free excerpt -

free excerpt -

World War II unleashed a vicious battle for air supremacy far behind the front

lines. Vermont native Donald Malloy took to the skies piloting the huge B-17

Flying Fortress with a ten man crew, dropping bombs over Berlin and other

industrial centers in Europe. When his plane is hit by anti-aircraft shells, the crew

is forced to land in Switzerland but quickly find out life can be harsh on the other

side of the mountain.

Over the Mountain

Order the complete book from

or from your favorite neighborhood

or online bookstore.

Your free excerpt appears below. Enjoy!


Thomas J. Berry

Copyright © 2013 Thomas J. Berry

ISBN 978-1-62646-656-2

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a

retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,

mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of

the author.

Published by, Inc., Bradenton, Florida.

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper., Inc.


First Edition

Chapter 1

Baltic Sea

24 miles southeast of Copenhagen, Denmark

April 9, 1944


erries at one o’clock! I count three Me-210’s.” shouted 2 nd

Lieutenant Don Malloy as he sat in the co-pilot’s seat of their B-

17, an albatross of a plane carrying ten men high over the

freezing waters of the Baltic Sea. They were on the return leg from a bombing

run on the Focke-Wulf aircraft plant outside Poznan, Poland. They had

already flown five and a half hours deep into the heart of Nazi-occupied

territory…now they were looking for a way out. The longest mission in the

history of the 8 th Air Force was about to reach new heights.

Instinctively he checked the fuel gauge on the instrument panel to his

right. Four large 1200hp Wright Cyclone radial engines turned the eleven foot

high propellers mounted two apiece on each of the massive wings. Stretching

104 feet across, these wings gave lift to the twenty ton bird that carried a

massive payload of ten 500 pound bombs to their target. But Malloy frowned

when he saw the readings. Engines one and three showed thirty-two percent

fuel remaining but number two was down to twenty percent. The gauge on

engine four had remained stuck on forty-six percent...two hours ago. Who

knew what was left now. Evasive action would push these finely-tuned

machines even harder.

“I see them,” the man to his left replied calmly. The pilot and commander

of the plane, 2 nd Lt. William Potter, smiled thinly behind his oxygen mask.

“I count four coming in high from eleven o’clock,” came a deep-seated

voice over the intercom.

“Roger that, Cox, four jerries at eleven. That’s seven total. What’s their

distance?” responded Malloy evenly. “Jerry” was the accepted nickname of

German fighters among the aircrews, an environment where codes were

paramount and secrecy a must.

“Still out of effective firing range, maybe 200 yards distant,” Cox replied

back. Twenty-two year old Technical Sergeant Dorris Cox, hailing from

Abilene, Texas, was the crew engineer and top turret gunner. Standing at his

station a few feet behind the pilots, he manned a twin .50 caliber machine gun

protruding from the top of the aircraft. Accurate to within 150 feet, the armor-


Thomas J. Berry

piercing guns of the bomber can bring down smaller, more maneuverable

fighters…if they strike in the right place.

“That’s not going to keep them from firing at us, though,” Potter said

grimly. “Their 20 mm cannons can hit us from long-range.”

“What’s the situation behind us?” Malloy called out through the intercom.

This time another voice spoke up.

“All clear from behind, Red!” came the jovial voice of the tail gunner,

Staff Sergeant Bengt Halberg. A native from Norway, the twenty-three year

old tall, blond giant came into the service of his newly adopted country with a

marksman’s eye…as well as an eye for the ladies.

Malloy smiled at the remark. Standing at a modest five foot six, the

intrepid co-pilot of twenty-three years sported a close-cropped head of red

hair that would make a Scotsman beam with pride. However his roots hailed

more from the Emerald Isle than the hills of the Highlanders.

“Another two down below! Coming up from six o’clock! Making a slow


“Acknowledged, Gutmann.” Malloy said. “Two more at six. Keep them

in your sights.

