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Brad Hoelscher May Have Bagged A German Jet, Fought In Three Wars

William B. “Brad” Hoelscher became one of the last U.S. airmen to be shot down in Europe during World War II. He went on to fight in two more wars. He accomplished just about everything an Air Force officer and fighter pilot could — yet he never received credit for the German jet fighter he destroyed before his own plane was blasted out of the sky. If he’d received that aerial victory credit, he would be considered an ace today.

Brad Hoelscher

Brad Hoelscher as a fighter pilot in World War II. Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

Hoelscher was a P-51 Mustang pilot with the 334th Fighter Group, part of the 4th Fighter Group, flying missions from England.

“He was a top-notch pilot,” said retired Lt. Gen. William E. “Earl” Brown, who was a young lieutenant when Hoelscher was a major in Korea. “He had a great sense of humor behind a gruff, crusty exterior, and he was a great warrior.”

Born in 1921 in Indiana, Hoelscher was a high school football star before attending the University of Michigan. He entered the Army Air Forces, the AAF, in 1943.

Hoelscher racked up many achievements, but none meant more to him than the events of April 25, 1945, less than two weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

Hoelscher was credited with 2.5 aerial victories, according to the Air Force’s official list. The half-kill is the result of sharing a shootdown with another pilot.

But since the Eighth Air Force also credited aircraft destroyed on the ground, Hoelscher was considered an air ace when his air-to-ground victories are counted. Hoelscher racked up many achievements, but none meant more to him than the events of April 25, 1945, less than two weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

 

Jet Threat

That day, Hoelscher found himself after 8:00 a.m. not far from Prague, Czechoslovakia, where the German unit known as Kampfgeschwader 51, or KG 51 (Bomber Group 51) “Edelweiss” had stationed a handful of Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters. The jet-propelled Me 262 was now a threat to Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force airmen attacking targets in the region around the Czech capital.

Fully aware that he was seriously damaged and in jeopardy, he kept after the Me 262 and continued firing short bursts.

Hoelscher’s aircraft was the P-51D Mustang, with its Merlin engine, six .50-caliber guns, and the long range needed to operate at great distances over the Third Reich. Many historians believe the Mustang was pivotal to the success of the Allied air campaign over Europe. But it did not have the speed or the cannon armament of the German jet.

That morning, a mere five Me 262 pilots were credited with aerial victories over six B-17 Flying Fortresses. This mismatch was evidence of how much harm the jets could inflict, and of how much more impact they might have had, had they been introduced earlier.

334th Fighter Squadron

334th Fighter Squadron pilots pose for a photo in January 1945. U.S. Army Air Forces photo

Hoelscher was “Cobweb Blue Three,” an element leader in his 334th squadron P-51D Mustang. He and his fellow Mustang men were near Prague when black puffs of anti-aircraft fire — flak — began to swirl around them. Hoelscher wrote:

“I broke to get out of a flak barrage, and saw an Me 262 that apparently had just taken off from an aerodrome. I broke onto his tail, missed with my first burst, and then started getting hits all over him. I kept firing three-second bursts at a range of about 500 yards, getting hits. I chased him all around the aerodrome. My indicated air speed was 375 miles per hour and altitude around 1,000 feet.”

While Hoelscher was pursuing the Me 262, shrapnel from flak bursts damaged his wing root and tore part of his tail away. Fully aware that he was seriously damaged and in jeopardy, he kept after the Me 262 and continued firing short bursts. He saw the Me-262 go out of control and begin to burn and smoke. The jet rolled over on its back.”

2nd Lt. Gordon A. Denson, who was behind Hoelscher in a P-51 named Priscilla, wrote: “I saw a large explosion near the edge of the aerodrome under us, where the Me 262 went down out of control on his back.”

 

Bailout and Escape

Hoelscher would believe all his life that he had scored an aerial victory near Prague that morning. German records reflect the loss of an Me 262 and its pilot, Leutnant (2nd Lt.) Sepp Huber.

