On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, the Library & Archives received a donation of a pilot’s logbook. It was obviously old, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary with it until it was opened. The cursive handwriting was a bit backhand, tight, and legible with a little flair from an ink fountain pen. The entries start in January 1940 with training flights in Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Fleet biplane trainers, all stamped and approved by the Ottawa Flying Club in Canada.
As the pages were turned, the pilot was transferred to England for aerobatic training flights in the Tiger Moths at Royal Air Force (RAF) Station, Sywell, then solo flights in the Miles Master at RAF Ternhill, and operational training completion at RAF Sutton Bridge in the Hurricane. The pilot’s proficiency was rated as “Above Average,” and by August 1941, the pilot was flying a Spitfire V in No. 71 Eagle Squadron at RAF Station North Weald.
Further into the logbook, the handwriting took on a more hurried look, and certainly more personal, such as the entry on September 15, 1942, the pilot writes in big, bold sweeps, “Commissioned 1st Lieutenant USA (A.A.F.), Whoopie!” As the pages go by the logbook began to take on the look of a journal with side notes about patrols, bombing escorts, sweeps and “strafes,” planes destroyed, pilots bailing out and other pilots being killed.
Tucked in between the pages were five film negatives inside cellophane envelopes, two prints of a P-39 distributor head, and one print of a pretty British girl in a uniform. A 2.5 x 4-inch military card is pasted in April 1943 certifying Michael G.H. McPharlin, Capt. has passed the test in instrument flying at Fort Meyers Army Air Field, Florida. By September, he is training at Rice Field in California.
In March 1944, once again in big, bold sweeping letters, underlined double in red, McPharlin writes, “Old Blightly Again. Fowlmere, Camb. England.” On April 25th, a “Sector recco over French Coast” is indicated as “The first operational ‘do’ for the 339th Fighter Group.” He is flying the P-51B Mustang as bomber escorts “As far as Bremen Germany.”
Soon, entries from May 8 to 29 are written heavy and bold, most underlined in red and some outlined in red boxes, indicating combat missions. Ten “Bomber Escorts” are listed, along with “Airdrome Strafing” and “Mass Rhubarb.” Locations for these combats are indicated as “Berlin Germany etc., Airdrome beat up,” “Baltic Sea, Berlin and other parts,” “Saarbrücken,” “St. Dizier – France,” “Posen, Poland.” Targets damaged or destroyed included two flak towers, cars in a rail center, one locomotive, two river tugs, one factory, four ME 109s, and one DO 18 (a flying boat). Nine lieutenant’s names were also listed as squadron mates.
The last page was for June 1944. The handwriting was different – a clean, neat block print – not McPharlin’s sweeping backhand. Only four entries were made; the last two were both for June 6th – “Fighter Bombing” and “Bomber Escort.” No more entries or explanations followed. The logbook was half filled; the rest of the pages were blank.
It was like a story coming to a grinding halt without an ending. The man who kept this logbook was at Normandy on D-Day. It only seemed natural to find out what had happened to him. A new journey began!
A general search of McPharlin’s name and the 339th revealed a brief bio on the American Air Museum in Britain website. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/159413. We learned that on June 6, 1944 he had reported engine trouble, and was never heard from again. . . but has a grave at the Normandy American Cemetery.
Further search on Newspapers.com revealed quite a few articles written about McPharlin in the early 1940s and posted in the Battle Creek Enquirer. Michael George Hurschell McPharlin was born June 16, 1913 at Blue Island, Illinois. He graduated from Hastings High School, Michigan, in 1930, and attended Bowdoin College in Maine for two years. From 1932-35, he attended Duke University and was awarded a fellowship to attend Heidelberg University in Germany, where he studied histology.
After returning to the United States, he came back to Hastings and worked on the M-37 state highway relocation project. He then went to sea in a tanker and had the good fortune to avoid being swept away during high seas, a fire aboard ship, and an explosion in dry dock. He certainly had luck on his side!
Michael McPharlin was reported to be one of the first Americans to volunteer for the Royal Canadian Air Force. He enlisted in 1939 after being refused admittance to the U.S. Army Air Corps because he lacked one-half inch in height. McPharlin reported to a newspaper that the Canadian Royal Air Force “wasn’t so fussy,” and was told by the examining officer, “We measure our boys from the shoulders up!”
In January 1942, McPharlin wrote a letter to the Enquirer dispelling a rumor that he had been seriously injured when shot down over France the past July. “The nearest call I’ve had was over France one Sunday afternoon when two sat on my tail at 12,000 feet, but by taking extreme evasive action I got away from them. Since becoming operational, I’ve been in about 40 battles of one sort or another. Maybe my Irish luck will run out?”
