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Picture credit

Front cover:

Aircraft peeling-off Photo 44S th BG - Courtesy of William Dewey

B-24 with open bomb bay - Phot 44Sth BG - Courtesy of Ed Barnes

Page 7:

Julienne and Lucien Courtesy of Lucien Dewez

Page 10:

The Vickers crew - Courtesy of Keith Roberts.

Illustration a:

The Dimick crew Courtesy of Nelson Dimick

The Isom crew Courtesy ofEd Barnes

The Modern Knight - Courtesy of the 392 nd BG Association

Luc Dewez © Copyright 2002


3

CONTENTS

Contents

Preface

Acknowledgements

httroduction

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Epilogue

The preparation

The Flight

The Fight

The Bail Out

The Way Back

The Aftermath

3

4

9

11

13

33

47

81

107

125

137

Appendixes

Appendix I

Appendixll

A Navigational Error

The Crews

139

148

Sources

151


CRUEL SKY

4

PREFACE

My name is Luc Dewez. I am a Belgian who was too young to have any personal

recollections of World War II but who has read, and been moved to write, about the then

young men who did take part in that war.

As a result of a long chain of circumstances, I was invited to attend the Rededication

of the American Air Museum in Britain by some of the friends I have met through my

research. Specifically, I have assisted in their search for another B-24 named The Niagara

Special of the 392 nd Bomb Group, Second Air Division, 8 th Air Force, which was lost on

January 16, 1945.

In May 1997, in the Irvine Hyatt Regency Hotel, California, while attending a

reunion of the Second Air Division Association, I went from the hospitality room of one

group to another in an effort to meet new acquaintances and to gather additional personal

stories.

In the hospitality room of the 392nd Bomb Group, one of the men I met was Keith

Roberts, a navigator. He was selecting pictures from the archive files to illustrate the latest

book by his friend and former pilot, Robert Vickers, about their group's ground personnel.

We introduced ourselves, spoke about a lot of things, including Belgian beers, while

sharing some U.S. ones.

In September 1997, I received a letter from Keith. He and Bob Vickers intended to

return to France to visit the location where their plane, The Niagara Special, crashed and

where they had landed after parachuting. They were corresponding with Mr. Bernard

Michel who was trying to find eyewitnesses who saw them in Doncourt-Ies-Conflans on

January 16, 1945. Bob and Keith, at Mr. Michel's request, were looking for an interpreter

and would love to have me do it. I immediately said YES.

This started a series of letters and phone call exchanges with Mr. Michel. This

French gentleman was an amateur historian, as am I, and well aware of the aviation history

of his region. He was the key man in the following events for it was he who fOlUld that The

Niagara Special had crashed nearly 10 miles away from the village Bob and Keith were

planning to visit! It was not Doncourt-Ies-Conflans, the crash site was at Mouaville!


Preface

5

And I heard the whole nine yards. In June 1994, his childhood friend, Louis Gutvin,

had inadvertently convinced Bob Vickers, mostly by hand gestures, that the pilot had found

the place while he was traveling between Verdun and Metz. Answering a letter from Keith

(translated by Linda Klein, a Newport Beach librarian), Louis Gutvein gave him Bernard

Michel's address. And, Bernard's skill unlocked the mystery. As a result, Bob and Keith

switched our rendezvous to the main street of Mouaville at 1:00 PM on January 15, 1998.

My wife Sophie and I drove from Ham-sur-Sambre, Belgium, to Mouaville, France.

We stopped at the very first house, which is also a farm. There, we met Gabriel Albrech,

farmer and mayor of this very little village: 70 inhabitants. Bernard Michel joined us for a

meal and I learned that the mayor remembered The Niagara Special flying over his head

when he was an eight year old schoolboy. After the meal, we headed for the old primary

school building, now the "mairie" (the Mayor's office). Several eyewitnesses to the 1945

event were gathered outside. The old classroom housed a long table, covered with empty

Champagne glasses. But their destiny was not to remain in such a state in light of the large

number ofChampagne bottles in evidence and waiting to meet their fate.

Then, they came - our heroes - Bob Vickers, Keith Roberts, and Bill Nock, the waist

gunner and armorer on The Niagara Special.

It was the beginning of three moving and busy days for me. Moving, to help my

friends go back to 1945, and busy, as I talked for three days in a row. But I, nor any of the

others were ever allowed to run dry. Our glasses were always full of Champagne, or red

wine, or Mirabelle (plum-based white alcohol), wherever the three Americans and the two

Belgians went. A strong friendship developed, the kind that makes any separation hard to

take. While Bob, Keith, Bill, Sophie, and I were enjoying the nice bed-and-breakfast ("La

Ferme des Vales"), it was like being with family.

It was with a great deal of sadness when we said goodbye to Bob, Keith and Bill, as

they left to search for Bill's landing place (they found it).

In any event, the year 1998 really started on a high note. One month later, on

Valentine's day, Sophie offered me a pair of baby shoes. She was expecting a baby in

November - our first child. It was great. In addition, I was planning to meet Bob Vickers in

the USA that same year. Hodgkin's disease for me and a rough landing on earth for our

little daughter, Marie, cause the cancellation ofmy overseas trip that year.


CRUEL SKY

6

I had to wait until March 2001 before I was made aware of Bob Vickers plan to

return to France in 2002 and see me and Sophie once again at Mouaville for "one last

look." Bob also told me about his plan to visit Duxford (England) for the dedication of the

B-24 undergoing restoration there. From that time on, Bob's e-mails or letters to me all

contained a mention of Duxford.

They reached a crescendo when Bob told me proudly that his ship Dugan (The

Niagara Special's successor) had been chosen to come to life in Duxford. The four-leaf

clover nose art and the 392 nd BG colors of Dugan would lead the 4000 B-24 aircraft flying

from England with the 8 th Air Force. The restored B-24 would wear his "blazon" at the

brand-new, rededicated Duxford American Air Museum. Former President George H. W.

Bush and some, at that time, undisclosed members of the British Royal Family would

highlight the event by their presence.

For me, the icing on the cake was that Bob listed me in the Dugan's wwn crew &

family associates list as Dugan Crew's French GuidelInterpreter! I was a member of his

crew.

Did all those things come together simply by chance? Or was it destiny?

Because it didn't stop with the event itself, the date of this rededication, September

27, is particularly meaningful for me. It is also the date of the mission in 1944 to Kassel,

Gennany by the 445th Bomb Group, Second Air Division. On this mission the 445th lost

22 aircraft in a couple of minutes. One of the books I have written, "Cruel Sky," is about

the experiences ofthe personnel and the planes of the 445th BG during this mission.

I find this occasion appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of that fateful mission,

to remember the men who flew Dugan, and to remember the men who, in the cause of

freedom, flew the other thousands of planes from England.

The following account, "Cruel Sky," is the result of a powerful attraction between a

woman and a man - two people who had met and fought during World War II - my parents.

Even though they were deeply involved in resistance acts against the Germans, they told me

very little about their activities (the were both awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre). After

all, Mom and Dad thought that all they had done was just their duty. They were more

inclined to speak about the others, and mostly about the Allied soldiers.


Preface

7

My parents remembered vividly the endless

formations of U.S. heavy bombers cruising slowly

over Belgium, looking like small crosses shining in

the sun, but sometimes smoking.

After the war, my father was with the Allied

occupation forces in Germany. Lucien was then a

Sergeant in the Belgian Military Liaison, attached

to the British XXX Corps (Here with his fiancee,

Julienne, my mother, during a leave in Belgium).

In the forest one day, hidden among the

trees, he found the tail of a Flying Fortress. He was

deeply impressed by the overall dimensions of the

thing, which was as big as a fighter!

This began my interest in the history of World War II.

As an 8 year-old, I had adopted unusual boyhood heroes

w

the American bomber

crews. But they seemed as unreachable as Superman was for the other kids, like they were

from some twilight zone and were still fighting a never-ending World Warn. An

unexpected opportunity, more than twenty years later, changed all that and led to my first

trip to the States.

The place was Dayton, Ohio, the date was September 1996, and the subjects of my

visit were the airmen of the 44Sth Bomb Group (Heavy). Finally, this young man from

Belgium had the opportunity to meet his boyhood heroes. Among this group were the

survivors of the most terrible beating a Mighty Eighth Group had ever sustained.

At that time, no book was fully dedicated to this aerial carnage so I decided to make

my modest contribution to saving a piece of history for the generations to come.

I hope you will feel this account to be something more that a mere compilation of 47

Americans telling how they had lived their September 27 th , 1944. Its sometimes laconic

style is caused by the fact that I stuck to the veterans' recollections. Some are more


CRUEL SKY

8

disposed than others to tum their emotions and memories into words. I respect this

diversity so I decided to use their replies to my questionnaire as the main source of

information.

Some readers may be disappointed by the many characters appearing in "Cruel Sky."

Be patient, it will all come together. I have written this account in a somewhat unusual

way, different in style from many other books. But the structure itself is a story, telling

how individuals from different backgrounds were united in combat crews. That unity,

however, was shattered when the crews were shot down. In Germany, they were

individuals again.

I have accented the individuality of men fighting in a global conflict. The whole

process seems to be out of their control but they are part of it, and consequently, involved in

its evolution - both actors and spectators.


9

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First, I wish to acknowledge the following people who lived the so-called Kassel

mission. They made this book possible in answering my very long questionnaire. They are

not sorted by alphabetical order but listed by squadrons:

700 th Sgd.

Web L. UEBELHOER

Donald D. WHITEFIELD

Robert L. SIMS

Fabian S. MACK

Carroll G. SNIDOW

Nelson L. DIMICK (TAPS)

HarryF. TACHOVSKY

Dwight F. GALYON

Raphael E. CARROW

John. E. FRENCH

Charles A. HUDDLESTUN (TAPS)

Herbert R. SCHWARTZ

702 nd Sqd.

FrankJ. BERTRAM

Mertis C. THORNTON Jr.

Lawrence S. BOWERS

Milton H. LEE

Warren B. PENDLETON

Willis A. MEIER

Malcom J. MacGREGOR

Ammi H. MILLER

Charles J. GRAHAM

Ira P. WEINSTEIN

Raymond W. RAY

Bobby C. McGOUGH

Corman H. BEAN

George M. COLLAR

James C. BAYNHAM

Howard L. BOLDT

John Ray LEMONS

JohnW.KNOX

Eugene GEORGE Jr.

Sammy S. WEINER

70i st Sgd.

Jack LASWELL

William R. DEWEY

Charles CRAIG

James T. WITHEY

James T. ENGLEMAN

Peter S. BELITSOS

Jack M. ERICKSON (TAPS)

Henry DOBEK

703 rd Sdq.

Edward BARNES

Paul M. DICKERSON

Jackson C. MERCER (TAPS)

Harry L. WHEATON (TAPS)

James E. DOWLING

Frank T. PLESA

Joseph J. WOZNIAK


10 CRUEL SKY

Also:

Bill Dewey, President ofthe Kassel Mission Memorial Association

Brad King and his team from the Film & Video Archive Department, Imperial War

Museum, London. They kindly opened their service to a Belgian amateur "historian"

William Dixon, my editor and friend (a former 100th BG waist gunner)

Chantal De Brabanter, graphic designer

Last but not least, Robert E. Vickers and Keith E. Roberts from

The Vickers crew:

Standing: Vickers (P) - Schwarzer (CP) - Roberts (N) - Shaner (B)

Kneeling: Markham (E) - Moore (RO) - Nock (WG) Carter (WG) Leinweber (TG) - Henthorn (NG)

Courtesy ofKeith Roberts

To all ofyou, my heartfelt thanks.


11

INTRODUCTION

On Thursday, September 28 th , 1944, The London Edition of "The Stars and Stripes,"

the daily newspaper of United States Armed Forces in the European Theater of Operations,

taught its daily French lesson:

Ou habitez-vous? - 00 abeeTA Y voo? - Where do you live?

Under this somewhat frivolous addendum, a huge headline announced the end of the

resistance of the British paratroopers besieged in Arnhem. Actually, two-thirds ofthe front

page was dedicated to the bravery and fighting spirit ofthe Arnhem survivors, and the fight

inside the corridor opened by this big push. The Market-Garden operation, which was

planned to end the war before Christmas and send the boys back home, was over. The

Germans were no more "kaput" than their Japanese allies.

The Office of War Information stated: '~The task of crushing Japan is expected to

require an 'absolute minimum' of one and a halfto two years after the defeat ofGermany."

No, war was not over, and the allied soldiers would not be home for Christmas. On

all fronts, death was taking a fearful toll. The vertical front, extending over four miles high

in the sky of Western Europe, was not exempt from the carnage. In the same issue of "The

Stars and Stripes," a Lt. Arthur Shay, navigator on the Liberator Patty Girl: "The Luftwaffe,

well over 100 of them, picked us up several minutes after we had bombed our target at

Kassel. They came in at 15 abreast and were strung out like a football forward wall. On

every side Libs from our group were burning and exploding and men were bailing out,

delaying the opening oftheir chutes until they had cleared the combat area."

From a reader's point of view, it was just another bloody episode ofthe "around the

clock" offensive which was raining bombs on the third Reich. But, for Lt. Arthur Shay and

the men of the 445 th Heavy Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, it was a terrible reminder

that life was short and could end at any time. This Group had, as had every group in the

European Theater of Operations (ETO) been badly mauled previously. On a mission to

Gotha, they had lost a total of 13 aircraft.


12 CRUEL SKY

But Gotha had been in February 1944 and, since D-Day the previous June, the

Luftwaffe was showing less of a presence and some even considered the Gennan Luftwaffe

as eradicated. The newer crews had never seen a Gennan fighter. The mission that they

had earlier chalked up as a "milk run" was to result, however, in a sky full of debris from

exploding ships. As with the men who had flown the Gotha mission, this mission to Kassel

left an indelible mark on the survivors. The wild blue yonder could tum into a cruel sky.


The Preparation

13

Chapter 1

THE PREPARATION

Very early on September 27 th , 1944, a Jeep came to a screeching halt in front of a

Nissen hut, a semicircular building with an arching roof of corrugated steel over a cement

floor. These were the basic quarters for American air force crews stationed all over the

East Anglian countryside. Station 124 was an airfield sandwiched between two small

villages: Tivetshall and Tibenham, some 14 miles south ofNorwich. It was the home ofthe

445 th Bomb Group (Heavy) which consisted of more than 40 B-24s (also called the

Liberator) and 3000 young Americans.

Second Lieutenant Leo P. Pouliot heard the door creaking slightly and shufiling

footsteps in the dark around 2nd L1. George Noorigian's bed .. After turning on the lights,

the "Gremlin," as Pouliot called the Operations Clerk, came back to shake the pilot, 1st L1.

Jackson C. Mercer, announcing, "Briefing at 04:30." He then left the hut, got in his Jeep

and drove on to wake up another crew. Rather than getting up immediately, the copilot

covered his head with the blankets for a last luxurious minute in the sack, shivering at the

thought of getting up in the cold. Finally he could put it off no longer. As usual, the pilot

was the first out, Pouliot next, then the bombardier and fmally the boy who was born to

sleep, navigator 2nd L1. Milton H. Fandler.

Around the base, other men were dashing into the living quarters, switching on the

lights, shaking the cots, and muttering something about briefing time. Name-calling of

these poor unfortunates was not rare, although they were just doing their jobs. First

Lieutenant James T. Withey was not awakened as scheduled for what was to be his last

mission. Later in the morning, his pilot warned the control tower that he was taking off

without his navigator. A jeep drove back to the living area and hurried Withey to the flight

line. The tower notified his crew he was there but they did not come back to pick him up.

After the mission was completed, the pilot told the annoyed navigator that he wasn't about

to turn around, land, and takeoff again just to pick him up for this "milk run" mission. As a

result, Whithey still had one more mission to fly to complete his tour.


14 CRUEL SKY

The crews scheduled were aware, or should have been aware, that they had been put

on standby for the mission as a list was always posted the day before on the bulletin board.

But sometimes, unexpected developments induced "minor changes."

Second Lieutenant Peter S. Belitsos rolled over to go back to sleep when he saw that

the operations clerk did not wake up his pilot, 1 st Lt. Edward J. Speers. Sleep, however,

was not to be as Belitsos was shaken and told that he was flying with 2nd Lt. Palmer M.

Bruland.

Second Lieutenant George M. Collar was also surprised when somebody rousted him

out of bed. He had planned to leave for London that morning, a three-day pass in his

pocket. Instead, he was assigned to 1 st Lt. James Schaen's crew. Second Lieutenant

Richard J. Aarvig, their bombardier, had failed to return from London.

Technical Sergeant Howard L. Boldt was out of his double-deck bunk and in the

process ofgetting the non-commissioned officers on his crew up when a Jeep stopped at the

hut next to them. Then the Jeep started up again and stopped in front of their Nissen.

When the charge of quarters (CQ) came in, his job was completed. Boldt went to the wash

room, scooped a couple handfuls of water on his face and shaved. There was very little

warm water for washing in the morning. Hot water did not last too long so it was cold

showers for the sack lovers.

Howard Boldt was born in Houston, Texas on Sept 1, 1920. He grew up working in

his father's automobile repair shop and loved mechanical work. He married June 6, 1941,

and worked in a defense plant, Moses Steel, a heavy structural shop. He had a deferment

but decided to join the Army in October 1942. His grandmother was upset because he was

going to bomb his cousins. His grandparents on both sides of his family came from

Germany. He told her he was American, not German. He went in as a mechanic but

somewhere started training as an aerial gunner. He was sent to B-24 school at Keesler

Field, and then to the Consolidated factory in San Diego for more training. He was made

flight engineer and joined his crew at Peterson Field in Colorado Springs.

Radio operator, T/Sgt. James T. Fields was from California. Bubbly and full of

vigor, he liked to dance, gambled a bit, and always had fun. In contrast, S/Sgt. Olen C.

Byrd, one of the oldest on the crew, came from a farming area in Texas. Though at times


The Preparation

15

he seemed to be the one who liked to be alone, he was the one who always could be

depended on to do a top job.

On'December 7, 1941, the newly married John Ray Lemons signed up to become an

air cadet, along with two other co-workers at his place of employment. They hoped to

become fighter pilots. They all passed the written tests and the physical exam· except the

final examining doctor questioned a scar on Lemons's left leg. He said he could not pass

him without a waiver - which was sent to Washington D. C. After much delay no answer

came and he was inducted into the army and later assigned to the Army Air Force.

Because the ball turret was no longer used, the Baynham crew alternated leaving a

gunner on the ground. Today they had to fly with only one Lord, the real one. The other

one, S/Sgt. Edwin L. Lord, would stay behind this time. This was the second time the

armorer and former ball turret gunner did not fly with his crew.

Sergeant Boldt donned a pair of one-piece fatigues, G. I. shoes, a jacket and took off

to hit the latrine which was situated in a small adjacent building. On his merry way, he

remembered the day he heard someone yell that the latrine was on fire. It looked as if the

whole inside was burning with a lot of white smoke coming out. A couple of guys crawled

out on their hands and knees with their pants around their ankles and blood in their eyes.

Someone had cut open a cartridge from a red flare and lit it right inside the door. The floor

was wet, as this was where the large can that served as a urinal was located. The poor

victims would have shot the person who did the foul deed but they never found him.

Sometimes a .45 calibre bullet was "inadvertently" dropped into the small black

stove, slow in producing warmth and hungry for coal but warm enough to let the bullet

explode, stimulating the whole complement to vacate the place in a hurry. Otherwise, the

hut was rather quiet with men playing cards, filling the Nissen from end to end with

cigarette smoke, writing letters, or listening to the radio. The Armed Forces radio was the

official broadcasting and music dispenser but Axis Sally and Lord Haw Haw had their

enthusiasts too.

Another occupation was laundry. The guys soaked their wool class A-uniforms in a

tub of 100-plus octane aviation fuel swiped from the planes. It was an excellent cleaning

fluid. Then they hung them on a wire fence. Within minutes the uniforms were dry, the

blowing wind wafting away the odor of gas. Others preferred to tum the job over to


16 CRUEL SKY

civilians living near the base who then became a constant source of clean clothing. The

"customers" had to supply the soap and two dollars for washing and ironing a sack full of

clothes.

When they were not busy flying combat or practice missions, the crews seemed to

keep more or less to themselves. None of them associated very much outside their own

crew even when on leave. Some were addicted to unusual activities that would be

considered slightly abnormal for an officer in the Army Air Force. Second Lieutenant

Walter E. George Jr. went offbase alone, carrying a sketchpad that he filled with drawings.

He admired the historic buildings ofthe English landscape. He also browsed bookstores.

When he was not writing letters home, 2nd Lt. Nelson L. Dimick did a bit of sailing

and swimming on the Broads. His life on base was centered on the Officers' Club which

opened at 04:00 ~M. There were periodic dances with girls brought in from Norwich and

surrounding towns. There was a tendency for some to remain on base for a couple of days.

This upset the chaplain no end.

This morning, as was the case before every mission, hundreds of airmen were now

wandering their way down the long path to the mess hall. There were some signs ofrain as

they plodded through some mud left over from the last rain. The darkness of the night,

worsened by the blackout condition, made the trip rather hazardous. Boldt and his men got

on their bikes and peddled over to the mess hall.

The bicycle made transportation easier on and off the base. An auction was held

regularly to sell the bikes of crews that were lost or had completed their tour. But as did

flak and fighters, bicycles took their toll too, particularly when riders were full of English

beer and pedalling in pitch-black darkness. British bikes had brakes on the handlebars

while the Americans were accustomed to coaster brakes. Yankee bikers had to remember

the left hand activated the rear brake and the right was used to actuate the front brake.

More than one rider ended up over the handlebars after using the wrong hand or hitting the

front brake too hard.

Some men, including 1st Lt. Henry Dobek, made a stop at the Catholic chapel.

Dobek had been interested in flying since he was nine years old, and began to build model

aircraft and read articles about airplanes. Occasionally an old biplane landed at a grass

field about three miles from his home. He would run to the field to watch as the plane


The Preparation

17

would take-off and land, taking passengers on IS-minute rides. The cost was $3.00 but, in

the middle of the Depression, very few people could afford the price of an airplane ride.

Today, however, his ride would be free.

Staff Sergeant John W. Knox, T/Sgt. Fabian S. Mack:, and S/Sgt. Harty F. Tachovsky

were waiting to receive communion from Father Joseph Quinlan, the Base Catholic

Chaplain. They needed all the help they could get.

Along with his Catholic missal, 1st Lt. Frank J. Bertram always carried a miniature

baseball glove, a gift from his wife. Another of the men who attended the service before

each mission was 2nd Lt. Bobby C. McGough.

Meanwhile, the early birds were slowly swallowing their breakfasts. Some just

could not eat - butterflies had taken over their stomachs like planes on their hardstands.

Others were grumbling about the chow, and particularly about the powdered eggs.

One day, T ISgt. Robert L. Sims had eaten in the ground crew mess and found this a

terrible experience. So Sims swiped food from the officers' mess and cooked it on the hut's

small coal stove. He did it so well that the officers of the crew joined them for dinner.

Lieutenant George thought it was not a question of ingredients; it was a question of

cooks. Sometimes, he removed his wings to eat in the ground officers' mess hall where he

found the food excellent and well prepared. Today he ate only a small portion of canned

peaches.

Technical Sergeant Sammy S. Weiner sat down to the usual breakfast. "I had no

stomach for the pancakes, those soggy cold cakes, but gulped a cup of coffee. I had flown

over the Channel two days in succession."

The sack lovers hurried themselves to the mess hall where others were already

waiting in line. Lieutenant Pouliot pushed a plateful of messy looking powdered eggs

aside, and ate a peanut butter sandwich between gulps of coffee.

Tail turret guIUler S/Sgt. Frank T. Plesa never missed a briefmg, even when a black

cat had crossed his path en route to his first one. Even that was not enough to temper the

enthusiasm of this airplane lover, who was so eager he could hardly wait to enlist in the

aviation cadet program offered after graduation from high school. He wanted to be a fighter

pilot but he also wanted to help his older brothers, cousins, close friends, and, in fact,

everyone to end this awful war.


18 CRUEL SKY

Second Lieutenant Carroll G. Snidow had a strange feeling about this mission ­

number 18 - the halfway mark of his tour. He and navigator 2nd Lt. Maynard "Jonesy"

Jones were figuiing the target would be "Big B" (Berlin). The bombardier, 2nd Lt. Johnny

Friese, was not sure whether he was scheduled or not, so he went to the briefmg room with

his crew. When they entered the room, the lights temporarily blinded the men. Smoking

was allowed and the place was beginning to cloud with blue-gray cigarette smoke. Friese

found he was not scheduled, so he went back to bed. Before leaving, he went to his copilot

and said, "Give 'em hell, Snidow." It was an expression they told each other when one of

them was not flying.

It was an obvious reference to the rhetoric sometimes used by administrative officers

during the briefing. Terms such as "few guns in area" or "fighters grounded," quickly wore

thin after the first .couple of missions. Newcomers would learn on their own that no one

could predict what was going to take place and they would realize then just how serious

war was.

The room was crowded but not very noisy. Everyone was tense and anxious. Where

were they going? At the end of the room, the answer was hidden behind curtains so no one

could foretell exactly what the target would be.

At 04:30 sharp, someone shouted, "T AIN-HUf" and four hundred crewmen snapped

to their feet. Colonel William Jones, the group commander, told them to "be seated," and

walked briskly to the front. The back door was closed and the briefing got under way. The

briefing officer stood up and stepped on stage with a long pointer while the curtains were

drawn back:, exposing the large map of England and the European Continent covering the

front wall. Colored strings attached to the map indicated the routes they were to fly both to

and from the target. This was the time for moans, and groans, depending on where the line

was leading - to a difficult target or some other, ostensibly a milkrun. The target for today

was the Henschel engine and vehicle assembly plant at Kassel, Germany.

Some men, the lead and deputy lead crews, already knew the target. They had been

briefed separately before the main briefing. Generally there were a few days between their

missions. Yesterday, pilot 1st Lt. Reginald R. Miner, had led the 445 th Bomb Group to

Hamm, Germany. Today, Lt. Bennett was scheduled to lead the 702 nd Squadron but his

airplane was grounded. So Miner was directed to lead the squadron two days in a row.


The Preparation

19

445 th had already bombed today's target several times without encountering difficulty, so

this time, too, they expected another grand "milkrun." Miner commiserated with Bennett

and his crew on their concern about missing this mission.

It was a maximum effort for the group, with four 10-ship squadrons. Major Donald

McCoy, 700th Squadron commanding officer, was the command pilot, riding for the

occasion with Capt. John Chilton's crew. Captain James Graham was deputy command

pilot, flying in Capt. Web Uebelhoer's ship.

The 445 th Group was to lead the Second Combat Wing, the other groups in the wing

being respectively the 389 th and the 453 rd Groups.

The S-2 Intelligence officer took over and reported the expected opposition from flak

areas and fighters. Sixty-six heavy and 98 light antiaircraft guns were defending Kassel,

which was the target today. The S-2 highlighted the approach toward the target, the bomb

run and showed photos, drawings, and maps of the Henschel plant. He stressed that the

disposition of enemy fighters was heavily weighted in favor of tactical defense.

This fighter opposition would be in the hands of the Little Friends - one Fighter

Group (FG) ofP47s, one FG ofP38s, and three FGs ofP51s.

The Weather officer stood up and gave his forecast for the successive stages of the

mission, from take-off to landing at base.

First Lieutenant John E. French annotated his pilot briefing leaflet with the basic info

of the mission reviewed by the briefing officer. Take-off on runway 21; group assembly

altitude fixed at 12,000 feet; red-green assembly flares, the code name to throw chaff was

Lazy Bones; at the IP, the call for visual bombing was Ham Bone; Pea Soup was for a

Pathfinder (PFF) drop. Bombing altitude was 23,000 feet.

Lieutenant Snidow reviewed his notes - engine start up time, taxiing time and

position, take-off time, assembly points, weather and fighter cover. He felt greatly relieved

by the combination of fighter protection and extended cloud cover for most of the trip. All

in all, it did not look too bad.

The Navigation officer gave a time "hack" for synchronization of the watches. There

was a cal1 to attention as the group commander departed. The crews were dismissed to

attend separate briefings where pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and radio operators could

gather all sorts of information relating to their specialization.


20 CRUEL SKY

The navigators got a detailed weather report, flak gun locations, and anticipated

Luftwaffe opposition. On their maps, they drew the route as planned with Estimated Time

of Arrival (ETA) and the exact location of all key points. The virtual landmarks for

assembly were radio beacons called bunchers and splashers. They were spread all over

East Anglia to help the bomb groups form into their wings, divisions, and the 8th Air Force.

These beacons allowed such formation-building even in complete cloud cover.

Radio operators received the codes of the day as well as the operating frequency

schedule and some special instructions.

After the briefings, the men went to their locker room for suiting up with all the

necessary flying equipment to keep them warm and alive at high altitude. Lieutenant

Pouliot went to the equipment room and asked "Shorty" to give him a 34-38 heated suit and

gloves. As usual, the pants would barely fit him.

Lieutenant Dimick proceeded to don the heated flying suit over his coverall. The

new model came in two pieces that were like a battle jacket and pants of officers green.

Both fastened together by buttons, which carried the circuit from jacket to pants. The

gloves snapped on to the sleeves of the jacket. Over thick wool socks, he put the electric

heated slippers and snapped them to the pants. The whole outfit was plugged into a 24-volt

rheostat next to each battle station. Ifthe damn thing worked, it made high altitude flying

more comfortable. Despite sweat running down one's back, fingers and toes might remain

cold.

Then Dimick donned the flying coveralls over the electric gear and the big

sheepskin-lined flying boots. But even that was not enough! Four miles above earth it was

cold - 30° degrees centigrade eC) or more below zero - and no cockpit heat to speak of. So

he always took along his heavy, fleece-lined pants and jacket in case the heated suit failed

because leather sheepskin flight garments were 100% reliable.

He left his cap, jacket, and shoes behind in the locker. He stored his personal

belongings - coins, papers, letters, wallet, etc - in an envelope which was then sealed and

turned over to an orderly. Identification of any kind was forbidden except dog tags and

some very special pictures included in the escape kit. Before their first mission, they had

been photographed wearing civilian clothing. This was for helping the underground to

forge documents. Of course, you had to be fortunate enough to be over occupied territory


The Preparation

21

been photographed wearing civilian clothing. This was for helping the underground to

forge documents. Of course, you had to be fortunate enough to be over occupied territory

when shot down and picked up by friendly people. Dimick and the others soon heard via

the grapevine that the Germans could tell which outfit the captured airmen were from just

by looking at the shirts worn in the ID photos. In fact, each bomb group was using the

same clothing for all its pictures!

Staff Sergeant Lawrence S. Bowers took all the clothes he could put on - long wool

underwear, army Olive Drab (OD) wool shirt and pants, heavy layers of socks, wool

sweaters, etc. As were his fellow waist gunners, he was exposed to an icy air blast. In the

middle of this male and military equipment one may find a "female touch" - silk gloves.

The gunners always wore them under their heated gloves. Fixing any mechanical

malfunction while wearing thick gloves was a good trick, and to perform it under extreme

cold conditions, was more than doubly difficult. At -30°C, one could not touch anything

metal with bare hands since the skin would stick to it instantly. It was possible with silk

gloves on, but one could not dally too long or severe frostbite would occur.

Forty-five caliber automatic pistols were available and worn in a shoulder holster.

There was a rumor that if one had to bail out, the parachute harness would put great

pressure on the pistol when the chute opened and would break the ribs. It had also been

reported the enemy was shooting on sight anyone carrying arms. In case they fell in

German territory, the intelligence officer had told them to surrender to the first man in

uniform they met, to gain some protection against angry civilians. He said Germans had a

deep respect for anyone in authority, including a postman. Of course, nobody was eager to

test the disciplined inclination of the German people.

For security reasons, parachutes were repacked every 2 to 3 months. Packing team

told suspicious aviators to bring the chute back if it did not open properly; they would give

them another one. Pilots and copilots were issued back pack chutes because they were

more comfortable to wear in the pilot seats. Dimick always strapped his chute on so it was

ready to use, no matter what happened. It was risky to take it off or unbuckle the harness,

as you may never get it on and buckled in time.

The electric-heated slippers were not good for walking so Dimick had a pair of

broken-in GI boots wired on his parachute harness during his 29 missions. Nelson's chute


22 CRUEL SKY

had just been repacked the day before and he realized his shoes were missing. Others

preferred to tie their shoes together under the seats.

Some other airmen would have preferred a back pack parachute too. But it was quite

difficult to move around in the restricted space of the big tin bird with this bulky stuff on

the back. Those who had to wear a chest pack donned the harness only. None of them had

enough room to clip the chute on; it would be in the way of instruments, weapons, or

navigator's table. Chutes were placed on the floor, near the battle stations or outside the

turrets, as close as possible to the one who might have to use it. In case of trouble, they

would pick it up and snap the hooks to the harness to be ready to bail out. But the crews

knew, or would soon discover, that it was often a question of "just in the nick of time"

when it was time to use the chest chute.

This thought got the attention of S/Sgt. Jack M. Erickson because on his first mission

to Strasbourg, he had been nearly knocked out ofthe open bomb bay when hit by a piece of

flak while releasing a hung up bomb. His chest chute, meanwhile, was on the floor of the

flight deck. Luckily he was wearing his flak vest and was not injured by the spent flak hit,

although it did knock the wind out of him.

Soon after that mission, he succeeded in

scrounging up a seat pack, which he then kept locked securely in his locker. For fear of

losing it, he had never returned it for repacking.

Big flight and parachute bags were filled with all the supplementary equipment

necessary to complete the battle armor of the modem warrior: Mae West life preserver,

flight helmet, headset, oxygen mask, emergency K-rations. An officer signed out an escape

kit for each member of his crew. It was a small plastic box, which contained articles such

as different kinds of money from occupied countries, an emergency medical kit, a compass,

and a map of Europe.

The now fully-equipped airmen left the locker room. It was quite a walk to the flight

line, and handling heavy bags in flying boots was a tough situation for any distance at alL

So the guys rode everything available - trucks, jeeps, and even bicycles - to reach their

#

assigned planes. These various vehicles were carrying the entire spectrum of air combat

experience, ranging from newcomers in the ETO to men flying their last mission, such as

the pilot, Lt. French. The green kids were trying not to look too green. Some wore a cap


The Preparation

23

that had the typical 50 mission crush. Others were looking even raunchier than some

seasoned veterans were (see illustration a).

The replacement crews had made the endless 12-hour trip from Goose Bay,

Labrador, to Ireland. They had flown proudly in brand new aircraft over North Atlantic;

their bomb bays loaded with spare parts. They had hit the coast of North Ireland with a

sigh of relief and landed at Nutts Corner. There, the kids did not keep their toys which

were prepared to ETO standard before being sent to the bomb groups.

The crews went to a pre-combat, ground school training center where they had

various classes, ranging from English aviation, country life and weather, venereal disease

(VD) prevention, to what an aviator could expect while flying a mission, including how to

conduct oneself if shot down. But no flying.

After a few days, they departed for their Bomb Group which was just outside the

hamlet of Tibenham. There they attended more lectures before starting to fly. Then there

were flights to let them see what their base looked like in the middle of the East Anglian

countryside, crowded with airfields (See illustration b). Their squadron commanding

officers (CO) were the almighty men deciding when the rookies were ready to fly combat

missions. Usually, the new pilot was sent along with one of the older crews to see what

transpired. Sometimes he went as a copilot, sometimes he sat on an ammunition box

between the two pilots. The new crews were sometimes relegated to older aircraft, the

newer birds going to experienced crews.

