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The 303rd's Men at War
from Molesworth Diary
published in the Hell's Angels Newsletter
February 1999 through August 2000
[Copyright © 303rd BGA, Eddie Deerfield, Editor]
NEAR DISASTER ON WRONG WAY HEADING
Before my first mission, we were flying formation gunnery practice off England over the waters of Snettisham on the Wash. We ran out of oxygen and had to leave the Group and drop to a lower altitude. Our pilot called the navigator for a heading back to base. When he got it the pilot said the navigator was wrong. He headed the B-17 in the opposite direction. We were suddenly over Nazi-occupied Pas de Calais, France and I saw two FW-190s coming up to meet us. I notified the pilot. He hit full throttle, did a 90-degree turn and dropped wheels. Next thing, we were over London and two Spitfires came up to find out what was going on. Our radio operator was trying to make contact with them by sending Morse code with a signal light. They got the message and escorted us to the nearest field.
Kenneth R. Stephan, 359th Ball Turret Operator
303rd CREWMATES "BEST MEN IN MY LIFE"
There was so much flak on the Merseburg, Germany mission of 21 November 1944 that we had to turn on pure oxygen on my bomb run. When Lt Cureton's plane in the lead element was hit, a piece of his B-17 wrapped around our right wing, cutting the oil line to the number 4 engine. Our pilot, Lt Caplinger, had to feather it on the bomb run. I released the bombs, but was unable to close the bay doors. The electric motor was shot away. S/Sgt Duffek and I had to crank it closed by hand. After the Cureton plane was hit, I saw one of his crew in a free fall through space. I learned later that it was T/Sgt Ellis, whose parachute opened late. He was the lone survivor on that crew. I had flown with over 80 different crew members before being shot down on the Mannheim mission of 13 January 1945. My pilots were Robert Davis, Phil Eisenwinter, Austin Caplinger, James Drewry, Robert Barrat, Walter Schlecht, George Richter and Jack Rose. We never aborted and always got our bombs away. The six months I was at Molesworth, I was with the best men that I have been associated with in my life.
Lloyd D. Hester, 427th Togglier
BALL TURRET INSTRUCTION SAVES GUNNER
I was with the 303rd in the Armament Section when we formed up at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho in 1942. I caught a lift across the Atlantic to Prestwick, Scotland with Lt J.B. Clark's crew. After we landed, some of us pulled the cords on our Mae West's just to see them inflate. Nothing happened-the CO2 cylinders were empty. On January 3, 1943 the Clark crew crashed in the sea coming back from St. Nazaire and they were all killed. They were like family to me. One nice experience stands out. A ball turret gunner came back to Molesworth after he and his crew had bailed out. He told me he was in the ball when the B-17 began going down, but couldn't get the turret in position so he could pull himself out. He said he then remembered our having told him how to use the manual crank. He was able to rotate the turret, get out and jump with the crew.
Glenn H. Oberman, 358th Turret Maintenance Specialist
IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
On our very first mission on January 29, 1944, with John Coppom as pilot, Frankfurt was the target. The formation was attacked by FW190s and ME109s. We were on the right wing of the high squadron. Four FW190s were flying parallel to our flight path. In an instant, all four turned and attacked from 2 o'clock level. Our B-17 had twin 50-caliber's mounted on a swivel in the nose, but I couldn't traverse them enough to bear on the attackers. The pilot saved us all by pulling up just enough to have those four enemy planes, with their 20mm guns blazing, pass directly under us. They were so close I could clearly see the German pilots' faces. They shot down a B-17 on the left wing of our squadron. On May 11, 1944 I was originally assigned to fly with John Long's crew to bomb the railroad marshalling yards at Saarbruken, Germany. At engine start-up, I was transferred to Amon Earhart's crew. My guardian angel was with me again because Long's plane was lost due to a direct hit over the target. Although our aircraft suffered heavy flak damage, we returned to base safely.
