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Alexander Rafalovich

Military

Alex was from San Pedro, California. He was assigned to the 4th Fighter Group, 334th Squadron in February 1943 while they were still flying Spitfires. As they were converting to P-47 Thunderbolts the squadron was off operations for 45 days, so Alex took a short leave and got married, returning on 18 March.
Routine combat followed in the P-47s until Group Commander Don Blakeslee insisted, and was given the opportunity to trade the P-47s for the new long range P-51s. The pilots were delighted with the new aircraft in spite of the fact that it was more vulnerable to damage since the engine was liquid-cooled . The transition was made with most of the pilots having little more than a few hours flight time to familiarize themselves with the P-51s prior to flying them into combat.
On 21 March 1944 the 4th Fighter Group had no scheduled mission, and so initiated a "Rhubarb" to France, led by Colonel Jim Clark. As the 334th Squadron attacked an airfield in the Bordeaux area, Alex and his wingman were attacking a D0-217 which was trying to land, and as they were pulling up, they were bounced by a flight of Fw-190s. Alex suddenly discovered his oil pressure was falling. As he climbed up to 3,000 feet his glycol coolant was streaming out of his exhaust, so immediately bailed out. Faced with immediate action, thoughts raced through his mind.
He later wrote:
"The procedures run through your mind all of the time so you train yourself mentally. You're like a robot. You just snap the canopy open and you bail out, you don't think because there is only one option and that is to get out. It's one. two, three, and out you go. You don't think; you react. If you start thinking, it's too late".
The parachute ride was fast:
"Before I knew it, I was on the ground. I will never forget the tail of the flying underneath me. I had my legs spread and saw the tail of the plane pass right under me. After I landed I hid my chute and started walking. I met a few Frenchmen and showed them a little I.D. card. They thanked me and kept going".
"Just before dark I went to a woman's house. She had three kids and she took me in that night. The next morning she gave me civilian clothes, led me to the railroad station, and bought me a ticket. I was in a military zone that the Germans had. I wasn't in the middle of France, I was on the coast. I found a map of the railroad system and just hopped from one station to the other. No one asked me any questions. I got all the way down to the Pyrenees and then some Frenchman turned me in. It might have been for the reward or for the fact that if the Germans caught anyone helping the Allies it was a very serious crime. Frenchmen are OK, they just fought a lousy war, that's all".
He speculated that since he did not feel any hits to his plane as he was approaching the airfield he was probably so low that he hit the top of a tree, damaging his air scoop and the oil-cooler plumbing inside it.
Alex spent the rest of the war as a POW. He had five planes destroyed to his credit and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and the POW Medal.
He retired in California.

Service

Units served with

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force

    Command
    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 334th Fighter Squadron

    334th Fighter Squadron

    Squadron
    The 334th Fighter Squadron was the successor to No. 71 Eagle squadron of the Royal Air Force when the 4th Fighter Group was activated on 12 September 1942. They were based at Debden Field, Essex. The "Fighting Eagles" as they were called, flew...

Aircraft

  • 43-6839

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. A/C lost after strafing mission to airfield East of Bordeaux, on the pull up from its pass, pilot reported zero oil pressure, this was followed by a stream of glycol and abandonment of the A/C. Pilot Lt Alexander...

  • 41-6195

    P-47 Thunderbolt
    Assigned to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Transferred to 551st Fighter Training Squadron 495th Fighter Training Group 8AF USAAF. During formation immelman manoeuvre, aborted manoeuvre and in recovery A/C stalled and 'flicked' into a spin. Pilot baled out from...

  • 42-7919 'Lilliput'

    P-47 Thunderbolt
    Assigned to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Transferred to 23rd Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Group, 9AF USAAF.

Associated Place

  • Debden

    Military site : airfield
    RAF Debden, construction of which began in 1935, is perhaps most famous as a Battle of Britain fighter airfield, partly responsible for the defence of London in 1940. In 1942 it was also home to three RAF 'Eagle Squadrons’ of volunteer American pilots...

Events

Event Location Date
Born California, USA 21 October 1921
Lived in San Pedro, California, USA 1940
Assigned Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK 19 February 1943 – 21 March 1944

Assigned to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF.

Promoted Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK 24 June 1943

Promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

Shot down Bordeaux, France 21 March 1944

Failed to return after strafing mission to airfield East of Bordeaux, on the pull up from his pass, reported zero oil pressure, this was followed by a stream of glycol and abandonment of the A/C. Baled out at 2000ft. POW. MACR 3372.

Evaded EVD Pyrenees, France 22 March 1944 – April 1944

Initially evaded capture with the help of some brave french civilians. Made it to the Pyrenees before being turned in to the enemy.

Prisoner of War (POW) Zagan, Poland April 1944 – 1945

Prisoner of War.

Died Salem, OR, USA 20 September 2006

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
29 March 2016 21:41:53 Al_Skiff Changes to role, awards, events and unit associations
Sources

http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbmacr.asp?MACR=3372
https://www.fold3.com/image/28635493

Date Contributor Update
07 March 2015 12:46:03 apollo11 Changes to highest rank, biography, awards, events and place associations
Sources

Personal research & 'Eighty-One Aces of the 4th Fighter Group' by Frank Speer.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:03:15 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / MACR 3372 / MACR 3372, Losses of the 8th & 9th Air Forces, , Losses of the 8th & 9th AFs Vol I by Bishop & Hey p. 236 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database / Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list

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