“Always, sir”, replied their ball turret gunner, twenty-one year old Staff

Sergeant Henry Gutmann. A German by birth, the scrappy youth immigrated

to California several years ago. He loved his position under the airplane, a

confined space that most men vowed to stay away from.

Suddenly the plane began taking hits, the metallic strikes making all ten

men in the bomber seethe with frustration. The German pilots knew the

limited capabilities of the American .50 calibers and were flying just out of

range, striking with impunity.

“We’re sitting ducks, sir!” came the voice from their navigator sitting

with the bombardier in the nose compartment below and in front of the pilots.

A thin, rounded Plexiglas shield was all that separated 2 nd Lieutenants Loren

Merritt and James Calire from the -40 degree freezing conditions that existed

at 28,000 feet. Even the heavy, sheepskin-lined jackets and gloves were not

enough to keep out the cold and frostbite that had been known to affect


“Shit! I see one bomber on fire! He’s going down on the right!” Staff

Sergeant Clifton Reneau cursed across the connected channels from his

position as waist gunner. Manning the .50 caliber machine guns on the open

right door of the plane, ten feet behind the bomb bay, he had a clear view as

one of the nine ships that remained of their squadron met an untimely end.


Over the Mountain

Flaming out, the plane turned slowly to the right before it began to spiral

down into the cold Baltic Sea below them.

“I count six chutes, sir”, he said weakly. At least they had a chance but it

would be slim at best in these conditions. Far from rescue, in hostile waters,

the men who survived the drop into the sea would have very little time before

hypothermia set in. Drowning with their full gear and parachute was equally

heartbreaking. They were certainly not the first to perish on this mission; nor

would not be the last.

The bomber crews were helpless to counter this long range German

artillery, and every man among them knew it. But no one ever dwelt long on

their own odds of making it back home…it was always someone else who got

shot down…another poor sap whose luck finally ran out. Never themselves.

The folly of youth and confidence made brave souls out of men. Who else

would dare to risk their lives time and time again in the face of overwhelming


“I see another falling behind…his number three engine is smoking up a

storm!” replied Hallberg from the tail.

“Let’s see if those Jerries like eating artillery as much as shooting them!”

Cox said, just before opening up with two long bursts from above. It was

more an emotional response than logical, but it served its purpose. The crew

began to rally.

“Loren, see what that new chin turret can do!” Malloy called down to the

navigator. “Hope the piece hasn’t frozen up yet!”

A new feature on the upgraded B-17G model, the chin turret sported a

twin .50 caliber machine gun under the nose, giving them a more potent

frontal offensive. When the thin plating under their feet began to shake,

Malloy smiled. The new guns were ready and working fine.

But for all their bravado, they could do little to change the course of

events. The German Messerschmitt fighters still remained unaffected and

maddeningly out of range. But their 20 mm cannons had already hit three of

the twelve ships in their formation. It wouldn’t be long before those explosive

weapons brought down their own bomber. The Me-210’s had a length of

thirty-six feet and a long wingspan with dual propellers. Their two-man crew

were veterans and well-trained.

Suddenly, Malloy spotted several contrails below and to his left and he

groaned silently. More German fighters, by evidence of the thin trails of

smoke left on the air. This time close and underneath. He was about to call out

to the crew on this new development when he noticed something that startled

him. A formation of fighters burst out from underneath the bombers heading


Thomas J. Berry

straight for the Germans! The yellow nose of the single engine plane, and the

markings on the grey fuselage let him know these were our boys.

A squadron of twelve P-51 fighter planes let loose a volley of .50 caliber

ammunition into the heart of the enemy Me-210’s, forcing them to scatter

abruptly. The P-51’s had escorted the bombers on the first leg of the mission

from England and across the North Sea to Denmark but had to turn back due

to fuel constraints. Now they had returned, picking up the bombers for the

return journey…just in the nick of time!