Robert A. Finley, 360th Bombardier
"BUTTERFLIES IN MY BELLY"
One day while working in the Supply Office, I was told to go to Site 1 and pick up Capt Joseph Freedman. The jeep I was driving had plywood sides and doors with plexiglass windows. As we were going around the east end of the runway on the way back to Supply, the captain looked out his right side window and remarked that a B-17 coming in for a landing from our rear "was sure low." I applied the brakes just in time to see the plane's left wheel and ball turret flash by close to the front of the jeep. After it landed, we realized we had been under the outboard port engine as the B-17 came down. By the time we reached the Supply building, I had very large butterflies in my belly. One of the first passes I got, I took the truck into Northampton one night. In wandering around, I was accosted by an MP. He said, "Soldier, where's the gusset for your cap?" In all innocence, I asked, "What's a gusset?" He spun me around and looked at my shoulder patch. Quite gruffly, he said, "Damned Air Force! Git outa here."
Maurice J. Paulk, 444th Stock Record Clerk
OXYGEN PROBLEMS PLAGUE COMBAT CREW
We were airborne for Hamm, Germany on 19 September 1944. We discovered we were short a flak suit for my co-pilot, so I asked the radio operator to bring up a spare. When he came through the bomb bay and reached the top turret, he found the engineer unconscious without an oxygen mask at 25,000 feet. As the co-pilot twisted around to help, his own oxygen connection pulled loose and he fell to the catwalk. I called the navigator to help the co-pilot and told the radioman to help the engineer. The two men without oxygen looked purple in the face. I thought they were goners. The formation was very poor-up and down-and I was trying to see what was going on. The navigator used his own mask alternately to revive the co-pilot, who then climbed back to his position in the cockpit. By this time, the engineer's mask was located and he was back on oxygen. But, then, the radio operator's oxygen mask tore off as he was going back through the bomb bay to the radio room. One of the waist gunners saw it happen and went forward to help put radio's mask back on him. Finally, all were okay. Our oxygen pressure was now down to less than 200 pounds. Also, our left Tokyo gas tank valve wouldn't flow and we were getting low on fuel. I felt dead tired. As we approached the target, we were hit by flak. A piece penetrated the nose and bounced off the bombardier's flak jacket. Hamm was hidden by cloud cover, so our formation had to go a secondary target. We couldn't find it easily because of the clouds. After wandering around through heavy flak over the Ruhr Valley, we saw Osnabruck and all of our planes dropped their bombs on the target. After we turned for home, the engineer got the gas to flow again, but our oxygen supply was down to below 100 pounds. I called the lead pilot to get permission to leave the Group and drop to a lower altitude. He said to stay with the formation as we would all soon be descending. We finally made an emergency landing at a P-47 base in England, overdue by an hour. There were about 200 flak holes in our B-17.
James D. Mickle, 359th Pilot
LAST MISSION, FIRST WEDDING ANNIVERSARY
The Oschersleben raid on 11 January 1944 was my 25th and last mission, without question the roughest of my whole tour, and on the very date of my first wedding anniversary. I had flown 24 missions with the 358th and had just been transferred to the 359th as squadron navigator. On this mission deep into Germany, I was in the nose with 303rd Group navigator Norm Jacobson and bombardier Jack Fawcett. Bill Calhoun was pilot, with General Travis in the co-pilot seat. We flew in 8 Ball, and led the entire 1st Division. The flight was fairly routine until General Travis told us that the 2nd and 3rd Divisions behind us were returning to their bases due to deteriorating weather in England. He said that because we were well along, he had elected to take the 1st Division to the target-FW assembly plants. Our P-47 escort soon left us, and we were hit by about 40-50 FW-190s. We lost our left wing man and then our 2nd element leader along with one of his wing men. The low group was also really catching hell. The bomb run was excellent. On the way back, near Celle, Germany, a P-51 came out of nowhere and blew up an ME-110 preparing to attack us from 600 yards ahead. We flew right through its smoke and debris. Weather back at Molesworth was really bad, and we landed with the help of magnesium flares.
