Written by Jeri Lynn Bakken for the Lemmon South Dakota Leader – March 19,2002
Noble Peterson grew up near New England, North Dakota and attended Dickinson State College.
In 1936 Noble and a friend were working on a ranch in Montana when they road to Spokane, WA behind the coal car of a passenger train.
While in Spokane, Peterson’s friend talked him into enlisting in the Army. However, after all the physical testing was done, Peterson passed and his friend did not.
“I first got into the service in November 1936,” said Peterson. He was assigned to the infantry and stationed in Hawaii for two and one-half years. There he learned to assemble and disassemble a number of different kinds of guns. “We could identify all the parts of each gun blindfolded,” Peterson remembers.
He was discharged from the Army in 1939 and returned to New England where he worked at the elevator. Peterson was working at the elevator when he heard about the bombing on Pearl Harbor and enlisted in the Army again in 1942.
His first assignment was in Ft. Knox, KY. “I was in the Tank Corp for nine months. I didn’t like the tanks; big clumsy things,” he said.
While in Ft. Knox, Peterson tested to become a pilot. In September of 1942 he became a member of the Army Air Force as a Cadet in Nashville, TN.
“I think there were about 50 of us taking the exams and half of them didn’t make it,” Peterson said.
“wages at that time were $21 a month. Being I had prior experience I got an additional $10 a month. I was making more money in the Army than I was working at the elevator. When I got into the cadet Corp my wages were raised to $75 a month. We thought we were pretty rich,” said Peterson.
“We had about three months of schooling and aircraft identification. We also had Navel ship identification and German Tank Identification.”
According to Peterson, “In flight training we started flying and they washed out 55% of our class in Primary. Those of us that passed went on to Basic Flight Training. There we started flying instruments and doing aerobatics. At Basic Training they washed out another 23% of our class.,” he said.
“After we got done there we got 50 hours in a P-51 in Florida. Then, they shipped us up to New York and we went over on a troop carrier boat. We didn’t have any escort. Every two minutes they zigzagged another course all the way across.”
Peterson arrived in England on January 18, 1944 and was stationed 40 miles north of London. “When we got over there they assigned us to group. I got into the 358th Fighter Squadron which was part of the 355th Fighter Group.”
“When you first start flying you are a wing man. You fly off the leader’s wing and he is the flight leader in charge of all four planes on the flight. You fly the wing until you get a little bit more experience. Pretty soon you start leading the flight.”
Peterson said, “I didn’t see Europe for the first five missions because of the cloud cover. On one of out first missions, on April 5th, they sent us down to strafe an Air Grove south of Munich in Germany. 48 planes in our group went down there. The number of German aircraft destroyed that day were 52 and 81 more had damage to them. Our group was given a Presidential Unit citation.”
“That’s where I destroyed my first planes,” remembers Peterson. “I destroyed one and damaged three more in just one pass across the field.”
“Most of our missions, of course, were escorting bombers to the target or from the target. You flew four to a flight and there were four flights to a squadron and three squadrons to our group.”
“We probably had five miles of bombers to protect. Your head is on the swivel all the time. Half of the time you’re looking back. You’d glance at the instruments and keep looking. The fighters didn’t have a heading. You just fallowed the bombers.”
“Coming home you picked out your own heading. If you saw enemy fighters four or five miles over there you didn’t leave the bombers; you waited for the enemy fighters to come in. The enemy fighter didn’t come in if the P-51s were around. They didn’t want any part of them. But they’d try to get the bombers if there was an opening for them. It was crowded up there all right.”
“We could go all the way to Berlin and back which was 600 miles one way. For us it would be about a six-hour mission. When we started getting a little low on gas, we’d head for home and other fighters would come in to pick up the bombers and take them on back. That mission was about ten hours for the bombers,” he said.
“We’d escort the bombers through Berlin. The Antiaircraft was so heavy over Berlin that you couldn’t even see the bombers when they came through for the smoke and shrapnel. We would pull off to the side and wait for the bombers to come through there, one motor knocked off. The Bomber would be in the spin and you’d see a couple of guys bale out of there. Other bombers blew up right over the target area.”
