Frederic A. Borsodi
Varsity golfer and wartime test pilot
When Fred Borsodi (Class of 1939) left Texas for Yale in the fall of 1935, he was already an amateur road racer (in a Grand Prix Bugatti) as well as a golfer. His most memorable Yale golf experience was losing the student University Championship to freshman Eddie Meister in the spring of 1937. Later that year the team traveled to Scotland, and he tied the course record of 69 at the Old Course of St. Andrews while competing in The West of Scotland Golfer’s Alliance Open Championship.
Borsodi had learned to fly and became an avid aviator with the Yale Aero Club, which maintained planes and hosted competitive intercollegiate air shows at the local New Haven airfield. This led him to join the Navy as a pilot after graduation, but he resigned after one year, got married, and went to work for the Chance-Vought Company as a test pilot. The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor changed his mind again. John Field (Class of 1937) related Borsodi’s actions in his book, The War Begins:
The young man in civilian clothes appeared at the Army Air Corp base at Windsor Locks, Connecticut, three days after Pearl Harbor. He said he knew how to fly and wanted to join the Air Force. Assigned to check him out was Lt. Waldo Johnston, Yale 1937, base operations officer. Waldo got into the front seat, the applicant in the back of an AT-6. Off they went to go through the routine figure eights, pylons, and so on. “He went through the book maneuvers flawlessly,” remembered Waldo. “Then, just as we were preparing to land, he asked me if I’d mind staying up a little longer. He’d like to try this plane out a bit. I said, ‘Sure.’ God almighty, in the next half-hour I was put through something like I’ve never been put through before or since. We rolled and plunged and cartwheeled and skipped and danced. We even went down under the trees along theFarmingtonRiver. Right side up, upside down, it made no difference to him. [Ed. note: At Yale, Fred had been a tumbler on the gymnastics team and a diver on the swimming team, in addition to his golf.] I’d never seen such a pilot, but I was damned if I was going to say I’d had enough. I stuck it out. When I landed, shaking, I told him blandly, ‘I think you’re capable of flying this plane.’”
Waldo was right; Fred flew 130 combat missions in Europe and North Africa. In 1943 he was shot down and lived to tell about it in a letter to his Yale roommate Bill Atterbury.
“Our group has been very active in the current campaign, and thus far we have seen a good bit of action. Our losses have been fairly high, but not too bad when the amount of operation time is considered. Bill Barnes is missing at the present time, apparently lost on a strafing mission about a week ago. I was knocked down on the same mission and had rather a narrow squeak. All of us were strafing the Jerry (German) and Italian advance forces, and they were throwing up extremely heavy antiaircraft fire. We usually get right, down on the deck and let all six guns go at anything in sight. On this particular occasion I was hit very ‘solidly’ about five or six miles over the enemy lines. The old ship caught fire right away, which was most embarrassing. I wheeled and started for home pronto, but the fire got a bit too bad before I could make it, and I had to jump. You remember how you and Tal Pearson and I used to discuss jumping and what it would be like. Well, I can say it is quite a thrill—I didn’t have much time to deliberate as it was—merely the choice between getting toasted in the darned cockpit or scrambling out, so I scrambled. I was only 500 feet up when I got out, but the chute opened right away, I swung back and forth about twice and kerplunk!—landed right between the two lines. There was a helluva battle going in progress at the time and after getting out of the harness I frankly didn’t know what in hell to do so I just lay there. Finally a little New Zealand tank scurried out and picked me up. I jumped in and off we streaked to safe ground with Jerry popping at us all the time. The tank would break down at a moment like this, so the crew and I got out and high-tailed it. Those last 300 yards would have made Jesse Owens proud of me. I spent the night in a slit trench with the New Zealand boys (picked up a nice batch of fleas too, incidentally) and then hummed my way back to our landing ground the following day—tired and hungry, but no worse for wear.”
Forty-five years later his exploits were still remembered in this October 1988 article in the Yale Alumni Magazine.
A memorable flight Major Frederic A. Borsodi made in a “requisitioned” JU-88 from Italy to Wright Field. The Major, then C.O. of the Comanches, decided to pick up a bomber-type plane to transport PX supplies and ferry personnel to and from leaves. Acting on a report that the Foggia airfields were littered with damaged aircraft, three of Fred’s lads set out for the town. A British 8th Army brigadier reported “jerry was all around the area,” as he spoke, mortar shells started falling. The advance party found sanctuary with an Italian family from where they witnessed the tank battle and capitulation of the city.
As the 8th Army moved in, search for a bomber began. Foggia Main was explored without success, but a satellite field yielded a partly damaged JU-88 that the experienced eye of Sgt. Walderon decided could be fixed. When Fred Borsodi received word of the find, he dispatched a crew to repair the JU-88 with parts salvaged from other German aircraft in the area. Six days later, with insignia painted on and ack-ack batteries warned, Major Borsodi taxied the JU-88 three miles to a suitable runway and took off. The JU-88 was taken out of Comanches service when higher ups decided the plane should be sent to the United Statesas a subject for research. With 117 sorties behind him, Fred volunteered to fly the aircraft across the ocean. Colonel Bates convinced Major General James Doolittle that it was a good idea.
When Borsodi returned in 1943 to Wright Field in Dayton Ohio, it was as the Air Force chief test pilot. The US was just developing a jet fighter plane, which the Germans already were readying for combat. Lockheed built four yp-80a “Shooting Stars” in its Burbank, California factory. Two planes were disassembled, boxed, and shipped as deck cargo to Burtonwood, England in December 1944 for reassembly and testing. The first test flight on January 27 was successful, but tragically, the next day, with Major Frederic Borsodi at the controls, the plane caught fire and crashed. This time Borsodi didn’t survive. He was buried with full military honors at the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England. During his service as a combat pilot he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster and The Air Medal with fifteen Oak Leaf Clusters.
The student University Championship, in which Borsodi had reached the final round in 1937, had been played yearly from 1896 until its suspension in 1950. In 1986, Coach Paterson, with support from the Class of 1937, resumed the tournament as the F. A. Borsodi Student Championship. Fred Borsodi’s two daughters, Lindsley and Barbara, were present when the first trophies were awarded to the winners, Willis Arndt, Class of 1990, in the men’s division and Marjorie Funk, a graduate student, for the women’s division.