Darrell D. Gust 358th & 359th Navigator
RADIO OPERATOR "SWEATS OUT" CO-PILOT
At the time I finished my missions in March, 1945, Mel Alderman, our co-pilot, still had three to go. He told me he didn't think he'd ever get back home. I told him not to worry, that I would be out there when he went to the plane and be waiting for him when it returned. He flew his 33rd and 34th. Then, I heard he had been grounded because he was "too nervous" to fly. I checked with the Air Surgeon who said that Lt. Alderman was grounded. Although I had a premonition about him, I thought nothing could go wrong-he's grounded. I went off on a three-day pass and visited relatives in London. When I came back to Molesworth, I learned that Mel Alderman had flown as pilot on the April 6th mission to Leipzig and was in a mid-air collision over Germany with another B-17. There were no survivors.
George F. Parker 427th Radio Operator
O.D. GETS SCARE CHECKING GUARDS
On a foggy night, I was on guard duty with a buddy. A 2nd Lieutenant was Officer of the Day, perhaps his first effort. He approached us and I challenged him. He said, "Aren't there supposed to be two guards on this post?" I said, "Of course there are two of us." I shined my light to the ground where I thought my buddy was lying down, but he wasn't there. I looked back to the lieutenant, and there was my buddy with his M-1 about six inches from the O.D.'s face. The lieutenant almost jumped out of his jump suit.
Horace B. Jenson 1199th MP Company
B-17 GROUP FLIES INTO "FLAK BOX"
The memorable part of the 11 December 1944 mission to Mannheim, Germany was the panorama of a B-17 Group in front of us flying into a box of flak and dropping their bombs as one plane blew up and another with an engine on fire fell out of formation. As the 303rd continued to target, the flak began to come up again, tracking along the previous group's flight path. It was a little unnerving to sit in my greenhouse and watch as the box of intense flak came closer to surrounding us. Just before we reached the bomb smoke markers, the flak stopped and we dropped our bombs. I've always assumed that the bombs from the Group were striking the ground and forcing the German gunners to seek their shelters.
Maurice G. Hackler 360th Bombardier
CREW CHIEF WHITTLES B-17 INTO ACTION
I was responsible for maintenance on a PFF, one of the B-17 pathfinder planes which led bomber formations to their targets. As I waited for the flight crew to arrive, I suddenly heard fluid splashing on the hardstand. I quickly found the source which was a main tank vent overflow line. I had two choices-I could ground the plane or try to stop the leak. I had full knowledge of the fuel tank system of the B-17, so I thought I could solve the problem with no jeopardy to the crew or the plane. With a pocket knife, I whittled a plug large enough to jam the vent and stop the leak. I told no one because if they didn't understand the tank system they would have thought I did wrong. The plane made the mission-no sweat. This was my finest moment in the war effort.
James C. Hicks 359th Crew Chief
TRAGIC ENDING TO AN OLD FRIENDSHIP
I had a deep pride in serving with the 303rd. There were fond memories and a really horrible memory. I would chuckle when I thought about stealing coal for our barracks stove, shooting rats with a .45, and about our tail gunner who once dropped an armful of flares down the chimney of an officers hut. Then, there was the other side of the war. On one mission, we were forced to land at an emergency strip for fuel. A B-17 from another Group had just landed, and I was told the engineer had been wounded and the crew needed help. I rushed over and climbed to the plane's top turret. There was no rush-the back of the engineer's head had been blown off. I disengaged the power train and rotated the turret by hand. When I then saw his face, I was looking into the lifeless eyes of a friend I had made at gunnery school.
William J. O'Brien 359th Engineer (As told by his son, Frank)
MID-AIR COLLISION CUTS MAIL RUN SHORT
I was in Wellingborough picking up mail for Molesworth on 31 March 1943 when the 360th's Ooold Soljer collided overhead with the 358th's Two Beauts. I had been with the fellows all the way from Boise in March of 1942. I didn't really recognize anyone until I saw the name Ooold Soljer on the plane. I found out later that only five of the 20 men on the two B-17s survived.