The Maynard Jones crew was assigned for this mission to A Roughhouse Kate, an

olive drab B-24H model, their third B-24 in eight missions. For their second mission, they

had flown a brand new plane. They brought it back only to have it junked for parts. In all,

they had two ships shot up so badly they were declared Category E (beyond repair).

Twenty-one year-old Lt. Mercer and his bunch had shown up in Tibenham after D­

Day, June 6. As a replacement crew, they had flown over eight different planes. Some

were spares from other squadrons that were not in particularly good shape. In fact, they

had to abort on three occasions because of mechanical problems which prevented the ship

from reaching combat altitude. It was mission number 29 for Mercer and the seventh time

he had flown G for George.


· The Pearson crew before leaving the USA, 1944.

Rear: Pearson - Dimick - Stems - Henrikson

Front:Johnson - ? - Tachovsky - Galyon - Farrell- OKeefe

The Isom crew at Tibenham, 1944

Rear: Heisel - Sprague - Shay - Justice - 180m

Front: Bailey - Phillips - Wagner - Barnes - Dickerson

Illustration a

The difference between a crew in the Zone of Interior

and a crew after 30 missions in the ETO.


·•••••...•...................................... .....•••.•......................•••••.....................•••••........... ..

~~ ~

466th

96CBW

~ 467th

458th •

392nd

491st ~ NORWICH

14 CBW 44th 389th

448th LOWEST

453rd

~

2C W ~ 0

93rd~BW

445th

1\\

j\,

446th

BURYST ." ../ \

EDMUND§..",."···"·

o ,.,.../

• CAMBRIDGE //.... \ / r\.1-- \ .. ....

..................................................... ,.,/ ~ ,

'\,

../ \ \ _.J.

\

(

\\-j\

~

" "'--"-'-"

". \:,

..........

"""'"

. \~ ... '".........

\" .•... ..,­

Station 124···'··,.....,.,..

TIBENHAM ..,...".....

....

... ,..,

445th BG(H)

.,..,............ .,.. " ..........., .....,..

.•...,...,

.....'.

Illustration b

Bomb Groups and Wings of the 2nd Bomb Division

East Anglia, England, September 1944


24 CRUEL SKY

Crew integrity was somewhat impacted when most crews were reduced from ten

men to nine because of the removal of the Sperry ball turrets. Staff Sergeant Herbert R.

Schwartz became a so-called "back-up" gunner. With no regular crew assignment, he had

to fly with different crews. His 21 st mission would be behind the twin .50s ofa tail turret.

Removing the ball turret was met with mixed reviews from the crews. Those who

were thinking the Luftwaffe was kaput and had complete trust in the "Little Friends" found

this idea excellent. From the viewpoint of the gunner, it was wonderful: ''No better way to

commit suicide had ever been invented." Some even thought it was not a very efficient gun

position: "I never heard of them hitting anything." Only a few men did not like the

conversion; they felt like a helpless goose, always fearing the Germans would take

advantage of such a blunder.

From the standpoint of the airplane, it saved some weight but moved the center of

gravity forward toward the nose turret thus rendering the plane "nose heavy." This, in tum,

required more strength from the two pilots to hold the big bird's nose up, particularly during

landing.

Combat and assignment hazards also contributed to breaking up the crews. Staff

Sergeant Charles A. Huddlestun, a former ball turret gunner, was an orphan. His regular

pilot and co-pilot had fmished their tours. He was left behind because he had been in the

hospital with a perforated eardrum and, while there, the balance of his crew ditched in the

North Sea, resulting in the loss of all his noncom friends. For this, his 25 th mission, he took

over the right waist gun position. This was his first meeting with the pilot, Lt. French, and

the crew.

First Lieutenant Malcom J. MacGregor had flown his first five missions with the

Williams crew. But, when his original crew became lead, he went on the "extra board,"

flying 17 missions with six different crews before becoming a lead bombardier. Twelve of

his 33 previous missions were flown with the Sollien crew. Pilot, 1st Lt. Carl J. Sollien,

was not only a master in the use of his superchargers, he was quite a good piano player. He

even composed some original music. Sollien and MacGregor once went to London on

leave together and were together again today flying in a familiar plane, Fort Worth Maid.

It was the 26th mission for the rest of the crew, except for the nose turret navigator,

2nd Lt. John D. Dent. It was to be his 5 th Mission and MacGregor found him quite tense.


The Preparation

25

"When we were getting ready to board the plane Dent said: 'Y ou don't have to worry ­

nothing never happens when I am along.' I thought this strange because of his limited

experience. I remembered my fifth mission was to Politz in June and it was a very rough

mission, many planes went down, heavy flak and a lot of German fighter planes."

At the age of 30, T/Sgt. Ed Barnes was the old man of the crew of 1st Lt. Cecil J.

Isom. Before enlisting he had worked for Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, California.

Later, he was sent to engineering and gunnery school, and ended up as a Technical

Sergeant. After five missions, they were made a lead crew. On August 14, 1944, during

one of their numerous instrument check flights, Sweet Sue developed a fire in the flight

deck resulting in a crash landing. The bombardier was injured and flew no more missions.

The plane was a total loss. The Isom crew switched to Patty Girl and stuck to her with

success.

Barnes was flying his 29th combat mission in the right waist position. On his first

six missions he had flown in the top turret, as did most ofthe engineers. But he did not like

it as it was too close in for him. Lieutenant Isom used to say - "When it comes time to

leave this bird, I don't want anyone to impede me." In time of crisis the flight deck could

sure get crowded. Staff Sergeant Kyle C. Bailey was not an engineer but he was trained in

the top turret position and wanted it. Isom agreed, so for the next missions Barnes switched

to the waist where he had some freedom ofmovement.

It was about 05 :30 when the trucks stopped at the hardstands. The boys threw all

their flight gear and bags out of the vehicles and took them to the ships where they

gathered under the wings ofthe giant, metal, mother hen.

First Lieutenant James C. Baynham and crew were dropped at hardstand 32. They

had flown a different ship during the preceding nine missions. It was a shame they did not

have their own aircraft for the pilot had a name for her, The Whistling Privy. Today they

boarded a shining silver B-24, King Kong, one ofthe newest planes in the group.

Lieutenant Peter Belitsos' original crew, the Speers crew, had been formed at

Westover Field, MA. During transition training, it remained intact with only one early

change made. They had flown together for seven months on all but the first of 21 missions

and on countless practice missions. But today, Belitsos was assigned to another crew and it

was not until he reached the hardstand that he met Lt. Bruland, the pilot.


26 CRUEL SKY

"I introduced myself and was introduced to the navigator, 2nd Lt. Norman J. Cuddy.

The rest of the crew was huddled a short distance away but it was too dark to make out

their faces."

Each crewman now began the pre-flight inspection of the items in his area of

responsibility. Pilots and copilots walked around the ships with ground crew chiefs and

signed the form lA for the ground crew chief. So"me planes were patched; testimony of

former eventful encounters with well identified flying objects.

The Ordnance crews had previously fed the twin bomb bays with bombs: two 500lb

general-purpose (GP) and two sky markers in the PFF ships; six 1000 Ib GPs for the other

B-24s. They had also screwed nose and tail fuses into each bomb. The fuel tanks were

loaded with the mandated 2500 gallons of 100-plus octane gas.

Copilot, Lt. Dimick, went through the bomb bay, the easiest way to access his

station. The flight deck housed the top turret, the so-called radio room, and, at the very

front, both pilots' seats, positioned side by side on a raised platform. Dimick sat in the right

hand seat. As each seat shrouded the occupant with armor, they were called "coffin seats"

for their resemblance to a shallow coffin with the lid off. When he was a kid, it's unlikely

Nelson gave any thought to an airplane seat looking like that.

Since the age of nine, he had hung around aircraft at the local airport. The war

allowed him free flight instruction at the age of 17. He wanted wings but fighter wings.

When he graduated from cadets, they turned out to be bomber wings. A lot of replacement

crews were required because of the heavy losses. This mission, his thirtieth, should have

been his last, but the tour was upped from 30 to 35 missions. Dimick hung the chain of the

small rag doll - a girlfriend's gift - on the instrument panel. He set the rudder pedals and the

seat adjustment to fit his 5-foot-8-inch stature and was ready to fly.

The same Air Force need for bomber crew copilots placed Lt. George in the right

hand seat where he logged 16 missions. He, too, never wanted to fly bombers, only

fighters. His student record as an aviation cadet was good, but, to meet Air Force needs, he

became a copilot. He found this okay because it would get him into combat more quickly.

His ambition was to fly the required number of bomber flights, then get transferred into

fighters.


The Preparation 27

Under the guidance of his pilot, 1st Lt. Donald E. Brent, he was given more and

more time in control of the aircraft. After about seven missions, he was given a check ride

by the sqmidron commander, and thereafter could log time as a "first pilot." After this, he

was gradually given the responsibility for formation flying. Brent juggled assignments so

that they would be flying on the left wing of the adjacent aircraft in the formation. Lt.

George also practiced landings. Brent had only three more missions to go, and the copilot

thought he would then take over the crew.

Bombardier, 2nd Lt. James E. Dowling crawled in the small tunnel from the flight

deck to the nose compartment of a brand new plane named Fridget Bridget, which had no

missions chalked on her side. The nose wheel hatch under the nose was also a way to enter

the bombardier compartment but it required a lot of twisting. The B-24 was a big aircraft

from the outside but inside, there was little room to spare. The nose was very small and

certainly not designed with the comfort of the bombardier and the navigator in mind. Any

simple movement required the guys to squirm around each other.

On the left side of his compartment were the bomb controls, the control handles to

operate the bomb bay doors, and a salvo handle to drop all the bombs in emergency. The

so-called Christmas tree showing status of the bomb load and the intervalometer which

could be set to drop the bombs in train at various intervals were also in the compartment.

Dowling was trailing his crew in the mission count. His original crew had flown 18

missions but he had flown only eleven because he had been elevated to lead bombardier

status and, as such, had flown with different crews. But today he was back with his

original crew led by 1st Lt. Joseph E. Johnson.

Dowling made sure his chest pack was near his position. He would have preferred

that all airmen be issued back packs and could wear them all the time. He felt more

concern about getting out of the airplane than being hit by flak. But there was no way the

men in the nose could wear their chutes and move around.

Lieutenant Withey entered the crowded space of the nose and dropped his flak suit

on the floor to protect his vital parts. He had no seat to speak of but a belt about 6 inches

wide that he could stretch across and sit on. He unsnapped the cloth strap holding his

"desk" - a little hinged sheet of plywood attached to the bulkhead, forward of and lower

than the flight deck. The navigator started to stack his logbook, maps, parallel rulers,


28 CRUEL SKY

pencils, plotter, and E6B computer: too much for the little shelf but standard equipment to

navigate. For visibility he had a small bubble window on both sides and a plastic dome

overhead.

For 22 missions, Withey had left the cramped nose quarters for the relative comfort

of the lead navigator desk behind the pilot where he had a chair and desk. Facing aft up

there, he was closer to the controls he had dreamed to hold. In June 1942, a few days after

graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Anny Air Force. But he was washed out as

pilot due to his poor - depth perception and ended up as navigator. To put a happy end to

his tour, he was flying with 2nd Lt. Donald N. Reynolds's crew.

While checking his top turret, Boldt found that the optical sight had parallax. "This

made the sight completely useless but this was not sufficient to ground the plane as 1 had an

iron sight as back up. 1 really did not give it a whole lot of thought as we always had very

good fighter escort. I felt that this mission was going to be easy. In the ship, the ground

crew chief told me that he had always wanted to go on a mission just to say that he made

one. 1 almost convinced him that this would be the day, this one should be easy. At the last

minute he backed out."

Sergeant Erickson, radio operator on the crew of Second Lieutenant William F.

Golden, had been delivered to hardstand 40 where the aircraft, Ole Baldy, a B-24H in olive

drab paint was located. Erickson made his way to the flight deck to assume his position,

behind the copilot seat. "I pre-flew all of the radio gear and pre-tuned the SCR-287

transmitter to the assigned frequency. 1 made sure that a flak suit and a flak helmet had

been delivered to my station. 1 put together the whole outfit. I then tested my oxygen mask

and plugged my electrical heated suit in to make sure it heated properly. Next I checked

out my Mae West to be sure it contained live C02 cartridges. Once I was satisfied that it

was in good working order 1 put it on. Next 1 strapped on my parachute harness and sat

down at my radio position all set for another mission."

In December 1941, Chuck Graham was a radio announcer. The night he read the

news that all W2s should report to their draft board, he did so and it was his undoing - they

had lost his original draft papers - and this brought it to their attention. A week later he got

his invitation from the President. Technical Sergeant Charles J. Graham was, on the eve of

his 24th mission, broadcasting different kind ofmessages.


The Preparation

29

When S/Sgt. Ammi H. Miller was drafted, he had left behind a wife and baby

daughter, not knowing if he would ever see them again. Each completed mission was a step

closer to his beloved family. He climbed into the top turret ofFort Worth Maid to perfonn

his checks. His original position was as a waist gunner but the engineer, T/Sgt. William C.

Stephens, wanted to fly back in the fuselage. He did not like the confinement of the top

turret and, in addition, his best friend, S/Sgt. James L. Bridgeo, was manning the left waist

gun. Miller saw no problem in switching assignments. He was familiar with the top turret

position, as he had been trained in it. Last, but not least, trading places put him nearer to

his own best friend, Sgt. Graham, the radio operator.

On the flight deck of the lead ship, the "pathfmder" or "PFF" the radar navigator sat

in front of a cathode ray tube that gave a rough representation of the ground below. The

radar screen was divided into concentric circles suggesting the distances. To plot a course,

the "Mickey" (as the equipment was dubbed) operator compared the image on his screen to

a set of maps. In doing so, he could guide the fonnation even when there was complete

cloud cover.

The extra crew required to operate a pathfinder necessitated a shift aft for the radio

operator: he was moved aft ofthe bomb bay.

Sergeant Sims had first tried to enlist in the Navy. But the Fleet did not want the

small-town boy and his ring wonn. The killing of his embarrassing passenger, the wonn,

had cost him $5.00 and so, after its demise, he took off for the Army Air Forces. He was

now making his way through a PFF belly to the rear section where he sat in readiness for

his 17th with the Uebelhoer crew.

For the guys with pre-war military experience, most of the ainnen at Tibenham were

all "feather merchants," as they called those that came from basic directly to· the cadets.

But, S/Sgt. Glen S. McConnick was not one of those feather merchants. He had sworn in

as a Private in the Army on November 15, 1939. His first "home-away-from home" was

Hickam Field, Hawaii. It was there that he flew in a Douglas A-20 for his first flight. Long

before most of the crews of the 445 th had gotten off the ground. And it was there that he

saw action, again long before most of the crews of the 445 th had fired a shot in anger.

Hickam Field was located on the island of Oahu ... right next door to Pearl Harbor. Since


30 CRUEL SKY

then, for McCormic~ the red "assholes" on the enemy planes had turned to black crosses

and the rear seat of a sleek A·20 to a waist gun position in a B-24 fuselage.

The waist area was pretty small. When looking or shooting at enemy aircraft, the

gunners would sometimes bump into each other. From the comfort point of view, this part

of the fuselage was highly ventilated by the slipstream blowing through the two open waist

windows. The only advantage was that the waist windows were convenient means to load

or unload guns and ammunition belts, or evacuate a wounded airman on a stretcher.

Furthermore, there was no such thing as a "coffin seat," only a thin aluminum skin between

them and deadly elements like 20-mm splinters and 88-mm shrapnel. So everybody was

doing his best to reinforce his position. One way to protect oneself was the flak suit. It

came in sections that snapped together, each section covering a specific area of the body.

The full complem~nt was quite heavy and would wear a man out if worn for a long while.

Waist gunners put an extra flak suit over empty ammunition boxes so they could sit by their

guns during assembly time.

Staff Sergeant Jack Laswell put his flak suit on the floor of the left waist gun

position for extra armor protection. Straight out of high school, he was flying his 15th

mission in the high-high-right squadron lead ship, with pilot 1st Lt Donald W. Smith. The

19-year-old gunner had flown with different crews in every gun position, except the top

turret. He found the ball turret was the best and most accurate of all but impossible to get

out of it ifthe ship had a problem!

Sergeant Plesa found his tail turret was prepared and maintained properly, although

he did not get a chance to boresight his guns as he wanted to. The ground crew assured him

that the vital checks were done.

Staff Sergeant Raymond W. Ray, Our Gars tail gunner had turned 19 in May. Even

though it was only his 8th mission, he was wise enough to wear the back and chest parts of

a flak suit and he sometimes sat on an extra one.

All checks completed, bunches of ambling Teddy Bears assembled mthe dar~

waiting for the signal to board ships. Everyone had his own way to cope with this anxious

time. Some would doze. Others did their usual amount of fooling. First Lieutenant

William J. Mowat came up in front of his crew with, "What's up Doc?" The pilot liked to

talk like Bugs Bunny "for fun." He liked the cartoon character so much that the ship Hot


The Preparation

31

Rock had a Bugs Bunny riding a high eXl'losive bomb painted on both sides. Some guys lit

up a cigarette and talked over the mission, agreeing it would not be so bad.

On" this Wednesday, September 27, Lt. Dimick had planned a party in a small local

pub, the Greyhound. "At five '0 clock this afternoon I would start my twentieth year of

existence on planet earth. A couple of days before I had purchased two fifths of very good

scotch from the officers club. It was 'black market' booze and the going price was about 18

a bottle. I had a date with an English girl, enlisted in the RAF. We had to be careful

around the main streets of Norwich. Officers were not allowed to go with enlisted

personnel. The Military Police seemed to take great pleasure in harassing us when caught

together and we had already been warned a couple oftimes. However we were not deterred

by regulations."

Others set their minds to more serious concerns. Sergeant Boldt thought of his

daughter, born about twelve days after he left the States, on July 10, 1944. "Although two

emergency telegrams were sent through the Red Cross, I did not get them till the middle of

September. By then I had received pictures through regular mail. My wife had sent me my

daughter's booties and I always carried them along with a lace garter of my wife'S, a small

Bible, and a Saint Christopher MedaL"

He was not the only one to wear such a precious and personal reminder. Sergeant

John Ray Lemons carried his son's baby shoes around his neck along with his dog tags.


-----4.__. "

["""""" ..,....,.."'...."........"..,...."........ ,.... , '''Hannover :

Osnabruck


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Lille

• •

Charleroi

..Liege

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L...........................................l{Jlssel .. l~


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l.. ....

Munster ..... :x

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Route as planned

A vertical front :x .

.

................ Gottingen I"~,:"~,

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• ..··..·......·....·4..·4 ~.!, ...!. ••••••.••••••••

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........ f

f- ........

i.••_........................................,.,.,.,.,.....,.••••••••.•..•.•..•••••••••.•.•.•.•,..................................................................................................................." •••••••••••;

The 2 nd CBW splits, its three groups coming into trail, Le., following one another.

Then the squadrons in each group take the same line-astern type formation.

Each B-24 represents a 445th BG squadron en-route to KasseL

At 09:24 the group would reach its initial point and start the bomb run to the target.

At 09:32, after "bombs away," the three bomb groups reassemble.

Then the Second Combat Wing would fly a westward course.

At Great Yarmouth, the 2nd CBW splits.

From there, the 445 th Group had a short leg to base to end the 6 112-hour flight.

The Estimated Time of Retum (ETR) at Tibenham was 12:42, an early return.


The Flight

33

Chapter 2

THE FLIGHT

A flare was sent up from the control tower at 05:50, signaling crewmembers to board

their plane and take their respective stations. They all completed their suiting up, putting

the Mae West over the heavy jacket and then the parachute harness. The fleece-lined leather

helmet, goggles, and the throat mike followed. The throat mike strap encircled the throat

and snapped on itself with the mike at the front. To speak, they pressed the front side ofthe

strap against their throat; this kept one hand free. The oxygen mask hung from the helmet.

They plugged the mike and the headset cords into the intercom, and, after reaching altitude,

they attached the oxygen mask hose to the oxygen demand regulator.

The ground crew pulled through the three-bladed propellers, grabbing a blade, and

walking it over, till another blade could be reached. It was a safety precaution to make sure

that no oil had drained down in the bottom cylinder heads while the engine sat idle.

Starting the engine with oil in the combustion chamber would damage it severely. This also

ensured that the top cylinders would be lubricated, othetwise they might freeze up on

starting. If unusual resistance was met when turning the prop manually, the ground crew

would stop, remove a spark plug and let the oil drain out.

When the pull-through of the engines was completed, the engineer pulled the string

on the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to fire it up. This auxiliary generator supplied initial

power for the hydraulic pump and engine start. The bomb bay doors rem"ained open until

take-off to prevent gas fumes from accumulating within the fuselage.

Copilots energized the No. 3 engine while pilots handled the throttles. This engine

was started first because it housed the hydraulic pump power unit. Then it was the tum of

No.4, No.2 and No.1, in that order. One hundred and fifty-six Pratt & Whitney engines

coming to life shook Tibenham and its vicinity. First coughing and spitting, some emitting

lots ofsmoke, they soon all roared.

The engines were warmed up by running at 1,000 RPM until the oil temperature

indicators exceeded 40°C, and cylinder-head temperatures reached 120°C. They ran the


34 CRUEL SKY

props through and checked the magnetos, making sure that all the instruments were in good

order.

At 06:00, while all engines were running, another flare climbed from the control

tower signaling the pilots to "start taxiing to line up for take-off." The ground crews pulled

the wheel chocks out. Captain John Chilton reduced power to idle, depressed the brake

pedals, and released the parking brake handle. A slight forward pressure on the throttles

and he wheeled the lead ship off hardstand 17 to the perimeter track. He began the trip to

the head of runway 21, which ran from northeast to southwest, a compass heading of 210°,

as runways are designated according to their magnetic compass direction.

Lieutenant French taxied his B-24 to the ramp and waited his tum to enter the

procession, then pulled his ship into its proper position.

Lieutenant. Miner's ship, as lead plane in the high right squadron, was to be the

eleventh airplane to go.

Second Lieutenant William F. Golden and 2nd Lt. Robert C. Christie taxied their

olive drab- painted warrior away from the hardstand and moved into the line between two

silver planes. The bulk ofthe planes were J models in the natural, shining aluminum fmish.

While taxiing out of hardstand 19, 2nd Lt. Rene J. Schneider ran his right wheel off

the steel ramp into the mud. The tire was cut so they had to abort the mission, which was to

be their seventh.

In all, thirty-eight B-24s were lining up on the taxi strips behind the lead ship. B-24s

certainly did not look glamorous when they lumbered, their lights on, along the taxi strip,

but that was not their purpose. As the planes taxied, the mechanics waved goodbye to their

ships, the beloved babies they took extensive care of - often working through the night to

make the aircraft airworthy.

As was true of many others on the taxiway, Lt. Donald Brent and his crew did not

fly the same airplane on every mission. Today they were assigned to S for Sugar. It was an

olive drab- painted B-24H named Eileen. While some airmen considered these plane shifts

as simply switching one tool for another, others treated their aircraft as individuals,

individuals with their own flying characteristics and responsiveness to flight controls.

Lieutenant Walter George Jr. thought Brent was sensitive to the nature of flight in

every respect. "With him, the physical act of flying was an extension of one's physical and


The Flight

35

emotional self. Instinctively he was always ahead of the movement that the aircraft would

make in response to whatever variable the flight environment had to offer. Brent was also

sensitive to the propulsion machinery that powered an airplane. Not only was he

continually scanning engine behavior from the instruments, but each new vibration, sound,

and adjustment had messages for him."

Before starting the run, pilots applied the brakes and gave the engines their final runup.

All hatches were secured and the bomb bay doors rolled closed.

The engineer turned off the APU before take-off, went back to his position, and

confirmed this to the skipper. Over the interphone, pilots ordered each position to report

and assume take-off position. The nose section was to be empty, as were turrets and

positions aft ofthe waist guns. In the event ofa crash, the nose had a tendency to crumble,

becoming a deadly trap. Anyone aft of the waist guns would cause tail heaviness,

compromising the balance of the ship during the dangerous, full-weight take-off. The

crewmembers sat on the floor with their backs to the bulkhead, knees pulled up and hands

behind the head. Those.in the front ofthe fuselage took positions on the flight deck, those

in the rear against the rear bomb bay bulkhead.

Captain Chilton released the brakes and the PFF ship slowly began its take-off roll,

lumbering down the runway, and using most ofthe 6,000 feet available. Mission 169 was

on.

Captain Web Uebelhoer wheeled the deputy lead ship into take-off position, waiting

for the Aldis lamp flash. Then the green light signal came: "GO." At the control tower,

brass and flying control personnel anxiously followed each run. Ambulances and crash

wagons were in readiness close by.

While the preceding ship was accelerating down the runway, the next one in line was

running engines at 2000 RPM, with the pilots holding the brakes. When Lts. French and

Cochran had completed the last check, they released the brakes and advanced the throttles

slowly but steadily. At approximately 130 mph, the plane lifted-off. Then the landing gear

was retracted and locked. Technical Sergeant Fred N. Fiske, the radio operator, entered the

take-off time on his radio log. Then, he tested the intercom system by calling each position

individually followed by the all-station call.


36 CRUEL SKY

Pilots were now increasing power to get into formation. This was the most arduous

flyingjob of the whole mission. There were so many bomb groups taking offtogether, too

often with no visual contact with one another, that each group was given a single compass

bearing to hold until breaking through above the clouds. This helped to lessen the collision

risk. Each aircraft flew a five-minute leg racetrack pattern at 150 mph, climbing at 300

feet/minute, sometimes experiencing the first prop wash ofthe day. The climb within dense

clouds ~ with everyone on board scanning the "pea soup" - was a tense period. When they

broke through the overcast, the sun was shining brightly on the silver ships, making the

olive drab painted planes look faded. Inside, the modem knights were helping each other

put on flak suits and steel helmets.

The gunners loaded a .50 caliber shell into the chamber of their guns to prevent a

frozen gun. It was a hairy and deadly experience to face the Luftwaffe with useless

weapons.

Before going on oxygen, the man in charge of "pulling the wires" left his position

and went to the bomb bay. The place was so crowded he had to leave his chute behind at

his station. He climbed on the 10-inch wide catwalk to tum the sleeping 1000-pounders to

almost living high-explosive bombs. The only things separating him from thousands offeet

of open air were the bomb bay doors. But they were tricky floors, designed to let go of

anything exerting a certain amount of pressure on them. And the bomb bay doors were

unable to distinguish a bomb from an airman accidentally falling with no chute on.

The bomb-arming device was a small propeller secured by a safety pin and a wire

connected to the rack. The bombardier or his deputy made sure the arming wires were still

in place and took the cotter pins out. He put them in his pocket in case he had to put them

back for a full bomb load landing. When the bombs were dropped, the end of the wires

secured to the rack would pull the safety out. This allowed the tiny propellers to tum in the

relative wind. After several hundred rotations, the bombs would be fully armed and ready to

explode hundreds offeet below the formation.

Engineers went to the bomb bay to transfer fuel from the "Tokyo tanks" to the main

tanks. Sergeant Boldt always performed this operation just before having to use oxygen. "I

wanted to be sure that we had used up the 450 gallons and that I did not overflow the main

tanks. We were very nervous about gas fumes on a B-24. The last thing that I did before


The Flight

37

getting in my turret was to relieve myself on the bombs." Then he climbed back in the top

turret, reconnected the intercom, heating source, oxygen hose, put on the steel hat and sat

on his flak vest. His 10 th mission was well on its way.

While gas was the blood keeping the big tin bird in the air, the fuel was also vital to

the ground war thousands of feet below the airmen. The Second Combat Wing and the

44Sth Group had to play their parts in supplying it to General Patton's Armored Divisions.

These missions, called "trucking," received no credit. They didn't contribute to reduce the

tour, even if the crews were assigned. The entire group stood down from combat for the

ferrying of huge amounts ofgasoline to northern France.

All B-24 tanks were topped as for a long haul far into Germany, and jeep cans were

stored everywhere - on the flight deck, in the nose wheel compartment, bomb bays, and

fuselage. The flying tankers landed on fighter landing strips made of steel mats. Tanks

were hand pumped to drums and jeep cans then transferred to 6-by-6 trucks.

Many men listed these missions among their scariest trips. But sometimes it could

score big. The enlisted men of the Baynham crew liked Copilot 2nd Lt. Charles M.

Bousquet as he was always visiting the NCOs and never let rank be a barrier; he was just

one of the gang. Bousquet was of French descent and still practiced the language of his

ancestors. During a trucking mission, the local Frenchmen loaded their Liberator, men and

ship, with cognac while the crew did some trophy hunting, rescuing souvenirs :from among

the piles ofGerman equipment.

The crews went on oxygen at 10,000 feet. Each man had to don his mask and

acknowledge on the interphone. At 12,000 feet, the first ships spotted their assembly ship:

Lucky Gordon, Z for Zebra, or less officially, "the striped-as sed ape." It was an orange and

black-striped B-24 firing red-green flares - the colors of the day - to attract the ships of the

44Sth Group. This 66-foot-Iong pilot fish was an old D model bearing the group marking in

the old fashion: a big black F in a white circle painted on the tail assembly. By this time,

all the Second Combat Wing ships were identified by a white stripe on black painted

rudders. The orientation of the white stripe distinguished the three groups composing the

Wing: horizontal for the 44Sth Bomb Group, vertical for the 389 th BG, and diagonal for the

4S3 rd BG.


38 CRUEL SKY

In the distance, other Zebra ships were firing green-green or red-red flares, as they

too circled the sky to form their respective groups at different altitudes.

But this was not the only difference between the later models and the buncher ship.

The most striking feature was its nose, which looked like a greenhouse. Late in 1942, the

German fighters had learned to take advantage of the blind spot of the three or four flexible

.50s firing from the nose and conducted devastating and frightening head-on attacks. This

led to several attempts to increase the forward firing effectiveness. Many were made on the

field by inventive mechanics, culminating in the more accurate and powerful nose turret.

To accomplish squadron assembly, the B-24s orbited over a radio beacon (see

illustration c). Each ten-ship squadron had two three-plane elements and two two-plane

elements. The lead element of three planes had the squadron lead in the middle, flanked by

his right and left wingmen. The "slot element" leader tlew directly under the tail of the

squadron lead, flanked by his right and left wingmen. The high-right element flew to the

right and above the squadron leader, with the low left element flying to the left and under

the lead and slot elements. So, after breaking through the clouds, wingmen were racing to

spot the leaders of their elements (see illustration d).

To try to make this operation easier, two large letters (yellow on camouflage, and

black on metal) were painted on both sides of the fuselage to identify each squadron among

the group: IS for the 700th Sq, MK for the 701 st Sq, WV for the 702 nd Sq, and RN for the

703 rd Sq. An individual aircraft letter was also painted on the fuselage and vertical

stabilizers to identify the plane within its squadron. In the process of getting to their

element leader's wing as quickly as possible, the bombers had to maneuver around other

planes in search of their own lead ships. Each of them was trailing an invisible signature

called prop wash. This high density of aircraft occasionally resulted in one being caught in

the prop wash of another, rocking the ship more or less seriously. This invisible threat

could even throw a plane to its doom if the pilots were unable to regain control fast enough.

To save gasoline, 2nd Lt. William Dewey cut down the power and got A Wallet A­

Abel on the left wing (No.3 position) of Lt. Smith (No.1), leader of the 701 st squadron.

Simultaneously, the second element of the 701 st took off in search of its lead element.

Lieutenants Bruland and Belitsos were flying No. 6 position, off the left wing of their

element leader, Little Audrey (No.4). The right wingmen was Slossie (No.5) piloted by 1st


••••••••

•••••••• ••••

701st Sqd

~ .. ~ ... ~ ........ ~

"'...... -..

........ ...•...••.••••....• ~ ... ~...•.•••..• ~ .....

......... i

......... ..... ....--- - -~-

.....••••.•...•.....•-.

•••••••• •••• 702nd Sqd ••:.

••••••• _ - - ~ 700th Sqd

- -- -"

............. .... .... .... ---- ------1----­

.

•••••• .... .... • ••••••••••••••••••••• jt •••••••••••••••••

•••• -- ..... .... . .•,...................•....•........:~..... 703rd Sqd .:::

0.· , .......... .. .. . .. .

.....................~ ...............

I

I

I

I

',~ r

,} :t

'",,;0

IIIIL-__~_~~_~~_:_i________________________________________________________________________

..~

TIBENHAM control tower

Radio Beacon

Illustration c

Take-off and formation building in overcast over a radio beacon

Altitude 12,000 feet


High-right element

High-right element


• II

·,,",e""


Lead element '.,':~.''''o...'1f;.

i ." F •

I ­ -.-....... Slot element

!

I

I

!

Leadielement

I

J

i

" ,~, L • J •.

"o"f.

I'"

!

i

4 L. I

Slorl element

i

i

I

!

i

High-right i .,/ ~

element

• L" I

Low-left element

! ......&...... Lead

:Jt:

1 element

-T- -T­

........... ........... Slot ......&......

J. Hi~h-right :L element J:.

element

element

Illustration d

10-ship squadron fonnation

Side, front and top views


J

The Flight

39

L1. Keith L. Frost. They had to maneuver around a larger formation and more prop wash

before the three ships slid into their squadronuassigned slot.

Behind Lucky Gordon, the four squadrons formed into the group. The lead squadron

(700th) was flanked on its right by the high-right squadron (702 nd ) flying about 100 feet

above the lead. The high-high-right squadron (701 st) flew to the right of the high-right,

about 100 feet above. The low left squadron (703rd) slid to the left of the lead squadron

about 100 feet below (See illustration e).

When all the white-striped, black tail ships were assembled in formation, the orange

and black-striped B-24 pulled away and headed back to Tibenham. Up to this point, the

pilots were normally at the controls. The copilots were able to relieve them, but during

tight spots, they could expect a tap on the shoulder from the pilot, who would then take

over controL The reference in speed, direction, and altitude rested with the group's lead

aircraft; the other 37 B-24s had to go where the lead crew went regardless and they stayed

in a tight combat box to prevent the German fighters from picking them offone by one (see

illustration f).

The Second Combat Wing flew into its position in the middle of the Second Air

Division, between the Fourteenth Combat Wing's silver rudder ships and the Twentieth

Combat Wing's yellow tail airplanes. All of this very complicated assembly business

required about two hours for this gathering of these hundreds of B-24s which stretched as

far as the eye could see.

There was a collective sigh of relief. Forming was not always without mishap, a

friend of Lt. Belitsos was killed in a collision while forming on his first mission. When

assembly was completed, Belitsos had a chance to look back down the ship and wave to the

crew by way of introduction.

At 08:03, the 44S th BG departed the English coast on a straight course over the

North Sea and commenced the climb toward the enemy coast. Each gun in the formation

fired a short burst, the gunners taking care not to hit their flying neighbors.

After 45 minutes, the Second Bomb Division made landfall over Holland, north of

Iimuiden. For another 40 minutes, the three Divisions droned over the Dutch coast which

was under nearly complete cloud cover. No flak challenged them, so that was a good start.

