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He was “…close to my wing when flak burst between us…” - The last mission of P-47 pilot William Gorman

  • Published
  • By Terrence G. Popravak, Jr. Lt Col, USAF (Retired)
  • 405th Fighter Squadron

Southward from Advanced Landing Ground A-6 near Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France the P-47 Thunderbolt fighters pilots flew. Two months after D-Day, they were on a summer evening armed reconnaissance mission which took them to the St. Nazaire area, still occupied by Nazi forces. But before they found an enemy target to strike, the enemy struck them.

Flight Officer (F/O) William (no middle initial) Gorman was one of the P-47 pilots on the mission. He hailed from Brooklyn, New York, and was one of the founding members of the 405th Fighter Squadron and its parent 371st Fighter Group, part of the original cadre at Richmond Army Air Base in Virginia that formed the unit in the summer of 1943.

A year later he was in the thick of the combat as the Allies battle in Normandy and sought to break out from the enclave carved out since D-Day. Late in the day on August 7, 1944, Gorman flew an armed reconnaissance mission with Discharge Squadron in P-47D-20-RE Thunderbolt 42-76478. The 405th Fighter Squadron had been running frequent armed recce missions that day, every two hours. He took off as Yellow 4 in a flight of the squadron from Advanced Landing Ground A-6, and set a course of 180 degrees for the St. Nazaire area along the coast of France.  As Gorman and the other ships on the mission reached the area, they found visibility to be about three or four miles, a bit hazy.

First Lieutenant Francis T. Evans, Jr., his element leader (Yellow 3 in Yellow Flight), described what happened next in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 7646:

“At approximately 1940 we were flying south straight and level at 7,500 feet over the bay, south of St. Nazaire, when heavy flak burst to our right and on level.

We immediately began taking evasive action.  I started a climbing turn to the left but made the climb straight ahead when I found that I was getting too close to Yellow leader. Gorman was close to my wing when flak burst between us.  He started to turn towards me and then roll away doing a diving turn to the right. I followed him and he was soon going straight down. I yelled for him to pull up but he (his) plane continued on in its dive hitting the water vertically. I saw no sign of his attempting to bail out.”

The location Gorman went down at was listed as grid coordinate vX-4263 (Modified British System, French Lambert Zone 1 Grid) off the French coast just south of St. Nazaire. The graphic from the MACR 7646 shows about where that was.

No search was subsequently made, given the eyewitness report of the circumstances of his loss, the pace of the war and the enemy presence in the area. William Gorman and his aircraft apparently remain missing to this day, gone, but he’s not forgotten.

William Gorman is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at Brittany American Cemetery, St. James, France. He was awarded the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters.

Fast forward about 77 years and F/O Gorman is remembered in another way, by his squadron. After the war, in November, 1945, the 371st and it its three fighter squadrons, 404th, 405th and the 406th, were inactivated. 

On May 24, 1946 as part of the postwar buildup of the air component of the National Guard, the 371st Fighter Group was redesignated as the 142nd Fighter Group and allotted to Oregon. The group’s 404th Fighter Squadron became the 186th Fighter Squadron and was allotted to Montana. The 405th Fighter Squadron was redesignated the 190th Fighter Squadron and allotted to Idaho.

On May 24, 2021, the Idaho Air National Guard celebrated its 75th anniversary at Gowen Field near Boise, Idaho. As part of the celebration, a special commemorative paint scheme was unveiled on one of the unit’s A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft, the unit’s “Heritage Hog,” which wore the colors and markings of a 405th Fighter Squadron P-47 Thunderbolt in 1944. 

Of special note, the name of a World War II pilot of the squadron was painted on the aircraft, in honor of the 190th Fighter Squadron’s only remaining member Missing in Action (MIA), F/O William Gorman.

William Gorman is one of five MIA’s of the 142nd Wing from the European Theater of Operations. In addition, the unit has three MIAs from the Pacific Theater, and three more from the Mediterranean Theater. 

On this National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Recognition Day, 2021, we salute F/O Gorman and our other missing World War II Airmen of the unit. They answered the call to duty for our country – may they yet return home.