Insight into McPharlin’s personality comes from an excerpt in Fighter Pilot: The First American Ace of World War II by author William R. Dunn who writes:
“Wee Mike McPharlin, who had studied at a German university before the war and who could speak German fairly well, always seemed to collect a cloud of Me.109s when we were on a fighter sweep or bomber circus over France. We knew, of course, that the Krauts were listening to our radio conversations, and every once in awhile some English-speaking Square head would say a few naughty words to us on our R/T frequency – mostly concerning the legitimacy of our births. Wee Mike couldn’t contain himself and would come right back at them in their own language with a steady flow of equally derogatory remarks, followed by an invitation to ‘get off their fat __ and come up and fight.’ I’d be willing to bet that every [German] squadron in occupied Western Europe knew of Wee Mike by name and reputation. . . More than once, three or four [Germans], buzzing after him like mad hornets, would chase Mike all the way back to England. They did manage, occasionally, to put a few holes in Mike’s Spitfire. Mike, in turn, shot down a couple of their Me.109s and damaged several others. It was really funny to hear Wee Mike and the Germans, all on the same frequency, jabbering away at each other.”
In another letter written June 3rd and published July 1, 1942 in the Enquirer, Pilot Officer McPharlin announced his engagement to Miss Virginia Cromwell Bertram of Toronto. On October 21, 1942, McPharlin was promoted to Captain, and the couple were married on Monday, December 28, 1942, at Deer Park Church Chapel in Toronto, Canada. In the same letter, he also expressed thanks for the box of “’candy, gum, cigarettes and soap. . . the soap (imagine) was the nicest part of it.’. . . Another thing he mentioned as difficult to get was film for his camera. When the film is taken they have to wait for ration of paper to print them.”
McPharlin was apparently an avid photographer and is pictured here next to his P-51B 42- 106909 6N-Z 'Wee Ginny,’ with camera and cigar in hand. American Air Museum. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/media/18009
On August 19, 1942, the Allied Forces launched a major attack on the German-occupied French coastal town of Dieppe. Code-named “Operation Jubilee,” the Dieppe Raid was the first Canadian Army land engagement in the European theatre of war, designed to test Germany’s preparations to repulse an invasion and, hopefully, to gain a foothold on the entrenched German occupation of the European continent. The raid was not as successful as hoped. Of the nearly 5000 Canadians who participated in the operation, only 2,210 returned to England, many being wounded. Despite the losses, the raid provided valuable lessons for the upcoming Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy.
McPharlin’s logbook entry for that day reads, “Combined operations – Dieppe.” He indicates that he “baled out 20 miles off Isle of Wight following attack on Junkers 88 with Oscar Coen.” He also indicates the Ju88 was “destroyed, shared with F/Lt. Coen.” Although he was initially reported as missing, the newspapers back home quickly reported his family’s “jubilation” after hearing of his rescue 24 hours later. He was back in the air the next day.
With America’s entry into the war, on September 12, 1942 the three American Eagle squadrons of the RAF were transferred to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), forming the nucleus of the 4th Fighter Group. RAF No.71 Squadron became the 334th Fighter Squadron (FS); No.121 Squadron became the 335th FS; and No.133 Squadron became the 336th FS. Three days later, both McPharlin and his friend, Oscar Coen, were commissioned as 1st Lieutenants in the 334th. A month later they were promoted to Captain and on their way back to the United States for additional training.
By January 1943, McPharlin was training with the 339th in the AT-6, AT-7, C-78, P-39, and P-40. In April 1944, they returned to Debden, England, now flying the famous P-51 Mustang. Attached to the headquarters flight, McPharlin often flew missions with his Eagle Squadron friends in the 334th FS.
On June 6, 1944, the 339th provided fighter cover over the English Channel and the coast of Normandy during the invasion of France. On loan from the 339th, McPharlin flew again with his Eagle Squadron friends of the 334th on the last mission of the day. While flying over the Rouen- Dreux area, Major Mike Sobanski and Lt. Ed Stepp were shot down at 2035 hours. At about that same time, McPharlin reported his left magneto was out and he was aborting. At 2052 hours, seventeen minutes after Sobanski and Stepp went down, McPharlin was shot down and crashed near Le Buisson-Isabelle, four miles northeast of Evreux.
On June 28, 1944, the Enquirer reported: “Maj. Michael George H. McPharlin, 32, former local boy who has made scores of raiding flights over Germany and occupied Europe in recent years and was reported missing following the historic Dieppe raid, is again missing as a result of the D-day invasion missions. . . Major McPharlin’s failure to return after the Allied invasion of Normandy June 6 has been reported to his wife, Mrs. Virginia (Bertram) McPharlin of Toronto, Canada by the war department. June 11 she gave birth to a daughter.”
It was several months before McPharlin’s remains were found. Family members were told French farmers heard the crash and quickly buried his body in fieldstone before the Germans arrived. He was temporarily buried in Saint Andre Cemetery, Evreux, France until his family was contacted for final disposition, and reinterred in the American Cemetery at Normandy. Through a local organization, Les Fleurs de la Memoire, his gravesite was adopted in 2004 by Pierre-Alexandre Paroisse, who was ten years old at the time, and still tends to it today.
His family back home in the United States regard Major McPharlin, known as “George” to his sisters, as “a very loved brother, and so missed by everyone who knew him.” His story is considered legendary. As it should be.
