Col Jack Landers CO 78th FG
Crew of the 78th Fighter Group lounge in front of P-51 Mustang (WZ-I, serial no. 44-72218) at Duxford air base. This aircraft, bearing the nose art 'Big Beautiful Doll', was flown by Colonel John D Landers, Commanding Officer of the 78th Fighter Group, 8th USAAF between February and June 1945. 1945.
Men of the 78th Fighter Group sit gathered around a jeep. Behind them on the hardstanding at Duxford air base is a P-51D Mustang (WZ-I, serial no. 44-72218). This aircraft, bearing the nose art 'Big Beautiful Doll', was flown by Colonel John D Landers, Officer Commanding 78th Fighter Group, 8th USAAF. 1945.
A P-51 Mustang aircraft (HL-A, serial number 44-63216), named "Anne Nihilator". Colonel John Landers, Commanding Officer of the 78th Fighter Group - based at Duxford is in the cockpit. This photograph was taken in early 1945; subsequent to this Mustang being reallocated from Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert E. Olin. Handwritten on slide casing:"HL-A Mason Barnard"
A P-51 Mustang aircraft (HL-A, serial number 44-63216), named "Anne Nihilator", the pilot being assisted into the aircraft is Colonel John Landers, Commanding Officer of the 78th Fighter Group - based at Duxford. This photograph was taken in early 1945; subsequent to this Mustang being reallocated from Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert E. Olin. Handwritten on slide casing:"Anne Nihilator Mason Barnard"
A P-51 Mustang aircraft serial number 44-13923 nicknamed "Big Beautiful Doll", flown by Major John D. Landers of the 55th Fighter Group where it was coded CG-O of the 38th Fighter Squadron. Landers took this P-51 with him when he went to the 357th FG where it was recoded to B6-O of the 363rd Fighter Squadron. Handwritten on slide: "CG:O 413823? 5/8/44 John Landers a/c 2-28 Sand" The question mark in the handwritten note is there because 413823 is incorrect.
Pilots and ground crew of the 55th Fighter Group. The P-51 Mustang in the background bears the squadron identifier code "CG" - this denotes it as from the 38th Fighter Squadron. Part of the letter G may be discerned on the aircraft in the foreground. Handwritten on slide:" John Landers by tail 2-34"
Lieutenant-Colonel John D. Landers, of the 84th Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group in the cockpit of his P-51 Mustang (WZ-I, serial number 44-72258) nicknamed "Big Beautiful Doll" before a mission over the Rhine, 24 March 1945.
Printed caption on reverse: '56813 A.C. - Lt. Col. John D. Landers, 24-year-old ace from Joshua, Texas, settles into the cokpit of his North American P-51 Mustang before taking off to lead the 78th Fighter Group over the Rhine, Saturday, 24 March 1945, to sweep the area, looking for German planes and strafing Nazi transportation. The Rhine crossing area was completely isolated from the rest of Germany as the 78th Group and other 8th AF units blasted every military vehicle and train that moved for miles ahead of the advancing Allied forces. Please credit: "Official U.S. Air Force Photo."'
Ground personnel of the 78th Fighter Group check a P-51 Mustang (WZ-I, serial number 44-72218) nicknamed "Big Beautiful Doll" , flown by Colonel J.D. Lander, before a mission.
Page 49 of the Duxford Diary.
Many of the 8th Air Force Groups produced an unofficial unit history in the months after the war ended in Europe but before they were redeployed out of the ETO (‘European Theater of Operations’). The Duxford Diary was the book created by and for the service personnel who were based at Duxford at the end of the war in Europe, as a memento of their time at the airfield.
Resembling a college yearbook, unit histories were an unofficial – and often tongue-in-cheek – record of the unit’s time in the UK. They include photo montages showing different aspects of base life. Often the servicemen in the photos are unnamed. The American Air Museum hopes that by adding unit histories to the website as individual pages, the men in the photos will be identified and associated to their person entries.
Cmdr Officer of 78th FG, flew 90 missions in the Pacific Theater; served also with the 55th FG and 357th FG/ Had over 1039 hrs in flying time and 174 total missions.
3 Silver Stars/4 DFC/ British DFC/21 Air Medals/Purple heart/Croix de Guerre and various theater/campaign medals
34 1/2 total of which 20 were ground, 14 1/2 air
78th FG. Lt Col John D Landers , of Joshua Texas, assumed command of the 78th Fighter Group at Duxford on February 22nd 1945 and became the Group’s sixth Commanding Officer. A graduate of Cleburne, Texas, High School and Arkansas Teacher’s College at Conway, Arkansas, John Landers enlisted in April 1941 and received his wings and commission at Stockton, California, a few days after Pearl Harbour. In January 1942 he embarked for Darwin, Australia, and checked out in a P-40, going into combat with less than ten hours pursuit time.
