~SOLD~ ILFREY Jack
Jack M. Ilfrey
In two combat tours, he flew 142 missions.
Aerial Victories: 7.5 confirmed and 2 damaged.
Captain Jack M. Ilfrey
By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
Jack Milton Ilfrey joined the Army Air Corps and graduated from flying school at Luke Field Arizona on December 12, 1941 just days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Jack was assigned to the 94th "Hat in the Ring", Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group. The 94th Squadron was famous from the group’s success in World War I when Eddie Rickenbacker was the top American Ace.
Jack was sent to England with his group in the spring of 1942. After the Allies invaded North Africa code named “Operation Torch”, Jack and his squadron were sent to Tafaroui were they began flying combat missions. The flight from England to North Africa was eventful with a stop over because of engine trouble in Portugal. When Jack landed at the Portuguese military airfield the Portuguese military pilots were awe-struck with the total awesomeness of the P-38 fighter. Truly at the time the advanced design fighter looked like it came out of a science-fiction comic book. The P-38 was bigger than anything the Portuguese pilots had ever seen or flown short of a multi-engine cargo plane. Plus the Lighting had a tri-cycle landing gear setting the fighter high off the ground which made it even more intimidating.
Once in Africa the majority of the missions the group flew in North Africa were both ground support and bomber escorts. Not all missions held the chance of enemy aircraft encounters. The bombing and strafing of German and Italian troops as well as anti-aircraft batteries, artillery, and vehicles was dangerous enough.
Flying a P-38 Lighting named “Texas Terror”, Jack saw combat for the first time on November 29th with an aerial victory by shooting down a Messerschmitt 110 while returning from an attack on the German Airdrome at Gabes. The P-38 Jack flew from England was painted light gray on the bottom wing areas as well as the bottom of the fuselage and engine booms. The top of the fighter was painted the standard Olive Drab. The insignia star was white on a dark blue field on the wings and engine boom The blue field back-ground was outlined in yellow which would be standard for all American aircraft in the African Campaign. Yellow identification strips were added on the wings later in the campaign.
On December 2nd, Jack shot down two Bf 109’s, over Gabes, and became an ace on December 26th while leading a flight to Bizerte Tunis by shooting down two Focke Wulf 190s.
On March 3, 1943, Jack shot down another Bf 109 which would make a total of six he would get credit for in Africa. These victories made Jack the first ace in the 94th Fighter Squadron and the second pilot to be an ace in the P-38. Both very noble deeds.
Their squadron was used for dangerous ground strafing missions in support of allied infantry advances. On one mission Jack and his fellow pilots strafed German gun positions that were located in a mountain passage on the road to Sfax. Their success in attacking the German gun batteries led to an allied victory.
Jack flew 72 Combat missions while in North Africa and returned to the States becoming an instructor for new pilots in the P-38 and P-47. He enjoyed flying the P-47 and agreed that the Thunderbolt was a huge fighter, well so was the P-38. It was an equal dynamo in its own rite. Jack had enjoyed combat and was eager to get back to Europe. This time Jack wanted to be stationed in England. He knew he had enough of the desert and never wanted to go back to North Africa.
Jack was promoted to Captain and returned to England to join the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group in March 1944 as the commander officer. On this tour Jack was flying a new aluminum finished P-38 named “Happy Jacks Go Buggy.”
Jack scored two more aerial victories over Bf 109’s on May 24th while escorting heavy bombers over Berlin. Jack and his squadron of sixteen P-38’s were jumped by thirty plus Germans. The ensuing aerial battle became frantic, filling the sky with twisting, turning and looping aircraft.
The first aerial victory was precarious because it was a head on attack. While in the head on attack with the 109 Jack fired his four fifty caliber machine guns. Jack couldn't remember if he fired his 20mm cannon or not but he saw that the oncoming enemy fighter was hit and started to wobble a little. As they passed the German plane hit Jacks P-38 tearing off the end of his right wing. Jack was able to keep his Lighting from going into a spin because of the shear size of his airship. The German was not so lucky. The Messerschmitt spun coming apart. A chute was never seen.
On June 12th Jack and his squadron successfully dive bombed a bridge that crossed the Loire River. While reassembling with his squadron they came upon an enemy train. Jack was unaware that the Germans were now making an excreted effort to protect their trains with anti-aircraft guns mounted on flat cars. Some of the anti-aircraft guns were disguised. Jack attacked the train and destroyed the locomotive. Little did Jack notice the tracers that were reaching out for him from well guided guns. As Jack was pulling up his right engine exploded and caught on fire. Everything happened so fast. Jack had to make a decision to bail out almost instantly. After unbuckling himself Jack lifted the canopy and immediately jumped straight up bailing out of "Happy Jack’s Go Buggy" just before the fighter exploded.
Jack parachuted behind enemy lines and avoided capture by befriending the French people who helped him escape. Jack was disguised as a deaf mute named Jacques Robert. Jack carried a note that a French woman wrote, explaining that he had been injured and could not speak or hear. She signed it as a doctor. This note saved Jacks life and enabled him to openly travel in day
It took Jack several weeks to return to the allied lines. Jack rode a bicycle most of the way and walked the rest. Along the way he met many German troops. He was even asked to transport a wounded German soldier to a field hospital by pushing him in a wheel borrow, which he did as requested.
Jack witnessed first hand the destruction the Allied aircraft was doing to the towns, cities and the German airdromes. Jack even witness several air attacks while making his way back to the Allied lines.
After reaching the Allied lines his concern was to make sure that he doesn't get shot by American or Allied troops. Once he reached the American troops Jack was well fed and helped back to his unit and airbase. Soon thereafter his unit transitioned to the P-51D Mustangs of which Jack named his, “Happy Jack’s Go Buggy”.
On one mission Jack and his flight was doing aerial recon when one of his squadron mates was shot down. They were also flying low level and shooting things up when his friends Mustang was hit. His friend belly landed his Mustang in and got out and waved at Jack as he flew past. Jack then did something he was not exposed to do. Jack landed his fighter next to his friend and opened his canopy. With German infantry coming after the downed pilot Jack was able to get his friend to sit on his lap as he took off and flew back to base. He did not want his friend to go through what he had gone through trying not to get captured. Of course if Jacks fighter had been damaged in landing he could have been stuck behind enemy lines for the second time.
Jack left the service after the war credited with 8 confirmed aerial victories and two damaged. His awards were the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Air Metal with 13 Oak Leaf Clusters.
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