All of this time the Second Division had been climbing to the briefed altitude and finally


•••-T­

•••

High-high-right

701 st Sqd

-T-T-T-• -T-T--+­

-T-+--T­

High-right

702nd Sqd

Low-left

703rd Sqd

Lead

700th Sqd

Top view

Front view

445th Bomb Group

Illustration e

4-squadron group formation

Top and front views

The 701 8t sqd. is reduced to 7 ships after 3 aborted the mission


Front view

453rd BG

flying high right position

1,000 Ft.

389th BG

flying high position

1,000 Ft.

445th BG

flying lead position

2ndCBW

Illustration f

3-Group Wing fonnation

Front view


40 CRUEL SKY

leveled off at 23,000 feet.

Once at the reference altitude, flying became a little bit easier. Nevertheless, the

long flight in fonnation was anything but leisure time - it was physically demanding. It was

necessary to continually concentrate on staying close to the wing of the aircraft ahead,

keeping one hand on the throttle handles, the other on the wheel, and both legs pumping

rudder pedals.

With a bit of practice, pilots learned tricks to reduce fatigue. They flew about 30­

minutes before relieving each other, depending on their position in the fonnation, and to

lessen cross-cockpit flying. Because of altitude differences, the high-right and high-highright

squadrons had a tendency to over-run the lead squadron. They had to fly a figure "8"

frequently to keep sight of the lead and stay in proper fonnation. On the other hand, the

low left squadron always had to add power to keep up with the lead squadron. The throttlejockeying

game became even more delicate during turns, which required increasing and

decreasing air speed.

With a full load of bombs and fuel, the margin between cruising and stalling speeds

was very narrow. The ships on the inside radius of a turn had to slow down to hold the

integrity of the combat box, sometimes flying close to the edge of a stall. When an aircraft

slowed down too much, it gave some warning like loose controls and shuddering before

dropping out of fonnation. Pilots had to lower the nose to regain flying speed and pull the

ship back into its assigned position.

Before boarding the airplane, everybody had made sure to relieve himself but

extreme cold, tension, or too much coffee often brought on the need of urgent relief. To

perfonn this seemingly earthly operation in flight required a number of steps. First, the

crewman had to leave his combat station. That involved disconnecting from the intercom,

heating source, and oxygen, taking off the flak suit, and connecting to a portable oxygen

bottle, then walking to the nearest appropriate spot - the bomb bay or the nose wheel

compartment. At the release point, step number two was to find and get "it" out. Four miles

high, it turned into a struggle with the high altitude flying gear. These relentless

impediments were the parachute harness, the heavy fleece-lined pants, the heated suit, the

wool pants and, eventually, the long-John underwear. In step three, one would let go on the

bomb bay or nose wheel doors. Thank God, cows did not fly.


The Flight

41

One solution was to use the little rubber funnel attached to a hose that led outside the

ship, but there was a problem with it as it froze during use, causing it to overflow. As it was

a long and difficult trip to the bomb bay, some would prefer a bomb fuse can, an empty

flare box, or their own flak helmet. As the liquid froze quickly, they just had to bang the

filled steel hat, or the elected receptacle, against a bulkhead and throw out the ice to piss on

Adolph. Whatever the choice, they would carefully avoid any contact between "it" and the

container. Such intimate touch could lead to a fatal attraction, which would put the poor

unfortunate in front of a no-choice situation: either let it freeze and brake it loose or pull it

out immediately and leave a piece ofintimate meat on the metaL

The 30-degree ( or more) below zero temperature led to another dangerous and

sometimes deadly occurrence. Moisture from human breath had some inclination to

condense and freeze, cutting off the oxygen flow. To break up the ice, the men had to

constantly squeeze their masks. The crewmen had to watch each other for any signs of

anoxia. One man did constant interphone checks. If somebody did not acknowledge, his

closest neighbor would investigate fast. He had to free the valve and put oxygen on free

flow until the unfortunate came around.

The long climb to combat altitude put a heavy burden on the engines. Three aircraft

- Heavenly Body, Slossie, and Tahelenbak aborted the mission and headed back home.

There was fighter escort above, and to the sides ofthe bomber stream. This gave the

crews a nice feeling of comfort and security. Back on base, the feeling towards the little

friends would be tempered. Sometimes, the fighters came over late in the day to buzz .

Tibenham and damn near took the clothes offthe lines between the huts. Lieutenant Walter

George remembered one that came over one afternoon and scared the hell out of the

operations officer in the tower. "Some of the guys were in the radio hut and heard this

major start raising hell with this pilot. Wanted him to identifY himself which he did. So

happened that this was a colonel in this fighter and he came back so close to the tower that

he had everybody get out."

Sometimes heavy bomber pilots would put the law ofretaliation in motion. One day,

Brent and George were assigned to deliver an airplane somewhere in Scotland. Brent, a

quiet person, was considerate of others. Though not normally expressive and outgoing, he

did have his moments. There was a fighter base on the way to Scotland. They buzzed the


42 CRUEL SKY

tower. The officer in the tower shot a flare from his Very pistol at them on their second goaround.

They then pulled up and moved down the runway with the propellers only inches

from the pavement. They stayed on the deck, off and on, to Scotland, while George swore

that he was viewing large oak trees sideways and up into them from his grandstand seat.

Needless to say, Brent was at the controls during this one.

P-38s had an unmistakable silhouette but P-47s and P-51s shared dangerous

similarities with FW -190s and Me-l09s respectively. This led the little friends to adopt a

cautious approach to avoid the fIre of trigger-happy gunners. Any friendly ship had to first

stay way out of the range of the numerous and deadly .50 caliber. Then he rocked his

wings to identify himself. Then, when the identification seemed positive, he could slide

over the formation but never turn his nose in toward the bombers unless he was chasing a

German fighter.

As the Second Combat Wing closed on the target, a heavy layer of low

stratocumulus formed a complete cloud cover, 10/1 Oths overcast, which meant that the

formation had to rely on radar to fmd and bomb the target.

South ofOsnabruck, the 2 nd Combat Wing turned southeast and headed for the initial

point (IP) of the bombing run. First Lieutenant Frank J. Bertram was the lead navigator in

the 702 nd Sq. lead plane, flying high right position. Their PFF ship was flying as backup to

the group lead and the deputy lead of the lead squadron. Sitting with his back against his

pilot's seat, his task as "Dead Reckoning Navigator" was to compare his figures with those

received both from the "Mickey" navigator and the pilotage navigator. This was to provide

a running double-check on the exact and immediate position. The ground was almost

completely obscured by a low deck of clouds. This had ruled out pilotage navigation.

Bertram slipped offthe electric glove of his right hand to plot the course.

The 445 th Group was approaching the IP. In the 702 nd Sq. lead ship, Lt. Bertram put

on his flak suit and sat on extra armor pieces. At IP minus one minute, the gunners started

to dump out chaff. Chaff was a bundle of aluminum strips contained in cardboard boxes.

The strips, always cut the same length, reflected back the radar signal from the radarcontrolled

flak, spoiling its aim as the chaff slowly drifted down.

At the IP, the formation did a slight left turn toward Kassel. The cloud cover was

still 10/10. The dead reckoning navigator noticed that the group leader seemed to veer


The Flight

43

away from the target. Glancing outside his little window, he saw other groups ahead of

them to the right. He inunediately infonned his pilot, who passed the word on to the group

leader. Shortly thereafter the reply came: "Keep it together. Stay with our lead squadron."

In Sweetest Rose Of Texas, navigator Lt. Henry Dobek called 1st Lt. Paul Swofford

and infonned him. Other pilots relayed their navigators warnings to the lead crew. The

skipper of Patches, 1st Lt. Raphael E. Carrow, called Major McCoy to infonn him they

were off course. Copilot Lt. Dimick was monitoring the group frequency on VHF radio.

He noted disagreement as to the heading from IP to target. While some paid little attention

to it, others did not share the same point of view. Copilot Lt. George varied his radio

monitoring between listening to the intercom and to the command radio. He was upset by

those calls which told the German monitors that they were offcourse.

Practically every navigator in the group had instantly realized they were not

following the planned route. It wasn't very long before they were several miles away from

the main force. The men of the 44Sth Group could see the other groups heading to their

right, toward an area with heavy flak over it.

In Eileen, navigator 2nd Lt. Harold H. Mercier warned T/Sgt. Sammy S. Weiner to

be prepared to open bomb bay doors. The radio operator lowered himself into the wells,

waiting for the bombardier's fmal words. Then it came: 44Bomb bay doors open." When

they rolled open, a freezing storm forced open the bulkhead door separating the bomb bay

from the waist section.

The lead ship went on the autopilot connected to the bombsight, the bombardier then

controlled the track. Because of the complete cloud cover, 1st Lt. Parker S. Trefethen, the

bombardier, had to set his sight and track on distance hacks from the Mickey operator who

called course corrections to the target. Now there was no such thing as evasive action.

As King Kong turned and went on the bomb run, Sgt. Boldt, swung his top turret to

12 0'clock to see how much flak they were about to enter. There was practically none. That

did surprise him as he expected heavy flak over Kassel. He called his pilot who did not

seem to know either.

In Fort Worth Maid, Lt. Malcolm MacGregor was not setting up his bombsight as

they were going to bomb using PFF. "I stayed on the flight deck where there was a couch

behind the pilot. It was directly across from the radio operator and underneath the top


44 CRUEL SKY

turret. There was a small round window behind the pilot and over the couch. I was lying

down, expecting a relaxing trip home. Kassel was not considered a very tough target but I

was a little surprised by the lack of flak." Tail gunner Sgt. Herbert Schwartz saw planes

flying through flak behind them and immediately reported this to his navigator FlO Robert

T. Tims.

In the deputy lead ship, the radar navigator turned offhis Mickey set so it would not

interfere with the lead radar. The deputy Lead Navigator, 1st Lt. Donald D. Whitefield,

was closely monitoring the developments. "My ETA to drop the bombs was eight minutes

and when that ETA ran out, I got up from behind the pilot and saw smoke markers off to

my right from other groups. Was I wrong? About four minutes later the lead dropped." The

smoke bombs markers fell, leaving a stream ofwhite smoke .

. At 09:42, "Bombs away" crackled over the interphones when the group toggled on

the squadron leader's salvo. Thirty-five ships jumped up when the bombs dropped from the

racks. The formation dove down 500 feet to gain speed and headed for home.

Radio operator Sgt. Sammy Weiner returned to his position on the flight deck to hear

the bomb strike message. He kept asking the nose turret gunner about flak and always, to

his surprise, the answer was negative. The Pilot, Lt. Brent, sounded joyous when he spoke

to the crew.

Tail gunner, Sgt. Herbert Schwartz, heard copilot Lt. Robert Cochran saying that the

roughest part ofthe mission was over.

The 445 th Group was back to a 252 degree compass heading, paralleling the ordered

course, but 8-to-10 miles east ofit.

At this point the formation was pretty well scattered because ofthe turns. They were

not yet back into the tight formation that was the pride of Colonel William Jones, their

group commander. The fighter escort had not showed up for some time but that was not

unusual because with their faster speed, the Little Friends moved back and forth along the

bomber stream. There were periods oftime when the crews did not see them at all but they

knew they were in the area.

Hot Rock's rear turret gunner, Sgt. Frank Plesa, was wondering why the 445 th Group

formation was away from the main wing. He felt they were alone and began to worry.

Things were too quiet, it did not look normal.

Despite the lack of flak or any other


The Flight

45

opposition that would lead one to think the return was going to be a milk run, he had an

unusual feeling. His hand moved towards his shirt pocket where he kept his first

communion rosary.

King Kong's pilot, Lt. Baynham, felt so secure he unbuckled his chute harness to be

more comfortable. Earlier on, in the waist, the gunners had made some comments that the

mission was going to be a milk run, and it was turning out to be one: Suddenly. from the

vantage point of his top turret, Sgt. Boldt noticed something like a swarm of bees or a flock

of blackbirds rising out of a rice field. They were mere specks at the time but without a

doubt a large number of fighters were coming up at six o'clock. "I called the tail gunner,

SlSgt. John Knox, and asked if he had noticed them too. He replied 'Yes, and 1 sure hope

that they are ours.' Simultaneously. I saw five or six flak bursts to the left of us. We caught

a direct hit in the center of our left wing between No.1 and No.2 engines. It went through

and left a round hole approximately 8 or 9 inches in diameter with the metal pulled straight

up. The aileron was also damaged. I immediately tried to figure if this had hit any of our

fuel tanks. This was where our landing gear well was located so it had missed our tanks."


The fight

47

Chapter 3

THE FIGHT

(In this chapter, the information is fUrnished by crew and in chronological order so the

same crew may appear several times because ofthe timing oftheir experiences.)

The BAYNHAM crew

By the time Sgt. Howard Boldt looked back from the damaged left wing to the tail,

the flock of blackbirds had closed in. They were GeIman fighters. "They came in and did

not appear to use any evasive action. They were defmitely there to bring us down, one way

or another. 1 felt that they were almost close enough to hit by throwing rocks at them. "

The MERCER crew

Lieutenant Jackson Mercer was flying NO.3 position in the lead element of the lowleft

squadron. Tail gunner, S/Sgt. Hany 1. Lied, broke in on the intercom with "Bandits at 6

o'clock level, ten or twelve across."

"I immediately began an intercom check to ensure that all crew members were

alerted, but before completing the check-in Lied interrupted - 'they're firing - looks like

their wings are on fire, they're closing fast -' but the intercom went dead before he

completed his message."

The MOWAT crew

Tail gunner, Sgt. Frank Plesa, was just removing his steel helmet and flak suit when

all of a sudden thousands of bursts appeared all over in front of him. He heard the engineer

coming over the intercom, asking, "What is that? Flak?"

"Out of the clouds below," Plesa said, "I saw a wave of FW -190s coming in, about

six or eight abreast. Their guns were ablaze with frre looking like flash bulbs taking

pictures. 1 called over the intercom and reported them but our intercom was not working

right. I could receive voices but they could not hear me. I heard top turret gunner, T/Sgt.

Theodore 1. Myers, say, 'German fighters six o'clock,' and he started firing. Then I heard

the left waist gunner, Sgt. Everette L. Williams, firing. 1 pushed the gun button and got off


48 CRUELSXY

about twenty rounds and at about 500 yards the attacking planes bellied over and went

down."

The DEWEY crew

Lieutenant William Dewey heard his tail guIUler, Sgt. Ruben Montanez, yell: "I see

fighters, I see flak." Then the ship began to shudder and shake, with the twin tail guns, and

both waist guns fIring simultaneously, and from the impact of enemy shells. The intercom

to the waist and tail went out within seconds.

The HAUTMAN crew

Copilot, Lt. Carroll Snidow, looked out of his window and saw what he at frrst

thought was small flak - very heavy and close. "Looking at the ship ahead of us, 1 saw their

waist guns fIring. Fighters. An FW-190 came alongside of us and seemed to be flying in

formation with our lead ship. The shells were bursting around us everywhere."

The REYNOLDS crew

Moments after the tail gunner, Sgt. Hany G. Twigg, warned his crew: "Fighters, six

o'clock." exploding shells were hitting Little Audrey. The left inboard engine spewed

flames which reached back to the left rudder.

In the nose, the navigator, Lt. James Withey, saw a fighter flashing between them

and their wingman.

The BRULAND crew

Copilot, Lt. Peter Belitsos, was flying cross-cockpit when the attack started. "All at

once several B-24s burst into flames. It happened so fast 1 did not see the enemy fighters

and yet the sight of so many planes on frre was so riveting it seemed to be happening in

slow motion. I was in a state of shock and disbelief and actually thought we were being hit

by a German secret weapon."

"Almost instantly the No.3 engine erupted in flames and Lt. Palmer M. Bruland took

over the controls. The gunners were fIring and one of them shouted: 'Come on back you

yellow bastards.' The thud of the hit on No. 3 engine and the fire snapped me out of my


The fight

49

disbelief of what was happening and 1 feathered the prop and cut off the fuel. There was a

hole about 9 inches in diameter that broke through the edge of the prop."

The WARMAN crew

From the tail of Our Gal, piloted by 2nd Lt. Leslie E. Warman, Sgt. Raymond Ray

had watched the German fighters ripping open the clouds, with all guns blazing. "I realized

there was no way we could survive the attack, their force was overwhelming. 1 called on

the intercom - 'bandits at six o'clock low' - and started firing at the echelon leader. He

came so close 1 could see his goggles then he pulled above us and exploded."

Glancing to his right (remember he was facing the rear of the plane) to the left

wingman, flying a little below and behind Our Gal, he saw a stream of shells pouring into

their fuselage and tail positions.

The MINER crew

Navigator, Lt. Frank Bertram, heard somebody callout that their fighter protection

was coming. "I looked out my little side window and saw radial engines: P-47s. In the

meantime black puffs showed up all arOlUld the plane. What kind of flak was this? It was

so small and so unbelievably accurate at our level - the Jeny groWld gooners were amazing!

The 'P-47s' peeled off and turned into FW-190s with all gWlS blazing. 1 put my chest chute

on because 1 knew sooner or later we were goners, one way or the other."

Lieutenant Reginald Miner, the pilot, looked down at the lead squadron and saw

them Wlder attack by a flight of FW -190s flying line abreast. "I was flying on autopilot.

That frrst pass damaged the controls, knocking out the autopilot. The frrst symptom was an

abrupt move to a vertical climb. 1 overpowered that manually and was able to hold it

straight and level with fairly heavy physical effort."

Staff Sergeant Mertis C. Thornton Jr. aimed his top turret guns on a German fighter

flying close to their left wing tip. But nothing came out of his twin .50. The frre interrupter

had come into effect and the guns were electrically kept from shooting off the propellers,

vertical stabilizers or a FW-190 flying close enough to the wing tip!

The left waist gooner, Sgt. Lawrence Bowers, was doing a lot of shooting at bandits

passing by. He was stWlned to see some ofhis bullets bouncing off the FW-190s.


50 CRUEL SKY

The tail gunner S/Sgt. Arthur W. Lamberson didn't even get a chance to fire a shot

because his hydraulic lines were cut by some splinters from the first exploding shells.

The JONES crew

In the nose turret, S/Sgt. Milton H. Lee watched a smalI flak burst just ahead of his

plane. Then a B-24 was hit, exploded and went down in flames. "My attention then

immediately focused on what I was there for and the gravity and the reality of the situation

rushed through my mind. Alerting myself to the oncoming fighters which were

approaching us, as soon as one came into sight, I fired until it was hit or out of sight."

In the rear of A Roughhouse Kate, the attack brought on more confusion. The right

waist gunner, S/Sgt. Willis A. Meier, called on radio: "Attack 3 o'clock low!" S/Sgt.

Warren B. Pendleton misunderstood him and started to look for it. He thought that was an

odd way to report flak. Simultaneously he heard splinters hitting the fuselage, which turned

into a shining sieve.

The UEBELHOER crew

When tail gunner, S/Sgt. John S. Hubicz, called, "Great number of fighters behind

us." Capt Web Uebelhoer had assumed they were Little Friends becoming bored.

Exploding shells and his right wingman on rrre changed his mind.

Radio operator, Sgt. Robert L. Sims, shot two green flares to get attention of the real

Little Friends. Then he put on his chest pack, which he thought for sure he was going to

need.

The BOLIN crew

The abort of the Schneider crew at Tibenham left Bolin's aircraft alone in the highright

element of the low-left squadron. Bursts of 20-mm and 30-mm shells turned the ship

into a wreck. The wing tanks took numerous hits and erupted in flames. Any chance of

returning to base ended when the 100-plus octane aviation fuel exploded.

Sergeant Orland 1. Schooley faced the rain of shells from his tail gun position. He

was the only one to parachute safely from the blowtorch. Second Lieutenant Roy E. Bolin

and the others remained with the ship or plummeted under burning chutes.


J

Thejight

51

The ship went down east of Krauthausen.

The POTTS crew

It was now the tum of a high-right squadron ship, The Green Hornet, flying on the

left-hand side of the formation in a position mirroring the position just vacated by Bolin

when the exploding shells took her out.

Copilot, 2nd Lt. Gerald J. Kathol had his hands full on his second mission in the

ETO. He had flown to Hamm the day before and his tour now ended when pilot 2nd Lt.

Herbert Potts reached for the bailout bell. Two sharp rings sounded to abandon ship, and

crewmen made a run for the nearest emergency exits. The bomb bay doors were jammed

shut and the rear of the bomb bay was a mass of flames. Some of thc crew headed up the

tunnel to the nose, while Lt. Kathol and Sgt. Roger Scott, went back on the flight deck to

exit from the top hatch. Scott was boosting Kathol up when the wing tanks exploded and

the ship disintegrated. The copilot found himself straddling the nose. The nose section

started to rotate as it descended. Kathol kicked off and opened his chute.

The green hornet crashed one km. northeast of Archfeld, on the Hachenberg.

The KRIVIK crew

First Lieutenant Stanley E. Krivik and 2nd Lt. Leonard R. Trotta were flying Percy

in No.6 position of the high-right squadron, tucked just behind and below Lt. Donald, the

slot element leader.

Their left waist gunner, S/Sgt. James R. Paul, was stunned when Potts' plane erupted

in flames and went down though he saw no enemy fighters. "An instant later I was hit in

the right leg by a .30 caliber machine gun bullet and a second later a 20-mm shell shattered

my neck. At the same time S/Sgt. Henry A. Puto, our tail gunner, was blown completely

out of the turret. The right waist gunner, S/Sgt. William Rand, was struck in the face by a

shell fragment, just missing his eye. He was bleeding profusely. I put a compress on his

eye and with the help of the cold temperature, the blood froze and the bleeding stopped.

The sky was immediately full of FW -190s no matter where we looked. We lost an engine

at the first FW-190 pass, he shot the prop off our right inboard engine."


52 CRUEL SKY

The PEARSON crew

Acrid cordite smoke from the top turret filled the flight deck. Copilot, Lt. Nelson

Dimick, saw balls of exploding shells appearing just in front of his aircraft, leading the lowleft

element of the lead squadron. "I looked out the left window and saw No.1 engine was

on fire. Suddenly the instrument panel literally disintegrated in front of me. 1 could feel

cannon shells exploding below in the nose compartment, under the two inches of armor of

my seat. Second Lieutenant Arthur E. Steams, navigator, and bombardier, FlO Henry 1.

Henrikson, must have been killed instantly, they didn't have any armor protection under

them.

"McCoy and his two wingmen were flying away from us as we lost power: engines

No.1 and No.2 shot out and on fire. 1 looked at Ralph, our eyes met and he waved to bail

out. I did not need any encouragement. In some 30 seconds or less, the aircraft had been

turned into a flaming wreck. I turned in my seat and moved to the rear. Engineer, T/Sgt.

Robert D. Johnson, had trouble finding his chest pack. I faced a wall of fife in the bomb

bay; it was the only way out. There was absolutely no hesitation on· my part. 1 dove

through the flames and landed on my back on the bomb bay catwalk. Somehow I fell free of

the aircraft."

Tail gunner, S/Sgt. Dwight F. Galyon, took a 20-mm round in the chest. Luckily his

flak vest stopped the exploding fragments, and all he received was a severe blow. He

continued to fife at the attackers and observed some hits on a second enemy aircraft. But it

was a no-win situation.

Sergeant Harry Tachovsky, the right waist gunner, ran out of ammunition. After

seeing that the bomb bay was on fire and the deteriorating condition of the ship, there was

nothing more to do but bailout.

After 2nd Lt. Ralph H. Pearson had ordered the crew to abandon ship, he felt terribly

alone. "For a while it was quiet. The plane was flying fme, all engines were running, it

was just me and this B-24 cruising along through this beautiful sky at 25,000 feet. Then,

snap! The control wheel went limp in my hands. The elevator cables had burned through.

I flung off my oxygen mask and helmet and headed for the fIfe and bomb bay. As I turned,

I suddenly saw Sergeant Johnson behind the pilot's seat. He was bent over, buckling on his

last leg strap. When he straightened up, I gave him a visual inspection. We only had split


The fight

53

seconds as the plane was out of control. I stepped back to my left and waved for him to

jump out. He, in turn, waved for me to go. I felt like grabbing the bastard and throwing

him out, but there wasn't time. The plane was going down. There wasn't time to argue. It

hurt my pride, but I waved for him to follow, and I jumped."

The plane went down near Herleshausen, 200 meters south of Siegelshof Hahnhof.

The WALTHER crew

Before the attack, the high-high-right squadron had "essed" over to the left of the

lead squadron where some Gennan fighters caught it in the open. The three preceding

aborts had depleted the right side of the formation. Flying as Smith's right wingman,

Walther's aircraft was the last ship in this formation, and consequently, was attracting

Jerries' attention like a magnet. One came and pressed his attack with such determination

that the FW-190 rammed the B-24 tail unit, sending the plane out of control. In the

following explosion, pilot 1st Lt. Edgar N. Walther was thrown clear of the plane, but,

fortunately, was wearing his back pack parachute.

The ship went down at Lauchroden.

The BRENT crew

Lieutenant Walter George was flying Eileen when the attack came. He tightened up

on his wingman and concentrated on the controls. "I was aware of our guns firing, and also

aware that we were being hit; I could see holes in the nose of the airplane. The navigator,

Lt. Harold Mercier, and the nose turret gunner, S/Sgt. George B. Linkletter, must have been

killed by the projectiles coming from the bottom of the aircraft. Pilot, Lt. Donald Brent,

was quiet in his seat but okay."

One burst of a 20-millimeter shell ripped open the liaison transmitter only two feet in

front of Sgt. Sammy Weiner. Splinters from the shell pierced his right leg. The stinging

sensation made him mad: "Those damn Jerrys," he kept repeating.

The JOHNSON crew

When the call for fighters came, bombardier, Lt. James Dowling, called 2nd Lt.

Herbert M. Bateman to put his chest chute on. The navigator acknowledged by saying he


54 CRUEL SKY

was too busy. By this time, the enemy fighters had closed in. The bombardier saw an FWft

190 colored light blue a few hundred feet below the nose of Fridget Bridget. He called 2nd

Lt. William E. Flickner in the nose turret who pointed his twin 50 calibers down. Dowling

saw hits all over the wings and the plane spun in.

The MERCER crew

Copilot, Lt. Leo Pouliot, had noticed that the tail gunner of the lead ship was firing

at something. Then their own plane started to quiver as the gunners opened fITe.

Simultaneously, small puffs of smoke appeared throughout the formation. The copilot had

his radio tuned to the fighter channel. "I called for escort: Balance 3ft 1, 3-2, and 3-3. They

acknowledged immediately. 1 said bandits were attacking us. Before I could switch the

jackbox to interphone to get our position from the navigator, we were hit and the radio went

out. I saw the German fighters as they broke away past us, black crosses standing out on

wings and fuselage. Our plane shook like a leaf in a blizzard from the guns all frring at the

same time."

The left waist gunner, S/Sgt. Harry L. Wheaton, saw an FW-190, coming from

behind the tail fm. "His fITst 20-mm shell came in just to the right of me and blew the

oxygen system out. His next shell went through the comer of the bomb bay. His third shell

went into our No.2 gas cell, but did not explode. We survived his attack, but he did not

survive mine, I downed him."

The MOWAT crew

Sgt. Frank Plesa says, "I was a little short in keeping my eyes focused on the sight

which made me sit up and stretch up more than normal." This caused the right waist

gunner, S/Sgt. John B. Neher Jr., to ask, 'What's wrong Frank?'"

"The planes of both Lt. Seeds and Lt. Elder were on fire. The wings of one of them

blew right off and the fuselage just dropped down like a big ball of fire and black smoke.

Lt. Fromm's plane was on fITe too. I was mad."


The fight

55

The SEEDS crew

A flight of FW -190s had closed on the low-left squadron, raining hell at point~blank

range, In a few seconds, they transfonned the two ships composing the low-left element

into burning twins.

Second Lieutenants Andrew G. Seeds and Michael 1. Luongo began to have trouble

controlling Steady Hedy. When the frrst engine erupted in flames, the copilot hit the

propeller feathering button, moved mixture control to "IDLE CUT -OFF," closed the

throttle, turned the ignition switch to "OFF," and finally turned the fuel supply to "dead

engine OFF" at the main selector valve.

A second engine was crippled and fires spread quickly on both wings, the fuel cells

threatening to explode at any moment. When the pilots tried the controls, they found them

loose, almost unresponsive. They knew that the flames were doing their destructive job,

consuming everything in range, from the aluminum skin to the structure itself. The airfoil

could break in midair without any warning.

As things quickly deteriorated from bad to worse, the young skipper felt a gripping

fear and near panic as his mind anticipated a ghastly future. But there was no time to

waste. The crew had to be called and given the order to bailout. The copilot tried the

intercom while the pilot hit the bailout bell. Emergency alarm bells rang in the nose turret,

navigator-bombardier's compartment, rear fuselage compartment, and tail gun turret.

Suddenly the wings blew up. Needing no further explanation about the status of the

ship, the crewmen scrambled to get their chutes on. Struggle for dear life ended when the

wingless fuselage nosed down and fell to earth. The men were thrown to the ceiling. Hard

as they tried, they were unable to overcome the force pinning them. Then, slowly, the

fuselage flipped on its back and started to barrel. The nose and tail turrets fell off the metal

rings on which they were mounted.

The crew was in the middle of a maelstrom of pieces of equipment, ammunition

boxes, spent cases, and bags. Happy those who had been killed instantly. It was only a

matter of time until what was left of their B-24 would slam into the ground. Some resigned

themselves to the fact that their time had run out. Others did not give up the struggles to

escape their rotating coffm, the escape hatches were so close and life was outside. Death

caught them all when the fuselage exploded.


56 CRUEL SKY

Steady Hedy went down 1.8 kIn southwest of Lauchroden.

The SOLLIEN crew

The relaxing trip home expected by bombardier Lt. Malcom MacGregor was

shattered when Fort Worth Maid's top turret guns started firing. "I looked out the small

window behind the pilot and saw an FW -190 with its belly toward me rolling over the left

wing of the airplane. I saw machine gun bullets bouncing off the bottom of the fighter. I

thought what a pretty plane it was."

"Realizing we were in cmnbat, I decided to get my parachute. It was a chest pack

and I stored it by the catwalk to the nose in front of the bomb bays. I unplugged my oxygen

hose and I jumped down to the front of the catwalk and as I looked to the rear of the ship I

saw bullets coming through the bomb bays and exploding about 30 inches above the bomb

bay doors. They were exploding about three feet apart. Fortunately, the last one exploded

about three feet from my right side. I was standing sideways on the catwalk and the last

bullet sent pieces of shrapnel into my legs. I was lucky enough one more round was not

fired or I could have been seriously hurt. At this point I put on my chest parachute by

hooking it to the snaps on the front of my harness."

"I looked at Carl Sollien, the pilot, and he was looking at me. He had naturally large

eyes and now they looked extremely large. He pointed down with his fmgers and I knew I

was to bailout. By this time I was full of adrenaline because everything seemed to be

moving in slow motion. Even the exploding shells had seemed to be happening very

slowly. I grabbed the handle used to open the bomb bay doors and activated the

mechanism. The right side of the doors did not open at all. The left side opened about half

way. I dove for the opening and just then the plane spun and I landed on the left side of the

bomb bay doors that had not opened. I realized gasoline was pouring out of the bomb bay.

I rolled and found myself outside of the plane."

Sergeant Ammi Miller was busy firing back at three Gennan fighters when he felt

the ship going into a flat spin. He quickly unfastened his flak suit, which hit the radio

operator in the back. "I released the seat on my turret, dropping down to the flight deck. I

realized that I had disconnected my oxygen supply tube from my mask, and needed to

descend as quickly as possible."


The fight

57

Sergeant Charles Graham glanced at the pilot and saw 1st Lt. Carl J. Sollien pulling

back on the controls. Graham stood up and took off his flak suit. Then he helped the top

turret gunner to snap his chute on before donning his own chest pack. They went both on

the catwalk. Miller bailed out frrst through the bomb bay door with Graham on his heels.

The navigator, 2nd Lt. Wesley L. Hudelson, had just gone through the nose wheel

door when the pilots decided to leave the plane. When the copilot got up to leave the plane,

his back pack got caught. Lt. Sollien pushed him loose, but when he started to leave, he

found 2nd Lt. William H. Koenig lying on the flight deck. Sollien assumed he was dead so

he bailed out through the bomb bay.

Fort Worth Maid went down 1.5 km west of Herleshausen, at the border between

Wommen and Nesselroden.

The HAUTMAN crew

Mairzy Doats copilot, Lt. Carroll Snidow, saw an FW-190 low at two o'clock and in

a sharp bank with its left landing gear down. "About that time something hit my window,

put a hole in it and one piece scratched my knuckle in two places. In the meantime, S/Sgt.

Gordon F. Waldron, our tail gunner, was injured in the leg. Technical Sergeant Thomas W.

Land, our top turret man, was really frring his guns. An FW-190 was coming in on top of us

and Land blew him out ofthe sky."

"Our No.4 engine propeller 'ran away.' We started to feather it but it was too late,

as our oil pressure was gone. Then I looked at our number four engine. The whole

propeller and engine was coming out of the wing. What a sight! The propeller, whirling in

its full velocity, made a 90 degrees turn and came toward me. I thought I had 'bought the

farm' then. The prop came over into the number three engine and knocked it out of the

wmg. Prop and pieces of prop were going everywhere. Luckily, none hit the ship."

But the wounded Liberator staggered away. Lieutenant Edward Hautman and his

crew were now all by themselves unable to keep up with the remainder of the lead

squadron.

The GOLDEN crew

Through the window of Ole Baldy's radio position, Sgt. Jack Erickson saw FW -190s


58 CRUEL SKY

flashing by. "Everywhere I looked I saw the Swastika-marked aircraft. The sky seemed to

be full of them. In horror, I saw our right wingman take many hits. Debris was showering

from the B-24. As it started to peal off it suddenly broke in two just aft of the wing and the

two pieces plummeted toward the earth. No parachutes emerged from the flaming pieces."

"Pivoting my stool around, I looked out through the windshield between Lt. William

Golden and Lt. Robert Christie just as the lead ship of our element disintegrated. Debris

from the stricken bomber was streaming back straight toward our aircraft. mstinctively I

put my arms up to shield my face. I believe that none of the debris hit our ship as the

slipstream apparently carried it above us."

"The voices of our gunners were screaming fighter locations over the intercom. Our

Liberator was shaking and vibrating from the recoil ofthe machine gun frre."

The DEWEY crew

Top turret gunner T/Sgt. Charles Craig, reported that there were enemy fighters on

their tail. The pilot could see Lt. Smith's tail gunner motioning to him to tuck A Wallet A

Abel in closer.

His own tail gunner, S/Sgt. Reuben Montanez, was dealing with three FW-190s

attacking from 6 o'clock low. He singled out the element leader and fired at approximately

450 yards away. Two hundred rounds and 300 yards later, the FW-190 engine caught frre.

It peeled off to his right, his right wing catching fire. Then the enemy aircraft blew up in

mid-air. The other two fighters broke offthe attack

Both waist gunners went down. S/Sgt. George R. Jolmson, manning the right waist

gun, was hit in the leg but managed to climb back to his gun. The left waist gunner, S/Sgt.

Walther J. Bartkow, was also wounded, but was far from out.

The JONES crew

Suddenly it was the turn of A Roughhouse Kate, piloted by 2nd Lt. Howard A.

