George Preddy was on his way to becoming the leading ace in Europe when tragedy struck. General John C. Meyer, who was the fourth ranking American ace in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) and Preddy’s squadron commander for more than a year, wrote: “I have never met a man of… such intense desire to excel…. George Preddy was the complete fighter pilot.”
Preddy grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. Before the war, he was a barnstormer pilot. In 1940, he made 3 attempts to join the US Navy and was rejected each time because of physical problems. Dejected, he returned to barnstorming.
During the summer of 1940, he tried to join the USAAF and passed all the tests. He was told that he would have to wait for an opening. Meanwhile, Preddy joined up with the Army National Guard to occupy his time and gain some experience. He served with the 252nd Coast Artillery. In April 1941 Preddy received orders to report to flight training. On December 12, 1941 he graduated from flight training and was sent to Australia where he joined the 9th Pursuit Squadron, 49th Pursuit Group. George spent the next six months flying combat and training missions in the P-40. The combat missions netted him two damaged enemy aircraft. In July 1942 Preddy was involved in a serious mid-air collision that killed the other pilot (one of his squadron mates) and left Preddy in the hospital for several months.
In October 1942 he arrived at Hamilton Field, California, looking for an assignment. He checked out in the P-38 and thought this was the finest aircraft he had ever flown. It was! In December 1942 George was assigned to Mitchel Field, NY. He was then sent to Westover Field, Massachusetts to join a fighter squadron. He ran into Lt. I.B. Jack Donalson with whom he was flying, the day he had the midair collision in Australia. Jack pulled some strings and got Preddy assigned to what became the 487th FS, 352nd Fighter Group.
American Patrol by Troy White ©
In July 1943, the 352nd Fighter Group, “The Blue-Nosed Bastards of Bodney” set up shop at Bodney, England. Preddy went on his first combat mission in the ETO in September, 1943 and scored his first victory on December 1, a Bf-109. Three weeks later, he scored a second victory, fighting a superior force, as he was to do many times. He led his flight of three P-47s (one stayed up as top cover) against six Me-210s covered by 10 Bf-109s that were attacking a B-24 straggler. In the melee, Preddy knocked down one Me-210, broke up the attack, and then lured the remaining enemy aircraft away from the damaged B-24, earning for himself a Silver Star.
The 352nd converted to P-51s in April 1944. Preddy got his fifth victory on May 13 and was on his way to becoming, a few months later, the leading active ace in the ETO. (Gabreski was a POW, and Bob Johnson had gone home.) Escorting bombers to Magdeburg on June 20, Preddy shot down a FW-190 and shared an Me-410 with Lt. James Woods. Preddy was running out of time as he approached the end of a 200-hour combat tour. He requested, and was granted, four successive 50-hour extensions that kept him in the fight until early August. Like many pilots, Preddy enjoyed an excellent relationship with his ground crew, sharing his success with them, having them pose for PR pictures, etc.. Perhaps it was a reflection of this good relationship that his guns never suffered a malfunction during his combat career, and he never aborted a mission.
On July 18, the 352nd claimed 21 kills, four of them falling to George Preddy, whose eye was now well and truly tuned to the tricks of the enemy. On August 5, Preddy scored another single, and on August 6 he was scheduled to lead the entire group on an escort mission. The mission was scrubbed due to forecast bad weather, and — with a free day ahead — a big party was inevitable. Shortly after midnight, the mission was on again. At briefing, the group commander judged that Preddy was not in shape to lead, but Meyer assured him that George would be ready by takeoff time.
three in rapid succession. At that point, four other P-51s joined the fight. Preddy shot down two more Bf-109s, then followed the formation down to 5,000 feet, where he found himself alone with the enemy. One of them broke to the left, followed by Preddy in his “Cripes A’ Mighty.” After a hot duel, George shot down his sixth of the day. On landing, a slightly green Preddy vowed never again to fly with a hangover. He commented, “I just kept shooting, and they just kept falling.” That mission earned him the Distinguished Service Cross and an unsought leave in the States. Preddy returned to the ETO in October 1944 as CO of the group’s 328th Squadron. Leading the squadron on November 2, they ripped apart a gaggle of Bf-109s, downing no fewer than 25, setting a squadron record for the ETO.
During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, elements of the group were moved to fighter strip Y-29, Asche, Belgium. On Christmas Eve, Preddy indulged in a game of craps and scooped the pot to win $1200, which he intended to invest in war bonds. On Christmas Day, Preddy led 10 of his P-51s on a patrol. They were vectored to a formation of enemy planes, and in the ensuing fight, though the squadron became scattered, Preddy downed two more Bf-109s. He and his wingman, Lt. James Cartee, were then vector
ed to an unknown number of bandits near Liege. Preddy saw a FW-190 on the deck and went after him at treetop height. As they roared over American ack-ack batteries, Preddy was hit by friendly ground fire and killed, probably by the bullets from the quad 50s.