Every member on board breathed a sigh of relief as the skies cleared. But

the journey was far from over…England was 700 miles away and the entire

stretch of North Sea still lay ahead. At 150 miles an hour, they still had four

and a half hours of flight time left. Don Malloy gripped the control handles of

the tough four engine bomber and held her steady. The sun was going down

quickly now – it would be dark within thirty minutes.

Several hours later, as the impenetrable blackness seemed to blend into

the cold sea 5,000 feet below, the co-pilot was getting worried. With Potter at

the controls, Malloy tapped the fuel cell indicator for engine four. It had been

stuck for hours, and there was no telling how much of the precious gasoline

they really had left. Engine one and three were down to fumes and number

two engine wasn’t much better. He checked his watch. 8:45pm. A little less

than an hour to go. Maybe.

“Loren, what’s your status?” he called over the intercom to his navigator

in the nose compartment.

“I’ve plotted the shortest course to England but we’ll have to hope

someone on the coast has their ears on.”

“Bill, I recommend we lighten the load as much as we can.” Malloy stated

to his friend next to him. “We’re out of enemy range, so we can ditch the

guns. Every ounce of dead weight we don’t need should go in the drink.”

“Does that include the enlisted men?” Loren Merritt said with a laugh. A

few chuckles emanated from the intercom from various positions on the ship.

“Let’s keep that as a last resort, Merritt,” he said with a smile.

“Agreed,” Bill Potter said. “Let’s ditch everything we don’t need. But

keep the enlisted men…they’ll take me for a beer when we get back tonight!”

With that, everything on board that was not essential to their immediate

survival was tossed out the two waist doors, or through the nose cone hatch.

The bombardier insisted that Merritt’s navigation table go as well, but Loren

wasn’t having it. He held on to the top of the small wooden desk with one

hand while reworking his figures with his pencil in the other.


Over the Mountain

Heavy machine guns were unbolted from the deck and tossed into the

cold North Sea. Boxes and crates and ammunition quickly followed. Even the

chair in the radio room was not immune to the order.

“That might buy us some time,” Merritt said, “but it…”

“Blast!” Malloy announced suddenly. “Number four engine just died!”

Potter looked at his co-pilot grimly.

“We just might need to make an emergency ditch after all, Don. Let’s get

the RAF on the horn.”

“Loren, can you give me our current position?” Don asked over the

intercom. “Give it to Lyskawa in the radio room.”

“Working on it! Let’s hope to hell someone’s out there. It looks like the

blackest night I’ve ever seen,” Merritt replied.


Chapter 15


he cloud cover was moderate, with some altostratus layering

starting at 5,000 feet and continuing up to 8,000. Bill brought the

plane through the atmosphere at a steady rate of 540 feet per

minute, and broke through the top layer into a sky so brilliantly clear that it

reaffirmed Don’s belief in a higher power. The sun’s rays colored the tops of

the clouds no more than 100 feet below them, showering the men with vibrant

images of red, orange, and purple. The air was cold at 8,000 feet but not

unbearable. They would cross the ocean at this height, but once they reached

the French coastline, they would climb to 25,000 feet to avoid the anti-aircraft

guns from the batteries on the ground.

“Oxygen masks on,” Don called over the intercom. The air above 8,000

feet was especially thin and oxygen masks were required for everyone,

especially over 10,000 feet. Men have been known to black out or lose mental

functions if they didn’t have a steady supply of oxygen. There were tanks

build into the plane for use by the crew, and a special orange tank for the ball

turret gunner that sat above his station, next to the two ammunition boxes that

fed his twin machine guns. But nothing was guaranteed in an aerial war… and

flak could easily sever oxygen lines within the plane, leaving the crew

helpless. All the more reason to avoid those ground rockets completely.

“Assume formation, lieutenant,” Potter instructed his co-pilot. Don

checked his position and instruments and dropped the plane down and to the

right, pulling back on the airspeed as he did so. Today the 96 th Bomb group

had three squadrons in a box formation, with ten planes to each area. They

would be joined shortly with three squadrons each from the 379 th Bomb

Group out of Kimbolton, and the 351 st out of Polebrook, forming a ninety

aircraft Combat Wing in a large box formation of their own.