After the war, Major McPharlin’s close friend and flying buddy, Oscar Hoffman Coen, made a visit to his widow, Mrs. Virginia McPharlin, to return some personal items that had belonged to her husband. A relationship developed, and the two were married on January 14, 1951. Coen fulfilled the role of father for his friend’s baby girl, and had two more daughters with Virginia. Oscar and Virginia both passed away within a year and a half of each other in 2004, after 53 years of happy marriage.
In McPharlin’s logbook for May 1944, he lists nine lieutenants that went down. These appear to have been his friends from the 334th and 335th, and quite possibly pictured in some of the negatives found within the pages of McPharlin’s logbook.
The following is a list of more detailed information about the pilots, provided by The American Air Museum:
Lt. Vernon A. Burroughs – “Cub” - Assigned to 357FS, XFG, 8AF USAAF. Transferred to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Failed to return from strafing mission to St Dizier A/D, P-51D 'Ill Wind' 43-6636 hit by return fire from ground, crashed on 9-May-44 near Rilly Ste Syre, Lt Vernon A Burroughs bailed out. POW Zagan, Poland May 9, 1944-1945. MACR 4682. Killed in a crash in Texas in P-51H 44-64409, while serving with the 312th A.A.F. Base Unit HQ Squadron from March Army Airfield in California. 18-Sep-46. Buried at Forest Lawn, Los Angeles, October 1946. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/214809
Lt. Herbert Jude Blanchfield – (highest rank-Captain) – Captain Herbert Blanchfield of the 334th fighter Squadron, claimed 4.333 strafing kills within days of receiving his P-51B in early April 1944. On May 9, 1944, he was shot down in P-51D 42-106767, during a strafing attack on a flak tower at Reims-Champagne airfield. Although initially evading capture, Blanchfield was eventually found by the Gestapo, and he spent the rest of the war as a POW at Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany May 9, 1944-May 1945. Died Jan. 24, 2001, Wyckoff, New Jersey. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/94248
Lt. Robert S. Sherman – On 9 May 1944, Lt. Robert S. Sherman belly landed his aircraft near Thrablemont after the propeller of his Mustang #43-7002 hit the ground while strafing St. Dizier airfield. Became a prisoner of war (POW). http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/195610
Lt. Lloyd W. Waterman – Assigned to 335FS, FG, 8AF USAAF. 3-Nov-43, crashed after takeoff from Halesworth, was seriously injured, RTD. On May 9, 1944, he was shot down and crashed near Route de Port À Binson, Saint-Martin-d’Ablois, France in P-51B 'Yippee Joe' 42- 106911. Taken as Prisoner of War (POW) to Stalag Luft III, Zagan, Poland. May 9, 1944-1945. MACR 4686. Post war served with 80FS, 8FG, 5AF USAF. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/149816
Lt. Pierce, May 13th
Lt. Aubrey Edward Hewett – On May 28, 1944, he was shot down by a Bf109 on escort mission to Magdeburg in P-51B 43-6933. The a/c was hit by cannon fire causing it to break up in flames. Hewett abandoned the a/c which crashed at Barnstadt, Germany. He was taken as a POW to Stalag Luft III, Zagan, Poland. May 28, 1944-May 1945. MACR 5397. Died July 8, 2007, Maryland. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/13785
Lt. Richard L. Bopp – On May 28, 1944, he was separated from his section leader after engaging German aircraft near Magdeburg. Was in radio contact as group was turning for home but unable to locate friendly aircraft. Reported shot down by the Germans in Northern France, his aircraft crashing near Aumont, France, and taken as POW to Stalag Luft III, Zagan, Poland, May 28, 1944-May 1945. Died January 5, 1997, Florida. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/183289
Lt. Coulter, May 30th
Lt. Frank E. Speer – On May 29, 1944, upon returning from a mission to Poznan, Poland, was shot down and evaded capture for 8 days. Was taken as POW in northern Germany and sent to Stalag Luft III, Zagan, Poland. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/67476
These pilots were no doubt friends of McPharlin. Upon digitizing the negatives, one in particular reveals a pilot making a goofy face for the camera, and appears quite possibly to be Lt. Lloyd W. Waterman, listed in the logbook and seen here on his POW ID card.
The logbook of Major Michael McPharlin is now cataloged and stored in the museum’s archives. Two hundred and ninety-five pilot logbooks are currently in the archive and each tells its own unique story about aviation history and man’s devotion to flight. Included are the 1920- 22 army pilot logbook of T. Claude Ryan, C.A. Larson’s log for his 1926 Alaskan aerial survey, Louis E. Gordon’s two logbooks from 1927 to 1932. He was Amelia Earhart’s mechanic andco‐ pilot on the 1928 flight in which she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean. Other notables include Waldo Waterman, Bill Chana, and William C. Geopfarth, who was a crew member on the first flight of the Convair XC-99.
Submitted by Debbie Seracini, Archivist, San Diego Air and Space Museum