P-38J 43-28746 23 'Mloney's Pony' flown by Capt Thomas E. Maloney of the 27th FS, 1st FG
On August 19th, 1944, the 27th’s highest scoring ace of World War II, Lieutenant Thomas E. Maloney lost both engines of his P-38 during a beachhead cover mission, thereby setting the stage for one of the grittiest personal episodes of the war.
While strafing, Maloney's right engine began knocking. A check of the oil pressure and temp showed that he had lost the engine. He feathered the prop and called his flight lead, Major Pope to inform him. He climbed to 1,500 feet and came off the coast and headed home to Aghione. Major Pope and two other members of the 27th flight broke off their strafing passes to escort him. They were about 60 miles from Corsica.
Barely five or six miles off the coast of France, Maloney’s other engine developed an oil leak and would soon fail. Though ditching the P-38 in the sea was not recommended and a very risky procedure, he had no choice in the matter. He lost most of his altitude trying to get the engine started and it was then too late to bail out.
He made it successfully, however, and when the spray settled Maloney was seen to climb out and get into his dinghy and wave to the flight overhead. Pope had been on the radio already and called the air-sea rescue station for help. For another few minutes, until darkness fell, they stayed over the hapless Petdog (Assigned call sign).
During the night Maloney drifted into shore. It was still dark and he was cold and wet. He was not sure whether this beach was enemy occupied or not, and for a while he stayed near the water's edge. But with the dawn he thought he might be seen and captured and that was the last thing Maloney wanted.
Knowing the dangers of mines he stepped carefully through the sand and brush looking about carefully for evidence that they had been planted, and for signs in German, French, or English.
Despite his care the inevitable happened. The beach was mined and had been for some time. The surface of the sand had reassumed its normal appearance. Maloney triggered one off. In the split second before it went off he sensed it and flung himself onto the ground. But not before both feet were shattered, both legs had compound fractures just above the ankles, his legs were torn open by scores of metal fragments, his left bicep was cut open and his face was powder-burned.
Maloney lay dazed and bleeding and he drifted off to sleep. The next morning he awoke and tried to drink from his canteen, but found it to be dry. For the rest of the day he alternately passed out and woke up. On the third and fourth day - Aug 21 and 22 - Maloney began to realize he was going to die of thirst before his wounds. It took him a tremendous amount of time to drag himself the 50 feet it took to get to a row of bushes where he found water. This entire time he would pass out and wake up. At one point he felt movement in his wounds. A check of his wounds revealed that his wounds were filled with maggots. He killed as many of them as he could.
On the fifth and sixth day he moved toward a wooden observation tower. As he got closer he entered a swampy area with water that made moving a lot easier. He finally made it to a small wooden foot bridge that he began to dismantle and build into a raft. He did this on Aug 27th and 28th. He used the small raft and some poles to propel him through the swamp. He was hoping it would lead back to the ocean but it never did. He stopped in an area known as the Camargue, one of the most mosquito infested areas in the world. He simply covered his face with his hands and let them have at him
The next morning, August 29th, he got back in his raft and went back to a cabin he saw earlier. When he approached he saw six Frenchmen that were cleaning up the mess the Germans had made. He called to them and they came to his rescue.
They placed him in the bed of their old truck and started to drive up a trail. The pain was unbearable and Frenchman ended up hand carrying Maloney up the trail. One of the men drove the truck ahead to arrange for an ambulance. They finally made to a road where an ambulance was waiting.
On the way to the hospital, the ambulance stopped at a house where a French lady fed him some soup, his first meal in ten days. He thought it was the best soup he had ever eaten. Next, the ambulance took him to a French hospital in Marseille.
There was antiseptic but no anesthetics. The doctors began the painful task of extracting the fragments—fortunately they had some penicillin. They soon thought he would lose both legs. Marseille had mostly been bypassed by the army. But in a couple of days the medics came for Maloney, and he was flown to the 100th General Hospital in Naples. From here the word was flashed to Colonel Richard at Foggia that Maloney was back. In a day or two red tailed P-38s began to land at Capodichino and small groups of pilots commenced to find their way to Maloney’s ward. It now looked like he would keep one leg. Then it developed that he might lose only one foot. In the end, he did not lose either.
Colonel Richard (1st FG/Commander) issued an order that every day that weather permitted, a 27th pilot would land at Capodichino and visit Lieutenant Maloney. He was the group’s highest scoring pilot in World War II so far, he had been immensely popular. He had 15 victories, air and ground, over the enemy. And then his promotion to Captain came in.
After a month more they flew him home to the states. The date was known at the 1st Fighter Group headquarters, and after the C-54 lifted away from Capodichino and leveled off at altitude, a dozen red-tails from the 27th Fighter Squadron settled down on both sides, silently from nowhere, like silver ghosts, and they escorted him for a hundred miles out over the blue Mediterranean. Then one by one they silently peeled off and went back to the war.
In a special order Colonel Richard ordered that in the 27th Fighter Squadron, airplane "number 23 should for evermore be named "Maloney’s Pony".
The original nose art was conceived by Sergeant Richard Abbott, Tom's Crew Chief on aircraft number 23.