The 338 th squadron would lead the way for the 96 th Bomb Group in point

position, using their ten bombers to form a close three level diamond pattern

at 8,000 feet, each ship able to defend the one next to it with their .50 caliber

machine guns. The 337 th squadron, as high group, would climb above them,

move aft and to the right of the point squadron. Don’s unit, the 339 th , would

fly as the low group below and to the left of the point position, and aft of the

high position. When the formation as complete, they would form a cohesive

unit 380 yards wide, 210 yards deep and 300 yards high.

The 379 th Bomb Group would form the same internal formation and act as

point group relative to the other two Groups. The 351 st would fly at high


Over the Mountain

position and the 96 th Bomb Group would fly as low group. The ninety aircraft

box formation would extend 950 yards wide, 425 yards deep and 900 yards


With this approach each group can protect the other in case of attack from

German fighters. Don’s plane would take the last slip in the diamond

formation as ‘Tail End Charlie’. The planes on the end would be the most

vulnerable, especially when the Jerries come up from behind them.

The Combat Wing would be supported on the first leg of the raid by

twenty-one P-38’s from the 20 th Fighter Group out of Kings Cliffe. These

single engine planes, equipped with .50 caliber machines guns of their own,

would fly as far as the coastline of France before turning back to refuel, but

they would catch up with the bomb group on the return leg. These fighters

were best at altitude below 15,000 feet because they simply were not built to

withstand the freezing temperatures associated with higher elevation. The low

run into the French coast today would pose no such problems.

If the clouds were not as heavy, the bomb groups would have preferred to

stay at 5,000 feet but visibility was essential when managing a group of this

size. For primary targets that required several hundred planes, these

formations could stretch 100 miles in length and 50 miles across. Today, the

raid on the V-1 rocket launch sites in the French valley required only a

fraction of that.

“Navigator, what is the distance to the IP and our estimated time of

arrival?” Bill called over the intercom.

Loren Merritt had the figures in hand, knowing Potter would need them.

“I’ve calculated the distance, sir. We’ll cross over the coastline at Calais, a

distance of 100 miles from base. Cruising at 170 miles per hour at 8,000 feet,

we should reach that coastline in thirty-five minutes. After climbing to our

bombing height of 25,000 feet, we’ll increase our velocity to 260 miles per

hour. Distance from the coast to the Initial Point at Hazebrouck is fifty miles,

giving us eleven and a half minutes of flight time before making our run. Lille

is thirty miles beyond the IP, giving us a total time of a little over fifty-three

minutes from now.”

“Bombardier, what is your status?” Don called over the intercom.

“We have ten explosives on board, sir. Six 500 pound warheads and four

incendiary bombs. I double-checked them myself. Weapons are on the rack

and primed for a drop from 25,000 feet. My Norden system is up and

functioning within parameters.”

“Excellent,” Don remarked.


Thomas J. Berry

When the formation reached a point ten miles from the coastline, Merritt

informed the cockpit crew. Don ordered the gunners to stand ready. Reneau

and Costa opened the ball turret for Henry Gutmann to climb down into. It

was cold this morning, and the ball turret felt like ice, but the small German

just grinned. Despite Don’s early assessment of the ball turret, Gutmann

actually liked it, and preferred it to any other gunnery post on the plane. He

had a small build and felt the cramped quarters suited him better than his

larger shipmates.

The tall Norwegian, Bengt Hallberg, walked aft and took his position in

the tail, kneeling before the large .50 caliber machine guns that protected the

ship from rear attacks. If the Germans would come after their formation, that

was one approach that was almost a sure bet. He had heard stories in the

enlisted barracks from gunners who had seen enemy fighters emerge from the

ghostly contrails of the other lead planes, hiding from sight until they were in

close range. He made a mental note to be on the alert for those types of tricks.