“On his second operational mission, Lt Col Landers had what he still calls his biggest combat thrill. Enemy planes had been reported north of Darwin, and twelve American planes, including the colonel’s, took off to intercept them. The Texan’s Warhawk developed engine trouble, and he was soon flying alone behind the others, halfway between Darwin and Melville Island. He sighted the Japanese aircraft – seven bombers with three escorting Zero fighters – and with 2000 feet altitude superiority, dived to attack. Finding a bomber dead in his sights, he blew the Jap plane apart for his first aerial victory.
The escorting Zeros punched holes in the American’s plane from wing to tail and knocked his radio out, so he dived away and waited for them to come back on the return route. From a distance, he saw the remainder of his squadron shooting down other enemy planes. When the Japs returned, only three bombers and no Zeros were left. Lt Col Landers attacked from the rear and sent the remaining three bombers crashing into the sea, to complete a 10-0 victory for the Yanks. As two of the last three bombers had already been shot up by the other flyers, the Texan received full credit only for the two that were in perfect shape when he attacked.
A short time later, Lt Col Landers was moved with the squadron to New Guinea, near Buna. He was now flying a P-38 Lightning. The American field was frequently bombed and strafed by Japanese planes, and the colonel shot down four Zeros on intercepted missions.
After his sixth victory, the pilot himself was shot down and bailed out on the wrong side of the Owen Stanley mountain range. Friendly natives helped him out of the jungle, and seven days after he had joined the Caterpillar Club he returned to his home base. A leave and a 43-day tour of Australia followed, and then the pilot returned to his squadron, flew a few missions, and was “rotated” back to the States. He received a Purple Heart for his jungle ordeal.
In the States, he met acclaim and publicity, and appeared on the Ginny Sims radio program among others. Seven months later, bored with routine flying at Santa Ana, California, he applied for further combat and was immediately sent to England and to the 55th Fighter Group, then commanded by Colonel George T Crowell, of Chicago, Illinois. That was in April1944. The 55th Group was then flying the P-38 Lightnings and later changed to the P-51 Mustangs.
The Texan’s chief combat with Nazi planes occurred when he led his flight of Lightnings against 20 German planes threatening B-24 Liberators near Bernburg, Germany. He said that the enemy pilots stayed in tight formation throughout the fight and only broke loose to crash or jump. He saw nine Me 410’s crash and three chutes open. He was credited with three of the victories. None of his squadron’s planes were lost.
On a mission shortly after that action, Lt Col Landers demolished two Junkers 88’s at an airfield southwest of Berlin. He swept in on the parked fighter-bombers with a flight of five Mustangs, and the Americans left six of the enemy planes burning.
His most exciting bit of combat in this theatre occurred when he led his flight of Lightnings over a truck convoy behind the battle lines in France. The American fighters were carrying two 500 pound bombs each, one under each wing. On a country road, Lt Col Landers and his squadron found a truck convoy moving along. He led two passes, dropping one bomb on each pass.
The convoy was hit, but some trucks still moved, so the Texan roared up and down, strafing with his 50-caliber guns and 20-millimeter cannon. Col Landers said that the gunners must have been killed, as no shots were fired at the Americans in the last pass. The gunners had done their work well, as the colonel returned to his base with his plane torn from Nazi fire. Jagged hoes were all over his plane, and a wing had to be changed.
The pilot’s eagerness in combat was dramatically shown when he was assigned to lead the longest mission ever flown by fighter planes, a 1600-mile round trip escorting heavy bombers to Gydnia, Poland. He took off and developed engine trouble a short way out. He radioed back to the field to have another plane ready. On landing, he hopped into a waiting Mustang, then took off and caught his group just before it rendezvoused with the bombers. His plane was in the air more than seven hours.
Joining the 55th Group as a captain and squadron operations officer, the Texan left it in October 1944, a squadron commander and Lieutenant Colonel. He left to temporarily command the 357th Fighter Group at Leiston, while the group was awaiting the return of Colonel Erwin H Dregne, of Viroqua, Wisconsin, former deputy commander of the group on leave in the States at this time, who was slated to succeed Col Donald W Graham of Oakland, California.
Lt Col Landers' ability to be in the right place at the right time was demonstrated when he and other pilots of the 357th FG barged into the middle of an Me 109 landing pattern. The leader polished off a Me 109 over the snow-covered field and then dived to the deck, riddling another. The 357th FG pilots, flying low enough to scoop up snow, wrecked a total of 13 Nazi planes on the ground and shot four out of the air.
The colonel left the 357th on November 18, 1944, for a second leave in the United States. He returned to England in February 1945, and took command of the 78th Fighter Group on the 22nd of that month.”