Jones. Waist gunner, Sgt. Willis Meier spotted an FW-190 and frred a long burst. He

scored several hits, and the fighter began to smoke. The Germans still pressed their attacks

on the high-right squadron. Their wingman was lit up like a Christmas tree from the 20-mm

shells exploding.


The fight

59

When an FW -190 attacked from six o'clock low coming up in a slight climb, the men

in the rear fell to the floor, hit by fragments of numerous exploding shells. The right waist

gunner, S~. Meier, was blown up against the roof by the blast. The left waist gunner, Sgt.

Warren Pendleton, was shot in the butt and fell into a 20-mm hole in the fuselage.

Simultaneously, the tail turret stopped working; the hydraulic system had been punctured

and the fluid set on fIre.

Engulfed in flames, the tail gunner, S/Sgt. Raymond J. Paulus, stumbled out of his

burning turret in search of help. There was nothing the wounded waist gunners could do in

those frantic moments. Paulus burned to death near the camera hatch.

Meier came to, removed his flak suit, and attached his chest pack. In pain from

numerous wounds, including a burned hand, he managed to climb over his gun and bailout

through the waist window. Pendelton went out the other waist window just after him.

In the nose turret, Sgt. Milton Lee felt the ship bucking and shuddering. He could

see that they were leaving the fonnation and veering off to the right.

The copilot. 2nd Lt. Harold P. Allen, set the automatic pilot. A bail-out call came

through the intercom.

In the hurried process of reaching for and putting on his chest pack, the navigator,

2nd Lt. Robert Fulton, accidentally snagged the chute's D-ring which popped the parachute

inside the nose compartment. He managed to gather it into his arms and, still struggling

with his deployed parachute, left through the nose hatch.

He was followed by the nose turret gunner, bombardier, 2nd Lt. Joseph A. Wilski,

and radio operator, T/Sgt. William C. Stremme. The engineer, T/Sgt. Andrew Fratta, who

had been hit in the head, was slumped on the turret pedestal.

A Roughhouse Kate went down at Eichsfeld, I km east of Doringsdorf.

The DONALD crew

In the nose of the aircraft piloted by 1st Lt. Myron H. Donald, bombardier 1st Lt. Ira

P. Weinstein was busy fuing his guns. Navigator, 2nd Lt. Eric W. Smith Jr., pulled him out

of his turret. "As I turned around I saw him go out the nose wheel hatch. My parachute

straps got caught by equipment so when I bailed out I was dangling out of the airplane,

which was on fire and in a flat spin. I managed to chin myself back into the plane and jump


60 CRUEL SKY

out again. By that time, we were only 2,500 feet above the ground."

The plane went down at Nesselroden, 1 km northeast ofZiegenberg.

The SCHAEN crew

Bombardier, Lt. George Collar, was manning the nose turret. Suddenly he heard a

sound like sledgehammer blows hitting the plane. The left wing was hit and on fITe.

Simultaneously, there was an explosion lUlder his turret. The attacking FW-190 streaked

overhead not more than a few feet above his guns. He tried to shoot him, but the turret

controls were inoperative. The previous explosion had probably severed the power lines.

He was stunned, as no warning signal had come from the tail before the German hit them.

He glanced down at the lead squadron and watched with horror as the fighters attacked

them. At least two of the bombers were on fITe, including the lead plane.

Navigator, 2nd Lt. Corman H. Bean, peered out of the bubble in the nose. He saw

that the back end of their ship was all shot up. When he heard the bailout bell ring, he

reached up and pulled the bombardier out of the nose turret. The nose section looked like

Swiss cheese. The whole left wing was on fITe. The navigator opened the nose wheel door

and they both bailed out.

Copilot, Lt. Bobby McGough, could not get the bomb bay open. So he went to the

nose wheel compartment to bailout. He was followed by the engineer, T/Sgt. George S.

Eppley, and radio operator, T/Sgt. Robert L. Collins.

The ship went down 3.5 kilometers northwest of Gerstungen.

The BRENT crew

Thanks to his coffm seat, Lt. Walter George had survived the fITst attack. But Eileen

had not escape unscathed. The instruments on the No. 3 engine indicated that it was

running wild. "1 looked to my right and saw that it was shot up and burning. We were

beginning to lose altitude. Should 1 hit the fITe extinguisher? 1 didn't."

"Lt. Donald Brent motioned that he would take over the controls, pointed with his

right index finger straight down with two agitated thrusts. 1 pushed the alarm button for

bailout, tried unsuccessfully to reach the nose compartment, waist, and tail gunner by

intercom. No answer came back. Was the intercom out? We had to give the crew enough


Thejight

61

time to bailout."

"The radio operator or the engineer was supposed to open the bomb bay doors which

were our' exit Then they were to bailout. Then I was to go and then the pilot was to go

last. Assuming that one had opened the bomb bay doors and was already out, I removed

my flak suit, disconnected my oxygen mask, and headed for the exit ~~

"To my surprise, the radio operator, Sgt. Sammy Weiner, was there in a daze with no

parachute harness on. I shoved his parachute harness toward him. The engineer, T ISgt.

Constant Galuszewski, was in the top turret still sighting enemy aircraft. I poked his rear

hard and pointed down. I glanced outward from the top turret position."

"One FW -190 was flying right next to us, upside down, splitting into a dive. Another

FW-190 was shooting at a B-24 to our left from the rear. The FW had full flaps and

landing gear down."

"I dropped on the flight deck and opened the door to the bomb bay; a wall of flame

met me. The bomb door switch was in a ball of concentrated flame. If we had no hydraulic

pressure, the doors would not open, and we would be trapped inside the burning aircraft. I

planned to run through the flames, hit the switch on the way and proceed to the manual

operation controls in the center of the bomb bay that would open the doors. I did not know

whether I could last long enough in the flames to operate the controls as the bomb bay

doors opened by the action of the switch. I ran. Flames were spouting from ruptured lines

in various places in the bomb bay. The worst of it was the giant blowtorch made by the

spouting fuel gauges by the door into the cockpit area. The bomb bay doors opened, even if

I could not really defme the limits of the opening."

"I felt that I had to see that the radio operator and the engineer were out of the

aircraft. So, I went back through the blowtorch as fast as I could and through the still open

door. The engineer was still in the turret I pulled him down. The radio operator was on his

knees trying to attach his chute. At this point the pilot came between the three of us, made

some comment to the radio operator and went on out Sergeant Weiner waved me to go

out So I went through the blowtorch again, in a cannon ball position."

The radio operator was in fact fighting with his brand new parachute harness. "It

was so tight and uncomfortable that I had removed it hours before. Instantly I was on my

knees, trying to fasten the buckles. Nervously I pulled with all my strength, holding my


62 CRUE1-, SKY

breath, sucking in my ribs. My life was hanging by a thread."

Just after the radio operator got his chute attached, he took off for the bomb bays.

"There was a sudden, thunderous blast and the plane broke completely in two. I was being

crazily tossed all around the flight deck while the tottering half of the plane was still

running on the remaining engine. Bruised and battered, but fully conscious, I tried to get

myself into an upright position. The broken piece of ship was wobbling like a dangling

teeter totter toward the earth.

"'I've got to make it,' I was muttering crazily. And then, suddenly, the section shot

straight into the sky, throwing me out into the welcome blue space, before it plummeted to

earth."

Eileen went down 2.5 km south-east of Ulfen (south-east of Blinde Miihle).

The WARMAN crew

A burst of machine gun fire hit the bullet-resistant glass of Sgt. Raymond Ray's tail

turret. A few seconds later another shell blew the glass out and disabled his guns: "The

next 20-mm shell blew me out of the turret. I did a backward summersault and landed 15

feet into the aircraft between S/Sgt. Carl W. Forster and Charles G. Pakenstein. The waist

gunners were laying on the floor. I assumed they were dead. Our Gal's tail was on fIfe and

the bomb bay had turned to an inferno. I opened the escape hatch and rolled out."

On the other side of this firewall, engineer, S/Sgt. Wilbur E. Brown, left his top

turret and bailed out. He was soon followed by nose gunner, S/Sgt. Francis R. E. Barnish,

and navigator, 2nd Lt. Francis W. Costley.

Our Gal went down 1 km south-east of Gerstungen.

The JOHNSON crew

Fridget Bridget's tail turret was hit and S/Sgt. Floyd L. Jackson landed on the floor

between the two waist gunners. The left waist, S/Sgt. Rubin 1. Sisco, and right waist, S/Sgt.

Alan M. Baldwin, helped him back in the turret.

One minute later, it was Baldwin's turn to be thrown to the floor. His 50 cal. gun

was cut off by an exploding shell and landed on top of him. A shell came up under the

belly of the ship and tore off the nose wheel doors. Immediately the wheel dropped out.


The fight

63

The force of the explosion hit the bombardier, Lt. James Dowling, in the back and blew off

his flying helmet: "I recovered from the blast and turned around to see the navigator, Lt.

Herbert Bateman, half out of the ship. He was bloody and staring at me. When I tried to

lift his leg in, the slipstream took him and he fell through the open space. Smoke was

everywhere, 1 could hardly see the nose turret, which was badly shot up and torn away. Lt.

William Flickner must have been killed instantly."

At the same time, the pilot, Lt. Joseph Johnson, announced on the intercom that the

No. 3 engine was just blasted out of the wing and yelled: "Bailout!" The bell was ringing.

Dowling quickly checked his chute and rolled out of the nose wheel compartment.

Fridget Bridget went down at Breitau, 1 km north of Erbberg.

The ELDER crew

Tail gunner, S/Sgt. Stanley H. Morse, glanced down to his right just when the Seeds'

aircraft lost its wings and dropped down. But his own plane, Clay Pigeon, which was the

low, left element leader, was in flames too and was likely to fmd the same fate at any time.

And, very shortly, this is what happened. The plane, piloted by 1st Lt. Oliver B. Elder blew

up, killing her pilot and four members of the crew.

Navigator, 1st Lt. Harold P. Whidden Jr. made his escape via the nose compartment.

Copilot, 2nd Lt. Roy E. Ellender, and engineer, T/Sgt. Paul E. de Vries, escaped from the

flight deck. Tail gunner, Sgt. Morse, was the only one to parachute safely from the rear.

Clay Pigeon went down 1 km. south west of Lindenau.

The FROMM crew

As the German fighters kept pressing their attacks, the low-left squadron continued

to melt away. The left and right elements had ceased to exist and Johnson's ship had fallen

from its position on the right wing of the 703 rd squadron lead ship. The aircraft piloted by

1st Lt. Richard Fromm was flying just behind Johnson's position and was already on fire.

Because of this, Lt. Fromm sounded the alarm to abandon ship. In just a few

minutes, he had seen so many ships in flames blowing up that he decided to give his men

enough time to get their chutes on and bailout. All of the crew, except copilot, 2nd Lt.


64 CRUEL SKY

Edward A. Globis, were able to parachute safely, although tail gunner, S/Sgt. Lee H.

Coffin, nearly ended up in a wooden version of his own last name.

Soon after the men left the plane, the right wing of the now pilotless airplane

dropped and the ship headed in a northwesterly direction. It was as if it were picking a spot

to rest, distancing itself from the cruel sky where so many ships in the 445 th Group were

dying.

The plane fmally went down 400 m south of Reichenbach (Hessisch Lichtenau).

The FRENCH crew

Flying his last, but what turned out to by his most eventful mission, Lt. John French

had tried to maintain his position in fonnation as tight as possible, but so many planes were

going down, there simply wasn't a fonnation anymore.

Right waist gunner Sgt. Charles Huddlestun got two fighters. One was hit and

caught on fire at 75 or 100 yards during a level attack. The other was hit in a low attack

and blew up: "I saw either the pilot of that ship or one American bailout."

From the tail, Sgt. Herbert Schwartz heard his pilot come on the intercom telling his

men to take it easy and relax: "A hell of a remark to make at this time. One FW -190 came

for my tail and 1 started shooting, he pulled beneath our bomber streaming smoke. 1 had a

four second break at this point and looked over at Lt. Bruce's ship. There were seven

fighters attacking from his tail and one coming in at his side, all firing as they came in. All

his gunners were fIring back, their guns blazing, and just then another fighter attacked from

above. 1 don't believe the top turret man saw him as he was busy fIring at the other ships.

So 1 trained my guns on this particular plane and gave him a few short bursts as 1 was afraid

of hitting Lt. Bruce's ship."

"Immediately following'this, another fighter came at me. 1 started fIring. 1 knew my

bullets were hitting him because he came in so close that it was practically impossible for

me to miss. 1 saw his wing tip falloff and the plane started to spin to the ground. But 1

caught a glimpse of the pilot of this ship after his chute had opened. It

"Another few seconds break for me, but then 1 saw Lt. Bruce's plane engulfed in

flames. It happened in a matter of seconds."


The fight

65

The BRUCE crew

Twenty and 30-rom shells had turned Bonnie Vie into a wreck, but she was still

flying. However, her logbook would bear no more mission entries.

Pilot, 2nd Lt. William S. Bruce, realized it was just a hopeless situation. "There

were just too many of the enemy fighters. I saw at least seven ships go down in flames:

four from our Group plus several Gennan ships. Our fighters were nowhere in sight. I

could not understand where the hell they could be."

"Our ship had been hit several times - two engines were on fITe and the interior of

the ship was in shambles. The gunners kept firing, but finally they were all wounded or

dead. By this time I knew we were in serious trouble with no hope of staying in the air any

longer. I finally gave the bailout order because only one engine was running and it not too

well. I asked my copilot to unbuckle my seat belt before he bailed out. Just as he stood up

to do so a 20-rom shell cut him in half"

The repeated calls and bail-out bell rings were ineffective to revive the dead or help

the seriously wounded to leave the plane. The nose, waist and tail areas remained deadly

silent. Only the men of the flight deck could make it. But the Gennans were detennined to

bring this flying wreck down, one way or another.

The coup de grace came when a Gennan fighter rammed the right wing. The whole

airfoil peeled off and the asymmetric ship flipped on her back The blazing left wing tanks

exploded, followed by the fuselage itself Miraculously, the destructive power of the blast

threw the pilot and the radio operator, T/Sgt. Peter Pogovich out of the cart-wheeling

remains of the B-24. Fortunately both had already donned their chutes.

What was left of Bonnie VIe crashed 1 km west of Richelsdorf.

The HANSEN crew

Pilot, 2nd Lt. Robert N. Hansen, was trying to keep his ship tucked on the left wing

of the slot element leader. His radio operator, T/Sgt. James M. Triplett, was sitting behind

him with nothing more to do than watch the ships going down one by one. The radio waves

were carrying only distress calls. Since there were no Little Friends in sight, this "sit and

take-it" defensive posture became nerve-wracking. Then, the electrical system was shot out

and all communication stopped inside the battered ship.


66 CRUE1JSKY

Bombardier, 2nd Lt John C. Woodley, told his navigator to jump fIrst, but 2nd Lt

Porter M. Pile, declined his offer. So the bombardier bailed out, hoping the wounded

navigator would follow him.

In the rear, the right waist gunner, S/Sgt. S. E. Howell Jr., was shot in the lower left

chest. The left waist gunner, S/Sgt. Elwyn 1. Hornsby, pushed him out the escape hatch.

Then he bailed out Tail gunner, S/Sgt. Ralph H. Bode, was standing by the escape hatch,

ready to leave.

On the flight deck, Lt. Hansen kept on flying the plane. Engineer, T ISgt. Charles C.

Palmer, and radio operator, Triplett, were standing by the top escape hatch dubious about

jumping. Off oxygen, copilot, 2nd Lt. Herbert C. Bridges Jr., went out the top escape

hatch, hoping the others would follow. But the B-24, punched by numerous shells,

shuddered, erupted in flames and exploded.

Six men died, trapped inside or tumbling down helplessly. The wreck crashed 2 km

southwest of Richelsdorf.

The MOWAT crew

Inside the top turret of Hot Rock, engineer, Sgt. Theodore Myers, fIred his guns until

they became too hot. "They kept jamming and I couldn't charge them any more. A shell

exploded near the top of my turret and it looked like one of the guns was bent. The smoke

of the shell got on the glass and I could not see out. I pressed the intercom switch to call

the pilot and tell him my turret was out. But the intercom wasn't working, so I got out to

warn him."

When he stepped down on the flight deck, he felt a heavy vibration in the plane. "I

looked forward and saw the pilots for an instant. Lt. William Mowat and 2nd Lt. Orville P.

Smet seemed OK. The radio operator, T/Sgt. Earl B. Groves, was sitting on the floor at my

feet with his flak suit and helmet on; he seemed to be all right too. I looked through the

door going into the bomb bays; several large streams of gasoline were shooting down

against the bomb bay doors, and around the inside of the plane.

"A mist of gas was floating up forward onto the flight deck. The frrst thing that

came into my mind was to try to stop it. I knew that if a shell ever entered the ship with all

that gasoline squirting around, the ship would explode. I climbed down into the bomb bays


The fight 67

to look at the holes in the gasoline tanks hoping they would seal themselves, but the holes

were too large to seal up. 1 decided to open the bomb bay doors and let the slipstream blow

it out of the ship. During this time, 1 got soaked from head to toe with gas. I went back to

open the bomb bay doors and the slipstream started to clear up the inside some."

"1 started to turn around to get on the flight deck to tell the pilot we had been hit bad

and were losing gas fast, when one or more 20 mm shells went offunder my feet, wounding

me in both legs. The blast lifted me up and I fell on my back on the catwalk. At the same

time, 1 saw a blinding flash. I was on ftre from head to foot. I felt my face burning. 1

thought 1 was dying."

An FW-190 was flying a tight formation with Hot Rock, blasting the hell out ofa B­

24 in front. The tail gunner, Sgt. Frank Plesa, saw the FW, who was right off their tail, a

little behind the left rudder: "He was so close I could see his goggles easy. I had seen three

of our ships going down in flames and nobody bailing out; 1 was mad. I swung the turret

and opened up on him. Immediately, parts of his cowling came off and 1 ended up aiming

at the pilot's head. I gave him about 20-25 rounds."

"Then 1 heard and felt something go off under my right foot. I looked down. There

was a six or eight inch hole right in front of my right foot. Then, in a split second, 1 saw a

flash, and a puff of smoke hit my left gun. The concussion of this shell bent the barrel up

and blew off the top-front bullet proof glass. 1 was blown out of my position like a horse

kicked me in the chest, and I landed on my left side on the catwalk. Some hydraulic lines

and aluminum sheet held up my right foot. I could hear the control cables on pulleys near

me, even saw them move. I was wounded in the right leg, the chest, and left forearm.

These places became all numb and I felt helpless. High-octane flavor came through my

oxygen mixer. 1 looked in vain for the waist gunners to help me."

"The right waist gunner, Sgt. John Neher, was down, probably mortally wounded or

killed. I could not see him too well for he was directly behind me: a brown-suited body

down."

"The left waist gunner, S/Sgt. Everette L. Williams, was still ftring his gun with the

right hand only. His left side was all red from blood but he was still ftghting."

"Then the ftre burned through the plywood door that separated us from the bomb

bays. The inferno started to come through the fuselage. By then the intercom system was


68 CRUEL SKY

all gone. It got hotter than hell and I thought I was going to bum to death. I covered my

face and eyes with my hands and saw my life flash in front of me. I saw my family

receiving the KIA (Killed In Action) telegram and asking God for help. I started the death

scream then I heard a big 'woof.' A big force was pushing on me and everything turned

black."

Hot Rock went down 1.5 km north of Honebach in Wildecker Forest.

The BAYNHAM crew

After about one hundred rounds, King Kong's top turret guns jammed. Sgt. Howard

Boldt saw a lot of smoke coming up from the fuselage, he glanced at the window in the

door to the bomb bay: "It was as if I was looking into the fIrebox of a furnace. Our

overflow lines came down in the center between the front and rear bomb bays so I knew

that some of our tanks had been hit. It was over for us. I all but gave up as that was our

escape from the flight deck. I looked toward the pilot and co-pilot and they did not appear

to know about this. I had to take the time to tell them before taking action. I immediately

dropped out of my turret. Just as I left, I saw one of the planes off to the left with fIre

coming out of the bomb bay."

"I went up to the pilot, Lt. James Baynham, grabbed the side of his helmet, and

yelled that we were on fIre and let's get out. The pilot hit the alarm button. I then turned

and motioned to the radio operator, Sgt. James Fields, and we both grabbed our chest pack

chutes. I had left the flight deck and dropped into the nose compartment to use the

auxiliary lever to open the bomb doors. I opened the door in the floor and dropped into the

nose wheel compartment. The auxiliary handle that opened the bomb doors was located in

there just forward of the bomb bays. I grabbed the handle and the doors on the left side of

the plane opened all the way but the doors on the right side only opened about six inches.

We had lost all hydraulic pressure. Ifwe had been a little later we would have been trapped

as the emergency handles to crank the doors was located in the center between the front and

rear bomb bays."

"When the doors opened the wind blew all the flames out. The fIre had been so hot

that the small leatherette pads on the bomb racks were smoldering. I went into the catwalk

with Sgt. Fields, right behind me. I looked back and saw the copilot, Lt. Charles Bousquet


Thejight 69

coming down from the flight deck. I was standing in the bomb bay ready to jwnp. I

hesitated for just a couple seconds to be sure that I had my chute clipped to my harness

right. Stiddenly I saw the left side of the plane starting to disintegrate. I was hit and fell

out."

In the rear part of the fuselage, it became evident that the ship was in bad shape.

Fire was raging in the bomb bay and communications to the flight deck were not working

properly.

Left waist gunner, Sgt. John Lemons moved to get the two parachutes that were

laying near the bomb bay bulkhead. Sergeant Olen Byrd left his right waist gun and both

hooked their chutes on.

At this time, Sgt. John Knox was knocked out of the tail turret and came crawling to

the waist area. He had been hit in the right knee. Despite being blind in one eye, he saw

the flames in the bomb bay. Lemons hooked on Knox's chest pack chute. "I did not hear

any bailout alarm. Again I gave a quick look at the fire. I knew we had to get the waist

bottom hatch open, chutes on and all of us bailed out. I helped get Knox out through the

camera hatch. I tried to get the other waist gunner, Byrd, to go out next by motioning him

to do so. He (Byrd) refused and motioned me to go first and 1 did."

Lt. Baynham had seen the ship ahead engaged in a left descending turn, burning

fiercely. The first pass had set so many bombers on fire that there was virtually no one left

for them to tighten up to. His ship was on fIre under the gas tanks and in the bomb bay

area. He had a hard time, trying to get his back pack parachute buckled. Finally he made

his way to the bomb bay. Shortly after he left, the ship blew up.

King Kong went down 2 km northeast of Braunhausen.

The HEITZ crew

When the attack started, Bugs Bunny was leading the second element of the lead

squadron. Now, 1st Lt. Raymond V. Heitz and 2nd Lt. Harold T. Vedera were flying alone

in the slot. Hautman's ship, their right wingman, had left the formation and Hansen just

went down in flames. The fighters seemed to materialize endlessly.

A string of shells exploded in the waist and tail positions. The left waist gunner,

S/Sgt. Louis Ochevsky, was badly wounded and collapsed at his post. The right waist


70 CRUhLSKY

gunner, S/Sgt. Elroy W. Palm, was hit too but less seriously. The left rudder took the brunt

of the burst and somehow protected tail gunner S/Sgt. Maynard B. Watson, although he was

wounded by splinters. The same fighter walked his shots from the fuselage to the right

wing where the shells put the No.3 and NO.4 engines out of commission and caused

extensive damage to the airfoil.

Lieutenant Heitz tried desperately to keep up with the lead element but on two

engines it was a no-win situation. Bugs Bunny began to fall behind and lose altitude. It

was only a question of time before a Jerry fighter took advantage of the lack of rear and

waist defenses.

The UEBELHOER crew

From the left seat of the deputy lead ship, Capt. Web L. U ebelhoer saw an Me-l09

attack the lead ship low and from the rear. Flying tight on the right of the leader. he had a

direct view of the waist area. The gunners were silhouetted against a red haze created by

bursts of shells. Then the pilot focused his attention on the copilot's window. The

Command Pilot, Major Donald McCoy, was motioning to him. But it was something that

he did not understand. Slowly the lead ship began to roll to the left and went down.

Uebelhoer moved his B-24 into the empty space and took over the lead.

After the first attack, the radio operator, Sgt. Robert Sims, had donned his chute. He

was ready to jump; who knows! "One gunner had left his gun and was preparing himself

for his death. A German pilot lowered his flaps, came up right beside us, waved and peeled

under our plane. The plane on our right side caught fire. I thought he was going to run into

our plane but he went away to the right and blew up. I saw about three blasted out of the

side but saw no chute open. They were probably stunned or already dead."

The CARROW crew

Lt. Raphael Carrow had seen Pearson's plane burst into flames at the very beginning

of the attack and just in front of his ship. And now, it was their turn to get it. One engine

was on fire and the hands of copilot 2nd Lt. Newell W. Brainard raced for the control panel

to feather the prop. Patches began shaking under the impact of numerous 20- and 30-mm

shells which penetrated the skin of the ship and exploded inside. Before a visual check


The fight

71

brought confinnation, tell-tale signs appeared on some instrwnents indicating that another

engine was dying.

Now~

with both pilots struggling with the controls, they were having extreme

difficulty controlling the aircraft. The intercom was inoperative so Lt. Carrow rang the

alann bell for the crew to abandon ship. Tail gunner, S/Sgt. Herbert A. Ledin, and waist

gunners, S/Sgts. Nicolas H. Dengler and Charles W. Loether, moved quickly to get their

chutes on, scramble to the escape hatch, and bailout.

The pilots fought the controls to give the crew time to clear the plane. However,

another disaster took place when a shell set the bomb bay on fire. The radio operator stood

petrified, fascinated, staring at the flames. The men on the flight deck had lost the easiest

and fastest way to leave the ship. Lieutenant Brainard left his seat and went down to the

nose of the ship. No further need to reset the power and adjust the trim before bailing out.

There was just time for the pilot to abandon ship as she had already given up.

Lieutenant Carrow had to find a way out, but he was frozen to his seat! "The simple

task of unbuckling the seat belt, removing my flak vest and Mae West, became major

problems. The plane was now completely out of control. All the possible means of escape

raced through my mind. Each one presented an alternative death. There seemed to be no

way out."

"Finally, free, I arose from my seat in the falling plane. As I faced the rear, instead

of the expected inferno, I saw blue sky. The plane had broken in two and the other half had

taken the fire with it. I quickly climbed to the edge and shoved myself into space."

Patches came down in two pieces near Bebra-Tha, at the northern edge of the village.

The SMITH crew

Lieutenant Donald Smith and 1st Lt. AdolfF. Lerch were leading the high-high-right

squadron. For a while, their left waist gunner, Sgt. Jack Laswell, had not been getting much

to shoot at, as most attacks had come from the rear. Suddenly, an FW -] 90 came up on the

left, between tail and wing, so close he could see the pilot's face. He fIred until the Gennan

fighter dropped from view, its windshield completely shattered.

The tail gunner, S/Sgt. Eldon E. Gray, was fuing on the incoming fighters at 6

o'clock low while the engineer, T/Sgt. Lonnie O. Davis, in his top turret, kept asking where


72 CRUEL SKY

the fighters were.

The DEWEY crew

A 20·mm shell hit dangerously close to the tail turret gunner and threw him out of

his position. Only slightly hurt, Sgt. Montanez managed to climb back in his turret.

Sergeant George Jolmson, the right waist gunner, started firing at an FW -190 coming

in at 5 o'clock low. The former paddlefoot fired about 200 rounds until the enemy fighter

peeled off to his right, came up past the waist and blew up about 20 yards away from S/Sgt.

Leslie L. Medlock's nose turret.

The left waist gunner, Sgt. Walter Bartkow, saw an FW-190 coming in at 7 o'clock.

He started fIring when it was approximately 300 yards out, steadily pumping rounds into

the enemy aircraft which blew up like a red flash, and was witnessed by the engineer, Sgt.

Charles Craig.

With the intercom out, those in the rear of the plane were fighting their own battle

without knowing what was happening in front of the ship.

The GOLDEN crew

Sergeant Jack Erickson, the radio operator, felt Ole Baldy shuddering as it took hits

in the No.3 engine. From his vantage point directly below the right inboard engine, he saw

a cloud of black smoke pour out into the slipstream and metal parts fly through the air as

the engine came to a stop. The pilot had immediately feathered the prop. A few seconds

later the plane shook like a leaf as the tail turret took a direct hit.

The tail gunner, Sgt. Stewart 1. Norman, was gravely wounded. The left waist

gunner, Sgt. Edward H. Feltus, and the right waist gunner, Sgt. Robert R. Bagley, removed

him from his shattered turret.

As the radio operator had no gun to man, he was looking out through his small

window. "I saw many B-24s falling in flames. 1 saw several parachutes blossom out, but

not nearly enough for the number of crewmen that had manned the planes going down.

Our right wing was hit in the flap area by cannon shells and a large hole was opened up

near the trailing edge of the wing. 1 could see wires and hoses dangling into the slipstream.

Lieutenant William Golden and Lt. Robert Christie fought the controls to keep our aircraft


The fight

73

from going out of control. I turned on the liaison transmitter and quickly keyed an SOS to

our home base relaying the destruction of the 445 th from the Luftwaffe onslaught. As the

intercom system was knocked out, I arose from my stool and stood next to Lt. Golden. He

told me to tell the crew to bailout. I nodded to him in affmnation ofhis order and turned to

where T/Sgt. Earl C. Romine was operating the top turret, which was located directly above

my radio position. I grabbed him by the leg and gave it a quick tug. When he looked down

at me, I motioned for him to jump."

"I then opened the door on the flight deck that led to the bomb bay and saw Bagley

and Feltus looking toward me from the waist position. I signaled to them to abandon the

aircraft They quickly hooked Stewart's parachute rip cord to a static line and dropped him

out through the camera hatch. They both immediately followed him out."

"Lowering myself to the catwalk below the flight deck, I grabbed the bomb bay

opener handle and tried to open the doors. Apparently the hydraulic system had been

knocked out for the doors didn't budge. I remembered that in case of a hydraulic failure,

there was a hand crank located on the catwalk at the center of the bomb bay. 1 edged my

way to the emergency crank and began to turn it. The doors started to open but soon I

couldn't move them any more. The opening on each side of the bomb bay was only about

two feet wide."

"No sooner had I opened the doors when Sgt. Romine dove through the opening. He

was followed a few seconds later by Lt. Christie, the copilot. I then crawled along the

catwalk to the nose of the plane. I opened the doors to the nose turret and helped 2nd Lt.

Theodore C. Boecher, the bombardier, to climb out. 1 told both him and 2nd Lt. Edmund F.

Boomhower to bailout through the nose wheel hatch."

'"I then quickly crawled back to the flight deck. Lt. Golden was still at the controls.

I climbed up beside him and told him that everyone else had jumped. He told me to go and

I gave him a salute and turned toward the half-opened bomb bay. In the brief seconds it

took me to reach the open bomb bay, the fact that I had not had my parachute inspected or

repacked since my first mission flashed through my mind. As I prepared to jump, I said a

little prayer that the chute would function properly. I then dove through the opening head

first."

Ole Baldy went down 2.5 km north east of Braunhausen, 2 kilometers south of


74 CRUEL SKY

Comberg.

The FRENCH crew

In his tail turret, Sgt. Herbert Schwartz faced another FW-190. "I depressed both

triggers and after firing about 20 rOlmds, my left gun had a stoppage and immediately

following this, my right gun jammed. I pulled both charging handles and my left gun

cleared. I was so damn excited I didn't know what to do. I had contemplated on

evacuating the turret and jumping out of the camera hatch. My right gun had failed to

chamber the round and a shell was stuck half way into the chamber with such force that it

was impossible to charge out."

"Our radio man said that our bomb bays looked like a miniature Niagara Falls. We

were really crippled now, our No. 1 engine was feathered. Our plane began to rock

terrifically up and down all due to our right rudder being partly shot away and the other half

hanging on only by the cable. It was shaking my tail turret so badly that I had to get out of

the turret and get out damn quick before it shook me to pieces."

"This was the first time that I got hysterical and screamed over the intercom. I

thought we were in a spin and I had had no warning to jump. My copilot broke in and said

that everything was as much under control as possible and 1 felt a little relieved. In all the

excitement, my oxygen mask had pulled away from my face as I was evacuating the turret.

I was getting no oxygen and felt quite weak but I discovered my difficulty in time."

"Lt. French told the copilot, 1st Lt. Robert D. Cochran, to feather No. 2 engine to

keep the rudder still as the slipstream was causing it to waver so much."

"I saw two more FW-190s coming in. It would have taken very little persuasion for

me to jump out of the damn plane but I had to consider my crew. The FWs came in very

fast and when I should have been firing at the enemy, I was fixing my flak suit beneath my

knees. I popped up into the turret, my legs still standing as firm as possible on the bottom

of the fuselage behind the turret and started fIring. They were coming directly in at 6

0'clock level. I had my gun trained on the one ship that was in the closest to us and he

fmally· peeled away and the second ship continued his attack on our tail. My gun was

beginning to heat up as I had made my bursts too long. I had to fife though and had little

time to worry about the damn gun. This FW came in very close and I sprayed him with


Thejight

75

bullets and then he suddenly exploded. His ship flew into a thousand pieces. It was a

beautiful sight to me. This was my second kill."

"I again tried to clear my right gun as 1 knew that the left gun would not operate too

much longer. 1 saw another 190 heading in around 800 yards away and by this time, I was

beat and sure didn't feel like beating off another attack Most of the enemy pursuit was

disappearing and I could only see one bomber behind us. I let loose a few short bursts

hoping he would break away but he continued his attack I kept my trigger fmger depressed

and when he was about 200 yards away, his engine caught fire and he was really in trouble.

His plane started into a dive for the ground."

The SWOFFORD crew

Lieutenant Henry Dobek, navigator of the Sweetest Rose Of Texas, felt more like a

spectator than a participant. He was able to watch the whole attack through his small side

window. It seemed that there were hundreds of parachutes and burning B-24s in the sky.

He could see Gennan fighters flying through the fonnation with flashes of fife from their

cannons. A grim observation - he saw more B-24s go down than enemy fighters.

The Plexiglas of the windshield was shattered from the enemy fire. Fortunately, Lt.

Paul Swofford and copilot 1st Lt. Ward A. Smith, suffered only superficial face wounds.

From his top turret, engineer T/Sgt. Philip Vosburgh Jr. saw No.3 engine and propeller

both hit by a shell. One piece of shrapnel went through the aluminum skin, wounding the

radio operator, T/Sgt. Eugene F. Thum, in the arm. Other splinters had punctured some

lines in the bomb bay and hydraulic fluid was spreading allover the place.

The ISOM crew

First Lieutenants Cecil 1. Isom and Lonnie Justice had maintained Patty Girl in the

lead ofthe low-left squadron.

Left waist gunner, S/Sgt. Paul M. Dickerson, had seen FW-190s pouring in, in waves

of ten and fifteen. "Everywhere B-24s, Me-l09s and FW-190s were falling. Some were

blazing, some were smoking, and some were blown to bits. The air was full of parachutes.