According to a Czech publication (not available in English) one Oberleutenant (1st Lt.) Stürm set forth from KG 51’s deployed location at Prague airfield on a motorcycle to attempt to rescue the pilot of the Me 262. The jet fighter exploded. The blast badly wounded Stürm and killed Huber.

He returned to the 334th squadron and flew the F-86 Sabre. On Oct. 11, 1952, Hoelscher shot down a MiG-15 near the Yalu River to bring his air-to-air victory total to 3.5. He was later credited with an additional one-half victory.

Hoelscher fought to save his Mustang, couldn’t, and bailed out. He may not have known it, but he had plenty to worry about. The situation for captured U.S. flyers in the Sudetenland was not good. One week earlier, on April 17, 1945, fellow U.S. fighter pilot 2nd Lt. John H. Banks III, was shot down near Prague, taken prisoner, and executed. One source reports that local police tied Banks to a tree, and refused to allow the local citizens to bring him food or water. Banks died of exposure days later. He’d been on his first mission.

Brad Hoelscher

Brad Hoelscher with an F-86 Sabre in the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Kimpo Air Base, Korea, in 1952. Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

In Hoelscher’s case, local citizens helped him evade capture. Missing in action for almost two weeks, he reported to the 14th Armored Division in Pilsen on May 7, 1945. In a 1945 interview with the Indianapolis News, he said, “I ‘swiped’ a motorcycle and rode through the German lines the day before the war was over.” He said he didn’t see a single German while making his escape.

Hoelscher commanded a fighter squadron as an Indiana Air National Guardsman before being recalled to active duty when the Korean War began in 1950.

He returned to the 334th squadron and flew the F-86 Sabre. On Oct. 11, 1952, Hoelscher shot down a MiG-15 near the Yalu River to bring his air-to-air victory total to 3.5. He was later credited with an additional one-half victory.

“That Skyraider was one tough bird,” said retired Col. Charles Vasiliadis, who flew the A-1E in the same squadron. “But when you were down low, you could get hit by almost anything. There was a lot of metal flying around over the battle lines in Vietnam.”

A seasoned veteran of two wars now, Hoelscher had not yet flown “his most difficult or dangerous missions,” according to his son, retired Lt. Col. Brad Hoelscher, Jr. That came during the Vietnam conflict, when Hoelscher was stationed in Thailand and flew the propeller-driven A-1E Skyraider on low-level close air support missions.

“That Skyraider was one tough bird,” said retired Col. Charles Vasiliadis, who flew the A-1E in the same squadron. “But when you were down low, you could get hit by almost anything. There was a lot of metal flying around over the battle lines in Vietnam.”

Hoelscher held key assignments in the fighter community until his retirement from the Air Force in 1970. After retirement as a lieutenant colonel, he was active in veterans’ affairs.

Hoelscher married Jane Marie Bertuleit in 1945. They left behind three children. Hoelscher died in 1984, his wife in 1992.

 

North American P-51D Mustang

Type: Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: One 1,590-hp (1186-kW) Packard V-1650-7 (Rolls-Royce Merlin) liquid-cooled inline engine

Performance: Maximum speed 437 mph (703 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6096 m); initial rate of climb 3,475 ft (1060 m) per minute; operating radius with maximum fuel 1,300 miles (2092 km)

Weights: Empty 7125 lb (3230 kg); loaded 11,600 lb (5262 kg)

Dimensions: Span 37 ft 0-1/2 in (11.29 m); length 32 ft 3 in (9.84 m); height 13 ft 8 in (4.10 m); wing area 235 sq ft (21.83 sq m)

Armament: Six .50-caliber (12.7-mm) Browning M3 machine guns with 400 rounds for each inboard gun and 270 rounds for each outboard gun; provision for two 500-lb (227-kg) bombs, eight rockets, or other under-wing ordnance in place of drop tanks

First flight: Oct. 26, 1940 (NA-73X); May 20, 1941 (XP-51); May 29, 1942 (P-51A); Nov. 17, 1943 (XP-51D)

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...