Lt Col J D Landers’ victories up to March 1, 1945:
Destroyed – Six Japanese planes, all in air. (Two bombers, when he was flying P-40’s from Darwin, Australia, and four Zeros, when he was flying P-38’s from New Guinea.)
Probably destroyed – Five Japanese planes, all in air.
Destroyed – Five in air. (One Me 109 and three Me 410’s with the 55th Group and one Me 109 with the 357th Group. Six on ground. Five German planes with the 55th,
Damaged – One in air and one on ground.
“Change in commanding officers came as a surprise to the base […] Soldiers who first saw the new commander reported a tall, burley, easy speaking individual with enough ribbons (Silver Star with two cluster, DFC with two clusters, Air Medal with eleven clusters, Purple Heart) to fashion a Joseph’s coat of many colors.
The colonel, who is the third Texan to command the group, plunged into missions with the zest of one who love them and flew on four of the group’s last six combat flights of the month. One of these was the Berlin mission of February 26th, on which he led the group. [..] The colonel boosted [his] score by two Messerschmitt 109’s ten days after joining the group (March 2), when he caught two dozen enemy fighters forming up over Burg airfield near Madgeburg.”
“No, I don’t carry any kind of luck charm.” Lieutenant Colonel Landers said. “I don’t know where my luck in finding enemy planes comes from. Some of the other group commanders claim that if they dropped me into a barrel of lard, I’d bump into a Nazi plane.”
Whether it is luck or whether the 78th Group’s commanding officer can “smell the rats” (as some have claimed) is beyond the scope of this history. The fact remains that within one month after assuming command, the colonel had led the group into two luscious gaggles of German planes, both of which were apparently forming up in preparation for attacks on American bombers. The P-51 Mustang pilots destroyed 45 of the enemy fighters, 32 of them in one day for a new group air record.”
“Lt Col John D Landers, 24, of Joshua, Texas, commanding officer who bagged eight on the ground a week previously, topped that record by destroying nine planes at Prague-Kakowice airdrome. The victories boosted his total score to 36.5 German and Japanese aircraft destroyed, of which 14.5 were shot down in aerial combat.
‘When we arrived at least 80 planes were scattered around the field,’ the colonel said. ‘When we left there were 80 funeral pyres. A dozen anti-aircraft gunners put up some light flak at first, but it didn’t bother us much and we simply set up a traffic pattern. German aircraft were blowing up and burning all over the place. We made eight to nine passes. I scored doubles on each of my first three passes, two of the six planes blowing up.’”
Military | Colonel | 1055-Fighter Pilot single engine | 55th Fighter Group
A native of Portland, OR who graduated from Grant High in 1938. After 2 years at the U of WA he joined the AAAC and received his wings in Jan. 1941. Assigned to the 26th FS and he was one of the pilots who flew P-40s off of the USS Ranger to N....
Military | Colonel | Fighter Pilot | 55th Fighter Group
49th FG New Guinea 1942-43
HQ 55th FG
Units served with
The 357th Fighter Group was the first P-51 Mustang Group in the Eighth Air Force, training with them from November 1943 at Raydon, England and entering combat with them in the February of the following year from their new base at Leiston. The Group was...
The 361st Fighter Group was the last P-47 Thunderbolt Group to join the Eighth Air Force. Between 21 January 1944 and 20 April 1945, the Group flew 441 missions, the majority in an escort role in support of bombers flying over occupied Europe. The...
The 55th Fighter Group were the first P-38 Lightning Group to go fully operational from England. The pilots flew long-range escort missions for bombers flying over occupied Europe and racked up 'kills' of their own by destroying enemy aircraft in...
Assigned to 38FS, 55FG, 8AF USAAF. Transferred to 434FS, 479FG, 8AF USAAF. Failed to Return (FTR) fighter sweep Melun - Dijon 10-Aug-44 Crashed into Epernay Forest Lt James E Fleming Jr KIA MACR 7622
Big Beautiful Doll was credited with at least two of the five in air kills that Landers gained in Europe. It was also his most famous plane and remained so until it was decommissioned
First used by Lt Colonel Olin Gilbert, Anne Nihilator was given to Lt Colonel John Landers for several missions in 1945. It was flown by the 78th Fighter Group from Duxford from when the Mustang fighter was stationed there in 1943/4 until the end of...
Military site : airfield
RAF Duxford, now a museum and still a working airfield, was operated by the USAAF from 1943 to 1945. The base was briefly the home of the 350th Fighter Group in late 1942, but it was not until April 1943 that it became a fully American station when the...
Military site : airfield
Leiston's location only three miles from the North Sea Coast made it ideal as a Fighter Group air base whose job would be to escort bombers across the sea and over occupied Europe. The air base also witnessed the arrival of many very damaged Allied...