His letters home showed Preddy to be a true believer with a philosophy of life that seemed beyond his 25 years. Meyer wrote that he was a man with a “core of steel in a largely sentimental soul.” Among other virtues, Preddy showed boundless loyalty to the men with whom he flew and a typically American attitude toward air-to-air fighting. He once said, “I’m sure as hell not a killer, but combat flying is like a game, and a guy likes to come out on top.”
Almost certainly, he would also have come out as top American ace in Europe had it not been for that tragic error on Christmas Day in 1944. He would no doubt have been a part of the air battle called Operation Bodenplatte by the Luftwaffe when many of his squadron mates shot down as many as five enemy aircraft on New Years Day 1945. The Preddy Memorial Foundation, set up by his cousin Joe Noah, honors and memorializes both George Preddy and his younger brother Bill (also a P-51 pilot killed in the Czech Republic on April 17, 1945).
Christmas Day 1944
By Samuel L. Sox, Jr.
This Addendum is an update to what we know happened during the final moments of Preddy’s last mission as recorded on page 160 of George Preddy, Top Mustang Ace. The purpose here is to correct inaccurate information in the book and in the one-hour video entitled, Preddy, The Mustang Ace. We now know that the details as passed on to us by Bill Cross were indeed the last moments of 4th Fighter Group pilot, Capt. Donald Emerson, who was also shot down and killed by friendly fire on Christmas Day. Emerson’s Mustang was found and identified, but no one has ever found any identifiable parts of George Preddy’s Mustang. The search continues! Here is what really happened to George Preddy on that fateful Christmas day during the Battle of the Bulge.
The 9th Air Force, already operating from the continent for months providing close ground support for Allied armor and infantry, found itself much in demand and greatly overworked. The 9th sent an urgent request to the 8th Fighter Command requesting two additional fighter units to come to its aid. On the 23rd of December, Preddy led his 328th Squadron along with the 487th and 486th to a small remote 9th Air Force field located at Asch, Belgium, designated Y-29. The field was so close to the German lines that aircraft in the landing pattern were occasionally fired upon by enemy antiaircraft units.
The 352nd was not accustomed to the tough living conditions it now faced. Living in tents was a far cry from the Nissen huts the pilots occupied at Bodney. Most of the troops thought they would freeze to death the first night. The next day was spent getting the unit settled down and assembled. The ground crews who were transported in C-47s became lost and arrived a day late. The first mission from Y-29 was a milk run, no action. Christmas Day found flyable ceilings and two missions were scheduled that day. Preddy led his unit on the second one, a support mission into Germany with the bombers from the 8th. Lt. Gordon Cartee was Preddy’s wing man. Cartee recalls, “After stooling around for a while, due to no action, we were vectored to an area close to Koblenz, Germany, where enemy aircraft had been encountered. Preddy, receiving the call said, “They’ve started without us, let’s join them.” Preddy immediately turned in that direction. Just as Mitchell was about to peel off, he looked up and spotted two 109s coming down on him and Lambright. He called to Preddy for assistance, but there was so much chatter on the radio that Preddy never heard him. Mitchell believes to this day that, had Preddy heard his cry for help, he would never have placed himself into the series of events that were to follow.
Cartee continues, “Preddy spotted two 109s and got into a Lufbery with the first one. Neither were gaining much advantage when all of a sudden another 109 cut in front of him. He eased up on his controls just enough, gave it a short burst, blazed it and then resumed his pursuit of the first one. The 109 lost his concentration seeing his buddy flamed and Preddy nailed him. Preddy’s score now totaled 27.5 aerial and five ground victories. Moments later, Preddy and Cartee were vectored to an area southeast of Liege where it was reported that enemy aircraft were strafing Allied ground troops.
As they neared Liege, they were joined by a white nosed Mustang from the 479th FS, Lt. James Bouchier, who had become detached from his squadron. From the initial intercept point, approximately 3 to 4 miles SE of Liege, Preddy, now from a height of about 1500 feet, began to accelerate having picked out a long nosed FW-190 in the distance heading Northeast. He radioed “tally ho” to Control and was immediately cleared to make the intercept. There was also some talk between Control and Preddy about intense flak in the area of intercept and it being halted so the attack could be made. Unknown to Preddy, Cartee and Bouchier, was that their line of flight was taking them over the quad 50 cal. AA of “A” Battery of the 430th AA (who was attached to the 258th FABN XIX at that time) positioned on the west side of a large clump of trees 2 miles Southeast of Aachen, Germany. As they neared the AA gun positions, Preddy was hit first by ground fire, followed by Cartee and Bouchier. Cartee saw Cripes A’Mighty begin to lose coolant, the canopy came off and Preddy began a chandelle maneuver to his left. Cartee noticed that a tracer that had entered his cockpit was on the floor moldering. Without getting it out of the way, it could start a fire at his feet. He began trying to kick it around still trailing Preddy. Lt. Bouchier’s Mustang also received fire, began smoking and he too broke left, climbing to about 1000′ where he realized that he would have to bail out to free himself from his severely damaged P-51. He released his canopy, rolled the ’51 over and dropped out safely landing in the British sector 7 to 8 miles North of where he had been hit. Further up Preddy’s and Cartee’s line of flight, now a couple miles South of Weisweiler, Sgt. Charles Brown, PFC John Starzynbski and Lt Murray Grobman ( 258th FABN XIX Corps) were standing at the NE edge of a very large wooded area approximately 2..5 miles SW from the a large church located in the little town of Langerwehe. They were startled by the sound of a sudden burst of quad 50-caliber mounted on a half track from behind and to their left. The burst lasted 3 to 4 seconds. When they looked to their left, just coming into their field of view was Preddy’s Mustang, now upside down, approximately 200 to 300 feet altitude and 20 to 30 degrees nose down attitude.