A Gennan with a black parachute drifted by our right waist window. The right waist

gunner, S/Sgt. William E. Wagner, took a bead on him, then looked at me. I said 'No,' and


76 CRUEL SKY

he left him to drift by. An Me-l09 drifted up to our left wing. I could see the pilot plainly;

he was that close. One burst and I had him."

The pilot called Sgt. Bames to take a screwdriver back to the tail gunner as one of

his gun had jammed. "The first thing I saw was a Me-l09 just sitting on our tail with that

20-mm canon blazing away. As I handed Phillips the screw driver, he looked at me - his

eyes were blood red. Back to the waist, a plane on our right wing blew to pieces and two of

their crew opened chutes that caught fife and down and down they went. A German pilot

bailed out just 20 feet away. He still had his oxygen mask on. We looked at each other, his

eyes were large as saucers when he looked at me."

The CHILTON crew

With the 44S th BG formation close to annihilation, the German fighters could

concentrate more fighters on the surviving B-24s. The Germans pressed home their attacks

vigorously on the lead ship. The hydraulic reservoir in the bomb bay erupted in flames,

right beneath the fuel pumps. It was obvious to Sgt. Glen McCormick they were not going

to get the fire out. Top turret gunner, S/Sgt. Robert E. Shay, fell out of his turret, mortally

wounded. In the nose, pilotage navigator, 2nd Lt. Carlton V. Hudson, and bombardier, Lt.

Parker Trefethen, opened the nose-wheel doors and bailed out.

In the fuselage, Sgt. McCormick watched the exodus as the other men went out, one

by one. Engineer T/Sgt. Howard L. Sturdy, radio operator T/Sgt. William 1. Sloane, waist

gunner S/Sgt. Merle R. Briggs, tail gunner S/Sgt. Donald W. Mills and McCormick

parachuted safely from the burning ship.

Lieutenant Cloys Johnson, the radar navigator, was down attempting to open the

bomb bay doors so that those on the flight deck could bailout. Before he succeeded, the

lead ship exploded, throwing him out, badly burned by the flash of liquid fife.

The mighty pathfmder had broken in two. Pilot Capt. John Chilton, Command Pilot

Maj. Donald McCoy, copilot 2Lt. Harold E. Sutherland, and dead reckoning navigator 1st

Lt. Raymond E. Ische rode the tailless aircraft to their death.

The MINER crew

Sergeant Mertis Thornton was frring back at the FW-190s streaming past when a


The fight

77

shell hit the top turret and exploded in front of his face. He dropped out of the turret and

fell in front of navigator Lt. Frank Bertram. "When I saw the top turret gunner, I believed

he was dead, I was just sick because his face was solid frozen blood. I stepped over

Thornton's dead body and I went to open the bomb bay doors. I knew we had to bailout;

the ship was yawing and gasoline was allover the bomb bay. The bomb bay doors

remained stuck I thought we were trapped in the ship. I stepped back over the poor

engineer and went up to the nose. "

"Second Lieutenant Charles W. Jackson was in the nose turret firing like a crazy on

everything going by. I called up there: 'Let's go see if the nose wheels doors would open.'

They were frozen shut. I kicked the doors which fmally popped open. I was sitting there

with my dangling feet and, boy, I didn't want to fallout. I had better get back in the ship

just in case. I tried to get back up and I felt some guys on my shoulders. I turned around

and there was a bunch of guys lined up, pointing: 'go out'. Oh no, what I am gonna do, this

is ridiculous and out I went."

While Bertram was bailing out through the nose wheel hatch, Sgt. Thornton regained

consciousness. He glanced to his pilot, and Miner gave him a hand signal: "Go out." He

snapped his chest pack on and made his way to the nose compartment. He took his turn in

the waiting line and out he went, alive.

In the rear, the left waist gunner, Sgt. Lawrence Bowers, was too busy ftring. Then

he realized how devastating the attack had been with planes blowing up with no parachutes.

He realized they had lost communication with the front of the plane; the intercom was out.

But he felt that the plane was going down and the people in the rear made the decision

themselves.

The unfortunate S/Sgt. Joseph H. Gilfoil, had one of his legs nearly severed by a 20­

nun shell Bowers and the right waist gunner, S/Sgt. Alvis O. Kitchens, assisted the radio

operator. They helped him with his parachute, tied a static line to the ripcord, and eased

him towards the open camera hatch. One parachute had been hit by a shell and was

completely ruined. The tail gunner, Sgt. Arthur Lamberson, brought a spare chute. The

four from the rear, including the badly wounded Gilfoil, now left the dying Liberator.

The pilots were now ftghting against two engines on ftre. Huge flames erupting from

No.2 and NO.3 engines sandwiched the fuselage between two bright but deadly ribbons. A


78 CRUEL SKY

couple of thousand feet above his burning ship, Lt. Miner saw an element of three planes

heading west, with the No.2 plane trailing vapor or smoke from its No.4 engine. "Our No.

I and NO.3 engines were out, windmilling, and would not feather, there was a fire on each

wing, the intercom was out. An FW-190 came over our left wing, upside down, close

enough for me to clearly see the pilot. He split essed out just in front of us with our

gunners firing at him all the way. I thought: 'It's crazy. Here we are trying to kill one

another while under different circumstances we'd probably be friends. '"

"The lead squadron had been largely destroyed as I initially looked down at them

with B-24s burning, breaking up, blowing up, going down. I had sounded the bailout

signal hoping that those in the waist would get the message and my copilot, 1st Lt. Virgil

Chima and I seemed to be alone in the plane. He checked with me to see if it was OK for

him to bailout and I said 'Yes' and he left."

"I kept flying west to give anyone that hadn't gotten out more time and to get as far

as possible less distance to walk. I saw three fighters coming down toward me from 9

o'clock not much above my altitude and was seriously concerned until I identified them as

P-51s. I checked the altitude about then, found that I was down to about 10,000 feet and,

with the wing fires still burning, I decided that it was time to get out, thinking that by now I

was alone in the plane, although I wasn't sure, an uncomfortable feeling."

"I glanced back at the bomb bay doors through which I had expected to leave and

found them to be closed. I assumed they couldn't be opened because of battle damage.

That means that I would have to get out the nose wheel doors and I hoped they were open."

As soon as I left my seat, released the control column, whipped off the flak suit,

oxygen mask, helmet, goggles, earphones and headed toward the bomb bay, the nose started

straight up. I dropped into the tunnel under the flight deck and made tracks up to the nose

wheel doors which were open. I grabbed the edge of the opening as the plane fell off in a

spin, and pulled myself out."

The lead ship of the high-right squadron crashed at Grebenau, at the northern border

of the town towards Wallersdorf.

The BRULAND crew

Copilot Lt. Peter Belitsos: "The No.3 engine fire would not go out. I went back to


The fight

79

the fuel transfer control panel with the engineer, S/Sgt. Stephen J. Gray, and went through

the procedure again and again but nothing worked. We flew for quite a while losing

altitude and were now fully expecting that the ship would blow up when Palmer hit the

bell."

Lieutenant Palmer Bruland found that the autopilot was not working. He tried to

trim the plane but when he let go of the controls the ship nosed up before he could get to

the bomb bay and jump. After going back and leveling off a few times, he fmally made it

out.

The nine man crew parachuted safely from 922-Q which went down 3 kilometers

southeast of Giessen.

The MERCER crew

180m's left wingman, Lt. Jackson Mercer had tightened up more on their element

leader. On their right, a B-24 with its No.3 tank on fIre, blew up and three of the men got

out of the waist. The others didn't have a chance. They saw engines torn away from their

mounts on one plane. At least three of the boys pulled their chutes too quickly, the silk

caught frre and they plummeted to earth.

The enemy also had a rough time of it. From his window, copilot, Lt. Pouliot, saw

an FW -190 going down in flames. "A German plane in a death spin crashed into another

enemy fIghter and they went down together. Meanwhile our nose gunner, S/Sgt. Theodore

E. Hoiten, was frantically busy keeping the fIghters off Isom's tail. His plane was slightly

higher than ours and a little to the right. FW-190s were coming up from beneath and trying

to get him from the belly. When one of them stalled in front of us, I saw Ted's guns

blazing and the turret shaking from the long burst that he gave the Nazi who hung there

trying to pump Isom's ship with 20-mm shells. Then the fIghter caught on fIre, and went

down to disappear in the clouds."

"Another fIghter came up under the tail of Isom's ship but couldn't get him so he

swung around hard to his left and came in at us at 2 0' clock, with all his guns blazing. It

looked as though the leading edge of his wing was on frre. I thought that we had it, but our

engineer, T/Sgt. Kenneth Kribs, turned his top turret as fast as he could and took on the

attacking plane. Again our plane shook from a long burst. The Nazi plane kept on coming


80 CRUEL SKY

closer and Kribs still kept shooting; then suddenly there was nothing in front of us but

debris."

"Another attack came in from the left side and I could feel several hits. Lt. Mercer

switched on the autopilot and we found we could still fly. Then we waited for another

attack."

Under the constant assaults of more than 100 German fighters, the formation of

thirty-five B-24s in five minutes was down to 12 ships. The stragglers, unable to keep up

any longer with the few remaining aircraft, were in such bad shape that, even without the

enemy, their future seemed short. All on board knew they could not last any longer nor

sustain more damage. The Germans were coming back for the kill. Gunners were reporting

fighters climbing to knock off the survivors. Others were diving from twelve o'clock. No

doubt the 445 th Group would "buy the farm."

Thank God, they were P-51s. They ripped through the incoming FW-190s. The

Jerries got it too.

The FRENCH crew

Tail gunner, Sgt Schwartz, had only 40 rounds of ammunition left in one gun while

the other one remained jammed. "Up to this time, I could see only one P-38 around us. I

noticed four more FW-190s coming in at us but still quite a distance out. I immediately

told my copilot If it hadn't been for the sound of the engines, everyone on the ship would

have heard me praying for help from the big boy upstairs. Out of nowhere came two more

P-38s. They started to dive for the four intercepting FW-190s and the last I saw of these

planes, they were diving through the clouds."

Unfortunately it was too late for the group. Too late for the twenty-two planes that

had ended up as a twisted smear of metal, some 23,000 feet below; the last resting place of

mangled and burned bodies. Too late for the numerous airmen who were floating in their

chutes, alive but falling down to unknown developments inside the Third Reich.


The modem knight

A waist gunner ready to repel the enemy.

Look at his M-3 flak helmet and A-14 oxygen mask,

his full M-l flak vest (front and rear parts) and M-4 apron.


.....- • - Formation heading when under attacks

:.

•••................ _•••.••••....•..••....•••••••..•.....................................••••.•••...............................•

·

.

.

~ ~~~ ~

: Hessisch Lichtenau Eschwege :

~ [Fromm J : ·

:.

Eisenach ·

CI'J.:

Q.I'

.-. e~

"!t': @:hilton-~

M :

·

.


~ ."",..

.L-.

~

Bad Hersfeld

.~.

Bad Salzun~en

· . ·

~ •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• _•••••••••••••••••••••• 1

0( )0

32 miles

·

Crash site

Crash sites

Each ship receives its proper squadron identification

Notice how close the ships fell close from each others, except Jones and Fromm

who both set the autopilot before leaving their planes


The Bail Out

81

Chapter 4

THE BAILOUT

(In this chapter, the information is furnished by individual with his crew indicated and in

chronological order so the same person may appear several times because of the timing of

the happenings.)

Copilot Nelson Dimick (PEARSON crew)

"When I pulled the ripcord, I received a severe jolt that tore the heavy flying boots

from my feet. The carnage around me was unbelievable; aircraft blowing up, parts of

aircraft filled the air, machines on fire. All of a sudden it was deathly silent. I had opened

the chute at high altitude; it would take a long time to descend. Soon after I passed out. I

came to just as I broke through the cloud cover at some 5-8,000 feet altitude.

"I had left the State of Vermont hardly 18 months earlier and here I was alone,

floating down in a parachute in the middle of Germany. 1 thought briefly of my birthday

party and the date 1 would miss that evening and who the hell would steal my booze. 1 was

still some 4,000 feet from the ground when 1 saw an aircraft coming at me - an Me-l09.

After all 1 had been through that bastard was going to kill me in my chute. He passed me,

turned, and came back. He flew by me very close and very slowly and saluted. I gave him

one back and felt relieved. 1 was still alive.

"But the hard reality came back again. 1 had only summer socks and my very thin,

felt, heated booties on my feet. My landing was rough. Thanks a heap, at least the damn

chute had opened, so the boys from the equipment shop had something going in their favor.

"My right waist gunner, Harry Tachovsky, landed about 50 feet from me. I wanted

to run for the nearby woods but Harry had an injured leg. We met a French farm worker in

the field. He was part of a forced labor group imported from France. Shortly 1 saw a

farmer and a very young boy approaching from the direction of farm buildings. The farmer

was very old, small, stoop-shouldered and carned a very ancient double-barreled shotgun.

He was probably more afraid of us than we of him, he was shaking rather badly. Both

Harry and I were afraid he would accidentally fire the shotgun - with his hand shaking so

badly.


82 CRUbLSKY

"Later, a Gennan officer on a horse came galloping up. Things were getting

crowded. From another direction came a three-wheeled motorcycle with sidecar and three

young kids in some kind of brown unifonn bouncing around, hanging on for dear life while

riding over the rough field. The officer searched us for guns but in vain. Harry, the other

waist gunner, Dwight, and I were taken to a basement in a jail in Eisenach, only a short

distance east of where Harry and I landed."

Pilot Ralph Pearson (PEARSON crew)

"When my chute opened, it jerked me so hard that my beautiful fleece-lined flight

boots came off. As I floated down in my stocking feet I thought, 'Nuts, some Gennan kid

is going to be wearing those comfortable boots. '

"On the way down, the fighters who had shot us down made a couple of turns

around my parachute. I tried to play dead because we had heard that sometimes pilots had

been machine-gunned after parachuting out.

"When I landed, there were three or four soldiers waiting for me. As a matter of

fact, the soldiers looked friendlier than the farmers with their pitchforks who were standing

around. One of the soldiers said something and it sounded a little like the Swedish word 1

had learned as a kid which meant 'smarting or burning.'

"1 said'Ja' because my face felt like it was burning up.

"The Wehnnacht soldiers put me in a motorcycle sidecar and drove me to a

Luftwaffe hospital nearby. It was obvious that their pilots got fIrst-class treatment. The

hospital was clean and well-equipped. They put me into some kind of holding area."

Copilot Gerald Kathol (POTTS crew)

"I had opened my chute too early with only one strap buckled. I landed in a field

where young ladies were putting hay in piles. I was unable to walk but not in great pain. I

buried a few personal items and gave my chute to one of the 'pretty girls. '

"Shortly, an old man came to the spot on the side of the slope with a young lady in

his presence. He said: 'Ich shiess dich.' He had a relic of a handgun but made no further

advances and his lady partner told him to put the gun away. Soon after, a soldier in

unifonn appeared and told the little old man to haul me into town."


The Bail Out

83

Pilot Raphael Carrow (CARROW crew)

"I 'counted to 10 and pulled the ripcord. I looked up, but saw nothing. I was falling

through a cloud. The jerk I felt soon after I pulled the cord was the only assurance the

parachute had opened. Soon I saw the ground rushing towards me. I must have gotten out

of the plane not a moment too soon. In the comparatively short interval before hitting the

ground, I could see only that I was landing in a field.

"I landed within a fence in a prison labor camp and was 'greeted' by a Wehnnacht

soldier."

Radio operator Jack Erickson (GOLDEN crew)

"As soon as I hit the slipstream, my helmet and oxygen mask were ripped from my

head. I had neglected to buckle the chinstrap. I resisted the urge to pull the ripcord at this

altitude and took a free-fall which seemed like an eternity to me. As I fell, I saw a chute far

below me. I was rapidly catching up to it The ground now seemed to rush up and I could

distinguish farmhouses, fields, and trees below. At approximately 2,000 feet, I pulled the

rip cord. About two seconds later, I felt a sharp, strong jolt as the canopy blossomed and

bit the air. It was vel)' reassuring to look up and see the large white expanse above me.

"The sudden deceleration caused my right foot flying boot to keep on going. I

stuffed the rip cord into the rear pocket of my flight suit By God, I was going to remember

what I did with mine. I watched the chute below me descend and land in an open area

between two wooded areas. Approaching the ground, my chute drifted me right over the

heads of a group of farm workers. I was barely 100 feet above them but not one of them

looked up or saw me. My chute carned me over a clump of woods where I descended into

the trees. There my chute snagged on the top of a pine and the canopy collapsed. I was left

dangling about 20 feet above the ground.

"Grabbing the shroud lines with my right hand, I tried to lift my weight off my

harness so that I could unsnap the leg harness straps with my left hand. Without warning,

the limb that had snagged the chute suddenly let go and I fell to the ground, chute and all. I

landed so heavily on my feet that my knees were jammed under my chin. I apparently

passed out for a few moments and when I came to I had a terrific pain in my lower back.


84 CRUEL SKY

When I stood up the pain was more acute and it was difficult to walk. I got down on my

hands and knees and gathered up my chute and buried it beneath the pine needles and

leaves that I gathered from around me. I then crawled to the edge of the woods where I

could see the clearing and saw the other parachutist walking across the field.

"I picked up a dead tree limb that was lying on the ground and using it as a crutch I

stood up and yelled at him. I hobbled out of the woods toward him and it was not until I

had exposed my position that I saw a uniformed man holding a shotgun some yards behind

the other airman. It was too late for me to change direction as the armed man had seen me.

He waved his arm motioning me to continue over to his location. As I approached I was

very surprised to see our copilot, Bob Christie. I now took a closer look at our captor.

"He was wearing a futmy-shaped hat that was curved to fit the rear ofhis head like a

skullcap and it had a circular crown in the front. The front of the hat was embellished with

a large silver-like sunburst badge. He wore a greenish gray military-like tunic over riding

breeches and polished knee-high boots. He was an elderly man, probably in his sixties.

"He appeared to be very nervous and his shotgun shook as he covered Christie and

me. With one hand he gave us a pat search but could not fmd any weapons. He did pull

the ripcord from my pocket and by the expression on his face I could tell he was puzzled as

to what it was. Perhaps he thought it was some kind of a secret weapon. In a somewhat

shaken voice he said to us: 'For you der var is uber.'

"As it turned out, he was the local policeman; in fact, he was the only one in the

area. He motioned to me to put down the limb I had been using for a crutch and for me to

sit down on the ground. He then took Christie into the woods where I had landed to

retrieve my parachute. They soon returned with it. Apparently, I had not hidden it as well

as I thought I had. He motioned for Christie to carry me piggyback while he gathered up

both chutes that he half carried and half dragged and we started off for the local village

about a quarter of a mile away.

"Upon arrival in the tiny village, we were taken directly to the local jail which

consisted of one small cell with a barred door and window. The cell contained two straw

ticks on wooden frames. The jailer was a jovial, robust woman about 40 years old. She

and the policeman quickly searched us and confiscated all of our belongings. In my case it

included my GI issued wristwatch, a pack ofCamel cigarettes, and my cigarette lighter.

ii


The Bail Out

85

"The jailer was quite friendly and after the policeman departed, I coaxed her into

giving me back two of my Camels that they had confiscated. Christie and I sat down for a

much~needed smoke, the first since before take-off that morning. As the longest day in my

life came to a close and darkness settled in, the jailer brought each of us a bowl of very thin

barley soup. After which we settled down on the straw ticks to try to get some sleep,

wondering what tomorrow would bring."

Bombardier Malcolm MacGregor (SOLLIEN crew)

"As soon as I was clear of the plane, I popped my parachute. We had been told to

delay our fall until we were close to the ground, but there were only clouds below so I was

nervous about waiting. I had been without oxygen for a few minutes. I had not bothered to

get a walk-around oxygen bottle.

"In what seemed like a few seconds, the air battle had gone and I was left alone in

the sky. A feeling of loneliness overwhelmed me. I was by myself descending in a survival

parachute. I was in the middle of Germany, I could not speak the language and I was the

'enemy.' I could not see any of the ground - it was completely blocked by the clouds.

When I was about half way down, I saw two fighter planes coming toward me. I thought

they were German fighters but then they pulled around me and I could see they were ours ­

P-51s. After the fighters waggled their wings at me and left, I was all alone again.

"It seemed like a long time before I broke through the clouds. I think I must have

taken about 15 minutes to descend in the parachute. I saw that I was going to land in a

plowed field. I looked up at my chute and before I could look back down, I hit the ground.

My ankle was badly injured and I thought it might be broken. However, I was alive. I had

some shrapnel in my legs and a very badly-sprained right ankle. The good news was that I

was alive and had no serious injuries.

"Before I hit the ground I had seen a small car driving on a road beside the plowed

field. After I landed, I was lying on the ground. I lifted myself on one elbow and saw two

German soldiers standing by the parked car. One of them waved a small pistol at me and I

waved back. I was trying to show that I was unarmed. The soldiers realized it so they

walked the 200 feet or so to where I was lying, helped me up and out of my parachute. I

had tied shoes to my parachute by the laces but when the chute opened the laces, broke so I


86 CRUEL SKY

had no shoes and had to walk in my heated flying slippers. I wore only a heated flying suit.

long underwear. aT-shirt. a regular shirt, a sweater, socks and heated flying slippers.

"It was very painful for me to walk but with help from the soldiers I was able to

walk to the car. They put me in the back seat of their two-door car, climbed in the front

seat and drove me to an open field where they were assembling the prisoners. I remember

one of the soldiers saying, 'for you the war is over' and so it was. There must have been

about 100 of us in the field. I lit a cigarette and all of a sudden we could hear an airplane

flying low and firing guns. I was to fmd out later that some of the German fighter planes

were strafing the prisoners on the ground. My pilot said he was strafed but fortunately he

was missed. The German guards went into the woods and we were left alone in the middle

of the field. Fortunately, no planes strafed us. We were alive, some of us wounded and in

our way to becoming 'Kriegies. '"

Top turret gunner Ammi Miller (SOLLIEN crew)

"I had made a free-fall until I entered the clouds below me. I came down in a

forested area, injuring my left ankle on impact in a tree. Some civilians arrested me and I

was led to a compound housing political prisoners."

Radio operator Charles Graham (SOLLIEN crew)

"I remembered the advice: 'Donlt release your chute until you see that there is no

debris or danger of the chute being caught on fire from planes.' I watched and saw that all

was clear, then I released my chute. I landed in a chefI)' tree. A peasant and his wife

helped me out of the chute and took me to their home. Shortly thereafter, the Volksturm

arrived and said for me the war was over. n

During the first interrogation, Graham met his pilot, Carl Sollien, who was wearing

the cap of James Bridgeo, the left waist gunner. Sollien told him he had been forced by the

Germans to pick up dead airmen. He went through their plane, which had practically landed

itself. He found that three men were still in the rear portion of the plane. Two had no head

and one had no face. The nose turret navigator, John Dent, was still in the nose. The

copilot, William Koenig, was lying about 100 feet from the plane.


The BailOut

87

Left waist gunner Warren Pendleton (JONES crew)

"I did a free-fall until 1 was very close to the ground. 1 was still swinging from the

chute opening when I hit the ground, slamming to my back in freshly-cut cabbage stalks. I

had been hit numerous times by shrapnel, hit in the thigh by a bullet, and my face and

hands were burnt. Some civilians picked me up in the field."

Right waist gunner Willis Meier (JONES crew)

"I came to at 2500 ft, rolled over and opened my chute. My shoes were shot off and

three panels of the chute tore. I managed to steer the chute into a garden plot surrounded

by trees. I landed very hard all - shot up and with no shoes on. My feet and lower legs

were all black and blue up to the knees. I was hit in lower right leg, upper right leg and in

the groin through the hipbone and out the butt left side, hands burned.

"Civilians and a Luftwaffe soldier arrested me. An old man was going to kill me

with a knife so I drew my .45 caliber pistol and backed him off. The soldiers said to give it

to them so the crowd could see I was their prisoner. 1 did that. The old women spit on me.

The two soldiers showed up with a truck and took me to a German hospital."

Nose turret gunner Milton Lee (JONES crew)

"Upon entering the cloud cover, the thought went through my mind: 'What if this is

a fog?' Seconds later, as I couldn't wait any longer, I pulled the ripcord. The chute then

opened with such an impact and with such force, it jerked me so hard that I passed out.

"When I came too, I was below the clouds, but still quite high. From then on things

began to go against me. As I got closer to the ground I was able to make out the German

countryside with its ever-changing terrain. I passed over the hills and wooden areas and a

river. Upon closer observation, I saw a small cemetery with all sizes of head stones. It

would be just my bad luck, since things were going so good for me already, to land and

smack into one of them, which would be an ironic twist of fate. Fortunately, my luck was

good and the wind pushed me beyond the cemetery.

"As I was descending, I saw a man with a pitchfork running down a small country

road toward me, anticipating where I would land. He was still quite a distance away from

me, maybe two city blocks. I was trying to control my landing by pulling on the cords, but


88 CRUEIJSKY

it didn't seem to help too much. Then I got prepared to touch down and get my feet ready,

so as to start to run, as to break the fall. But because of such a fast descent, I was unable to

do any of the things that I planned to do in trying to guide my direction and I crumpled to

the ground.

"There was such a pain in my right hip, I thought it must have been broken. I tried

to get up, as the farmer was almost on me. I fell back just as he lunged at me with his

pitchfork I frantically twisted and rolled to my side as fast as I could to avoid its spears

and he plunged the tongs into the ground with such force he broke the handle. Angrily, he

took the splintered handle and stabbed it into my back Thanks to my heavy-heated suit

that I was wearing, it stopped most of the shmp wooden ends from tearing into my flesh.

"All of the time that this was taking place, the townspeople who had watched me

and my chute come down, were coming at me armed with sticks and clubs. I even saw

what seemed to be a 'Burgermeister' with a rifle. But, as they got closer they started to

become somewhat more hesitant to take any action against me. I thought they might

possibly were waiting for the 'Burgermeister' to do something. Upon yelling and

screaming, he raised his rifle - which apparently had no ammo - raised it to my head and

then he hit me across ~my shoulders, breaking it in two. It seemed that it was a prized

possession, for then he got mad and went kind of crazy, which seemed to be a trait of some

of the people from that region.

"The townspeople took up on it. They began to beat me with everything they had.

They split my head open and the blood seemed to bring out their animalistic nature, which

resulted in even more punishment. I heard the sound of gunfrre very close and I was

thinking that someone had a gun and this would be the end of my days in this God-forsaken

country.

"But then for some unknown reason the beating stopped and the people began to

move away from me. Then a German soldier appeared with an automatic rifle and was

waving it at the crowd. It was his gun that I heard. He apparently instructed someone to

help me in the sidecar seat of his motorcycle, all the time letting them know he meant

business. We left, still hearing the yells and cursing and rock throwing. We arrived at a

town and I was put in a small holding cell. The townspeople arrived and they still wanted

more of me, but the soldiers wouldn't let them at me.


The Bail Out

89

"About 40 minutes later, guards came in an open-air car and picked me up and

delivered me to an army garrison of some type and put me in a holding room to await

further developments. An officer came into the room. Everyone stood at attention and

hieled Hitler. Eventually, I, along with other prisoners, was put into some sort of a cell,

which had a four-inch by 12-inch hole in the floor in which to relieve ourselves. There was

also a water basin. However, there were no beds and the floor was concrete and cold.

And, of course, because of my hip injury, cold floor did me no good."

Engineerffop turret gunner Howard Boldt (BAYNHAM crew)

"I knew that I had been hit pretty bad and had been off oxygen for a number of

minutes and, fearing I would pass out without pulling the rip cord, 1 opened my chute as

soon as 1 cleared the plane. 1 looked down; my left boot was gone and 1 was bleeding very

badly. 1 looked at my right foot; blood had filled the boot and was dripping rapidly over

the side. I felt that there was no way that I was going to make it. Everything turned white

and I could not distinguish anything. A fighter circled me but I could not see if it was one

of theirs or ours. If it was a German plane, I was not sure if they would shoot or not. So I

hung real limp as if I was dead. Then I passed out completely.

"Later I regained consciousness but 1 could not distinguish anything but colors. I

saw brown and assumed they were fields, and green which was forest. Then 1 saw green

beneath me, and about the time that I figured I was over a forest, I was in it. My chute

draped over the top of a large evergreen. I was hanging possibly fifteen feet or more from

the ground. 1 ended up right next to the trunk but between limbs. The branches were close

together. 1 tried to get out of my harness but 1 could not use my legs to relieve the tension

on my chute snaps. 1 gave up and figured that if the Germans wanted me, they would have

to get me down. My legs had quit bleeding.

"I must have hung there for about forty-five minutes. No one came so I decided that

I would have to try again. 1 remembered that 1 had a pocketknife along with a few

cigarettes and a lighter in my jacket pocket. 1 cut through my shroud lines, took off my

harness, and lowered myself to a sitting position on the limb below. I was very fortunate

that the limbs were close together. 1 lowered myself to a sitting position all the way down.

The lowest limb was about five feet from the ground and, as I was six-feet-two-inches, I


90 CRUEL SKY

was again lucky. As 1 hung from the lowest limb 1 realized that I was at a point of no

return. 1 could not get down as 1 could not use my legs and I could not go up. 1 finally

pulled myself up a bit and started swinging my body and legs back and forth. When my

legs got in front ofme, 1 let go and fell on my back.

"The ground was covered with the needles from the tree but 1 still hit hard and this

started my legs to bleed again. 1 realized then that 1had left my emergency kit, which was

on my harness, up in the tree. My wife had knitted me a wool scarf and 1 tried to use that

for a tourniquet but it kept stretching and would not work 1 passed out for several hours at

a time. Coming down, 1 was scared about being captured but after a few hours in the

woods 1 was ready. 1knew that I would not make it too long without attention and the most

they could do would be to shoot me.

"I went through my pockets and buried my escape money, maps, etc. and covered

the place carefully with the needles from a tree. "

Tail gunner John Knox (BAYNHAM crew)

"Shortly after pulling the ripcord, 1 felt pretty woozy and soon became unconscious.

I woke up hanging in a tall tree. Some German soldiers arrived and cut me down from the

tree."

(They treated him very well but that was not always the case. Some American

airmen learned their costly lesson that in the Third Reich, the term Prisoners of War (POW)

may have a different meaning. Even crewmembers bailing out from the same ship could be

confronted with different kinds oftreatments, depending on whom they met.)

Left waist gunner John Lemons (BA YNHAM crew)

"I pulled the rip cord almost immediately after clearing the ship. 1 had a new chute

harness and had not adjusted it properly to fit nor had 1 wired escape shoes to my harness.

The leg straps were so loose that they almost decapitated me in the groin area, and the

chute risers ripped off one of my outer gloves, giving me a vicious jolt across the face. 1

was floating down in the middle of the battle. 1could hear gunfire, explosions and the rattle

of guns.

"An Me-l09 was right in the midst ofmy area of descent and I thought he was trying


The BailOut

91

to dump my chute. He was so close I could almost reach out and touch his wing tip and

read the expression on his face. It was not long before, due to the lack of oxygen, I passed

out. I did not come to until just before reaching the cloud cover. My landing was in a

fairly open field area - barely missing a barbed wire fence and trees nearby.

"I landed pretty well but the wind seemed to drag me toward the fence again. 1

managed to get loose from the chute okay. My groin area was hurting badly but all else

seemed pretty good. I surely did not know where 1 was - but folded up my chute while

trying to collect my thoughts. Almost immediately I was confronted by two very irate

farmers armed with pitchforks and ready to do me harm. They must have known for sure

who I was.

"Then very quickly from nowhere came two young Gennan Wehnnacht soldiers

with long rifles and bayonets attached. They took control of me and searched me for

weapons. They found none, as I did not carry my .45 pistol with me. They said 'Raus!'

and started marching me toward a small town. As we headed that way, they collected at

least 10 or 20 captured ainnen from the 445 th • Some of those in the group with me on the

route to the small town were hobbled - some with injuries, broken bones, bums and other

wounds from the air battle.

"Then a spit-and-polish-dressed Gennan in a brown unifonn with boots and pistol

halted the group. He was screaming all kinds of insults, calling us all kind of names, very

belligerent. He was completely out of control and ready to do us immediate harm. I was in

the front row and he began to club those of us including me. I broke ranks as he clubbed

me in the face. I bolted to get out ofhis way and he followed me and cocked his pistol as if

to let me have it. I just knew he was going to shoot me as I stopped. The two young

soldiers then got their act together and yelled 'Raus, raus!' and all we knew it was time to

run as fast and as best we could.

"For some reason the Gennan who accosted us let us go. We double-timed till he

was out of sight and proceeded to a small city hall basement in some small town where

other captured ainnen were also brought in. I did not see another member of my crew and

did not know what had happened to any ofthem. n

Pilot James Baynham (BAYNHAM crew)


92 CRUEL SKY

"I had delayed my chute opening until 2000 feet Immediately after a hard landing

in a field, fanners caught me. I was taken to a small village where the life·threatening

situation could have led to lynching. But some people calmed down the ones who were

most volatile. "

Copilot Peter Belitsos (BRULAND crew)

"When I went out the bomb bay, I saw a few damaged B-24s and, for the frrst time,

fighters. Just then a radial engine fighter, FW-190 or P-47, headed straight at me. I said a

prayer and immediately disappeared in the clouds. I landed on a farm at the edge of a large

grove of trees. A Frenclnnan came running over, turned me toward the trees and helped me

out of my chute, talking excitedly. He was apparently trying to help me escape. However a

small group of farmers were too close behind and captured me. I was punched by a few of

them. One old man was trying to hit me with a gatepost he could hardly lift, but was

restrained. Luckily, the local police came in a short time and took charge. I was taken to a

local lockup in the basement of some officials home, probably the town mayor."

Copilot Walter George Jr. (BRENT crew)

"I had been without oxygen for some time, and I needed to get to a lower altitude

quickly. There were many German fighters in the area. I had a flashback of a poster from

my days in cadet flight training: Cadet Dilbert was suspended in a parachute with a duck on

his head and a big round target painted on his chest. Lined up and coming toward him was

a Japanese aircraft with two big machine guns focused in his direction. I wondered if the

Germans would shoot aviators in parachutes. Also, I was aware of a great number of

fighters and was afraid that I might be caught in a collision caused by the heavy aerial

traffic.

"I was falling, but there was no sensation of it. It was as if I was suspended in

space. I saw aircraft scattered about the sky well above me. I could hear gunfrre and

engine sounds including one that seemed to be running away or diving at very high RPM. I

wondered at the condition of my parachute having gone through the blowtorch three times.

Time would tell. I also knew that I was burned about the head. I was not aware of pain.

From my tucked, cannon ball position, I decided warily to straighten out. I felt for the rip


The Bail Out

93

cord which would open the parachute. This action caused some tumbling and spinning. I

stretched both arms out in a swan-dive position, head down. Perfect control! I tried the

palms of my hands as ailerons. Okay, again perfect control. This was like Superman! It

was an euphoric experience. I loved it to the point where momentarily I forgot about my

predicament; becoming part ofthe elements. How wonderful it must be to be a bird!

"Seeing the overcast far below and feeling that in those clouds I would be safe from

view and would have recovered from any oxygen deficiency, I would open my parachute.

As I began to get closer to the clouds below, I began to get the sensation of falling for the

first time. The approaching clouds formed a solid stratus deck, with no holes. I had no

idea how close to the ground this cloud cover might be. I fell through it quickly with the

ground exposed at some thousands of feet below. I decided to delay opening my parachute

until I reached 1200 or 700 feet. These were height dimensions engraved into my mind

from cadet training.

