Virgila Paula Kirkham

In memory of Virgil Paul Kirkham—his final battle

It was April 30, 1945. The end of the war in Europe was approaching rapidly. The densely wooded frontier between Domažlice and Waldmünchen was shaking from exploding artillery shells. This was the Americans’ way of saying: “We are here.” The 90th Infantry Division fought the resisting German units at the mountain passes marking the entry into the Bohemian basin. Tactical air forces, especially heavily armed Thunderbolt “Jugs” from the US Ninth Air Force, provided support to US infantry and armored units.

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1st. version: The Crash

On March 30, 1945, an American fighter plane crash landed in the village of Trhanov nearby Domažlice. On that day, just as in the preceding weeks, the aircraft of the 19th TAC of the 9th US Air Force were strafing enemy targets in coordination with military operations by the units of General Patton’s 3rd Army.

"We took off from base near Frankfurt. “I was in the fourth position of Argus Blue. Reminiscing about this mission on April 30, 1945, 2nd Lt. M. E. Holland, a pilot with the 377th Fighter Squadron of the 9th USAF, explains: “After we’d been flying for a bit, the pilot in second position called our formation leader, 1st Lt. Kirkham, and said he was returning to the airport due to propeller problems.

1st Lt. Kirkham contacted the ground control and received the coordinates for the target to be bombed. We flew in with mutual support and attacked armored cars and enemy tanks.” It was almost one o’clock when the three American pilots led by 1st Lt. Kirkham spotted a German truck convoy on the road between Trhanov and Klenčí pod Čerchovem. “We found several cars on a narrow road that was well-sheltered by trees. We had opened fire when 1st Lt. Kirkham’s left wing got caught by the top of a tree during the low approach. The lead aircraft suddenly flipped over and crashed into a nearby hill at full speed.” This is how Kirkham.

colleague 2nd Lt. Holland describes the crash The clock was showing 1:10 p.m. when the left wing of Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham’s P-47D Thunderbolt, serial number 44 – 89 700, nicknamed “Lady Jo-Ann II,” clipped the top of a linden on this tree-lined road, nicknamed “Lomikar Avenue,” flipped, and slammed into the southwestern slope of Zadní hora, a hill north of Trhanov.

2nd. version: Shot Down

On April 30, 1945, as a German truck convoy was traveling the tree-lined road between Klenčí and Trhanov, the Americans conducted an aerial assault. A formation of American fighters attacked the truck convoy—but the enemy returned fire. During the operation, one of the American fighters came tumbling to the ground. US Air Force pilot Virgil Paul Kirkham perished within its remains. An entry in the chronicle of the village of Újezd has this to say on the event: “On April 30 at noontime, American strafers attacked the German position in Trhanov, at the railway station. One pilot was wounded, hit the trees in Zadní Hora below Hrádek, and crashed. The force of his airplane felled trees in the forest, and the airplane shattered. The pilot burned to death (1st Lt. Virgil Paul Kirkham, born November 27, 1924 in Troutdale, Oregon, USA).”

That day a convoy of German vehicles was riding down the tree-lined avenue leading from the palace at the edge of Trhanov, a town near Domažlice. A formation of Thunderbolts from the Ninth Air Force’s 362nd Fighter Group descended upon them. Flames shot out from the wings and the target on land was covered in hundreds of 12.7 mm bullets. The enemy returned fire. A moment later, one of the fighter aircraft came tumbling to the ground. The aircraft made a huge arc in the sky and then crashed full speed into the side of Draženovská hora, a nearby hill. US Tactical Air Force pilot Virgil Paul Kirkham died in the wreckage. This was the last American fighter to fall in action on the European front in World War II.

On April 30 every year, the village of Újezd and the public commemorates this wartime incident at the site where the Thunderbolt crashed, at the small memorial in the Zadní Hora forest, and recently also in front of the town hall in Újezd, where a memorial plaque dedicated to Virgil Paul Kirkham was installed on the town hall building by the Indianhead Club Pilsen civic association in 2011.

Location: Újezd
1 - Place of events: slopes of Draženovská hora
Monument to downed pilot at his crash site
GPS: 49°25'52.576"N, 12°51'24.156"E
Date of events: April 30, 1945
Member of the US tactical air force – 1st Lt. Kirkham
*November 27, 1924, Corbett, Oregon, U.S.A.
377th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group, 9th Air Force
Central register of war graves: registered, CZE-3202-36541

2 - Memorial site: Memorial plaque
Address: Újezd, town hall buildin
GPS: 49°26’8.575′′N,12°52’13.012′′E
Monument placed in: 2011
Army unit: 362nd Fighter Group of the 9th Air Force