Up in the steeple of the church in Langerwehe, as had been the case on several other occasions, was Sgt. Harold M. Kennedy and his buddy Cpl. Elmer L. Dye (both with the 104th Infantry Division). While the Battle of the Bulge raged just a few miles away, it was relatively static in their sector where the Division had dug in on the chance that the Germans might veer in their direction. Division headquarters had been set up in a large steel foundry just north of Langerwehe. Dye and Kennedy had spent quite a few hours killing time by posting themselves in the church tower with binoculars and watching the considerable air activity along the front.
Cartee recalled having passed over a wooded area and seeing in the distance a large church in their flight path. The woods NW of the church were occupied by elements of 555th AAA (AW) BN which were located on the northern edge of the German penetration. Their weapons were 40 mm anti-aircraft guns and quad .50 cal. machine guns. They were assigned to protect US troops from low flying German aircraft. The ground was frozen, covered with snow and the sky was filled with snow and heavy clouds making it very easy for the German armor to move about. The troops had lined up for a hot Christmas dinner consisting of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. T/3 Leo J. Thoennes, of “B” Battery, recalls that he had just taken his mess kit of food and walked to the nearby gun section #4. Suddenly, before he could eat his dinner, what was thought to have been a P-47 (a FW-190) and a P-51, came over with their guns firing. The NCO in charge of the battery ordered his guns to return fire.
Kennedy recalled that as the Mustang passed over the church, firing from the 555th batteries became continuous and heavy. Lt. Mitchell, some distance away, recollects seeing multiple tracer rounds that gave every appearance of being “a whole field of golf balls,” so intense was the anti-aircraft barrage.
From their vantage point looking NE, Sgt. Charles Brown, PFC John Starzynbski and Lt Murray Grobman saw Preddy fall from the Mustang at about 200 feet, his parachute not deployed and Cripes A’Mighty now inverted disappearing behind a tree line where they heard her hit the ground. Cartee glanced over his shoulder to see the Mustang continue it’s rotation and violently impact the ground. After things quited down a bit, Lt. Grobman took his jeep and drove over to see what he could find. Later on when he returned, he told Brown and Starzynski that he did not go the crash site but he found where Preddy’s body was located, added that the pilot was identified as a Major and his chute wasn’t deployed. Brown recalls within minutes of the crash, 2 Me-109s flew over line abreast on the same path as Preddy and no US AA guns fired.
Sgt Kennedy and Cpl Dye went to the crash site of the Mustang noting that the largest portion remaining of the Mustang was the engine. Kennedy recalled seeing a piece of the fuselage on which swastikas had been painted.
Lt. Cartee returned safely to the field at Y-29 and made an uneventful landing.
Footnote: After the war, the Fighter Victory Credits Board of the 1950s reviewed all victories claimed in the various theaters of operation. Preddy’s official score was adjusted from 27 1/2 to 25.83 aerial victories. Joe Noah’s early research proved that the Board had omitted a victory for which Preddy had been awarded the Silver Star. This victory was added back in 1978, bringing his total air-to-air victories to 26.83. Why the fraction? He shared a victory with one pilot and a was given a third in another encounter that he did not claim. He is ranked as the third highest scoring ace in the ETO, the seventh highest scoring American ace, and is the top P-51 Mustang ace. Ron Putz has searched with a magnetic finder the area where we think Cripes A’Mighty crashed, but to no avail. We think this is because any pieces left that were large enough to use by local citizens were salvaged.
Credits: Harold M. Kennedy, Art Snyder, Raymond Mitchell, J. Gordon Cartee (deceased), General John C. Meyer(deceased), Ignacio G. Marinello, Tom Ivie, Robert H. Powell, & Ron Putz. Sources: Wings God Gave My Soul, by Joe Noah, 1974.
George Preddy, Top Mustang Ace, by Joe Noah and Samuel L. Sox, Motorbooks International, 1991. AFA Valor article on George Preddy
Preddy kept a diary, both in Australia and Europe; this diary, along with official records and interviews provided the source material for the book. Uniquely, the book features many stills from Preddy’s gun camera footage, including pictures from the day he downed six Bf-109s. There are also many photos of “Cripes a’ Mighty.” The last chapter covers the short life of George’s brother, Bill.