"After this delay, I pulled the ripcord and threw it away. The opening of the

parachute occurred with the weight on my shoulders as I had been in the swan dive

position. I was jerked upright in a sitting position. The parachute was okay and it worked!

I was aware of a tremendous stillness of motion while suspended in the parachute, as there

was very little wind drift. Strange noises. Lots of debris falling. A big thump somewhere.

I saw a flaming radial engine swoosh into the ground, exploding when it hit the ground.

Small ammunition was going off. I heard the sound of an air raid siren! I was coming

down in a wooded area, and the trees were fast approaching.

"As I touched the tree tops, I assumed a vertical straight position in the harness with

both arms extended upward, though shielding my face. The parachute canopy hooked over

the top of a beech tree and I found myself swinging with the tree trunk just out of reach

about thirty feet above the ground. While resting momentarily in the harness, two foxes

appeared below, confused and agitated by the noise. Assuming that they would fmd a

dense hiding place, I noted their direction so I could reach the same place. Red foxes with

white tips on their tails, they looked as if they had just been groomed for a show. Working

my way over to the trunk of the tree and easing myself down to the ground, I moved off in

the direction ofthe foxes.

"To my surprise, I found that my flying boots had come off. I was moving upward


94 CRUEL SKY

toward higher ground. At some point I crossed a wide walking path in the forest, heard

men's voices, rapidly went thirty to fifty feet to the side of the path, went flat on my

stomach with my face buried in the leaves. There were three men - middle-aged and older,

talking, with a fox terrier being petted by the man on the right as they walked. They

walked right on by, not even the dog noticing me. I waited cautiously, then moved quietly

in the direction of the foxes. I found a dense thicket which I had to crawl underneath to get

into. But once inside, there was a clear space and I could see the clouds above. I heard the

sounds of low-flying aircraft. Looking up, I saw three Me-l09s pass overhead. Glancing at

my watch, it was not yet 11 o'clock in the morning! It had been an active morning,

especially that last hour.

"1 appraised my condition. I was okay, but seemed to have been burned about the

face. My helmet, goggles, oxygen mask, and the long, white silk scarf 1 wore shielded my

face somewhat, but not entirely. There were little ridges around my eyes. Picking at them,

I realized that they were pieces of melted oxygen mask that had stuck to my skin. 1 had no

mirror, so could only feel cautiously. The burned areas were painful. The area near my

right eye was worse, probably because 1 was slower going into the flight deck by the

fireball than the other way. My eyebrows seemed to have been singed off. Strange,

because I thought the tops of my eyes were covered by helmet and goggles. 1 was very

lucky.

"Actually, I felt quite secure and relaxed. 1 discarded my Mae West and my silk

scarf since they were highly visible items. 1 checked my escape kit ... it had been rifled.

No map! It had some hard candy, some water purification tablets, and a small collapsible

canteen bag to carry water. I had a very sharp pearl-handled penknife that I always carried.

I proceeded to cut up my heated suit and made shoes from it. 1 also had a finger nail file.

"1 planned to walk to Switzerland, sleeping during the day, traveling fast by night. 1

would maintain a southeastward direction by using the stars as 1 had been taught as a Boy

Scout. 1 would try to maintain a four-mile-per-hour pace, and try very hard to find Lake

Constance, find a boat, and cross at night. All of Germany was blacked out. Switzerland

had lights so it was simple to tell the difference, but for now, there was nothing to do but

wait until nightfall. 1 pulled my small Bible from my left shirt pocket to read excerpts from

Psalms (my favorite book in the Bible). It opened to the Psalm 91: The security of the


The Bail Out

95

godly. With reinforcement from this kind of literature, what could I lose?"

Radio operator Sammy Weiner (BRENT crew)

"I had free fallen about six thousand feet before pulling the cord. Drifting slowly

down, I hit the ground with a thump, rolling over and over. Silently, I gave thanks unto

God for having spared me. I immediately picked up the chute and hid it along with my

gloves, helmet, and goggles in a nearby bush. Just before hitting the ground I had spied

another chute floating into the forest directly ahead. I must know who it was. There was a

small house in the distance but, seeing no sign of human life, boldly I started to cross the

clearing.

"Halfway across, an ME-I09 buzzed me and I hit the dirt fast. I remembered too

late the briefmg to go around a clearing instead of the way I had so unwittingly chosen. I

quickly, got to my feet again and started for the forest, when I saw two figures three

hundred yards away. They had seen me too and were motioning me toward them. I studied

the men intently for a few moments and from that distance I could have sworn they

resembled two members of my crew.

"I had not gone more than a third of the way when I realized my mistake. There was

no turning back now. As I approached closer I perceived one was a tall, burly man with

small eyes placed closely together under bushy eyebrows; the other was short and stocky

with a heavy mustache predominate on his pimply face. Their garb was tattered and not too

clean. However, they appeared friendly enough, and the tall one asked: 'Englander?'

"I shook my head: 'Americaner,' I answered.

"They conversed between themselves in German and then motioned for me to follow

them. They led me to a farmhouse in a hurried secretive manner. Thinking I might be in

the hands of the underground I went submissively. I was still dazed from my miraculous

escape and my throat was dry and parched. I did not have long to ponder on German

hospitality for upon our arrival at the house the tall man grabbed a double barrel shot gun

and threateningly pointed it at me.

"He then marched me to a small congregation that had assembled around the

wreckage of my ship. A German officer was already there. He began shouting at me in

loud, staccato, German monosyllables. I understood enough of his language to know he


96 CRUEL SKY

was asking me about the plane, our base, and what had happened to the remaining crew, but

I kept shrugging my shoulders, and shaking my head,


The Bail Out

97

"The questioning began: 'What kind of plane; how many engines; how many men in

the crew; how many bailed out, etc.?'

"She giggled foolishly after each question and each of my replies~ '1 can't answer

that.' The officer looked on in disgust. Her eyes opened wide with awe when I remarked

my home was Hollywood. Becoming bolder, I said, 'You're kind of cute.' She burst into a

fit of laughter ending the interrogation.

"As I sat on the ground, I looked up to see a familiar uniform advancing toward me

under guard. 1 drew a long breath overwhelmed with relief at the sight of a friendly face.

He was a First Lieutenant, a pilot of one of the planes that had bombed Kassel that

morning.

"Our guards were to accompany us on foot to a town twelve kilometers away. At

first they kept the Lieutenant and me walking at a considerable distance apart, but after the

first hour, we had decreased the distance enough to talk to each other in pidgin English. It

was four hours before we met five military police of the Luftwaffe. We rode for hours,

passed a large airfield, stopped in a small village where another American prisoner was

taken aboard, and eventually reached a 'dulag' camp.

"At the dispensary there I received some inadequate medical attention and was taken

to the guardhouse, stripped and given a thorough search. Here I consumed a cup of cold

ersatz coffee and one small morsel of black bread, and was pushed into a cold, damp cell.

Almost immediately, I fell into a dead sleep."

Tail gunner Raymond Ray (WARMAN crew)

"I waited until I fell through the clouds to get clear of the battle and pulled the

ripcord. I was hanging in my chute when an FW-190 passed, climbing back up through the

clouds. Then there was total silence; it was a strange sensation. The first sound 1 heard

was a dog barking. I saw a small village below and 20 or 30 people were looking at me as I

came down. We knew that civilians often killed flyers when they caught them so I felt sure

this was my last day to live. 1 thought of my parents and two brothers and felt sorry when

they received the telegram that told them I was missing in action. I landed at the edge of a

small village. The ground was hard and I was barefoot. I was hit three times in the left

arm.


98 CRUEL SKY

"An old man was knocking me around and signaling for me to raise my hands. My

shoulder was shattered so 1 lifted my left hand over my head with my right. He was

searching me and my hand slipped and fell to my side. He thought 1 was reaching for a gun

and hit me again. Two young ladies ran up and pushed the people back. They saw 1 was

wounded and bandaged my wounds from material in my battlefield first aid kit. 1 had

morphine in the kit but they did not give it to me. Maybe they did not know what it was.

After bandaging my wounds, the civilians took me into a small house. They had some

straw on the floor with a blanket over it for me to lie on. The young woman who gave me

first aid took a 22-caliber pistol from her apron pocket and let me see it. She took turns

with the old man to guard me."

Bombardier James Dowling (JOHNSON crew)

"I delayed my chute opening until 1 hit the cloud cover. Before landing, 1 saw two

people looking at me at a railroad crossing. 1 landed in a potato field and was knocked out.

The two old men picked me up and carried me into town. 1 woke up as 1 was being carried.

A young boy, 12-13 years old, was alongside us showing the old men a .45 he had found.

It was mine. It was attached to the electric blanket that covers the gyro. 1 had clipped it

there before we took off. It must have fallen out when 1 went out of the plane.

"Some villagers threw stones at me before 1 was put into a fire brigade building.

Groups of small children came up to the building. When 1 looked out the high windows

facing the street, they screamed and ran away. After a time 1 was taken out with some Red

Cross ladies to the side of a church where a flyer was hanging from a tree by his parachute.

He was dying. They wanted to know if 1 knew him. 1 did not. There was a lot of

confusion. 1 was then thrown into the building where 1 met George Collar and another

airmen whom 1 did not know."

Engineer/Top turret gunner Theodore 1. Myers (MOWAT crew)

"When 1 regained consciousness, 1 found myself hanging in my parachute. 1 saw a

big streaming mass of gasoline on fire go by about two or three hundred feet away. The

slipstream had blown the flames out of my clothes but the fire had already done its terrible

work. My face was so burned that 1 could only see out of the left eye."


The BailOut

99

Tail gunner Frank T. Plesa (MOWAT crew)

(The explosion of Hot Rock had thrown the tail turret out with the gunner still in it.)

!'Somehow, I fell free from my trap of glass and metal. I was groggy but could feel myself

tumbling and twisting in the cold air. I came to while free falling next to our right wing

that was approximately 100 feet away. It was flopping over and over with a swishing

sound and on fire. A horrible sight of the plane I loved. I did not see any other parts of the

fuselage.

"The explosion had taken off my helmet, the oxygen mask, and the goggles. My

heated boots and gloves were missing too. I realized I had a back type chute and was afraid

it may have been burned up badly or was not there. I was not quite sure of myself as yet. I

thought 1 had better try and pull the rip cord. I managed to do it with a badly~burned hand.

I did not feel the chute jerk at all. So I was afraid to look up to see whether or not it

opened. I was relieved to see that white silk all popped and open.

"Floating down, it was very quiet and peaceful. Then after about 10-15 seconds the

ground started coming up and fast. Thank Goodness I was very fortunate to land in a nice

green meadow next to many trees and between high voltage power lines. This was the

place I had in mind where I wanted to land but I could not control my shroud lines because

of my burned hands and chest wounds. I landed very hard in stocking feet, knees bent as

told. I rolled backwards. hit the backside of my head on the ground and this knocked me

out again.

"I came to and saw a Hitler Youth boy, about 14 years old looking down at me. He

also had a small pistol on his belt. I was in shock possibly from burns. My face and head

felt blistered and the skin was tight feeling. My left hand was numb as was my right foot,

my lower leg and chest felt as if I had a bad cut. The Hitler youth boy asked me if I was

English or American. I replied, 'American,' and he said, 'Good.' He spoke English quite

well and helped me unbuckle my parachute harness which was smoldering. I saw the burn

holes in pack and chute. There was a large yellow house and barn 200 yards across the

road.

"He helped me wobble and limp across the road and a woman about 40 years old

came out and they placed me in part of the barn's small sheds. The lady was concerned


100 CRUEL SKY

about me and made me lie down on a ladder with straw on it. She ripped off my jacket and

shirt and other under clothes to look at my chest wound. A part of 20-mm shell had ripped

the right side of my breast. She ran her finger over it and said: 'Gut.' She gave me an

apple and then two German soldiers came in. The lady did all she could in first aid, and

then rigged up her carriage with a horse. They put me on it with the two German soldiers,

herself, and a red-haired bombardier. He was mad because he had been shot down and

captured by the soldiers. He more or less blamed the gunners on our bombers. They took

us to a village six miles away - OberurseL

"She went in her doctor's home with me. He gave me a shot; it made me feel better.

Then they took me to a small railroad station and left me alone waiting for a train. It took

all afternoon before a train picked me up. I was transported to a hospital in Frankfurt

where Catholic nuns gave me a shot and removed all the shrapnel they could - about a half

hand full of brass and lead that they put in my shirt pocket. They gave me more first aid

and dressed my wounds. We slept on stretchers the first night in the hallways of this

bospital."

Pilot William Bruce (BRUCE crew)

"After free falling for an eternity, I pulled the rip cord. The chute opened and I hit a

very large tree within four or five seconds. My right leg was hung up over a branch and

wrapped around my neck It took me some time to untangle myself and climb down this

fiftywfoot tree.

"What was left of my ship crashed into the forest not too far from me along with

several others causing a massive forest fire. No one evidently saw my chute however I

heard a lot of yelling and screaming about something. It was probably about the fire.

Several dogs growled at me but were fmally called by their owners.

"It took me about ten hours crawling through the trees and along the stone walls to

fmd a bouse. By this time I knew I was badly hurt - I could not stand up covered with

blood and really, really hurting.

"I crawled along a fence to a farmhouse - a man and two women came out and

carried me into the house. They tried to wash my face and give me some milk but I could

not even swallow. I think they thought I was dying and I wasn't so sure I wasn't.


The Bail Out

101

"After a few minutes their grandson who was about 10-12 years old came in and

pointed a small rifle at me. His grandfather knocked it out of his hands. With that, the

little bastard ran out of the house and retmned with seven soldiers all carrying submachine

guns.

"Their fear of me was incredible. They pointed their guns at me and started yelling.

Not being able to move, and lying flat on my back, I certainly did not pose a threat to them.

Finally an officer, after trying to communicate with me, spoke in French. This I

understood. He questioned me first as to whether I was carrying as pistol - I said 'no.'

Then he searched me and was satisfied that I wasn't going to shoot them all.

"Next he wanted to know the bomber group 1 was in and what type of plane I was

flying. I gave only my name, my rank and serial number as we had been instructed in

situations such as this. Thirty minutes went by - same questions - same answers.

"Soon several other German officers arrived and put me in a horse drawn open farm

wagon. We proceeded to drive to a village where it seemed like half the German

population had gathered. I certainly was the center of attention. They cursed me - spit on

me - hit me with rocks - sticks - fists and anything else they happened to have handy.

Finally after the officer had had the glory of capturing me, they put me in a small barn. I

really thought I was dying at this time. The crowd did not let up on me and continued to

throw stones through the windows and pound the walls. After about three hours everybody

left."

Navigator Corman Bean (SCHAEN crew)

"1 free fell until I reached the cloud cover, then I pulled the rip cord. When 1 came

out, I was close enough to the ground that I could pick out individual trees in the forest, so

that had to be pretty low.

"I was caught in a tree. I got over to the trunk and was able to take some of the slack

off the cords on the parachute and shinny on down the tree."

Bombardier George Collar (SCHAEN crew)

"I came down in stocking feet close to a little village and was quickly captured by

three men, one on a bicycle, and two farmers carrying pitchforks. They marched me back


102 CRUEL SKY

to the village where a crowd lined the streets to get a close up look at me. It was like

walking down a gantlet, and I sensed their hate. A teenager stepped out and kicked me with

his big rubber boots. We stopped in the courtyard of the Burgenneister's house. They

made me loosen my pants and hold my hands out while they searched me. 1 was standing

there with my pants around my ankles when a guy came through the crowd and planted his

fist right between my eyes. While he was swinging again and again, I was trying to get my

pants back and to dodge away from his big fists. Finally I got my pants up and had two

hands to work with so he broke away and picked up a long-handled spade. He swung at me

with this square-nosed spade. I ducked and felt it whistle over my head. I closed in on him

and got hold of the spade. As we were wrestling, an old man with a big walrus mustache

and a green felt hat came out of the crowd and started to help me. Then the Burgenneister

and the village cop came to my aid and disarmed the ugly looking farmer. They marched

me away from the crowd to the local jail. They locked the door and 1 sat on the straw on

the floor. What was going to happen next?"

Waist gunner Glen McCormick (CHILTON crew).

"I was the first to bail out from the rear of the airplane. 1 delayed opening my chute

to avoid detection from the ground, if 1 could. My oxygen mask was flipping me in the face

and I decided enough was enough and pulled it off and dropped it. To my surprise, it went

up not down!

"I opened my chute when I dropped into a cloud undercover - I didn't know where

the ground was and I wasn't going to take a chance. After passing through the clouds, I saw

two airplanes headed toward me and I said, 'I'm going to get shot for sure!' It turned out

they were P-51s and not ME-I09s. One of them went right on by and the other circled me

and waved. I thought you son-of-a gun you are going back to a nice warm bed and 1 don't

know where I'm going!

"Nearing the ground, 1 saw many chutes already on the ground. It was obvious that

several airplanes were downed in this immediate area. I landed in a tree and my chute

caught in the top of it. 1 was about 10 feet from the ground. I swung on my chute to the

trunk of the tree and slid down to the ground.

"I came across a small lean-to made from small branches and limbs. This was


The Bail Out

103

obviously a project of a young lad. I know because I built one very similar as a youngster.

This appeared to be a good place to spend the time waiting for darkness."

Left Waist Gunner Lawrence Bowers (MINER crew)

"I fell through a tree. I tried unsuccessfully to break my fall by grasping the limbs.

As soon as I hit the ground, I found a place to hide under some logs. Soldiers and captured

airmen stopped on the road just above me. One soldier stepped out to urinate and saw me."

(Bowers was invited to join his fellow prisoners. Among them he found his tail

gunner, Arthur Lamberson.)

Navigator Frank Bertram (MINER crew)

"I landed in a forest in the middle of tall trees. My chute caught in them and

collapsed, sending me forward through the branches. I hit the dirt very hard, and when I

came to, I was laying on my back. I had been out a little bit. I could not move and I

thought my back was broken. That really scared me. I could move my arms alright and

my parachute was laying alongside of me there. So the first thing I had to do was try to

hide it. I started to pull on it. I rolled over, dragging my legs and digging with my elbows.

I crawled along to pull the chute together, then threw branches over it as best I could.

These were some of the branches I broke off coming down the tree."

'''Pretty soon movement started to come back to my legs and I looked down at my

feet. I had on the big, leather, fur-lined boots and I took one of them off and boy, you talk

about swollen. That foot was three times its normal size. But I got that big flying boot

back on it. I crawled for a long time, sitting down and crawling, sitting down and crawling

again. I was trying to hide undemeath the trees and the bank of a little creek there. My

foot was so bad I could not bend it any way."

Pilot Reginald Miner (MINER crew)

"I was falling head first, on my back, feet up, watching my plane spinning down

right above me. I didn't pull the ripcord since 1 thought the opening chute might foul on

the plane. We kept falling at about the same speed. I finally rolled over to see how far

down the ground was and found it to be close, so pulled the ripcord, and the chute popped


104 CRUEL SKY

1 swung out once and dropped on my back in a lush, grassy meadow.

"I jumped up, looked behind me, and saw my burning B·24 less than 100 feet away,

just outside a small town. I saw some woods to the south, took off my chute and Mae West

and started in that direction. I was almost immediately cut off by two unifonned men

running toward me from the town. They took me to the police chief's house."

Waist gunner Glen McConnick (CHILTON crew)

"I was still quiet in my shelter. Earlier in the afternoon, I had heard voices and the

sound of horses and a wagon. From the topside of the bluff, I had seen women digging

potatoes. And now the wagon went by, evidently going home. The edge of the woods was

a scant 15 feet from the shelter I had borrowed.

"After the wagon passed, I heard the noise of someone approaching. It was a small

boy about 8·9 years of age who was probably checking on his secret retreat. I stepped from

the shelter and said, 'Hi.' When he saw who I was, his jaw dropped and his eyes got as big

as saucers! He took off on a dead run and needless to say I did too. It was my frrst eye to

eye contact with a Gennan citizen!"

Bombardier George Collar (SCHAEN crew)

(His loneliness in the small jailhouse was short. After 5-6 minutes, George Eppley

was also brought into the same cell. Then, they heard a commotion and somebody yelling:

"You can not do that to a U.S. officer." Obviously they could and the man ended up on the

straw floor. It was Lt. Sommers. When the little cell was full of American ainnen, the

Gennans rushed them out and lined them up. From that line they picked three men out ­

George Collar, George Eppley, and Sommers. The Gennan soldiers loaded the other

ainnen in a truck and they went away.)

"They marched the three of us down the street and put us in two horse-drawn

wagons filled with hay. We had an escort of civilians, boys and men, all armed to some

extent. Hans, a little short man, had a Mauser pistol with a wooden holster. This wooden

holster was half as long as his leg. I had no idea what they were going to do with us. It

(The Gennans led them out of the village and stopped. They motioned the three

American ainnen into an orchard. There, it became clear to Collar and his two friends what


The Bail Out

105

the Jerries wanted them for - to pick up the dead bodies of their fallen comrades.)

"Lying on the ground, was the body of one of our men who had landed without a

chute. We picked him up to put him in the horse-drawn wagon, every bone in his body was

broken, his head was flattened. A Gennan removed one of his two dogtags and put it in an

envelope. 1 glanced at the second dogtag and saw the name of Bateman.

"Then, we went in a pasture and 1 found two legs. He was an officer as he had his

'pinks' on. In the middle of an open field, we came across a radioman named Joseph

Gilfoil, who was Eppley's friend. He had a bad leg wound, but came down in a chute. He

was lying in a pool of blood and was dead.

"We traveled up and down the hills and forests and did not return to the village until

well into the evening. We returned to jail to receive a loaf of bread and some ersatz coffee.

Later that evening, we were picked up by a Wehnnacht truck, which was filled with

wounded men from the 445 th . Some of them were in very bad shape, with terrible wounds.

Among them we found Lt. Gerald Kathollying near the tailgate in considerable pain. We

thought that his back was broken."

(The Luftwaffe soldiers came in at 11 :00 PM to pick up Raymond Ray. His fellow

ainnen carried him in the flat bed truck to a hospital at Eisenach. The able men carried all

the wounded to an emergency room on the second floor. Others were kept in the basement

of the Eisenach city hall. There were at least 20 to 24 ainnen with all kind of wounds,

including burns. Some could not walk. There was little first aid available except for gauze

dressing, salve for burns and aspirin.)

Engineer/Top turret gunner Howard Boldt (BAYNHAM crew)

"Night came and I decided to attract some attention so 1 gathered some of the

needles from the tree and started a fire. 1 was careful not to set the whole woods on fife, as

1 did not want that much attention. Just as I got my fife going I heard an air raid siren in the

distance. I figured the British bombers were coming and then I heard them. I knew that

they flew very low so I put my fire out real quick, as I did not want them shooting at me.

"I became very thirsty and I remembered seeing what I thought might be a pond

about hundred and fifty feet from me. The only way 1 could move was in a sitting position.

I would raise my behind and go backward dragging my legs. I made about a hundred feet


106 CRUEL SKY

in a little over three hours and where I had thought there was a pond did not turn out to be

one. I did however go directly to a wagon rut in a trail that had some water in it. I did not

wony about how clean it was. Later that night I heard a slight noise. I called out and it

must have been a deer as it took off real fast. The trail appeared to be fairly well used. I

remember seeing movies of the Germans in these large touring cars driving through the

woods real fast so I moved to one side of the trail just in case."

Waist gunner Glen McCormick (CHILTON crew)

"After dark, I dug some potatoes in a nearby field and put them in the lining of my

flight jacket. I crossed the bridge over the river, the railroad tracks, and made my way to

the autobahn. I started walking on it in a southerly direction. I hadn't walked too long

before I passed another village east of the road. After passing that village, I left the

autobahn and went into the forest. By that time, I was extremely tired and needed to rest.

It had been a long, long day!"


The Way Back

107

Chapter 5

THE WAY BACK

Twelve of 35 ships were leaving the so-called vertical front, but they were still in the

danger zone - a gigantic tri-dimensional web where hungry spiders wearing black crosses

could pick them up for dinner. The surviving bombers had lost their tight formation. They

were the pitiful remains of one of the top bombing accuracy groups in the entire Second

Bombardment Division. There would be no more marksmanship award in "Target

Victory," which designated them as the three-month accuracy champs. Today they were

fighting simply to survive and make it back home.

The BRULAND crew

As the fire in No. 3 engine would not go out, copilot Peter Belitsos went back to the

fuel transfer control panel with engineer Stephen Gray. They went through the procedure

again and again but nothing worked. "We flew for quite a while losing altitude and were

now fully expecting that the ship would blow up when Palmer hit the bell. "

As the autopilot was not working, pilot Palmer Bruland tried to trim the plane so he

could get to the bomb bay and jump. But when he left the controls, the ship nosed up.

After going back and leveling off a few times, he fmally made it out.

The nine-man crew parachuted safely from 922-Q which went down 3 kilometers

southeast of Giessen.

The DEWEY crew

Because the intercom was out, pilot William Dewey sent his copilot, 2nd Lt.

William Boykin Jr., to the waist to report on the damage. Looking out the copilot's

window, the pilot could see a three-foot diameter hole in the upper surface of the wing

behind the No.3 engine, where lOO-octane gasoline was splashing out: "When he came

back, Boykin was shaken. The tail turret had caught fire, and both waist gunners were

wounded and bloody along with the tail gunner. There was a huge hole in the right waist

ahead of the window, and the left waist window was shattered. Control cables to the tail


108 CRUEL SKY

were partially damaged, and the twin vertical rudders were frayed and disintegrating. The

hydraulic fluid flIe at the tail turret was quickly extinguished. There was no oxygen and

the electric flying' suits were inoperative in the waist.

"Navigator 2nd Lt. Herbert E Bailey took over the nose turret. The nose turret

gunner, Leslie Medlock, made numerous trips from the front of the ship through the bomb

bay, carrying portable oxygen bottles to the three wounded gunners, covering one of them

with his jacket and applying flIst aid. Fortunately our VHF radio performed perfectly, and I

made several calls to the group leader asking him to slow down from 160 mph air speed

indicated, because our ship was shaking and shuddering like it was about to break apart."

The MERCER crew

Pilot Jackson Mercer had tried to stay close to Isom' s ship but could only keep him

in sight - formation was out of the question. He sent copilot Leo Pouliot and engineer

Kenneth Kribs to check on crew members and damages.

In the bomb bay, the copilot saw that the whole fuel system was damaged: "Our

main tanks must have been hit, and gas was coming from the seams. The fuel~transfer

pump was out and the cross-feed leaked badly, Kribs told me he thought the self-sealing

line would plug itself up, so there was some hope of saving gas. 1 went past the bay back

into the waist. The boys had had a rough time there, and the sides of the ship looked like

an old-fashioned potato-grater.

"George Noorigian, the bombardier, was on the right waist and Harry Wheaton was

on the left. They gave me a slight grin but not the usual smile. Both remained at their guns

and were on the watch for more fighters. 1 noticed the broken oxygen bottles, and George

told me that when the bottles were hit the waist got full of white smoke. One ofthe 20~mm

shells had exploded in a box beside the bombardier, and only the stout box-sides had saved

the boys from shrapnel. George told me how he had, practically sitting on the floor, tried to

get a fighter that was coming in high when a 20-mm shell came through and missed his rear

by about four inches.

"I went to see the tail gunner, Harry Lied. He smiled a little and said he was all

right, although he had been without oxygen for five minutes during the battle. I noticed the

tail was shaking badly. Next I went forward to the nose to talk to Milton Fandler, the


The Way Back 109

navigator. Everything was all right there and he was figuring the shortest way home for us.

After spending a few minutes with him, I went back to the cockpit."

PoUliot and Kribs reported back to pilot Mercer that the crew was "all shook up" but

OK - nobody hurt! "As for damage - we had no rudder controls, no radio, no hydraulic

pressure, low oxygen and the No.2 engine was running very rough. Both Kribs and

Pouliot were concerned about the amount of gas we were losing, and could not make an

estimate of how much flight time we could expect. They had found a major leak in the

bomb bay crossRfeed along with a hydraulic leak. Kribs had cranked open the bomb bay

doors about a foot to reduce the danger of explosion and fIfe, and he warned each crew

member about no smoking. Paul said the waist and tail sections looked like a sieve from

shrapnel damage, and jokingly told of a 20-mm shell that exploded in a box of chaff which

was stacked immediately behind George Noorigian on the floor with no damage.

"As soon as we got this information I asked Paul to go down to the navigator's table

and ask Milton Fandler for a course to an RAP emergency field at Manston, England. I

knew a route to Manston would put us over friendly territory quicker than a course direct to

our home base, giving us a better opportunity to get on the ground safely if we ran out of

gas or some other emergency developed. I also liked the idea of Manston's very long

runway over an up-and-down terrain for a 'no flaps, no brakes landing,' and I knew that

they were well equipped for emergency landings.

"We increased power to catch up with Isom to let him know we were OK even if we

could not contact him by radio - just to wave and say 'bye.' We needed to get to a lower

altitude soon because of the low oxygen supply so we began letting down at 500 and then

300 ft. per minute. This enabled us to increase our airspeed considerably and then to

throttle back to save fuel. I didn't want to feather No.2 thinking we might just need that

little bit of additional power in any further emergency, but we did throttle No: 2 back

further and reduced the RPMs to reduce the vibrations to a minimum."

The HAUTMAN crew

Mairzy Doats' power plants had been cut in half. There were two holes in the right

wing where No.3 and No.4 engines had been. The tail turret was all shot up, the radio

was almost out and one of the rudders mostly shot off. The ship was losing altitude. The


110 CRUEL SKY

pilot ordered the men to throw out everything they could fmd loose or tear loose including

flak suits, guns, and the auxiliary power unit.

A few minutes later, Carroll Snidow saw two P-38s come in and tuck up near them:

"We got in contact with them to give us a radio fix to our nearest friendly airport. They

gave us a heading to a field in France and told us it was about fifty minutes away. We kept

losing altitude at the rate of 300 feet per minute. It was going to be close but we thought

we had a chance."

The REYNOLDS crew

As the intercom was out of commission, navigator James Withey shifted to a walkaround

bottle and went to investigate the damage sustained by both crew and ship.

Entering the flight deck, he was met by a strong odor of gasoline. The bomb bay doors

were opened to reduce the fire hazard. The waist area was a shambles. Waist gunners

S/Sgt. Lars E. Larsen and Sgt. Maynard Danner were down on the floor, seriously

wounded. Tail gunner Harry Twigg had put out a small hydraulic fife) despite wounds

sustained when the tail turret was hit.

Engineer S/Sgt. James T. Engleman swung his turret from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock to

check the upper surface of the ship from his top turret. Wings and fuselage were riddled by

numerous holes. Two feet of wing and flap were missing from the left wing and No. 2

engine was on fife. The right rudder was flapping wildly and he could see the top of the

tail turret was sheared open like a tin can. The navigator made his way back to the nose

and told Sgt. Robert M. Long, the nose turret gunner, to go to the rear of the plane and take

care ofthe wounded.

Though Little Audrey was alone over Germany, three engines were still pulling and

the fife in the No.2 engine had died out. Pilot Donald Reynolds reduced power and headed

for France. A P-51 showed up but, because of their damaged radio, they were unable to

communicate. A burst of flak shook both ships and the Little Friend left them.

The HAUTMAN crew

Mairzy Doats had been losing altitude for about forty minutes after coming out of

the overcast. The ship was down to 120 mph and was still escorted by the P-38s. Suddenly


The Way Back

III

flak opened up on them. At that time, they were flying so low - 1,200 ft - and going so

slow that they presented a penect target. Number 2 engine started smoking and soon there

wasn't anYthing to do but abandon ship. The pilot gave the order to bailout.

Engineer T ISgt. Thomas Land went frrst from the flight deck, followed by the radio

operator, T/Sgt. Harold W. Giesler, nose turret gunner, S/Sgt. Dale C. Maupin, and then

navigator Maynard L. Jones.

Copilot Carroll Snidow went back to his seat to get his handkerchief and hat: "I

couldn't reach them but I did get my shoes that were tied together under the seat. Then I

just took a step out of the bomb bay. I started falling head over heels. I tried to fall straight

but I couldn't until I remembered something S-2 had told us once: 'Stiffen up.' That I did

and sure enough, it worked. My next thought was to pull the rip cord. I started to pull but

I again remembered the S-2: 'Delay your jump.' I did this for a couple of seconds and then

I pulled it. The chute opened up nicely with scarcely a jerk. However, I dropped my shoes

but caught them with my feet.

"While floating down, I was trying to get my shoes but when I reached down for

them they slipped away. I looked around me. I saw our ship in a steep bank to the right

and very low. It hit the ground and I am glad I wasn't in it. It looked as if the B-24 was

spread out all over Germany. Black smoke came up from the few remains of the airplane. I

then looked below me. I saw that I was going to land in an open field near some woods and

right beside a railroad. There were approximately twenty people working in the field so I

knew that I wouldn't have a chance of escaping.

"I then looked above me and I saw Hautman' s chute. About that time, I hit the

ground. I was finally on the ground without a scratch. The pilot hollered at me before he

hit in the woods over a hill. I got out ofmy chute and awaited my captors.

"They soon came upon me and I was surprised to have one of the women in the

group speak to me in good English. She wanted to know if I was hurt, if I was American or

British. She told me she had a husband in West Virginia and that he liked it over there. I

assume he was a prisoner in America. She told me everything would be OK with me and I

would be treated fme. They took me to a nearby road. In the meantime they brought Land

and Giesler up. They took us in an automobile to Niedermandig air base. We waited three

hours while they searched us. They then brought another crew that had been captured. We


112 CRUEL SKY

had a short ride in a charcoal burning truck to a railroad station."

MairlJ' Doats crashed 2.5 km southwest of Bassenheim, 500 m. east of

"Karmelenberg."

The FRENCH crew

Pilot John French and copilot Robert Cochran were flying the ship with two

feathered props. Gas was leaking in the bomb bay. The battle had been so intense that the

waist area was carpeted with empty shells. The gunners scooped them up and threw them

out the window. One P-38 flew with the damaged ship.

Tail gunner Herbert Schwartz made his way up to the waist position. "We were three

busy boys at this time as we had to throw everything possible out the camera hatch. I threw

out all the flak suits, tore some of the radio equipment and ammunition boxes loose from

the waist positions and dumped them out

"About this time, Lt French called to the navigator asking for our position.

Navigator Robert Tims replied that we had been in friendly territory for two minutes. Just

as he got these words out of his mouth, we heard a bunch of loud noises. Our pilot wanted

to know if we were test firing our guns. We then discovered that we were flying over the

heart of the city of Koblenz, Getmany. This was a terrific shock as we knew now that our

navigator was lost and we had no way to contact anyone."

Then the P-38 came back. The French crew tried to communicate by gestures with

the P-38 pilot but to no avail. Radio operator T/Sgt. Fred N. Fiske found the flashlight and

started to flash the signal 'can we land here.' The P-38 pilot pointed his fmger downward

and pulled away. Assuming they were over friendly territory, French let down beneath the

clouds.

