. Unfortunately, due to the weather, we could not take off on our first group mission until February 11. This was intentionally planned as a familiarization mission, an opportunity simply to get our feet wet. It was a milk run--a fighter sweep to Rouen, France, led by a senior pilot from the 354th. We saw no action on our maiden mission.
The next day, February 12, 1944, the mission leader was the commander of the 4th Fighter Group, Lieutenant Colonel Don Blakeslee, a former RAF Eagle Squadron ace. Blakeslee flew a P-51 for the first time in his life when he arrived at Leiston on the evening of February 11. He led us back to the Rouen area for another milk run. Blakeslee also led us to Abbeville, France, on the afternoon of February 13. A B-17 was downed over the target by flak and one of our pilots had to bail out over the North Sea, but, otherwise, our third mission was uneventful.
We flew our next mission--our first over Germany--on February 20. It was the first mission of Big Week, and the target was Leipzig. The 362d and 363d Fighter squadrons posted their first victories on that mission. My 364th Fighter Squadron posted its first three victories during the February 22 mission, which was against the Me-109 factory at Regensburg, Germany, and the ball-bearing plant at Schweinfurt. We were grounded by weather on February 23. On February 24, while escorting the heavy bombers to the Me-110 factory at Gotha, Germany, I received credit for an Me-109 probable over the target. We flew to Regensburg on February 25 and to Brunswick on February 29. I shot down an Me-109 on our March 2 mission to Frankfurt. In all, by then, the group had been credited with twenty confirmed victories, and we were sharp and confident.
By the close of Big Week, on February 29, people had been starting to talk about Berlin. Several times, we had flown close enough to the German capital to see it, but the Eighth Air Force had not yet flown a single mission there. Everyone was asking, "When the hell are we going to hit the Big B?" Before every mission, we'd go into the briefing hut, and they'd open the curtains that covered the map showing our route to the target. We were just waiting and waiting to see the red tapes marking the route to Berlin.
When we finally saw that it was going to be Berlin on March 3, our feelings sure changed. The bravado left us. The weather was terrible. Of the entire Eighth Air Force, only the 4th Fighter Group and one of the P-38 groups flew all the way to the target, but they never even saw the ground. All the bombers were recalled or went after secondary targets. The weather was so bad over England that we couldn't get the 357th together at all. We were finally recalled. I logged 90 minutes of flight time, all of it on instruments.
We lost two pilots on March 3, and nobody knows how. In my opinion, these losses were due to the weather. If the group lacked anything, it was instrument training. In my opinion, most of the non-combat losses came about because the pilots became disoriented in the clouds. It is extremely easy to lose a sense of up and down in the clouds and, unless you overcome your instincts and force yourself to fly the instruments, you can easily enter an uncontrollable spin or even fly the airplane right into the ground. The weather over northern Europe that time of year was terrible, and I am sure that all the groups were losing pilots and airplanes because of disorientation or mid-air collisions in the clouds.
They sent about 500 B-17s and over 750 fighters to Berlin on March 4, but there were only a few holes in the clouds, and only a few German fighters could find us. Just one combat wing composed of thirty-eight bombers actually reached Berlin, and these bombers bombed the holes in the clouds without knowing what was underneath them--residential suburbs. There was almost no fighter action. Only seven German airplanes were destroyed by our fighters on all of March 4, but pilots from the 357th got two of them.
On March 5, we escorted the 2d Bomber Division B-24s to Bordeaux, in southern France. On the way to the target, some of the B-24s dropped supplies to French Resistance fighters in the foothills to the French Alps. Over Bordeaux, our group encountered several FW-190s, which were shot down, and our pilots also got three four-engine FW-200 Condors that were taking off from a grass airfield. We had one airplane shot down, but the pilot, Flight Officer Chuck Yeager, eventually returned to the group by way of Spain. Unfortunately, on the way home, during a low-level strafing run, the group commander, Colonel Henry Spicer, was shot down by flak and captured. The group deputy commander, Lieutenant Colonel Don Graham, assumed command of the group when we got home.
On the night of March 5, all the smart money was on another mission to Berlin. I, of course, knew that it was going to be Berlin when we received word that we would be going out on a "maximum effort." We were also told that the weather was supposed to be improving.
Maintenance said that they could get only forty-eight Mustangs in the air the next morning--exactly what we needed, but with no spares. We therefore scheduled the first team, our very best and most-experienced pilots. There was no horsing around that night. We had a job to do, so everyone went to bed early.