Don could see land on the horizon and their plane covered the distance

quickly. The first sign that they were now over the continent came from a

barrage of black puffs of smoke in the sky before him, down and to the right.

The German flak batteries had spotted them and were now recalculating the

proper height trajectories. From his seat in the cockpit, the flak explosions

looked harmless, more like an eruption of black smoke from a fireplace flue.

But each one sent hundreds of steel shell fragments whizzing through the air

at terrible velocity, and it might only take a single well-placed hit to critically

damage one of these massive ships.

“Jerries at one o’clock!” called Calire over the intercom, from his position

in the nose.

“I see them…” replied Dorris Cox, their engineer and top turret gunner

who swiveled his large twin machine guns just behind Bill and Don.

“Two more coming in from ten o’clock…” countered Henry Gutmann

from the ball turret below them. Suddenly the cockpit crew could feel the

vibrations coming through the thin steel frame of the ship, as gunners opened

up on the enemy planes from above and below. The bursts lasted only a

second or two, but the tracers reached out across the distance of blue sky,

looking like popcorn on a string. They fell harmlessly off to the right side of

the German fighter, but their point was made. The Germans fell back.

The formation continued undeterred until Merritt reported that the little

town of Hazebrouck was in sight. This was the Initial Point, thirty miles from

the bombing target at Lille. From this juncture, everything about the mission

would change including the very structure of command.


Over the Mountain

“Lieutenant, lay in a course for the bomb run,” Potter said to Don.

“Aye, sir. Assuming bomb run formation,” the co-pilot replied.

“Bombardier, the ship is yours,” Potter announced over the intercom.

“Understood, sir, the ship is mine,” Calire replied.

Each ship would now release itself from the box formation and create a

single file line behind the lead ship, with the hidden V-1 rocket bunkers dead

ahead. The bombardiers had covert pictures of the bomb sites taken on return

legs from previous missions. By identifying visual markers, the bombardiers

would pinpoint the location of the long concrete fortifications that housed the

rockets. They would use these next ten minutes to calculate their bombing

formulas, and identify the very moment they needed to release their explosive

cargo. One misstep and they could lay their payload on a farmer’s field or

over a crowded populace. The pilots would fly the plane but it was the

bombardier who would give the orders.

From this point on, it was absolutely critical that the plane not deviate

from its single-file approach, for even the slightest course change would

nullify the bombardier’s calculations. The pilots were carefully instructed that

they must adhere to this principle even in the face of enemy attack. Better to

let the gunners defend the Flying Fortress as best they could and keep the line,

rather than scrub the bomb run all together. The Germans, of course, were

very much aware of these protocols and often set up heavy flak batteries along

these bomb run approaches.

Several black puffs of smoke could be seen ahead and below them but

they were not near the ‘Tail End Charlie’ position. The German fighters had

left the vicinity, not wanting to get caught themselves in the flak explosions

from their own side.

“Lining up the bomb sights,” Calire said over the intercom. The Norden

bombsite tracker was a state-of-the art piece of equipment, classified topsecret,

and would allow the ship to accurately place the bombs where they

needed to be. But even such sophisticated equipment needed human

interaction and the VIII Bomber Command had received a few reports of

mislaid bombs due to bombardier’s mistakes.

Visibility was the key in all bomb runs and many had to be aborted when

there was fog over the target area. If the primary site was not available, the

pilot would head for the next target of opportunity…a nearby industrial or

military installation that could use a pounding. Today, the skies remained as

clear as those over their home base.

“Two miles away and closing,” Merritt called out. He had been tracking

the ship’s progress along the way and it was his responsibility to know the


Thomas J. Berry

plane’s position at any and all times. He might be easy-going at the airbase,

but he was a damn good navigator and Bill and Don were happy to have him

as part of their crew. So far, the day was going very much according to plan.