The REYNOLDS crew

When Little Audrey crossed the Rhine River at low altitude, the crew felt they could

finally make it. Suddenly, a hail of shell bursts surrounded them. Pilot Donald Reynolds

and copilot, 2nd Lt. Herbert T. Robinson pushed the controls forward, heading for the deck

to escape the deadly shower. Number 3 engine erupted in flames. Despite the attempt

made by the pilots to shake the anti-aircraft batteries, they remained in the middle of a


The Way Back

113

storm of shells. As the ship cleared a rise and dropped on the other side, radio operator

S/Sgt. Robert C. Sheehan and engineer James Engleman assumed their crash positions on

the flight deck.

Navigator James Withey was standing just behind the pilots: "Just before landing we

lost one of our rudders so we landed slightly on the copilot side. This split the fuselage,

pinning my head between the top and the copilot seat. I was pried out with a gun barrel

used as a bar to lift the top enough so I could slide my head down and out."

Within minutes, a truck came and soldiers surrounded the plane. They made an

opening to free the five men trapped on the flight deck. The pilots, the radio operator, the

engineer, and Withey escaped unscathed and ran to the rear of the plane. The 20-nun shells

had rained through the thin skin of aluminum and exploded in the middle of the already

wounded airmen.

Lars Larsen, the left waist gunner, was dead and right waist gunner Maynard

Danner, was seriously wounded. The tail gunner, Harry Twigg, was wounded too, but less

seriously. Sadly, nose turret gunner Robert Long who, just a few minutes before, was

taking care of his friends, was in a terrible state. Those who were able to walk were taken

under guard to the Niedermandig Air Base.

Little Audrey had "belly landed" 2.5 km east of the railroad station of Polch.

The HEITZ crew

Bugs Bunny had lost half of its firepower and power plants. The three men in the

rear were wounded. In addition to severe damage to the right wing and left rudder, the gas

tanks were leaking. Their chance of returning to base was bleeding in the slipstream.

Under these conditions, losing altitude was inevitable. To reach and clear the front line,

pilot Raymond Heitz ordered the crew to throw overboard everything they could to lessen

weight.

'From his radio operator position, Fabian Mack noticed their ship was now covered

by two P-51s but saw no sign of the other B-24s. When they crossed the Rhine River, their

escort left them.

The UEBELHOER crew


114 CRlTELSKY

After the attack, pilot Web Uebelhoer had tried to get six other B-24s to fly

fonnation on him. One by one the ships had dropped out until only one was left. When

they dropped to under 10,000 feet, the crew removed oxygen masks and turned the heated

suits off. The cumbersome but effective flak suits dropped down at their feet. A heavy

weight was relieved from their shoulders, but the burden remained. They were still in

shock and disbelief at what they had been through. The return trip was very somber and

sad, with just some disjointed conversation about what had happened.

At 11 :54, they flew over Ostende, on the Belgian coast. Just a couple of weeks

earlier, Ostende had been a well-defended Gennan airfield that had claimed its toll on

bomber fonnations going-by either too close or too low. Now it was a safe landmark to

leave the continent.

The crippled ships were confronted by their last major obstacle - the North Sea. Of

course, the RAF was operating a very effective air-sea rescue system with fast speedboats.

But, even when the Gennans did not deal themselves into the game, ditching a B-24 was

not a piece of cake. The Liberator was not famous for its ditching ability. Returning from

a mission, some of the men had seen other seriously damaged planes trying to ditch and

missing it - sinking right to the bottom or cartwheeling hopelessly to destruction.

The MERCER crew

After a suspenseful two-plus hours on needles and pins, pilot Jackson Mercer saw

the head of his navigator pop up into the astrodome where he started making swimming

motions. "We had no trouble interpreting that we were over the English ChatUlel. At that

time we were down to 3500 feet and just above a layer of broken clouds. And then -,. a

sight to behold when we broke through the low clouds there were the cliffs of Dover and

beyond lay the long runway at Manston. Milton had done his job well Manston right on

the button."

Kenneth Kribs, the engineer, and left waist gunner Harry Wheaton began cranking

the main gear down, then kicked the nose wheel out. The pilots did not get a "green light"

on the instrument panel to confinn that the gear was locked. As they circled the field, the

pilot tried to shake the gear into a locked position by waggling the wings but still no "green

light." They could not tell for sure with a visual check and the crew prepared for a crash


The Way Back

115

landing.

Pilot Jackson Mercer used the ailerons and elevators while copilot Leo Pouliot

worked the autopilot rudder control to assist in lining up. The landing was almost nonnal

except for the excessive speed required for a "no flap" landing. When they rolled almost to

a stop the pilots found there was sufficient pressure in the brake accumulators to set the

brakes one final time.

The crew jumped out of the plane and some got down on hands and knees to kiss old

mother earth. And when they looked behind them, they saw that their ship was a flying

wreck.

Technical Sergeant Robert Bennett, the radio operator, brought out a little book that

had dropped down from somewhere to hit him. He had picked it up and discovered it was a

New Testament.

They reported to the American Forces Detachment which in turn called Tibenham to

let them know that they were alive and in need of some transportation. Fandler and Pouliot

had ended their tour with a harrowing, deadly, and emotional mission.

The DEWEY crew

To get the wounded to a hospital quicker, pilot William Dewey was ready to risk

ditching in the channel: "I switched to the Air-Sea Rescue channel, and called 'Colgate.'

IdentifYing our plane and problem, 'Colgate' had given me a long count so they could get a

radar fix on us. He gave me a heading toward England, and ordered me to report back

every ten minutes.

About an hour later we dropped through the clouds to see the white cliffs of Dover

and the super long runways of Manston directly ahead. Would our gear and flaps operate?

What about the landing gear and tires? The landing gear went down and locked perfectly,

full flaps went down, and the tires were fully inflated. My landing was the best 1 ever made

in a B-24 -like we were on feathers."

The UEBELHOER crew


116 CRUEL SKY

At 12:56, the wheels of the deputy lead ship touched down on the friendly concrete

of its base, 6 hours and 36 minutes after Robert Sims, the young radio operator, had entered

their take-off time on his radio log.

After taxiing to hardstand 48, the pilots went through the procedure of shutting the

plane down. The ground crew placed the wheel chocks and that was it. When the pilot

stepped outside, he saw his aircraft had not escaped unscathed. The ground crew found

that a shell had gone through the oil supply tank for No. 1 engine before exploding. The

self-sealing reservoir did its job before any oil was lost. One magneto was also shot out on

the same engine - by a .50 caliber! But they were back.

At the plane, they were met by Colonel William Jones, the group CO. The group

bombardier and the group navigator were there too. The crew was questioned on what

happened and where the rest of the group was.

Without any explanation, the Group navigator took navigator Donald Whitefield's

briefcase. Then ground transport picked them up and rushed them to debriefing. As Capt.

U ebelhoer left the room and stepped outside, he was surrounded by about a dozen men.

Among them was Col. Jimmy Stewart, who had arrived from Wing Headquarters. He had

led the 445 th Group on combat missions and was aware of what could happen in such

circumstances.

Colonel Jones asked Uebelhoer if he wanted to lead the mission back to Kassel the

next day. He replied: "Thanks, but no thanks!"

The SMITH crew

The wheels of the aircraft kissed the long-awaited concrete of Tibenham with a

squealing sound, the one your squadron commander did not like to hear in other

circumstances. The pilots held the nose up until the speed dropped down to 75 mph. Then

they applied some gentle touches on the brakes to slow down the silver B-24. They cleared

the runway and took the perimeter track to hardstand 36.

While taxiing, pilot Donald Smith closed the turbo-superchargers, copilot Adolf

Lerch switched the booster pumps "OFF," raised the wing flaps to the "UP" position, and

opened cowl flaps fully. The engineer started the APU and reported it. The copilot kept on

checking the brake pressure until Smith rolled the ship into its emplacement.


The Way Back

117

The SWOFFORD crew

Sweetest Rose of Texas went off the end of the runway because it had lost the

hydraulic fluid and had no brakes. While radio operator Eugene Thurn was hurried to the

dispensary, officers collected the charts and maps from navigator Henry Dobek. Then the

crew was taken to the debriefing room.

The ISOM crew

When they approached the base, pilot Isom and copilot Justice saw red flares to

request priority for landing coming from. the plane in front of Patty Girl. They parked a

ship barely injured - with only a few holes - while the 445 th Group had virtually ceased to

exist.

At hardstand 18, they were getting their gear from the plane, when they were

suddenly surrounded by MPs. They told the crew not to talk to anyone and whisked them

off to a debriefmg room and locked the door. There they were subjected to a thorough

interrogation, asked question after question.

The KRIVIK crew

Despite another engine losing power, pilot Stanley Krivik had been against a landing

in France. With the hydraulic system gone and wounded aboard, he thought his ship

needed a long runway and his crew a nearby hospital. And they made it. Krivik and

copilot Leonard Trotta had brought their ship home. Percy was the only one of the ten

ships of the 702 nd Squadron to survive the onslaught. The three gunners in the rear were

wounded: James Paul, William Rand, and Harry Puto. Of the four engines, only one was

functioning properly - two were damaged and the fourth was shut down. Close to

Tibenham, one of the damaged engines stopped.

With two engines out of commission and one-and-a-half pulling, the freedom of lowlevel

maneuver was restricted. Then the remaining engine failed and the ship crashed in a

field just outside of Diss, killing navigator FlO Daniel J. Dale. The plane broke in half and

started burning.

Krivik had been knocked unconscious in the crash. When he came to, he and


118 CRUEL SKY

William Rand pulled everyone out of the burning wreckage. Henry Puto was saved from

severe head wounds by his flak helmet. Nose gunner, S/Sgt. Clifford N. Stromberg, had a

sprained ankle. Engineer, T/Sgt. Donald R. Bugalecki. had minor cuts on his legs when he

was pulled from the plane. James Paul had a badly mangled leg and radio operator, T ISgt.

John Cadden, was seriously wounded.

AFTERMATH

The trucks had picked up the remnants of the 44Sth Group. The survivors had now to

report the "unreportable." They had to tell intelligence officers why the hardstands were,

and would remain, so desperately empty. Thirty planes had disappeared as if they never

existed.

Ground crews were still expecting their returning planes but they heard no roar of

approaching ships, except for stragglers returning to nearby fields. Contemplating the

empty hardstands was especially agonizing for the crew chiefs.

The survivors walked to the locker room to take their heavy flying gear off, the

burden of their recent mission weighting heavily on their minds. The trip back to the hut

seemed longer than ever, even ifthey were glad to see the Nissen again. In somber silence,

each one fell on his sack, surrounded by empty bunks.

During the fight, radio operator Robert Sims had thought his ship would be the next

ship to fall, but at the time it really didn't bother him. Now that the mission was over, this

probability scared him. Ten hours ago, his barrack housed 36 men but now there were 30

empty bunks because the Uebelhoer crew was the only crew to come back. Paul Swofford

and his navigator, Henry Dobek, were the only ones to make it back to their 12-man Nissen

hut.

When the survivors went to the chow hall for the evening meal, food had been

prepared for 400 people, but only about two dozen arrived to eat. Disbelief again when

they told the guys they were all that was left. The meal was a quiet and solemn one in the

big empty mess hall. Noone was talking.

The FRENCH crew

After they dropped below the clouds, Herbert Schwartz and the waist gunners were


The Way Back

119

calling out all landmarks available. "Every small town we passed over was in ruins and

every bridge was bombed right in the center, every building had been strafed, and bomb

craters were a frequent sight.

"Staff Sergeant David A. Greenly, our nose gunner, shouted over the intercom that

there was an emergency airfield dead ahead. We circled the field and noticed a wrecked

FW-190 on it but our pilot decided that the field was too short for a 8-24 to land.

"We hadn't flown more than 10 miles when Tims came on the intercom and

announced that as far as he could make out St. Quentin was only fifty miles to the left of

our course. We knew that this was just a guess. After another 20 minutes, we spotted

another airstrip with long runways. As we got closer, we saw about 75 Thunderbolts on the

field so we knew it was a friendly one."

The pilot told Tims and Greenly to rush to the flight deck. The three in the rear of

the bomber braced themselves, ready for the crash. With its nose wheel stuck, the ship

skidded in on its nose. Despite the leaking gas, they crash-landed safely at 13:26.

Tail gunner Herbert Schwartz immediately got up from his position: "I was all set to

jump out the waist window when the damn waist gun swung around and hit me in the back.

1 managed to fmd enough strength to jump while the plane was still moving. 1 picked

myself up and started to run as I was still afraid the ship was going to blow up any second.

Greenly and Tims climbed out of the upper hatch, ran down the center of the top of the

fuselage, and jumped off the plane while the ship was still slightly moving. All I had

strength left for was to kiss the ground and thank God for getting me down safely.

Wringing with respiration, I just laid down and everyone thought 1 had been injured.

"The Colonel came running out to the ship and his first question was: 'How many

men are injured?' We told him that no one was hurt and he stood there in amazement as

our ship did look like it had been dragged out of a junk heap. Everyone rushed up to Lt.

French and complimented him on his fme landing. "

The big bird was riddled with hundreds of bullet holes, which chewed up the tail

assembly. One shell had entered the bottom ofthe ship, went through bulkheads and out by

the APU without exploding. Two more went through the right wing into the main tank, but

didn't explode. The No.1 engine was put out of commission by four shells and one left a

hole in the aitfoil big enough for a man to crawl through.


120 CRUE1.JSKY

Even though their base had just been made operational, the people there did their

best to feed and help the lucky crew. After chatting with the personnel of the field, a truck

picked them up and took them to chow. That day, even army chow tasted good although

most ofthe men were too excited to eat very much.

After dinner, Fiske, Huddlesmn, and Schwartz got radio equipment from a B-26

sitting off the runway and called Tibenham. They told them they were safe and to make

sure that no one bothered their personal belongings and particularly the rations of candy,

cigarettes, etc.

The HEITZ crew

The pilots were heading for an airfield at Brussels but Bugs Bunny could not

maintain enough altitude to reach it. They came across a small airfield about 15 miles east

of Brussels and decided to try a landing.

The hydraulic system was out so the manual operation procedure had to be followed.

Copilot Harold Vedera placed the landing gear control lever in "DOWN" position and held

it there. Radio operator Fabian Mack assisted the inexperienced substitute engineer to

complete the procedure. They both went to the bomb bay where the emergency crank was

located, on the forward side of the front spar. While standing on the extreme forward end

of the bomb bay catwalk, one of them reached for the red handle and turned it

approximately 30 turns clockwise, until the main gear was down and locked. The landing

gear indicator light turned on in the pilot's instrument panel, but as an added precaution,

pilot and copilot looked out to check both gears visually.

Mack tied a chute to each waist gun mount and tossed them out as they were about

to touch runway: "It was perfect timing as plane came to a stop in approximately 500 feet.

With the aid of a Belgian farmer on the scene I took three wounded to a hospital in a small

community nearby.

"The nuns were very helpful and secured a local doctor to help. Unfortunately, Sgt

Louis Ochevsky died a few hours later. The doctor offered to take me to the British at

Brussels airfield for more aid for the wounded. The British took care of the wounded and

Ochevsky's body at a large Brussels hospital. They also arranged a flight back to

Tibenham for us,"


The Way Back

121

MORE AFTERMATH

Lieutenant Donald Whitefield had been told to clean up and report to Wing

Headquarters that evening for a critique. When the six officers arrived, they were escorted

into a room with a bar: "A white-coated English batman told us this was Jimmy Stewart's

private bar, and we were welcome to all the drinks we wanted. Interestingly enough, the

batman told us that the bar cost Jimmy Stewart more per month than his salary as a

Lieutenant Colonel.

"We were called into a large briefing room, and on the platfonn were two Generals

and some lower ranks.

"After a number of people made various reports, I was asked to tell them where I

thought we bombed. The group navigator had my records and so this shaky little first

lieutenant had to stand in front of all that brass and say that as I remembered, we were

approximately 20 miles beyond the primary of Kassel, four minutes beyond my ETA to

drop. I sat down and felt like I had goofed and would be cleaning the latrines for the rest of

the war.

"Then the general asked the fighter group representative, 'Where were you when you

heard the call for Little Friends?'

"This cocky Major stood and reported that his group was sweeping the deck. All at

once, parts and parachutes were all over the place.

"The General asked, 'What did you do?'

"The Major replied, 'We got the hell out of there! ,

"I think if I had had my .45 I would have shot him!

"At the end of the critique a Lieutenant Colonel came up to me and said, 'Lieutenant,

your charts had you right on the target.' The ship that came back with us was the camera

ship and a break in the clouds allowed a picture of where the bombs had dropped so they

knew my report from memory was accurate.

"The group navigator had left me out there high and dry to make a report when he

could have told me it had checked out to be accurate."

The DEWEY crew


122 CRUhLSKY

At dusk, a B-24 with green tail and white horizontal stripe markings (491 st BG)

landed at Tibenham: the Dewey crew was back home. The RAF had given them another

group's plane. While in Manston, they didn't see any other 44S th BG survivors, even

though the Mercer crew had landed there too. That emergency base was crowded with

planes arriving every few minutes, in bad shape, with wounded and dead on board. In the

confusion, they never made contact. At Tibenham, no one came to meet the Dewey crew,

and they didn't have any interrogation from intelligence that night.

Later that evening, Dewey was visited in his hut by Lt. Keith Frost. They had gone

through crew training together at Tonopah, Nevada. He had made a crash landing at

Manston a few days before, with his decapitated bombardier. He had aborted today's

mission and told Dewey he was resigning from flying, turning in his wings and quitting

combat.

The FRENCH crew

That evening French, Cochran, and Robert Tims were standing the bar of the fighter

base officers' quarters - a handsome French chateau a few miles from Reims.

"I wonder how many planes got back to England," said Tims. "I saw only three

ahead of us and one below us to the right at the end. The group must have lost over half of

them."

French agreed that the other squadrons were hit as hard as they were.

Cochran was glad that Fiske had contacted the base. He was not happy at the

thought that the guys had started picking up his clothes, particularly his precious battlejacket.

"I hope MacGregor was as lucky as we - or had time to bailout anyway."

"Give us three scotch and sodas, please," Tims asked the bartender.

He raised his glass: "Here is to the end of your tour, boys."

In the meantime, it was hard for the enlisted men of the French crew to find some

rest as many of the men stationed at the base came out that evening to ask them questions.

They asked Herbert Schwartz if he had been scared. "All I could say was that 1 had thought

I had to use the latrine after we crashed but when I got there, all 1 did was wipe! Then I

developed a sudden headache and went inside the ship to try to get some rest. However I


The Way Back

123

could not sleep. A.t 00:30 that night the MPs came out in a jeep and wanted us to join them

for some coffee and rolls in their tent which we did. Everyone treated us like kings, the CO

even offered us a jeep to go into Reims and though I was very anxious to go, I was not quite

up to it. After our visit with the MPs, we were driven back to our ship where we tried to

get some sleep."


·....•................•......••............•••..............•....•..........•..........•....••.....•..........•.••..

o

Bremen

o Osnabrock

Antwerpen

O~. Heitz

o '-----'

Brussels

o Liege

Kassel

cr

r ~=:;:-;:::===_-&Reims

French ~

o

Saarbrucken

•............. _.........•.........•.......••........•.....•••...•....•.....••.•..•..........•••....•............•.••....•.......•

The Bruland crew bailed out

Hautman and reynolds ships were shot down by light flak

French and Hunter belly landed

Heitz, Mercer and Dewey landed on their wheels

Krivik crashed close by Tibenham airfield

The trail of wrecks left by the remnants of the 445th BG

Notice how far the French crew is from the others


The Aftermath

125

Chapter 6

THE DAY AFTER

In Tibenham, the day started just as the day before, orderlies had done their wake-up

job, sending anxious ainnen to the briefmg room. There, they were told that the 445 tb BG

was returning to Kassel! That was enough to scare hell out of the seasoned veterans. Ten

planes took off, including Patty Girl, the only plane from the previous day's mission that

was airworthy. This ten-ship bomb group was led by Lt. P. D. Riblet Jr. with Capt. Rowe

D. Bowen Jr. (Executive officer of the 70l 5t Squadron) acting as the Conunand Pilot.

As the other survivors did, Patty Girl's regular crew remained on base. They sat

quietly and watched the cleaning team inventory and pack the belongings of those who had

not returned. The ground personnel emptied the lockers and rolled up blankets and covers.

It was the ultimate sign that a roonunate was gone.

Lieutenant Glen Lowe of the 702 nd Sqd. was waiting for transport back to the Zone

Of Interior (ZOI). He had fmished his tour earlier in September. His original bombardier,

Lt. Ira Weinstein, was MIA with Donald's crew. Lowe helped to sanitize the lives of the

missing airmen. As the personal belongings were sent back to the States, the custom was to

sort through them so nothing embarrassing would go home, such as a married man's letters

from a British girlfriend.

The FRENCH crew

After breakfast, tail gunner Herbert Schwartz and his friends proceeded to look

around the base which was a station for the Luftwaffe. "There were many wrecked FW­

190s (this was my frrst real close look at the fighter), Me-109s and Heinkel 111s. We

picked up a few souvenirs. During the morning, we saw two operational missions take off.

"This particular group of P-47s were the boys who had already gone out in support

of General Patton's ground forces. General Patton had rewarded them with champagne,

cognac, etc., which they really did appreciate as these beverages originally belonged to the

Germans.

"Our officers returned from the chateau with enough champagne and other hard


126 CRUEL SKY

beverages to float a battleship.

"At 10:00, we saw a B-24 from the 96 th wing circling the field. He was sent over to

see the extent of the damage done to our aircraft but he had no orders to return us to Merry

Ole England. After much persuasion, he decided to take us back in England. Before we

took off, we got well acquainted with this crew and found out that the pilot was just a

rookie, having never flown combat, and also that his NO.3 engine was acting up. We all

got together in a huddle and asked Lt. French if he would fly as copilot on our trip back to

England as we wanted to feel as safe as possible."

The MERCER crew

It was only upon their return to Tibenham about noon that pilot Jackson Mercer and

his crew learned the gory details. "And also that we had not hit our assigned target of

Kassel but dropped our bombs about 30 miles NE, close to the town of Gottingen!"

The maintenance record of the Mercer ship, sent from the Manston Repair Depot,

was testimony to the ferocity of the fight that took place over Germany the day before. It

covered more than six full pages - over 300 items.

There were over 275 shrapnel holes in the waist and tail sections (90 percent on the

left side), and damage to approximately 45 percent of the stringers in the waist. Shrapnel

also punctured both main tires. There was a 20-mm dud shell in the No.2 gas tank. One of

the propeller blades on the No.2 engine had a 6-in. x Yz-in. sliver off its trailing edge and

had to be replaced. There were severed rudder cables and shattered elevator cables. In the

bomb bay, the gasoline transfer system and gas lines were damaged and the left bomb bay

door had to be replaced. Both the left vertical stabilizer and rudder and the left horizontal

stabilizer and elevator had to be replaced.

The Mercer crew was credited with five kills and two probables, meaning that the

Germans were not the only ones doing the shooting - and hitting.

The FRENCH crew

At 16:00, the French crew got back to base. The two replacement gunners had

survived their eventful replacement. Sergeant Charles Huddlestun heard the group had lost


The Aftermath

127

33 out of39 (sic): "All the guys in the hut were sweating me out and old Rose had tears in

his eyes when I came in."

Herbert Schwartz decided he would try his very best to never return to flight status

agam.

The hazards inherent in reassignments had taken its toll of close friends. Coming

back from a three-day pass, pilot Prescott W. Coleman looked for his former navigator, Lt.

John Dent. "Jack hailed from Hollywood, California and epitomized everything that I was

raised to disdain. He drank, he womanized, he expressed himself in colorfully libidinous

terms and he worried about nothing. Furthermore, he was short, bounced on the balls of his

feet when he walked and found humor everywhere. Jack and I spent a lot of time together,

perhaps on the basis that opposites attract. We baited each other unmercifully but mostly

without rancor."

"You don't have to worry - nothing ever happens when I am along," Jack Dent had

said to bombardier Malcom MacGregor. Both went down with Fort Worth Maid and Jack

died. After all, he was half right, MacGregor reached the ground alive.

Second Lt. John J. Becker was also the victim of bad luck. He was the original

bombardier of the Dewey crew, but died when the Walther crew went down while he was

assigned to it.

Staff Sergeant Ferdinand K. Flach, nose turret gunner on the Smith crew, and S/Sgt.

Lee R. J. Huffman, were assigned for this mission to the Bruland crew. Both parachuted

safely from Bruland's airplane and both were shot to death by German military personnel.

The original crews ofboth men made it back.

In part because of combat losses, the combat crews did not get very close to those

outside their own crew. After a while, veterans learned not to have any really close friends.

It was easier that way. Though they usually recognized people by sight. It seemed to those

who didn't fly that fateful day that those who were not on the base were all MIA. So it was

a shock, on their return. to someone who had been on leave. Tail gunner Tom North

walked into his barrack to catch a cleaning party stripping his bunk. It was as if they were

seeing a ghost. Needless to say he straightened them out in no uncertain tenns.

Some survivors let off a little steam on the new crews which were quickly

dispatched to rebuild the 445 th . Lieutenant Donald Whitefield put on his .45 and steel


128 CRUEL SKY

/

helmet to give them a real serious scenario on how rough things were.

Yesterday, 25 crews had experienced fully just how rough war could be. One

hundred and fifteen young Americans had paid the highest price. The Germans caught

most of the others almost immediately. Seven airmen were murdered, including two

immediately after landing. On the morning of September 28 th , only a handful of them had

evaded capture.

INDIVIDUAL STORIES

William Bruce: "About daylight the officers returned and asked me the same

questions over and over - same response from me. Finally one of them hit me in the jaw

with a pistol butt - fracturing it. "

Peter Belitsos: "At daybreak.1 heard a rifle shot or maybe two which put some

ominous thoughts into my mind. Soon I was taken into a living room/dining room area at

the house in which there were several people who apparently wanted a look at the enemy.

"An official with his trapping of office around his neck was present. Also present

was a German soldier in a spit-and-polish Afrika Korps uniform with two complete useless

legs standing on crutches. There was a general gawking, and low conversation but not a

single word was addressed to me. There was a bowl of fruit on the table which I couldn't

help looking at and a kindly looking women about my mother's age gave me an apple. It

was the first food I had eaten since breakfast the day before. Shortly after a Wehrmacht

non-com with a Hitler mustache came in and escorted me outside where I joined a detail

guarding about four other newly made paws, each carrying parachutes. We were

forbidden to speak and were marched to the train station."

John Lemons: (John and other men carried the wounded men on stretchers to a train

station a short distance away). "As we proceeded to the station, the local crowds yelled and

screamed at us. They called us 'Chicago gangsters', 'terrorfiiegers', 'murderers', and other

names we could not distinguish."

Frank Plesa: (Frank Plesa was among those carried on stretchers). "We waited for

several hours, with civilians looking and walking around us. I was scared at the way they

acted. One man looked me over, spat in my face and left. "


The Aftermath

129

Raymond Ray: (A prisoner was brought in and left sitting on a chair, close by Ray's

stretcher. He was badly burned on the face.) "I recognized him by a ring on his fmger as

Wilbur E. Brown, our top turret gunner. I spoke to him and he asked if I was hurt. I told

him yes but I was not sure how serious."

Frank J. Bertram: (A group of Hitler Youth spotted Bertram and picked him up and

took him to a first interrogation in Friedlos). "I was interrogated by a Doctor Braun. He

was 45 years old and spoke perfect English. We discussed the war and both agreed it was a

shame but we didn't come to any political argwnent at all. I said that all I could do was

give my name, my rank and serial number and he said that was fme. Then they shuffied me

into a hospital.

"My back was killing me. And there were those guys lined up, apparently German

inductees. Oh my God, I thought, these poor old guys were in their fifties, sixties. They

were coming from the bottom of the barrel.

"A doctor was speaking English and checked me out. He saw nothing too serious

about my feet.

"He asked, 'You want to see how your back looks like?'

"I said, 'sure.'

"So he got a mirror and I nearly fainted! My back was solid black from halfway up,

just as black as the ace of spades. This scared me more than anything.

"My God, I am dead,' I said. 'They gonna bury me. "

"He said that all he could do was to give me heat treatment. He was very

methodical, not friendly, not a lot of animosity. He gave it to me and I felt great for about

half an hour."

Sammy Weiner: (After an early questioning by the Commandant, Weiner received a

ration of black bread and an inch square of margarine and Limburger cheese.) "I ate

ravenously not giving a thought to my next meal. Then we were hustled to a bomb shelter

during a bombing raid on the nearby village. Twelve other Americans had arrived before

us. The raid appeared to be an everyday occurrence for the Jerry's reaction was unusually

calm to the shattering din of bombs.

"An hour after the all-clear signal sounded, we were hauled in army trucks to the

railroad station of the bombarded village. The raid had been a disastrous one and the


130 CRUEL SKY

civilians now bitter and revengeful, shouted vituperously at us. Some even threw stones.

There was an hour's wait on the railroad platform with five guards standing a close watch.

They presently herded us into two small compartments of a waiting train. We were twenty

in all, counting the guards."

Milton Lee: (After a long sleepless night, interrogation commenced for Lee, but it

didn't last long.) "Maybe my interrogator was tired. 1 was returned quickly to my cell and

was fed my frrst meal, some very poor German food which was not fit for a pig.

"Later that day, we were sent to a train station. Before boarding the train, 1 saw our

pilot, navigator and bombardier. They inquired as to the rest of the crew. I could not tell

them of anyone except Bill. 1 was informed that my co-pilot was killed by civilians. The

officers and enlisted men were then separated. It was in the evening hours that we were

loaded into cattle cars, which held about 150 men. It was extremely crowded with standing

room only. Of course, there was no water or food. The cattle cars had not been cleaned of

the cattle excrement so, as you might well imagine, the stench was atrocious."

Howard Boldt: "Somewhere around 10.00 a.m., a small reconnaissance plane came

over very close but I could not see it. It must have spotted my chute in the tree. More than

four hours later, at approximately 02:30 p.m., 1 heard a twig snap. I raised up and about

fifty feet in front of me was a German soldier with a machine gun. He hollered something

that I did not understand but I put my hands up as that appeared to be a good idea. He then

yelled: 'Pistol!'

"I shook my head as I did not have any. At this time, five more soldiers came out of

the bushes .. They came up and checked to make sure that I did not have any weapon and

then everybody seemed to relax. They took a look at my dogtags and my name, Boldt,

which was German. My hair was very blond and my eyes blue. They looked at me with,

'Why the hell are you fighting on that side?'

"Then they searched me. The first thing they pulled from my pocket was the lacetrimmed

garter that my wife had given me. They must have thought that a girl friend had

given it to me. That really got their attention. Then they pulled out my daughter's booties

that my wife had sent me, this seemed to make an impression on the one in charge. That

put me down as a family man and from then on we got along very well.

"The soldier in charge appeared to be well-educated and he said something that


The Aftermath

131

sounded like cigarettes. I thought that he wanted mine but I had smoked them all up. I

tossed the empty pack toward him. He pulled a cigarette from his pack and put it in my

mouth and lit it for me. This was a real surprise and I immediately became suspicious but

he happened to be a nice guy. Again, I was very lucky.

"The soldiers laid their guns down about eight feet from me and went to get my

chute down from the tree. I guess that they decided I was in no condition to try anything

and they were right. They got my chute down. I had wished that I could have destroyed

my chute but of course that was impossible. The soldier in charge came over with my

emergency kit and wanted to give me a shot of morphine that was in it. I did not want it. I

wanted to keep a clear head in case I would be interrogated. I fmally convinced him that I

did not need it.

"Then they got two limbs and used the lines from my chutes to go across to make a

stretcher. Then they went down the seams on my chute and completely dismantled it.

They did exactly what I had wanted to do even if I could not understand why. Then they

put me in the center of the stretcher. I was carried for quite some distance and then placed

on a small hand drawn wagon. They pulled me the rest ofthe way into a small village.

"As we entered, I noticed some men working on the rail line repairing some bomb

damage. There did not seem to be many people on the street but I was wondering what

their reaction might be. I had heard that the civilians were pretty rough, and especially with

ainnen. German newspapers published propaganda that we were all gangsters and were let

out ofprison to bomb women and children.

"I raised up on one arm to see who was going to throw the fITst rock just as a young

girl was walking across the street. They thought that I had raised up to look at her and this

one pulled out the booties and he shook his fmger at me with a grin. I could not help but

grin also, as that was the last thing on my mind. This girl was wearing a blouse of

parachute silk and that was the reason these guys cut up my chute. If they brought it in

intact they probably would not have been able to keep it but if it was in pieces then it was

theirs. That silk was very valuable; a real item with the German girls who used this for

blouses, etc.

"I was taken to a small clinic or doctor's office. The doctor was looking very much

like one of my uncles - large head with a burr haircut, no neck and looked pretty tough.


132 CRUEL SKY

Looks were deceiving as he was very nice. In fact I became very suspicious but he did not

ask questions although he knew a little English. He started picking fragments out of my left

leg with his fmgeTs as some were close to the surface.

"After looking for a few minutes, he turned and said: 'For you, der var ist over.'

"I replied, 'I guess you are right.'

"He put metal splints on both legs and wrapped them with a sort of crepe paper.

This was about like the crepe paper that we used at Christmas for decorations except that it

was white. He knew very little English but it was enough to make himself understood. He

came over with a syringe to give me a shot. I told him that I did not want or need any. I

was figuring that sooner or later I would be interrogated and I did not want to be drowsy.

He said that I was going to get it anyway and I did.

"I remember them putting me in an Army ambulance and giving me a piece of black

bread with some ersatz margarine on it. I took one bite but I could not stomach it. It really

tasted bad. About that time the shot took effect and I woke up on a stretcher on the floor in

a train depot. There were civilians all around me but there was nothing said to me nor did

they threaten in any way. There were two soldiers with me and I asked for some 'wasser.'

Instead of water, they brought me a cup of ersatz coffee. This was burnt or roasted barley.

I drank it as I was very thirsty but I did not like it. Then I passed out again.

"I next woke up in the baggage car of a train with my two guards. I looked around

and saw a deer hanging in there. Then I passed out again and when I woke up I was in the

courtyard of a large building. A German officer dressed in a light tan uniform with a red

arm band came over and started asking questions. I knew that I could not think too straight

so I closed my eyes and pretended to pass out and I really did.

"The next time I woke up (I was) on the operating table in this hospital. It seemed

that there was a doctor and a couple of nurses, dressed similar to catholic nuns. The doctor

was taking some more metal from my left leg. I was then placed on a gurney and wheeled

into the hallway for the night. I asked a nurse for some water and was surprised at her

bringing it and smiling at me. "

Ralph Pearson: "The German doctors disinfected my whole face, covering me with

bandages like a mummy. I had second and third-degree burns all over my face. I couldn't

talk but there was a small breathing hole for my mouth and nose, and slit for eyes. The


The Aftermath

133

most I could eat were bread crumbs that I could push through the mouth hole. It was lucky

that I had flung off my oxygen mask and helmet, otherwise they would have probably fused

to my skin in the fife."

Sammy Weiner: (After eleven weary hours, the train arrived at Frankfort.) "On a

siding we saw forty-five locomotives put out of commission by air strafmg. What a

pleasant sight to our sore eyes! What a relief it was to stretch one's legs again and breathe

deeply of fresh air. By now 1 felt I was the dirtiest, thirstiest, and most hungry man alive.

But most of all, 1 longed for a cigarette. Here we received a cup of German soup.