The bombers had to take off hours before any of the fighters. There were hundreds of them, and they had to form up into their combat boxes, combat wings, and combat divisions. That took a long time. Also, the Germans had deployed a belt of 88mm and other flak guns along the Dutch and Belgian coasts, where the bombers usually crossed in. The bombers liked to pass over the flak guns at least at 20,000 feet, and that meant they had to circle higher and higher with their heavy bomb loads while they were still over England. Hundreds of bombers were circling over us long before it was time for us to get up. As usual, I was awakened by the drone of their engines. Because the bombers were overhead, I knew that the mission was on long before it was announced officially. I also knew that, unfortunately, their contrails were creating an overcast through which we would have to take off later that beautiful Spring morning.
I was going out as the deputy mission leader, so I met up with Don Graham early to go over last-minute arrangements concerning matters for the entire group. This was Don's first mission as the group leader and my first as the back-up. We arranged a few non-verbal signals so we could communicate off the air in the event one or the other of us ran into problems. We also decided what the group was going to do on the way home, depending on what happened before we were released from escort duty.
The pilots went over to the mess hall for breakfast before the briefing. Then we had the group briefing--the basic information that was going to get all of us to the target. The weather was good over England, but we were told that the front was moving east. That meant that the closer we got to Berlin the worse the weather was going to get. Usually, if it was clear, we only needed to follow the bomber stream out of England and overtake the lead bombers before they reached the target. But, if the weather was bad, we couldn't fly up the bomber stream for fear of colliding with the bombers in the clouds. Or, in the case of this mission, the bombers weren't even flying directly to Berlin. In an attempt to confuse the Germans--make them think the target was somewhere else--the bombers were flying along a route that would have been too long for us to follow anyway--from Munster to Meppen, Goslar to Uelzen, and Halle to Ratheneau. Halle was southwest of Berlin. In order to conserve our fuel, we were to fly practically due east all the way from the Dutch coast to Berlin.
As one of only three or four P-51 groups available for the mission, the 357th would, as usual, pick up the lead box of bombers at around 1300 hours and plus or minus 75 miles from the target. We were to sweep ahead of the bombers as they came in over the target and then we were hand the escort off to fresh P-47 or P-38 groups plus or minus 75 miles along the route home. On March 6, the bombers would actually be passing Berlin so they could make their bombing runs on different parts of the city from either west to east or south to north. That way, they would already by pointing toward home when they toggled their bombs. We would join them as they completed their run-up to the target from Halle, and we would leave them along the first leg toward England.
Following the group briefing, the pilots broke up for squadron briefings. Here, parachutes, oxygen masks, and escape kits were handed out, and the squadron leaders arranged the order of flights and made any necessary last-minute changes in flight and element leaders. Also, each squadron leader told the pilots what the squadron was going to do on the way home from the target, in case it was a milk run. The plan was that, after we finished up with the escort part of the March 6 mission, my 364th Fighter Squadron was going to go home on the deck. If we had enough gas, we might go over into Austria to shoot up some of the German flying schools. If not, we would use up our ammunition strafing targets of opportunity on the direct course through Germany toward the North Sea.
We took fifteen or twenty minutes for the squadron briefing, and then we went out to the flight line, to our airplanes. Each pilot checked his own airplane, strapped in, and went through the usual pre-flight routine with the crew chief. We started taking off at 1030.
We had a policy about aborts, and it was the same as all the other fighter groups in the Eighth Air Force. Ideally, we wanted to get to the target area with three squadrons of sixteen airplanes per squadron. On most missions, we took up to four spares most of the way across the North Sea. If there were any aborts, the spares could fill in. If there were fewer aborts than we had spares, the remaining spares went home before the group crossed in. The deal we all had was that, if anyone thought he couldn't complete the entire mission--if there was any problem or if a pilot thought there was going to be any problem--he had to turn around and get the hell home while we were still over the North Sea. That way, we wouldn't have to send a good combat airplane to protect the airplane with the problem.
Just as we were approaching the Dutch coast, Don Graham porpoised his airplane--the signal that he was aborting. When I acknowledged, he immediately banked and turned for home. Then, shortly after Don left, a few others turned for home, too. When we made landfall over Holland, we were down to forty airplanes.
The problem was that we had been flying every day for six straight days, and we had no spares on March 6; we had exactly forty-eight planes in commission that day. The 357th Fighter Group was still in the learning process. I imagine we still had some pilots who were still, shall we say, queasy about flying in combat. And Berlin was thought to be an especially dangerous place. We still hadn't seen what the German fighters would do to protect their capital city. Maybe we had a lot of pilots with butterflies that day, or maybe the heavy schedule of combat missions--six in six days--had caused more wear and tear to the airplanes than we realized. Whatever the reasons, we kept losing airplanes after we made landfall. Altogether, fifteen of our forty-eight Mustangs aborted before we reached Berlin. My own section of two flights, which was supposed to be eight airplanes, ended up with an oddball five.
