Fred Christensen, 84, U.S. Ace in Europe in World War II, Dies

New York Times, April 13, 2006

By Richard Goldstein

Fred Christensen, a leading American ace who shot down six German transport planes in a single day in 1944, died April 4 at a nursing home in Northborough, Mass., near Worcester. He was 84.

The cause was complications of diabetes, his daughter Diane Haagensen said.

Flying single-engine P-47 Thunderbolts, Captain Christensen downed 21 German planes on his own during World War II and shared credit for a 22nd kill. He was a member of the 56th Fighter Group, a renowned unit known as Zemke's Wolfpack for its commander, Col. Hub Zemke.

It was on July 7, 1944, a month after the D-Day invasion, that Captain Christensen shot down six Junkers transports over a German airfield, a record number of kills by an American airman for a single mission in the European theater.

When he returned to his base in England, the Eighth Air Force quickly arranged for him to meet with war correspondents.

Two days earlier, as Captain Christensen told it to Walter Cronkite of United Press, a Messerschmitt pilot had put a bullet hole in his wing. "That made me mad," he said, since he had flown 275 combat hours dating from the previous August and had shot down 16 enemy planes without having been hit.

As for downing those six planes earlier in the day, "there really was nothing much to it," he said.

"We had finished escorting some bombers and turned them over to other fighters and were heading for home when down around Magdeburg I saw a Junker-52 getting ready to land," Captain Christensen said.

"Then I looked again and saw others," he said. "I was up about 10,000 feet. I put the plane into a dive and leveled out behind the last one of the line of 12 in the rear of their formation. I had called to the flight and told them I was going down. They wanted to know if they should stay up there for top cover for me, and I said, 'Hell, no, might as well come on down, too.' "

"I just kept moving up the line, shooting them down," Captain Christensen said. "They were only about 50 to 100 feet off the ground, and they didn't have a chance."

With his fellow pilots shooting down 4 other Junkers, only 2 of the 12 escaped the attack.

After the war, Captain Christensen, a native of Watertown, Mass., was a full-time member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Eventually attaining the rank of colonel, he served as a base commander and also flew in the Air Force Reserve.

For his wartime exploits, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Silver Star and the Air Medal. He was one of the top pilots in the 56th Fighter Group, which included Lt. Col. Francis Gabreski, the war's leading American ace in Europe, with 28 kills. The No. 1 American ace of World War II, Maj. Richard Bong, shot down 40 Japanese planes.

Colonel Christensen's marriage to the former Marjorie Thompson ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Haagensen, of East Falmouth, Mass., he is survived by two other daughters, Elaine Christensen of Upton, Mass., and Janine Christensen of Wayland, Mass.; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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