"I had the misfortune of being the last one to board the train accompanied by two

surly guards. The mad scramble for space had begun when the air raid sirens sounded, and

we were forced to change again to another train on a different track. There just wasn't any

space left in either of the two compartments allotted us, so 1 was pushed along to a small

section where I sat with one guard along side of me, and the other sitting directly in front,

both holding rifles across their knees.

"I made up my mind right then and there that I didn't like these two Jerrys or the

malevolent glances they bestowed upon me. Almost immediately they began talking

between themselves, clucking their lips, and shaking their heads tragically, pointing at the

skeleton frames of fifteen and sixteen story apartment buildings stretching into the skies.

"One guard turned on me balefully, saying: 'Why Americaners come here to kill our

women and children?' 'Why,' the other kept repeating.

"Boldly, 1 decided to counter with a question. 'What about your destruction of

England, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other countries?'"

"Whether or not they actually understood what I had said, I did not know, but they

continued to mutter between themselves at each new sight. I eyed them cautiously. I would

not have a Chinaman's chance if they decided to do away with me. I spent three of the

longest hours of my life sitting in that tiny section with the two guards - three hours of

suspenseful watching and waiting. My face was a veiled mask and I said nothing."

Frank Plesa: "We finally got our train and in several hours we were taken to

Obermassfeld (allied P.O.W. hospital near Meiningen.) Australian, British, Canadian, and

New-Zealand doctors who were captured at Dunkirk, with American Red Cross aid in

drugs, bandages, and food took care of us. They stitched up my chest wound with a rubber


134 CRUEL SKY

tube implanted inside for drug injections. They cut and shaved my head so the burn blisters

wouldn't become infected. The burns were the most painful and I felt like I was on fIre. I

thought it would kill me. I saw one Jewish airman from our group who had a burned face

from his oxygen mask flash back from a shell. I saw several others with broken legs and

many others all shot up like me. What mercy war has."

Howard Boldt: "I did not remember waking until he arrived at Obermassfeld. They

must have given me more shots although I did not remember getting them. I had been on a

train and was being carried on a stretcher by British soldiers. I did not know if they were

actually British or not. I had heard that the Germans used all sorts of ploys and I was

suspicious of everyone. They wanted to know the latest news but I would not say anything.

"I was taken into this building which turned out to be the main orthopedic hospital,

Stalag IX-C. I was left in a very small room and a British officer came in. He asked me if I

had a watch, ring or anything of value. When I nodded yes, he told me to let him have

them as I would be searched by soldiers in a moment. I gave them to him as I felt that he

could have taken them if he had wanted. He had no sooner put it in his pocket than two

German soldiers came in and the fIrst thing they looked for was my watch. They were

disappointed that I did not have one and after a quick search, left the room.

"This officer then gave my watch, wedding ring, and a gold identifIcation bracelet

back and told me that I could put them back on as I would not be searched again. I really

became suspicious as I thought that he was an imposter and had gone through that to gain

my confIdence. He also wanted to know the latest news, but I told him that I could not

remember what had happened, especially the day that I was shot down. I really could not

have told too much anyway as everything becomes very hazy.

"I was waiting outside the operating room when a doctor came to me. "I am Captain

Barling. Mister, it looks like we will have to amputate your left leg to save your life, is that

OK?"

"I told him to do whatever he had to. It did not sound like I had much of a choice.

They did not amputate but after the operation I was placed in a room with another fellow.

They left an orderly with us and told him to let them know when we died. I woke up and

told him that I was thirsty. He bribed a German guard and got me several bottles of beer. I

never was much of a drinker but he said that I drank them one after the other. I found out


The Aftermath

135

later that I had a streptococci infection. Who knows, maybe the beer had some effect but I

think that I was being looked after by a power greater than that. The other fellow did not

make it."

William Bruce: "We spent days on the train before arriving at Frankfort for two

more days of intensive interrogation. By this time I had become almost totally paralyzed

and was black and blue all over. The Germans fmally gave up. At Obermassfeld, a doctor

fmally examined me. I was told that my right pelvis was broken, my right shoulder badly

damaged, and that I would not ever walk again or use my right arm. "

Glen McCormick: "After being loose for several days, I started gaining confidence.

I had been walking in the daytime. I was in heavy forest and walked in fire lanes and had

not seen anyone all day long. I came to a valley containing a small village (Weiterode). To

get a closer look to decide how I would cross the valley after dark, I was working my way

closer. I came to a clearing and, rather than taking the long way around in the woods, I

started across the clearing. I had not gone more than 50 feet or so when someone shouted at

me. Discretion won out over valor and I stopped. A soldier and a civilian came up to me.

The civilian had a bicycle with a rack of some sort built on it. I suspect that they were in

the woods to get them a deer.

"On the road, our little party was joined by a horse-drawn wagon full ofpotatoes - a

woman was driving the wagon and her son was with her. The bay was about 12, I would

guess, and he was practicing his English on me. He quizzed me on everything.

"When we got to Weiterode, the only ones left of the little group was me and the

soldier. He took me to the burgermeister's home where they searched me for the frrst time.

I was taken to the local jail where I spent my first night in captivity. There was a co-pilot

there from the 445th bomb group who had an injured hip and he had been in that cell for

many days. He was glad to see me!"


137

EPILOGUE

Christmas 1944 came and the survivors of the September 2ih mission were still

prisoners in Germany. The allies were winning the war but not as fast as the top brass had

expected. In Belgium, some little towns were becoming famous, the foremost being

Bastogne. On New Year's Day, 1,000 Me-109s and FW-190s swept over Belgian and

Dutch airfields. The war was winding down, but sti11 not over.

When they began their time as POWs, some men of the 445 th Group and Polish

paratroopers were kept in the same transit camp. It took five minutes to send the aviators

there. It had taken five years for the Polish soldiers to end up there. Like the Australian

doctor captured four years before in Dunkirk, these prisoners showed the young Americans

the measure of how long the war had been.

When he invaded Poland in September 1939, Hitler asked: "Who would like to die

for DantzigT' Since then, the world was set gradually on fire. War grew bigger and

bigger, and 35 million people had died for Dantzig!

The best of America's sons went overseas, many died far away from their country.

Some ended up in Germany where they met the sons of Poland, the first country crushed by

the Nazi war machine. The Polish paratroopers had been involved in a huge operation

(Market-Garden) to end the conflict that started in their country. The Polish were treated

badly by the Germans and the Americans experienced first-hand the incredible universe of

the Third Reich. In having their personal freedoms taken, they also endured mental

anguish, fear, as well as hunger and cold. They were not liberated until late April or May

1945.

In war tenns, the losses suffered by Eighth Air Force on September 2ih were

acceptable, though the figures could not tell the overall story of those dramatic events lived

out by members of the 445 th Bomb Group.

The survivors who became POWs were at least alive to tell of their experiences.

They had been very close to that extremely thin boundary between success and disaster, life

and death during a war. Some of the misfortunes of war are part of the responsibilities of

individuals, but so many events are not, that surviving a war is the greatest victory of all.


138 CRUEL SKY

The survIvors of the Kassel mission deserve the same measure of respect and

devotion as their fallen comrades. It is right to honor those who have fallen with flowers

and prayers at their grave site, but we must remember those who are still with us and have

yet to jom their fallen comrades.

This is my way of thanking them for my present freedom.


Annexe I: The Crews

139

COMBAT CREW POSITIONS

COMBAT CREW POSITIONS

p Pilot RO Ftadio Operator

CoP Command Pilot LWG Left Waist Gunner

DCoP Deputy Command Pilot RWG Right Waist gllnner

Copilot TG Tail gllnner

Navigator

Bombardier

COMBAT CASUALTIES

NG Nose Turret Gunner KIA Killed In Action

DRN Dead Reckoning Navi12;ator KCIV Killed 1?Y Civilians

PFFN Mickey (PFF) Navigator KSOL Killed by Soldier

E Engineer KPOL Killed by Police

E/TTG Engineer/Top Turret Gunner MIA Missing In Action

Ph/Obs I Photo Observer POW Prisoner OfWar

I~

All of the men who took part in this mission, the planes they flew, the position of those planes

in the fonnation, the positions of the men in those planes, their ranks, and their fates are

indicated here. Those planes with a band of reverse printing (a black bar) are the planes lost.

~UADR~~~;:BS-Lea~

Capt. John H.CHILTON P KIA

Maj. Donald W.McCOY CoP KIA

2nd Lt. Harold E. SUTHERLAND CP KlA

1 st Lt. Ftaymond E. ISCHE DRN KlA

2nd Lt. Cloys V. JOHNSON PFFN POW

2nd Lt. Carlton V. HUDSON N POW

1st Lt. Parker S. TREFETHEN B POW

S/Sgt Robert E. SHAY TTG KIA

T/Sgt Howard L. STURDY E POW

T/Sgt William J. SLOANE RO POW

S/Sgt Merle R. BRIGGS G POW

S/Sgt Glen S. McCORMICK G POW

S/Sgt Donald W. MILLS TG POW

Aircraft #81 O-J Terrible Terry's Terror

Aircraft #547-E, deputy lead ship

1 st Lt. William F. HUNTER P Capt Web L. UEBELHOER P

2nd Lt. Lee D. FERRYMAN CP 1st Lt. William B. HART CP

2nd Lt. George E. SMITH N Capt James GRAHAM DCoP

2nd Lt. Robert M. KEAMS B 1 st Lt. Donald D. WHITEFIELD N

S/Sgt Robert H. RATCHFORD E 2nd Lt. James P. W. FLUHR N

Sgt Robert W. SARBER TTG 2nd Lt. Mervin V. SCHEU DRN

S/Sgt Tom G. SPERA Ph/Obs 1 st Lt. Arthur KUGEL B

S/Sgt Jake S. MONZINGO RO T/Sgt Joseph SKOMRO E

S/Sgt Joseph K. SELSER L WG S/Sgt John C SHINSKE G

S/Sgt Robert J. CANNON RWG T/Sgt Robert L. SIMS RO

S/Sgt Fred C SCHAFFER TG S/Sgt Santos C. CABRAL LWG

S/Sgt Haigh MESCROBIAN RWG

S/Sgt John S. HUBICZ

TG


140 CRUEL SKY

LEAD SQD 700 TH BS - Second element

Aircraft #210-U Bugs Bunny

1 st Lt. Raymond V. HEITZ P

2nd Lt. Harold T. VEDERA CP

2nd Lt. Edward J. DRAKE B

2nd Lt. John F. LEARY

N

? E/TTG

T/Sgt Fabian S. MACK

RO

S/Sgt Louis OCHEVSKY LWG KIA

S/Sgt Elroy W. PALM

RWG

S/Sgt Maynard B. WATSON TG

2nd Lt. Robert N. HANSEN P KIA

2nd Lt. Herbert C. BRIDGES Jf.

2nd Lt. Porter M. PILE

2nd Lt. John C. WOODLEY

T/Sgt Charles C. PALMER Jr.

T/Sgt James M. TRIPLETT

S/Sgt Elwyn 1. HORNSBY

S/Sgt S. E. HOWELL Jr.

S/Sgt Ralph H. BODE

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

POW

KIA

POW

KIA

KIA

POW

KIA

KIA

1st Lt. Edward T. HAUTMAN

2nd Lt. Carroll G. SNIDOW

2nd Lt. Maynard L. JONES

S/Sgt Dale C. MAUPIN

T/Sgt Thomas W. LAND

T/Sgt Harold W. GIESLER

TISgt Orvel G. HOWE

S/Sgt John A. TARBERT

S/Sgt Gordon F. WALDRON

P

CP

N

NG

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

MIA

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW

KIA

KIA

Lt Ralph H. PEARSON

2nd Lt. Nelson L. DIMICK

2nd Lt. Arthur E. STEARNS

FlO Henry J. HENRIKSON

T/Sgt Robert D. JOHNSON

T/Sgt Doyle L. O'KEEFE

S/Sgt John M. LOVING

S/Sgt Harry F. TACHOVSKY

S/Sgt Dwight F. GALYON

P

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

POW

POW

KIA

KIA

KIA

POW

POW

POW

POW

1 st Lt. Raphael E. CARROW

2nd Lt. Newell W. BRAINARD

2nd Lt. George R. AUSTIN

S/Sgt Victor 1. P ANCONI

T/Sgt Louis T. TOCKET

T/Sgt Roy A. BELOUSKI

S/Sgt Nicolas H. DENGLER

S/Sgt Charles W. LOETHER

S/Sgt Herbert A. LEDIN

P

CP

NIB

B

E/TTG

RO

WG

WG

TG

POW

KCIV

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

POW

POW

POW


Annexe 1: The Crews

141

LEAD SQD 700 111 BS - High-right element

Aircraft #584-D

Ist Lt. John'. E. FRENCH

P

1 st Lt. Robert D. COCHRAN CP

FlO Robert T. TIMS

BIN

S/Sgt David A. GREENLY NG

T/Sgt W. L. JACOBS

E/TTG

T/Sgt Fred N. FISKE

RO

S/Sgt James E. CORMAN

LWG

S/Sgt Charles A. HUDDLESTUN RWG

S/Sgt Herbert R. SCHWARTZ TG

2nd Lt. Wil1iam S. BRUCE

1st Lt. John P. WILLETT Jr.

2nd Lt. Daniel A. ABRAHAM

2nd Lt. Daniel H. APPLETON

T/Sgt Calvin F. HESS

T/Sgt Peter POGOVICH

S/Sgt Fred A. PAULUS

S/Sgt William 1. FLEMING

S/Sgt Glenn H. SHAFFER

P

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

WG

WG

TG

POW

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

POW

KIA

KIA

KIA

1st Lt. Reginald R. MINER P POW

1st Lt. Virgil CHIMA CP KIA

Ist Lt. Frank 1. BERTRAM DRN POW

2nd Lt. Branch H HENARD Jr. PFFN POW

2nd Lt. Charles W. JACKSON NING POW

1st Lt. John V. OMICK B POW

T/Sgt Robert M. AULT E POW

S/Sgt Joseph HGILFOIL RO KIA

S/Sgt Mertis C. THORNTON Jr. TTG POW

S/Sgt Lawrence S. BOWERS LWG POW

S/Sgt Alvis O. KITCHENS RWG POW

Arthur W. LAMBERSON TG POW

'Inralf ··3~1-\ I(Jrr lIorrh \I,l/d

2nd Lt. Howard A. JONES P POW Ist Lt. Carl 1. SOLLIEN P POW

2nd Lt. Harold P. ALLEN CP KCIV 2nd Lt. William H KOENIG CP KIA

2nd Lt. Robert FULTON N POW 2nd Lt. Wesley L. HUDELSON N POW

2nd Lt. Joseph A. WILSKI B POW 1 st Lt. Malcolm 1. MacGREGOR B POW

S/Sgt Milton H LEE NG POW 2nd Lt. John D. DENT NING KIA

T/Sgt Andrew FRATTA E/TTG KIA S/Sgt Ammi H. MILLER TTG POW

T/Sgt William C. STREMNIE RO POW T/Sgt Charles 1. GRAHAM RO POW

S/Sgt Warren B. PENDLETON LWG POW S/Sgt James L. BRIDGEO LWG KIA

S/Sgt Willis A. MEIER RWG POW T/Sgt William C. STEPHENS RWG KIA

S/Sgt Raymond J PAULUS TG KIA S/Sgt Robert C. IMHOFF TG KIA


142 CRUEL SKY

~Q~~02ndBS-~

1 st Lt. Myron H. DONALD P KCIV

2nd Lt. Frank C. SMITH CP POW

2nd Lt. Eric W. SMITH Jr. N POW

1st Lt. Ira P. WEINSTEIN B POW

T/Sgt Anthony KIELAR E/TTG KIA

T/SgtJackB. STIDHAM RO POW

S/Sgt James L. McENTEE LWG KIA

S/Sgt Walter 1. WALSTON RWG KIA

S/Sgt Lawrence A. MODLIN TG KIA

Aircraft #331-U Percy

1st Lt. Stanley E. KRIVIK P 2nd Lt. Leslie E. WARMAN P KIA

2nd Lt. Leonard R. TROTTA CP 2nd Lt. Robert C. JOHNSTON CP KIA

FlO Daniel J. DALE N KIA 2nd Lt. Francis W. COSTLEY N KIA

S/Sgt Clifford N. STROMBERG NG S/Sgt Francis R. E. BARNISH NG POW

T/Sgt Donald R. BUGALECKI EITTG S/Sgt Wilbur E. BROWN EITTG POW

T/Sgt John CADDEN RO S/Sgt Douglas P. SMITH RO KIA

S/Sgt James R. PAUL LWG S/Sgt Carl W. FORSTER LWG KIA

S/Sgt William RAND RWG S/Sgt Charles G. PAKENSTEIN RWG KIA

S/Sgt Henry A. PUTO TG S/Sgt Raymond W. RAY TG POW

1st Lt. James W. SCHAEN P KIA

2ndLt. BobbyC. McGOUGH CP POW

2nd Lt. Corman H. BEAN N POW

2nd Lt. George M. COLLAR B POW

T/Sgt George S. EPPLEY EITTG POW

TISgt Robert L. COLLINS RO POW

S/Sgt Richard L. PARSONS LWG KIA

S/Sgt Edward 1. JOHNSON RWG KIA

S/Sgt Brian J. HURT TG KIA

2nd Lt. Herbert POTTS P KIA

2nd Lt. Gerald J. KATHOL CP POW

2nd Lt. Dale F. ZORNOW N KIA

2nd Lt. James R. FREYBLER B KIA

Sgt Henry BROADWAY Jr. E/TTG KIA

Sgt Ernest J. BIASETTI RO POW

Sgt Roger L. SCOTT LWG POW

Sgt Olin D. JOHNSON RWG KIA

Sgt Rogers SIL YERMAN TG POW


Annexe 1: The Crews

143

1st Lt. James C. BAYNHAM

2nd Lt. Charles M. BOUSQUET

2nd Lt. John W. COWGILL

2nd Lt. Hector V. SCALA

T/Sgt Howard L. BOLDT

T/Sgt James T. FIELDS

S/Sgt John Ray LEMONS

S/Sgt Olen C. BYRD

S/Sgt John W. KNOX

P

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

POW

POW

KCIV

KCIV

POW

KCIV

POW

KIA

POW

lst Lt. Donald E. BRENT

2nd Lt. Walter E. GEORGE Jr.

2nd Lt. Harold H. MERCIER

S/Sgt George B. LINKLETTER

T/Sgt Constant GALUSZEWSKI

T/Sgt Sammy S. WEINER

S/Sgt Milton C. SMISEK

S/Sgt Donald W. LARSEN

S/Sgt Woodard C. WATTS

HIGH~HIGH RIGHT SQD 701st BS - Lead element

Aircraft #71 O-E

1 st Lt. Donald H. SMITH P

1st Lt. AdolfF. LERCH

CP

1st Lt. William O. CARPENTER

N

1 st Lt. Clarence H. SMITH Jr. B

T/Sgt Anthony CAPUANO

NG

T/Sgt Lonnie O. DAVIS

E/TTG

T/Sgt William R. KLINEFELTER

RO

S/Sgt Jack LASWELL

LWG

S/Sgt Curtis V. COWART

RWG

S/Sgt Eldon E. GRAY

TG

P

CP

N

NG

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

KIA

POW

KIA

KIA

POW

POW

KIA

KIA

KIA

Aircraft #855-A Wallet A-Abel

\i! l raIl :;-1'10-1

1 st Lt. William R. DEWEY P 1 st Lt. Edgar N. WALTHER P POW

2nd Lt. William L. BOYKIN Jr. CP 2nd Lt. Martin GEISZLER Jf. CP KIA

2nd Lt. Herbert E. BAILEY B 2nd Lt. Ross B. BROWER N KIA

S/Sgt Leslie L. MEDLOCK NG 2nd Lt. John 1. BECKER B KIA

T/Sgt Charles CRAIG E/TTG 2nd Lt. Kenneth L. MEEKS NING KIA

T/Sgt John E. ELLSON RO T/Sgt Richard W. VERNOR E/TTG KIA

S/Sgt Walter 1. BARTKOW LWG T/Sgt Glenn R. A. BERGQUIST RO KIA

S/Sgt George R. JOHNSON RWG S/Sgt John F. WISE LWG KIA

S/Sgt Reuben MONTANEZ TG S/Sgt Norman A. HOLLIS RWG KIA

S/Sgt Milo R. MANN TG KIA


144 CRUEL SKY

HIGH-HIGH RIGHT SQD 70lst BS - Second

element

2nd Lt. Donald N. REYNOLDS

2nd Lt. Herbert T. ROBINSON

1st Lt. James T. WITHEY

Sgt Robert M. LONG

S/Sgt James T. ENGLEMAN

S/Sgt Robert C. SHEEHAN

S/Sgt Lars E. LARSEN

Sgt Maynard DANNER

Sgt Harry G. TWIGG

P

CP

N

NG

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

POW

POW

POW

KIA

POW

POW

KIA

POW

POW

\ i n r


Annexe 1: The Crews

145

I HIGH-HIGH RIGHT SQD 70lst BS - High-right element I

Aircraft #939-S Heavenly Body

I st Lt. Wilbur R. WILKENS P

Unknown

CP

Unknown

N

Unknown

B

Unknown

E/TTG

Unknown

RO

Unknown

LWG

Unknown

RWG

Unknown

TG

Aircraft #921-B Tahelenbak

1st Lt. Donald C. McCLELLAND

Unknown

Norman SELTZER

Unknown

George MORROW

Robert DE SANTIS

Merejildo TRUJILLO

John BARRON

Jack NIMMO

P

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

LOW LEFT SQD 703rd BS - Lead element

Aircraft #811-0 Patty Girl

1 st Lt. Cecil J. ISOM

P

lst Lt. Lonnie JUSTICE

CP

I st Lt. Arthur SHAY

N

1st Lt. Jay HEISEL

N

1st Lt. Wayne SPRAGUE

B

S/Sgt Kyle C. BAILEY

EITTG

T/Sgt Ed BARNES

E

T/Sgt John J. REINMAN

RO

S/Sgt Paul M. DICKERSON

LWG

S/Sgt William E. WAGNER

RWG

S/Sgt Raymond PHILLIPS

TG

Aircraft #549-G

1st Lt. Jackson C. MERCER

2nd Lt. Leo P. POULIOT

2nd Lt. Milton H. F ANDLER

S/Sgt Theodore E. HOlTEN

2nd Lt. George NOORIGIAN

T/Sgt Kenneth KRIBS

T/Sgt Robert BENNET

S/Sgt Harry L. WHEATON

S/Sgt Harry 1. LIED

P

CP

N

NG

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

TG

18t Lt. Joseph E. JOHNSON

2nd Lt. Edward M. KELLY

2nd Lt. Herbert M.BATEMAN

2nd Lt. William E. FLICKNER

2nd Lt. James E. DOWLING

T/Sgt Arthur P. EISENMAN

TISgt Charles H. REILLY

S/SGt Rubin 1. SISCO

S/Sgt Alan M. BALDWIN

S/Sgt Floyd L. JACKSON

P

CP

N

NING

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

POW

POW

KIA

KPOL

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW


l46

CRUEL SKY

LOW LEFT

Second element

1st Lt. William J. MOWAT

2nd Lt. Orville P. SMETS

FlO John L. SPINGLER

S/Sgt Sylvester V. LELLO

T/Sgt Theodore 1. MYERS

T/sgt Earl B. GROVES

S/Sgt Everette L. WILLIAMS

S/Sgt John B. NEHER Jr.

S/Sgt Frank T. PLESA

P

CP

NIB

NG

EITTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

POW

KIA

KIA

KIA

POW

1st Lt. Richard A. FROMM

2nd Lt. Edward A. GLOBIS

1st Lt. Charles B. McCANN

S/Sgt Raymond E. BENCE Jr.

T/Sgt Russell C. LENE

T/Sgt Joseph J. RACKIS

S/Sgt William N. BROWER

S/Sgt Joseph F. WILLIAMS

S/Sgt Lee H. COFFIN

P

CP

N

NG

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

POW

KIA

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW

POW

1st Lt. Oliver B. ELDER

2nd Lt. Roy E. ELLENDER

1st Lt. Harold P. WHIDDEN Jr.

2nd Lt. Charles VERGOS

T ISgt Paul E. DE VRIES

T/Sgt John J. DONAHUE

S/Sgt Charles 1. DECKERT Jr.

S/Sgt John L. DURR

S/Sgt Stanley H MORSE

P

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

KIA

POW

POW

KIA

POW

KCIV

POW

POW

KIA

2nd Lt. Andrew G. SEEDS

2nd Lt. Michael 1. LUONGO

2nd Lt. Thomas C. BmB

2nd Lt. Joseph F. SIRL

Sgt James M. DOUGLAS

S/Sgt John E. BUCH Jr.

Sgt Sigmund C. MISCHEL

Sgt James 1. CROWLEY

Sgt Clare L. WHEELER

P

CP

N

B

E/TTG

RO

LWG

RWG

TG

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA

KIA


Annexe 1: The Crews

147

~703rdBS-Hi~

2nd Lt. Roy E. BOLIN P KIA

2nd Lt. Laurence G. BARBEN CP KIA

2nd Lt. Louis P. AJELLO N KIA

2nd Lt. Truman ARMSTRONG Jr. B KIA

Sgt Charles E. WEATHERLY E/TTG KIA

S/Sgt William AARON RO KIA

Sgt Robert W. OLESON LWG KIA

Sgt Tage R. FREDERIKSEN RWG KIA

Sgt Orland J. SCHOOLEY TG POW

Aircraft #250-0

2nd Lt. Rene J. SCHNEIDER

2nd Lt. Carl A. HOGEL

2nd Lt. William M. FOSTER

2nd Lt. Edwin N. HOLLAND Jf.

SevariusJ. TlnURTIN

Joseph J. WOZNIAK

Dallas L.MILLER

Edward V. BURNS

HarryR. TOLBERT

Stuart F. MacCALLUM-MHOR

P

CP

N

B

RO


148 CRUEL SKY

Annex II: "A navigational error?"

I was deeply committed to rendering the subject faithfully. But, when I began this

work, I deliberately skipped the reason for this disaster. However, in the very long

questionnaire I submitted to the survivors, I added some questions about the change of

heading, in order to ease the work of later professional historians. Here are some of the

replies:

• Nelson Dimick (copilot, lead squadron): "My feeling (is that there) was an error

some time before the IP, caused by misreading of radar image, we chose the wrong target. I

was monitoring group frequency and was aware of confusion. It was at the IP when I noted

disagreement as to our heading from IP to target."

• Raphael Carrow (pilot, lead squadron): "The initial error was made on the way to

target, after leaving the IP. I Called Maj. McCoy to inform him that they were off course."

• Carroll Snidow (copilot, lead squadron): "My belief is we made the wrong turn on

IP. Our navigator called in to our flight leader with no result or action taken."

• Ira Weinstein (bombardier, high right squadron): "(The error was) in failing to

tum toward the IP."

• Frank 1. Bertram (navigator, high right squadron): "The target was not visible on

the ground, but the heavy, intense flak certainly indicated where it was. It seems the only

plane that didn't know where the target was, was the lead plane!"

• Gene George (copilot, high right squadron): "I have always wondered why we

made such errors when the process was so simple. One thought is that the Germans could

have been deflecting radar transmissions, thus confusing our navigation as well as our

target positioning. We seemed to have been flying in a confused 'nowhere' for too long a

time".

• Henri Dobek (navigator, high high right squadron): "After leaving the IP on the

bomb run, the lead plane continued to fly the same heading for approximately 11 or 12

minutes and then dropped the bombs. I had estimated that we dropped the bombs over


149

Gottingen. I had called my pilot and infonned him of this but we did not notify the lead

crew" .

• Peter Belitsos (copilot, high high right squadron): "Don't remember exactly but

(I) think it was in failing to tum toward the IP. Both of us knew something was wrong."

• Web Uebelhoer (deputy lead pilot, lead squadron): "(The) initial error (was) on

the way to target after leaving the IP. It wasn't immediately apparent that we were off

course. (...) We were winning the war."

When considering the diversity of survivor statements on what exactly occurred in

the change in heading, we must keep in mind that the ensuing onslaught provided a

tremendous emotional shock to the men. And also, the lapse of time could have affected

the memory of something that occurred on September 2t h , 1944 to its recollection more

than fifty years later.

Does this really change the reality of the past? There are ways of negotiating it to

ensure "historical accuracy." A methodological approach is needed. For example, the mist

surrounding the last moments of the lead ship.

When the witnesses spoke about Chilton's ship, they said it was hit in the early stage

of the battle. And also that it was in flames and blew up soon after being hit. But, if we

take a close look at the crash sites, we realize that Chilton's plane is far from the "mass

grave," and only one B-24 crashed farther west - Miner's aircraft. Of course, I am

excluding the two that fell outside the main area and the three others that went down later.

It is hard to believe an exploding ship could loose altitude slowly and keep a straight

course! The lethal blow must have been later.

Glen McConnick was in the lead ship and confmns that fact. "They started hitting

the planes at the rear of the fonnation and progressed right up to the lead airplanes. Our

plane was one of the later ones hit. "

To fonn a reasonable theory of why the lead ship left the planned track, one must have

an understanding of how the PFF navigational team worked and what kind of "error" they

could induce. Then, to search the archives looking for similar course alterations caused by

PFF navigational error and compare the range of alteration. If one can [md a similarity

between the error and its effect on the track plot, some assessments can then be made.


150 CRUE1JSKY

There is one major area still to be considered: the command pilot, who sometimes

overruled the navigator's judgement, the rank difference making arguments futile. So, the

background of Major McCoy is another area to investigate.

One must also consider a psychological factor, the over-confidence that reigned at

allied headquarters at this time. Even the crews were stunned at being attacked by fighters:

"We were winning the war," as Web Uebelhoer said.

It is possible that this feeling led McCoy to deliberately take some risks (if he ever

thought that it was risky!) It seems probable that, even if a navigation error occurred frrst,

it was followed by a command decision which, we now know, was not the wisest thing to

do.


151

SOURCES

PRlMARY SOURCES

GWY 1584 (Gannany 1944), Abschussfilm (Tagjagd), B&W, mute, 1 reels, 471 ft, 13 min,

camera gun footage of air battles, Imperial War Museum, London.

Books

Pilot's Flight Operating Instructions for Anny Models B~24G, Hand J airplanes, Navy Model

PB4Y-l, British Model Liberator GRVI and BVI; AN 01-5EE-1.

Diaries

Excerpt out of Charles Huddelstun's diary for Sept. 27, 1944 (submitted by his Daughter

Karen Dickey)

Articles

The Stars and Stripes, London Edition, Thursday, Sept. 28, 1944, VoL 4 No. 282 ID.

The Jeffersonian Cambridge Ohio, Friday December 15, 1944 (Submitted by CaroB Snidow)

Miscellaneous

Pilot's Flimsey for Sept 27,1944 (Submitted by Web Uebelhoer)

Pilots briefing notes for Sept. 27, 1944 (Submitted by Web Uebelhoer)

Mission's notes from Web Uebelhoer's (Submitted by Web Uebelhoer)

Fonnation drawing, 1 51 Mission of 27 September 1944 (Submitted by John French)

Pilot's flimsey for Sept. 27, 1944 (Submitted by John French)

2 SO Mission NalTative. Mission of 27 September, 1944. Targets: Cologne, Ludwigshafen,

Kassel, Mainz, declassified Sept. 27,1958 (Submitted by Gene George)

Casualty Report from Herbert C. Bridges, Jr. to Lt. Col. John T. Burns, Casualty Branch, 26

July 1945 (Submitted by George Collar).


152 CRUEL SKY

S/Sgt. 1. A. Reardon, group gunnery: letter to Porter Henry, September 30, 1944 (Submitted

by William Dewey)

T/Sgt. Theodore J. Myers: letter to Capt. W. G. Waddington, Port Liaison Officer, Aug. 8,

1945 (Submitted by Frank Plesa)

Books

SECONDARY SOURCES

Rudolph J. Birsic, The History ofthe 445 1h Bombardment Group (H) (unofficial), 1947

Prescott W. Coleman, The Life and Times ofCrew 319, 1989 (Unpublished) dedicated to John

Dexter Dent.

Ralph Pearson, Shot Down on the Kassel Raid, in "A Hometown went to War" (Submitted by

George Collar)

Miscellaneous

Glen S. McCormick, My Stay in the Military, August 3, 1988 (Submitted by George Collar)

Robert T. Tims, Kassel (The Story ofa Mission over Germany), (Submitted by George Collar)

Story ofLt. William S. Bruce (Submitted by George Collar)

George Collar, Ten crews that got back from Kassel.

Daten tiber US-Flugzeugabslurz, Walter Hassenpflug (Submitted by George Collar)

Flak battery report from an English translation of a dr. Schnatz' book (Submitted by Carroll

Snidow)

Replot of the mission done by Don Whitefield from log provided by R. F. Gelvin (Submitted

by Don Whitefield)

Letter from James R. Paul to George Collar, July 10, 1990 (Submitted by George Collar).

Interview with Corman Bean (Submitted by George Collar)


153

Letter fmm Gerald Kathol to Walter Hassenpflug, 9 February 1988 (Submitted by George

Collar)

Correspondence wi th author

Answers to the questionnaire plus some personal documents.

Web L. UEBELHOER

Donald D. WHITEFIELD

Robert L. SIMS

Charles A. HUDDLESTUN

Herbert R. SCHWARTZ

John. E. FRENCH

Nelson L. DIMICK

Harry F. TACHOVSKY

Raphael E. CARROW

Fabian S. MACK

Carroll G. SNIDOW

Jack LASWELL

William R. DEWEY

Charles CRAIG

James T. WITHEY

James T. ENGLEMAN

Jack M. ERICKSON

Henry DOBEK

Peter S. BELITSOS

Frank 1. BERTRAM

Mertis C. THORNTON Jr.

Lawrence S. BOWERS

Malcom 1. MacGREGOR

Ammi H. MILLER

Charles J. GRAHAM

Milton H. LEE

Warren B. PENDLETON

Willis A. MEIER

James C. BAYNHAM

Howard L. BOLDT

John Ray LEMONS

John W. KNOX

Eugene GEORGE Jf.

Sammy S. WEINER

Bobby C. McGOUGH

Corman H. BEAN

George M. COLLAR

Ira P. WEINSTEIN

Raymond W. RAY

Edward BARNES

Paul M. DICKERSON

James E. DOWLING

Jackson C. MERCER

Harry L. WHEATON

Frank T. PLESA

Interviews with author

During the 2 nd AD - 8 th AF: Midwest Regional Reunion, Dayton, September 1996.

Donald D. WHITEFIELD

Charles A. HUDDLESTUN

Herbert R. SCHWARTZ

Harry F. TACHOVSKY

Dwight F. GALYON

Jack M. ERICKSON

Henry DOBEK

Frank 1. BERTRAM

Lawrence S. BOWERS

Milton H. LEE

John Ray LEMONS

John W. KNOX

Eugene GEORGE Jf.

George M. COLLAR

Ira P. WEINSTEIN

Raymond W. RAY

Joseph J. WOZNIAK

During the 2 nd AD - 8 th AF: Regional Reunion, Savannah, September 1999.

Donald D. WHITEFIELD Dick GELVIN George M. COLLAR

Web L. UEBELHOER Paul SWOFFORD Ira P. WEINSTEIN

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