I had the group. I had to navigate us to Berlin and find the bombers in the overcast before they reached the target. I knew it was a matter of staying on course and getting where we were supposed to be on time. It was time and distance. The weather got worse and worse as we flew. We stopped flying the usual tight formation and spread the squadrons out between the two main layers of clouds. There was a thick layer of undercast that varied between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, and another good one started at about 28,000 feet. We flew between those layers, spread apart. We were flying along great, but I had no idea where the hell we were, no idea at all. I couldn't see any landmarks on the ground and I had to assume that the wind was right, as stated in our briefing. If it wasn't, I could be way off course and never know about it. All I could do was fly the briefed heading and pray.
As I flew along, I switched over to the bomber frequency a few times, to find out what was going on. I was able to cross-check with them to at least see that my schedule was still okay. I might be off course, but, if I was on, I would meet up with the bombers on time. Around noon, I heard that there were German fighters going after the bombers and that our P-47 groups were engaging them. But I was still an hour away from the rendezvous. I could only listen and hope I'd find the bombers.
I was getting concerned. I checked with Captain William "Obee" O'Brien, of the 363d Fighter Squadron, to find out if he thought we were on course. Some of the other pilots broke radio silence to needle me a little. I overheard them saying things like, "Where the hell are we?" and "I bet we overshot the target." Just what I needed to hear! When someone said, "Christ, we must be over Russia!" I said, "Gowdy Red, here. Radio silence! Got it?" I knew their voices; I knew who was needling me. They didn't make it any easier on my frame of mind. I had to worry about making the rendezvous in that lousy weather, but I also had to worry that maybe the bombers would be in the damn overcast and that I'd find them by running into them before I saw them. But I was really concerned that I hadn't made the course good and that the bombers were ahead or behind schedule--or something.
And suddenly I was looking at a big break in the clouds. It was the first time on the whole mission, since I'd left England, that I could see the ground. And all I could see was a huge urban area. There were red-tile roofs as far as the eye could see. What with the time on the clock--1300, exactly--it had to be Berlin. Voices on the group radio net started coming up with, "Hey, that looks like Berlin!" and "Yeah, it must be." And then someone called out, "There're the bombers!"
I looked to my left, and there they were--B-17s. And then, right then, someone else called, "Bogies! Two and three o'clock!" It was a three-way rendezvous. I found out later that we were about 25 miles southwest of the city center. That meant that we were a little behind schedule or the bombers were a little ahead. But it was a perfect rendezvous anyway.
I had been flying at 26,000 feet all the way in. My high squadron was at around 27,000 feet and my low squadron was at about 25,000 feet. The bombers were stacked between 22,000 and 26,000 feet. There were clouds over us at about 28,000 feet and clouds underneath us at about 15,000 feet. It was hazy between the cloud layers, but the visibility was adequate.
There were German fighters stacked all the way from the level of the bombers to the upper cloud ceiling. They were still just specks when I saw them. They looked like a swarm of bees, maybe 7 to 10 miles distant. They were going flat-out head-on to the bombers. Thirty or forty twin-engined fighters were going in first to fire rockets in order to break up the bomber boxes. And coming up behind the twin-engine fighters were many single-engine fighters, Me-109s and FW-190s. Higher up was their top cover, thirty or forty Me-109s. Between all of them and all of the bombers was the 357th Fighter Group--thirty-three of us.
We had just enough time to change to internal tanks and kick off our drop tanks before the first Mustangs were close enough to open fire on the twin-engine fighters. There wasn't any time for me to call out any orders.
I was in the middle, leading what was left of the 364th Fighter Squadron. The 362d and 363d squadrons were weaving above and below me, about a mile away on either side. If the Germans ignored us and continued on straight for the bombers, our standard tactic was for the high squadron, the 363d, to take care of their top cover while the middle squadron, the 364th, turned in to engage the Germans from ahead, and the low squadron, the 362d, turned wide to engage the Germans from behind. But the plan went to hell as soon as we saw the Germans; there wasn't any time to put it into action. As the Germans came in range, the 362d just weaved to its left, came in directly behind the first wave of single-engine fighters, and started knocking them down.
I no sooner kicked off my drop tanks than I was in a left turn to get in behind the Germans. Instead of going straight in for the bombers, some of the Germans turned to fight us. That was natural, but about half of the twin-engine fighters dove away into the lower clouds. These might have been night fighters that had been pressed into service to protect the capital. If so, this wasn't their kind of fight, and they were showing it.
We flew straight into the main German formation. We could have done more damage if there had been more of us, but we were apparently able to break up their main attack. Within seconds, it was just a hell of a mess. Everything was going in all directions at once. Individual dogfights were breaking out all over the place.
