George E. Preddy

Preddy in cockpit

George Preddy was on his way to becoming the leading ace in Europe when tragedy struck. General John C. Meyer, who was the fourth-ranking American ace in the European war and Preddy's squadron commander for more than a year, wrote: "George was small and slight. He was soft-spoken, without even a hint of braggadocio. [But] I have never met a man of... such intense desire to excel.... George Preddy was the complete fighter pilot." Preddy grew up in Greeensboro, North Carolina. Before the war, he was a barnstormer pilot. In 1940, he made 3 attempts to join the US Navy and was rejected each time because of physical problems. Dejected, he returned to barnstorming.

Summer 1940 - He tried to join the USAAF and passed all the tests. He was told that he would have to wait for an opening. Meanwhile, he joined up with the Army National Guard to occupy his time and gain some experience. He served with the 252nd Coast Artillery

April 1941 - Ordered to report to flight training.

December 1941 - Graduated from flight training and sent to Australia, 9th Squadron, 49th Pursuit Group.

August 1942 - Flew a number of combat missions and damaged two Japanese planes. Preddy was involved with a serious mid-air collision that killed the other pilot (one of his squadron mates) and left Preddy in the hospital for several weeks.

October 1942 - Arrived at Hamilton Field, California, looking for an assignment.

Dec. 1942 - Assigned to Mitchel Field, NY with I Fighter Command. He was then sent to Westover Field, Massachusetts to join a fighter squadron. He ran into I.B. "Jack" Donaldson, who he knew in Australia and pulled some favours and got assigned to the 487th FS, 352 Fighter Group. Preddy's new CO, John C. Meyer, was not impressed by the small size and meekness of Preddy. "This fellow couldn't punch his way out of a paper bag," is what Meyer said of Preddy when he met him.

In July 1943, the 352nd Fighter Group, "The Blue-Nosed Bastards of Bodney" set up shop at Bodney. Preddy went on his first combat mission in the ETO in September, 1943 and scored his first victory on Dec. 1, a Bf-109. Three weeks later, he won a second, fighting a superior force, as he was to do many times. He led his flight of three P-47s (one stayed up as top cover) against six Me-210s covered by 10 Bf-109s that were attacking a B-24 straggler. In the melee, Preddy's wingman, Lt. Richard Grow, became separated and apparently was shot down--the only wingman Preddy ever lost.

Preddy knocked down one Me-210, broke up the attack, and then lured the remaining enemy aircraft away from the damaged B-24, earning for himself a Silver Star. The 352nd converted to P-51s in April 1944. Preddy got his fifth victory on May 13 and was on his way to becoming, a few months later, the leading active ace in the ETO. (Gabreski was a POW, and Bob Johnson had gone home.) Escorting bombers to Madgeburg on June 20, Preddy shot down an FW-190 and shared an Me-410 with Lt. James Woods. On June 21, the 352nd accompanied the 4th to Russia for the second of the shuttles. But Preddy was running out of time as he approached the end of a 200-hour combat tour. He requested, and was granted, four successive 50-hour extensions that kept him in the fight until early August. Like many pilots, Preddy enjoyed an excellent relationship with his ground crew, sharing his success with them, having them pose for PR pictures, etc.. Perhaps it was a reflection of this good relationship that his guns never suffered a malfunction during his combat career. Like most young pilots, he also had a weakness for women.

On July 18, the 352nd claimed 21 kills, four of them falling to George Preddy, whose eye was now well and truly tuned to the tricks of the enemy. Major Preddy was scheduled to lead the entire group on an Aug. 6 escort mission. The mission was scrubbed due to forecast bad weather, and--with a free day ahead--a big party was inevitable. Shortly after midnight, the mission was on again. At briefing, the group commander judged that Preddy was not in shape to lead, but Meyer assured him that George would be ready by takeoff time.

A few hours later, from his perch at 30,000 feet, Preddy spotted more than 30 Bf-109s coming in on the third box of B-17s. He led his flight into the midst of the Bf-109s, shooting down three in rapid succession.

At that point, four other P-51s joined the fight. Preddy shot down two more Bf-109s, then followed the formation down to 5,000 feet, where he found himself alone with the enemy. One of them broke to the left, followed by Preddy in his Cripes A' Mighty. After a hot duel, George shot down his sixth of the day. On landing, a slightly green Preddy vowed never again to fly with a hangover. He commented, "I just kept shooting, and they just kept falling." That mission earned him the Distinguished Service Cross and an unsought leave in the States. Preddy returned to the ETO in October 1944 as CO of the group's 328th Squadron. Leading the squadron on November 2, they ripped apart a gaggle of Bf-109s, downing no fewer than 25.

During the Battle of the Bulge in December, elements of the group were moved to fighter strip Y-29, Asche, Belgium. On Christmas Eve, Preddy indulged in a game of craps and scooped the pot to win $1000, which he intended to invest in war bonds. On Christmas Day, Preddy led 10 of his P-51s on a patrol. They were vectored to a formation of enemy planes, and in the ensuing fight, though the squadron became scattered, Preddy downed two more Bf-109s. He and his wingman, Lt. James Cartee, were then vectored to an unknown number of bandits near Liege. Preddy saw an FW-190 on the deck and went after him at treetop height. As they roared over American ground troops, Preddy--at war's end the third-ranking American ace of the European war with 26.83 victories--was hit by friendly ground fire and crashed to his death.

His letters home showed Preddy to be a true believer with a philosophy of life that seemed beyond his 25 years. Meyer wrote that he was a man with a "core of steel in a largely sentimental soul." Among other virtues, Preddy showed boundless loyalty to the men with whom he flew and a typically American attitude toward air-to-air fighting. He once said, "I'm sure as hell not a killer, but combat flying is like a game, and a guy likes to come out on top."

Almost certainly, he would also have come out as top American ace in Europe had it not been for that tragic error on Christmas Day in 1944. His family and friends have set up the Preddy Memorial Foundation, to honour George Preddy and his brother William (also a P-51 pilot killed in WWII).