My friend Burt Newmark passed away June 11th 2012. We used to get together and share lots of stories and I will miss him a lot.
Here is my interview with him.
2nd lieutenant Burt Newmark had some amazing experiences during WWII as a fighter pilot. He started out in the awesome Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" but in January of 1945 his fighter squadron, the 84th based at Duxford England, transitioned to the P-51 Mustang.
Burt was kind enough to share with me some of his stories. I hope you like them!
What are you doing in my country?
“‘What are you doing in my country?’ asked Hanns Joachim Scharff, my interrogator. I’d been dragged into his office and he’s wearing a beautiful German uniform. He’s sitting in his office with books behind him, at his desk, and I’m shoved into a chair. He looks at me and says, ‘What are you doing in my country?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Burt Newmark, 716204, Second Lieutenant.’ He said, ‘Why are you telling me this, it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ So I pulled out my dog tags and I showed them to him and he said, ‘If I show you my dog tags they say Colonel Bullshit.’
“His job is to get information from me. He knows it and I know it but he’s trying to tell me that name rank and serial number is insufficient to identify me as a soldier. He says, ‘You’ve arrived in my country by parachute, you’re not wearing a military uniform (I’m in my flight suit), you’re a spy. I’m going to have you taken out and hung.’ I said, ‘You’ve seen my parachute and your people saw my airplane nose into the ground.’ ‘Oh, I see you’re claiming to be a flyer,’ he said
‘Yes,’ I said
‘So that’s why you’re using the Geneva Convention. For you the war is over. For me the war is going to be over in three months.’
“This was February 22nd or 23rd. I’m not sure exactly because I was in pretty bad shape from being shot down. I was shot down near the town of Kriegsfeld on the 21st of February, 1945.
“So he said, ‘Tell me the two letters on the side of your airplane, it will go easier for you and it will prove to me that you are a pilot.’
So I said, ‘WZ’
‘Oh,’ he says, ‘the 84th Fighter Squadron! How is Ray Smith?’ Ray Smith was our operations officer and had crashed the week before and was in the hospital. What he was doing was letting me know that he knew more than I did. He knew the name of every pilot in my group and that Ray Smith had crashed.
Burt in his Mustang "Lady Eve"
Flying and fighting
“I enlisted right out of high school. I loved pilots and what they did. My heroes were people like Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, and Charles Lindbergh. As a little boy I read pulp fiction magazines and loved reading exciting fighter pilot stories. My friends and I used to build balsa wood airplanes.
“My first airplane ride was at Syracuse University after I’d enlisted. I went up in a Piper Cub with an instructor for one flight. It was not part of the flight instruction but an indoctrination flight.
“The P-47 was the first big fighter I flew. A lot of people will tell you that the P-51 was the best fighter. In my estimation and a lot of other fighter pilots, it wasn’t. The reason they switched from P-47’s to P-51’s they say is because the P-51 had long range, which is true, it did have a little longer range, but they should have used them for that purpose. But the P-51 cost half of what a P-47 cost. It weighed half, it had half the horsepower, it had 2/3rds the firepower, and it would not protect a pilot against any damage.
We didn’t like the idea of changing to the Mustang because we knew we weren’t protected as well. The P-47 had 1 inch of solid steel armor plate behind the pilot. The Mustang had a mechanical supercharger instead of the exhaust gasses driving the turbo charger in the P-47, so at very high altitude, where we were used to, it lost some power. The Mustang was a beautiful airplane to fly but if you’re going on a fighter pilot mission, you chose a P-47. If you’re going to have a picture taken to send home, you get in front of a P-51.”
“I never saw a German fighter. By the time I’d gotten over there, the German fighters were hiding from us. Zemke’s Wolfpack had torn the Luftwaffe apart. Zemke’s Wolfpack, the 56th Fighter Group, was the only fighter group that was dedicated to finding German fighters. We were dedicated to protecting bombers and if we weren’t interfered with, we’d go down and strafe targets of opportunity.”
“The German fighter pilots that were there at that time were inexperienced, they’d lost all of their good pilots, they knew that their air force had been destroyed by the Americans, and they weren’t about to take us on. They knew the bombers would be handled by the flak and they would fly high and wait to see where they could find an unprotected formation, especially with their jets because their jets were much faster than our planes. I did see a couple of German jets but they were far away. We started toward them but they just disappeared.”
“We had a computing gun sight. It would tell the amount of G’s you were pulling. You could also set the dial for the wingspan of the airplane and it would construct the proper lead. We didn’t use tracers because if you used tracers, the guy you were shooting at knew you were shooting at him. Some groups liked every fifth bullet to be a tracer but our CO said no way. So we couldn’t tell where our bullets were going but we knew. We used armor piercing incendiary .50 caliber rounds.”
“On my first P-51 ride I did have one experience. They were sending us up on orientation rides after a blindfolded cockpit check where you had to point to everything in the airplane. I was the first one to take off in the morning and nobody noticed that the air was kind of moist. I got up just about the time the sun was coming up and I had nothing but white clouds below me. One the sun get up above a certain altitude and there a certain amount of moisture in the air, it’s fog from above but when you’re on the ground you look up you can see sky. The sun was reflecting off this moisture layer. So I had to fly around in this fog for about an hour and I finally found a hole in it over the end of a runway. So I dove down and found myself perfectly lined up with the runway, and in the middle of the runway was a repair crew! This field had been closed down! They got out of the way and I got out of their way. I didn’t want to take off again. It was a British air base and two British officers who were in charge of the repair crew took me in for lunch and we talked for a while. They refueled my airplane and I went back to my base.”
Burt is kneeling and holding the prop. Bob Johnson is standing next to him giving a lesson.
“After the war I flew in the reserve in Tucson, Arizona, at Davis-Monthan air base for three years in AT-6’s but I got tired of it. I did continue flying as a civilian in gliders for several years out of the sail plane port by the old Fremont Drag Strip.”
Here I am with Burt and the P-51A "Polar Bear"
Here you can watch Burt giving a talk to high school students about his war experiences
Story and photos Evan Isenstein-Brand