I managed to keep my section of five airplanes together. When the German twin-engine fighters turned into us or dove away, I left them for other P-51s and turned to engage the German top cover. By then, there were only eight or ten Me-109s above us, but they were coming down to hit us from our rear. I turned into the bunch of them and hollered out, "I'm taking the top guy." I assumed he was their leader because the others were echeloned off him.
Things got blurred and happened fast. The next thing I knew, I had my hands full with that 109. It was a hell of a mess. We were turning and turning, but neither of us was shooting. We were climbing, descending, and climbing again, turning all the while. The 109 was ahead of me. He was after me and I was after him in a tight left-hand circle. The Me-109 was a good airplane at altitude, and the German pilot kept trying to climb, to get some advantage. Finally, I was able to gain on him. And then he split-essed out of it, heading straight down.
I was too far behind the 109 to fire, but I was closing the gap. From previous experience and lots of advice, I knew that all I had to do was follow the 109 and keep him in sight. If we ended up on the deck, a Mustang could overtake a 109.
There was no cloud cover in the area, but the Germans had smoke generators all around Berlin, and the smoke was up to 15,000 feet. Even though I was closing on it, the 109 became obscured in the smoke, and then it disappeared altogether. I pulled out at about 15,000 feet.
As I pulled around to look for the 109--or anyone else--something went by, straight down. Then, all of a sudden, something else went by. I saw the second something; I could identify it. It was a stick of 500-pound bombs. It looked like a ladder going straight down--all rungs and no rails. I was in the wrong place! I looked around, and there were plenty more ladders. I looked up, and all I could see were four-engine bombers. Holy God!
Bombers were over me and Berlin was under me! I was thinking, "Which way do I turn?" But I kicked the airplane and snap-rolled straight down. At least now I was parallel to the falling bombs. I pulled out at 500 feet and must have flown between the bombs. I headed for the closest rural area off to the west and started back up.
As I was getting back to about 15,000 feet, lo and behold, I picked up my original section of P-51s, plus Obee O'Brien, from the 363d. While I had been busy with my 109, three of these pilots had shot down two Me-110s.
I took the lead and climbed back up to help escort the bombers that were still approaching the city. We assumed a position on the west side of the bomber stream and patrolled back and forth, looking for German fighters. At about 1320, we found an Me-110 at low altitude. We all went down. The guy who'd called it out shot it down while the rest of us covered him.
Other fighters were coming in to relieve us. We all had ammunition left, so we stayed at 500 feet, looking for targets on the ground. We took a heading of about 280 degrees, back toward the Dutch North Sea coast and home.
As we were coming up on Uelzen at about 1420, I saw a single-engine fighter ahead of us. It was at 500 feet on an opposite course and a few miles to my right. I thought it might be a P-51 whose pilot needed company. I turned 90 degrees to my right so I could look it over. As I closed on it, I could see that it was an Me-109.
The German didn't see us as we continued to turn in behind him. The 109 was flying so slowly and I was approaching it so quickly that I was only 200 yards away when I opened fire. I no sooner squeezed the trigger than I had to drop my nose to duck underneath the 109. I don't think the pilot ever saw me.
The 109 fell straight into the ground and burst into flames. As it did, someone hollered, "There's an airfield!" It was nearly dead ahead. Apparently, the 109 had been coming in for a landing. That explains why he had been flying so slowly, but his approach was too long and he should have been looking for us.
There were He-111 bombers lined up along the edge of the airfield. I opened fire on them as soon as I saw them, and the other pilots in my section did the same as they followed me across the airfield. I hit at least one of the bombers, and the others shot up whatever happened to be right in front of them. We didn't get any of the He-111s burning, but I was sure we did a lot of damage. On the way out, I said over the radio, "Okay, enough's enough. Let's get out of here before they start shooting at us." We turned back on course for home. On the way to Holland, we shot up a few trains and trucks. We landed at 1600 hours. It had been a five-and-a-half-hour flight.
The thirty-three of us received credit for twenty of the eighty-one fighters the Germans lost to our fighters on March 6, 1944. If we had been able to get more of our airplanes over Berlin that day, we could have done more damage. We suffered no losses.
Major Tom Hayes scored his third victory, an Me-410, on the March 8 mission to Berlin, and an Me-110 on the March 16 mission to Berlin. He was made group deputy commander on March 28, and he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel shortly after he achieved ace status by downing an Me-109 on April 19, 1944. Thereafter, Hayes downed an Me-109 on May 28, an Me-109 and a shared Me-410 on June 29, and a final Me-109 on July 14, 1944. He rotated back to the United States in September 1944 to become deputy for operations of the training facility at Luke Field, Arizona. Tom Hayes retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general in 1970.