The primary task of the P51 force was to provide overall protection for the B17/B24 USAAF bomber force. Escorting the bomber stream deep into Europe the Mustangs were tasked to keep the Luftwaffe at bay and major aerial battles took place as the Luftwaffe hurled literally hundreds of fighters at the bomber forces. Without this fighter protection the USAAF could not have sustained the losses that would follow from unescorted daylight operations. As the bomber stream turned for home some fighter groups were released from escort duties to strike at ground targets ’of opportunity’ in the low level interdictor role. Other units remained with the B17s ensuring that there was practical, and moral, help at hand for any damaged or lagging aircraft. Such a case is illustrated in the image above as a B17, with a failing engine, has dropped out of the supporting formation and is shepherded home by a ‘little friend’.
Aircraft images from various airshows and b/g skyscape etc from my archives.