Zemke's Wolfpack: The 56th Fighter Group in World War II



William N. Hess has provided a very thorough history of the 56th Fighter Group, and his excellent text is supplemented with many photographs. Led by Colonel Hubert "Hub" Zemke, the 56th FG shot down more German aircraft than any other group in the 8th Air Force. They were not immediately successful, and some observers doubted the effectiveness of the P-47 Thunderbolt. Nevertheless, outstanding leadership molded the group into a very effective unit which enjoyed considerable success against some of the best pilots in the Luftwaffe. Hubert "Hub" Zemke flew P-40s before the U.S. entry into the war and was sent to Britain to train members of the Royal Air Force to fly it. After the Germans attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 the British sent a number of Tomahawks, as they referred to the P-40, as aid to the Red Air Force. Zemke accompanied them to help with assembly and training. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war on the U.S., Zemke was given command of the 56th Fighter Group and preparations were made to enter combat with the 8th Air Force in Britain. On 8 April 1943 the 56th FG made its combat debut. Zemke commanded the 56th FG from 16 September 1942 until 30 October 1943 and again from 19 January 1944 until 12 August 1944. He then went on to command the newly formed 479th FG. On 30 October 1944 his aircraft was crippled by a storm and he was forced to bail out over enemy territory. Zemke was captured and became the Senior Allied Officer at Stalag Luft 1. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration in the U.S. military, and scored 17.75 victories, 2 probables, 9 damaged, and 8.5 destroyed on the ground.

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