“I had a K25 camera located in my plane just ahead of the tail wheel. I could activate that camera with a toggle switch on my dashboard. They sent me various places to take photos of different things.”
“One of those times I went to Steteen, Poland which is on the Baltic Sea, northeast of Berlin. It was 700 miles to the target area. They wanted me to take photos of a oil refinery that had been bombed before and knocked out of commission. They wanted to know if it was operating fully enough to warrant another bomber mission.”
“They want pictures from 25’000 feet, 15,000 feet and then at 5,000 feet. I said ”5’000 feet over an oil refinery with all those anti-aircraft guns? That’s a suicide mission.” They said, “They won’t even know you’re there.”
“Well, you never pass into Germany without them knowing you’re there,” said Peterson. “They pick you up on radar right away. So, I made three passes and the last pass I made at 5,000 feet I went across there and flipped upside down, pulled the nose through, added the throttle to it. We were doing about 480 miles per hour when we went through there, my wing man and me. There was heavy anti-air-craft, but we were going so fast they were shooting behind us all the way. We got by pretty lucky,” said Peterson.
“You go on a lot of the missions when the cloud cover was bad. The bombers would abort their mission and come back. Then, they’d send the fighter planes on down to do ground strafing.”
“It is just amazing to me that we never lost more pilots as we went down. We’d be on the instruments going down through these clouds and you didn’t know how high the hills were or anything like that.”
“One time I was leading my flight and we broke out into a valley, hills on both sides. We were just lucky that we weren’t over half a mile one way or another. Up in front of us we could see German barracks. My number four man was flying back about 400 yards. I called to him twice to get back up there in line. We were going about 350 mph when we crossed those barracks. I like to have them all in a straight line because if they missed us up there and this guy was lining up behind, they’d hit him and that’s what happened. I lost that guy up there because he didn’t get up on line.”
“We hit a lot of anti-aircraft fire down low like that. I looked around and I was the only guy left. The other two had gotten hit and started climbing out. I saw this gunner over there shooting 20mm. You can identify it by the small puffs of smoke that comes off the 20mm. This guy was down in some bales. So, I went down close to the ground, flew out there three or four miles and set up a pattern where I’d come back till I could see them again. When I got about half a mile from where they were, I’d pull up and glide in on them. As a glide you had your throttle up full blast. I hit those straw bales and those two gunners. There was nothing left of them.”
Then, I shot up a locomotive there and I figured, heck, I’m down here by myself. I’m gonna get outta here. So, there were all those clouds down there and I started climbing up. After you do a lot of maneuvers down close to the ground like that and start climbing again you get what’s called vertigo. Your instruments tell you your flying right, but at the same time you get this feeling your tipping over, tipping over, tipping over. It gets worse the higher up you go so you just can’t fly it.”
“So, I let back down to the clouds again. This time I missed a hill by about 150 yards to the right. So I looked for some clouds that weren’t too heavy and headed home.”
“My number three man on this flight took a hit in the outer wing. It missed the gas tanks but had a hole in there about two feet in diameter. He started climbing and he said he got to 18,000 feet and the next thing he knew he was out of oxygen. He started tracing from his oxygen mask to the tank and saw his hose was cut off. A bullet had gone through under his left arm and cut off his oxygen tube.”
“When they got to inspecting the plane they saw that another bullet had lined into his parachute. So, you can see how lucky he was. Extremely lucky,” Peterson said.
“The number two and number three man both made it back. We lost number four. That was the first time I ever lost a man in my flight.”
“I had a lot of close encounters when we were down ground strafing,” said Peterson.
”One time the bombers were supposed to bomb this airfield. They were supposed to bomb at 12:04. We were sitting off to the side about 30 miles. Our whole squadron was waiting for the commander to give the go ahead and we were supposed to hit the airfield at 12:10.”
“We were there on time, but we were just a little too fast, I guess because the bombers hadn’t gotten there yet and we didn’t know that. There was a plane in front of the hanger that I got lined up on. I was just getting ready to pull my trigger and fire my guns. Then the plane and the hanger and everything else disappeared. The squadron leader said “Let’s get out of here, they’re bombing this place.”