“Opening the bomb bay doors,” Calire announced. He flipped the

electronic switch beside him and the hydraulic pistons pushed the large doors

open, exposing everyone to the harsh freezing air of 25,000 feet. If there was

a problem with the doors, there was a manual override that would allow a

crewman to crank it open. Getting the bombs out was priority number one. All

else was secondary.

Each plane’s bombardier was awaiting a signal from the lead ship, the

first one over the target. This crew had the Lead Bombardier on board, a

veteran officer who would be the first to send its bombs to the V-1 rocket

launch sites below. Upon seeing the bombs fall from the lead ship, each plane

behind him was free to let loose. If visibility was poor, the lead ship would

send up a red flare to announce the drop.

“Five, four, three, two…bombs away!” Calire called out. They were over

the target, and the bombs dropped one by one out of the left and right racks

heading towards the narrow inlet where the Germans had hidden their rocket

launch bunkers far below. Each 500 pound bomb had a pin trigger, much like

a hand grenade, that was inserted through a rope in the bomb bay. As it fell

out of the plane, the trigger was ripped out, arming the device.

Each warhead was preset back at the airbase to explode from a designated

height and the bombardier had calibrated it himself for 25,000 feet. Only

when it had dropped from that height would the large bombs explode. The

warheads would create a high energy explosion that would tear away steel or

brick walls, machinery, and anything else in its path. The four incendiary

devices would spread fire throughout the compound, adding to the raid’s

destructive forces.

But Don’s face blanched seconds later when he heard a crashing sound

from right below them…at this height, there would be nothing in the world he

would have expected to see right now in that vicinity. He looked out the

window but the world below him was blocked by the steel grey fuselage. He

called down over the intercom.

“What the hell was that?”

“Shit! No!” was the only reply, and immediately everyone on board

started to talk at once, shouting and cursing their misfortune. The cockpit

crew was still in the dark about the nature of the problem.

“I repeat,” Don said loudly. “It sounds like we hit something! Something

very close. Was it a German?”


Over the Mountain

“Negative,” Calire said softly. “It was one of ours.”

“How the hell did that happen?” Potter said loudly over the intercom.

“It wasn’t there a second ago when I dropped the bombs, I swear!” Calire

said, almost willing the terrible tragedy to go away on its own. “The B-17

came up from under was completely out of position! There was no way

it should have been below us…Christ Almighty!”

Two of the bombs, each weighing a quarter ton, crashed through the right

wing of the Flying Fortress below them without exploding, but the force of

the collision was too much for the bomber’s structural integrity. The wing

broke off from the fuselage and sent the bomber into a death spiral straight

towards the ground far below.

“No chutes…I repeat, no chutes were visible,” Gutmann announced softly

from the ball turret. The G-force caused by the inverted spin would have

prevented anyone from escaping the wreckage…and the 339 th squadron lost

ten men that afternoon. Ten men that had taken a fatal miscalculation to their


“Closing the bomb bay doors,” Calire said, trying to get back to the

business at hand. “Control is returned to the cockpit.”

“I have control of the plane,” Potter repeated. “Now let’s get the hell back

home.” From this point on, the groups would return to their bases in England

on their own, with no organized formation. Sometimes the Germans took this

opportunity to strike at the planes without protective cover and send many of

them home in pieces…but today, the Germans did not put up much resistance

and the American bombers returned to their base unscathed.

“It’s not your fault, Jim,” Don said over the intercom six minutes after the

bomb drop. “It could have been anyone…any ship in the squadron would

have dropped the bombs when you did.”

“I know…I know…but it wasn’t anyone…it was me,” he said quietly.

“And it’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”


World War II unleashed a vicious battle for air supremacy far behind the front

lines. Vermont native Donald Malloy took to the skies piloting the huge B-17

Flying Fortress with a ten man crew, dropping bombs over Berlin and other

industrial centers in Europe. When his plane is hit by anti-aircraft shells, the crew

is forced to land in Switzerland but quickly find out life can be harsh on the other

side of the mountain.

Over the Mountain

Order the complete book from

or from your favorite neighborhood

or online bookstore.

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