“Right then, I got hit behind the prop and had an oil lead. All the oil went up on the windshield and I couldn’t see anything. My wingman was saying, “Pull it up, Pete! Pull it up!” (Pete was Noble’s nick name) I couldn’t see. Right about that time I looked up and I had gotten right between two steel towers, just barely missed them.”
“I took off heading for home. When we got to the airfield, he made a pass to the airfield out to the side of the runway so then I got down there I could see the runway and landed.”
“”Things like that are just extremely lucky,” Peterson said.
“We flew using 110 octane gasoline all the time. Then, they decided to use the 150 octane, which would give us more power. But, it was actually too hot for the type of spark plugs we had. The spark plugs would fail on take off. The tanks would carry 492 gallons of gasoline on take off.”
“I just had gotten off the ground when some plugs failed in my engine. You’re at 110 mph at that time. The plane dropped off to the left. I gave full right rudder, but it didn’t right it. So, I dropped my external gas tanks and hit down on one wheel then the other wheel and shut off the switch.”
“I got off the runway, because other planes were taking off. Off to the side of the runway was an embuttment that sloped on this side but dropped off drastically on the other side. On top of that they had rolls and coils of barbed wire up there. I sailed off of that thing, but when it hit the ground I jammed on the right brake and rudder and skidded to a halt.”
“If I hadn’t done that and was going straight when I hit that field I’d of nosed over and landed upside down. We had a number of pilots that did that. Then, they’d wait for the fire truck and ambulance to get there. The crew would have to dig them out to get out of there. So, a lot of times it was dangerous at home.”
“When you first started flying you didn’t have your own plane,” said Peterson. “You flew other planes. Then, I got up to the flight landing one day and the squadron commander said, “Peterson, this will be your crew chief and this is your airplane.”
“I went over and introduced myself. He was only 19 years old and my head mechanic. I thought, “sure hope this guy knows more about this airplane than his face shows.” But, he was a good mechanic. We never had any troubles.”
“My plane was named the Dakota Kid. One time my crew chief, said “Hey, is it all right if I put “Long Island Kid” underneath that?” I said ‘sure!’ You don’t tell your crew chief no.”
The Dakota Kid was a P-51 fighter plane. “You did your own navigating and your own firing of the guns and pilot. You did everything yourself. The tear drop canopy allowed us to see all the way around,”
“We carried bombs at different times instead of the external wing tanks. We carried one 500 pound bomb on each wing.”
Each wing also had three machine guns. Peterson explained, “There were three 50 caliber guns on each wing. The inner guns would coincide at 250 yards. The middle guns at 350 yards and the outer guns at 450 yards. They all fired at the same time.”
Peterson remembers, “One of the missions I felt the best about was when I was leading my flight back and we came to the North Sea. I switched over to the air rescue channel and I heard two guys calling Mayday. This was the late fall of 1944 or early winter months of 1945.”
“I figured, oh man if they had to bail out in that cold water. I looked at my gas gauge and figured if I throttled back, I could stay in the air another hour and a half.”
“I told the number three man to take the flight on home. I flew north listening to them calling Mayday all the time. On the English coastline they have three radar stations. When there was a call for Mayday, each radar station would pick up the call. They’d zone in on them and tell them where to fly. Then, the rescue patrol boats would go out there and try to pick them up, see”
“Before I got there, I could see two parachutes in the air. I spotted the first guy in the water. I got down about 100 feet from the water. He was getting into his rubber life raft.”
“That alone is quite a chore. To get into that thing you’ve got your parachute harness on. You unstrap the straps around your legs. You still got the one around your waste. They want you to unhook the one around your waist when you’re about 10 feet from the water to give the parachute time to drift off.”
“You can imagine dropping 10 feet into the water. You’d go completely under in that cold water. You’d go completely under in that cold water. You had another strap to unhook to your life preserver. After you unhooked the strap around your midsection, you’d pull these two strings that inflated your life preserver. After your dunking in the water, you look for this cloth bag your life raft is in. You had to unbutton three buttons, pull that life raft out of there and find this air bottle in there, open up the valve and inflate the thing. It was just wide enough for you to sit in. The diameter of the life raft is about 10 inches. You had to crawl from the back end of that.”
“The other guy was northwest about a mile. Finally, I spotted him, and he was in his life raft. So, I called air-sea rescue and told them that both pilots were in their rubber life raft and that I would stay here as long as I possibly could.”
“I set up a pattern to fly from one to the other at about 175 miles per hour. I had throttled back to conserve fuel. I had a little bit in all three tanks.”
“When you change tanks, you didn’t dare run out of gas that low because you’d hit the water. You could drop 300 to 400 feet when you switched tanks.”
“I flew and flew and flew. I called air sea rescue again and they said they were coming. I flew around to the west and seen a little dot. Here it was the boat coming.”
“I called the radar station and asked them if they had radio contact with the boat. They said they did. I told them to have him steer 10 degrees to the right. I’m sure that if that plane wouldn’t have been there, they’d have missed that pilot. Both boys were still in their rubber life rafts.”
“They got the pilots picked up. I flew down there close by them and waved. Everybody was waving.”
“I never wrote down in my log book what the date was or what I had done. In my little log book there’s not enough room there to write much.”
Peterson recorded information such as the target location, pilots that flew the mission with him and the date.
One entry log reads “seven hours. Landed in France.”
Peterson said, “On this particular mission my wing man and I were heading back and I called the radio station at Colgate. I asked them what the weather was like. They said they still had the airfields open in England so, I kept going.
“Then, I called in the home base. They said everything was socked in solid , you can’t land here. So, then I called back to Colgate and he said they were closed in and I couldn’t land. So, I asked them for a heading to the nearest base. They gave me one in France.”
“When I got to the airfield in France I was on my last tank of gas. I asked for landing instructions and he told me “You’re on your own. “The strip running north and south was covered with ice and bombed out. The one to the southeast was covered with snow but you could still land on it. There were snow banks on each side of it”
“A B-24 had landed on it and got all the way to the end and ran into a snow bank. A P-51 landed down there and missed the B-24, but when he looked up another P-51 was landing so the guy in the first P-51 got out and ran over the snow bank. The second P-51 came down there and couldn’t stop. He hit the first P-51, wrecked it, took the wing off his plane, took the wing off the B-24.”
“Between each B-24, about four fighter planes would sneak in behind those B-24 with four props on them, that air is rough.”
“When I came in, I got a little further to the right and just got by the snowbank at the end of the runway I turned off and I ran out of gas right there.”
“The war was just about over and they sent us down to a field north of Munich. They said it was loaded with enemy planes down there. At briefing they told us there would be at least 450 large antiaircraft guns. They could shoot up to 40,000 feet with 88mm.”
“We were down ground strafing and they were going off. That field just lit up with anti-aircraft firing plus 20mm, 40mm, machine guns and everything. There was nothing but streaks of fire going across there.”
“Once you get a little bit high, your vulnerable to get hit. At the end of the airfield there were tall trees there 60 to 80 feet high. I had to go over those and I knew I’d be vulnerable if I did that. There was a space there I could fly through, but I knew I couldn’t fly through flying flat. So, I flipped on my side and went through there.”
“I think there were seven planes in our squadron that got hit that day, but we never lost any pilots that mission.”
“I flew 300 hours in 67 missions during my first tour. I went back for the second tour and all total I had 105 missions and a little over 500 hours of combat time.”
“It was a good experience, but it was a lot of fun. To the fighter pilots it wasn’t as bad as it would be for infantry or artillery. When you lose a fighter pilot, you know he went down. You know he hit the ground and is dead, you see. An infantryman looked over here and saw his buddy and what’s left of him. Artillery shells land over here and wipe out the whole bunch, see. You hate to lose a guy, but you don’t really see it.”
After returning to the States, Peterson was stationed in California. There he married his wife Betty. He was discharged from the Air force on December 19, 1945.
After his discharge the Peterson’s farmed and ranched near New England. In 1952, they moved to South Fork Township, north of Lemmon where they lived today.
The Peterson’s have five children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
See also, Dakota Kid II http://www.scottnelsonart.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8&Itemid=5