Wilbur Arnold 360th HQ
MISSED TOURING WITH GLENN MILLER
Before returning to the US after completing my missions, I happened to meet the famous band leader Glenn Miller at an American Red Cross Club. He asked if I would like to tour some sites with him the next day. I was happy to accept, and we made plans. Then, I had to cancel because I got word that my orders had come through to return home. I left for the States on the USS West Point. While on the ship, I read in the Stars and Stripes that Glenn Miller was missing on a flight from England to France.
C. Eugene Flick 427th Pilot
THE LORD WAS WATCHING
On the raid over Magdeburg on September 28, 1944, a flak burst hit near my tail gun position. Pilot McCutchan called over interphone to see if I was OK, and I told him I was. Some time after the mission, Howard Scott, our ball turret gunner, told me the Germans had fired in volleys of four bursts. He said the first burst was near me. The second exploded behind our left wing, the third between the number one and two engines and the fourth ahead of our plane. With those "88's" scattering flak that close, how did the crew come through without a scratch and how did those engines keep running without a sputter? I am confident that the Lord was watching over our crew that day.
Robert "Cookie" Wherry, 360th Tail Gunner
EMPTY BUNKS A DEVASTATING EXPERIENCE
Shortly after arriving at Molesworth in a ground support position there was an explosion overhead. As I recall, three planes from Kimbolton drifted into our traffic pattern and collided with one of ours. The thought that 40 men had died instantly had a sobering effect on me and made me realize that war was indeed dangerous. It seemed like my training up to this point was fun and games. Sometime in 1944, I was transferred to the 427th Squadron for quarters. Four of us were put in one end of a combat barracks. We were told to stay away from the combat personnel because they and the ground personnel did not mix. That was false and we did become friendly. I was happy to do small favors for them in my work at the PX. I came back to the barracks one night from my job to find the entire combat personnel had gone down. It was a devastating experience and I did not get over it for some time.
Lucius E. Arnold, 3rd Station Complement
DANGLING BOMB RUINS "ROUTINE MISSION"
On an otherwise routine run-of-the-mill mission, we crossed the Dutch coast with some mild flak, made it to the target with some tracking flak and then ran into a box barrage as we started the bomb run. The bomb bay doors opened, and the plane lurched with the cry of "bombs away." A moment later, the bombardier reported that it appeared that not all of the bombs had dropped. I entered the bomb bay from the radio room and the top turret gunner came in from the front. Sure enough, there was a 500-pounder hung up by the rear shackle. The nose was hanging down and the arming propeller was spinning in the wind. If that propeller spun off, we had a live bomb ready to detonate. So, standing on that narrow catwalk, no parachute and Germany 23,000 feet below us, Gus Gustaffson and I hammered at the shackle with God knows what. I had visions of either falling through the bomb bay clutching the bomb in my arms or landing at Molesworth where the bomb would drop onto the runway. Fortunately, the shackle finally released and the bomb fell into the middle of a German forest.
William J. La Perch, 358th Ball Turret Gunner
COINCIDENCE IN THE NUMBERS GAME
On the 303rd's mission number 66 to Romilly Sur Seine, France on September 3, 1943 we encountered severe flak over Paris and our ship Vicious Virgin took some hits, especially in the nose area. One of the pieces of flak was wrapped around a supporting bar under the bombardier's seat where I was sitting. After we landed at base, Sgt. Markovich, our ground crew chief, pried it loose. He found that the serial number on the flak, which was threaded and apparently designed to hold a delayed fuse for burst at altitude, was DL341. These were the exact same numbers as the last three of our B-17's serial number.
Edwin G. Lamme, 427th Bombardier
MISSION NOT A MISSION UNLESS SHOT AT
On 28 March 1945, Lt. Col. W.C. Sipes flew a scouter B-17 with a crew from the 359th. I was the navigator. I thought it was interesting that HQ had us out checking on the formations. "Tighten up!" When we got to the target, big B for Berlin, we got bounced around a bit. I told the colonel we were inside the red flak area on my map. He replied, "Lieutenant, I don't feel like I've been on a mission unless I've been shot at. Give me a heading for home when I ask for it." After we crossed the battle line on the ground, he decided to go home "on the deck." We passed close to the famous Remagen bridge. A couple days later, it fell into the river.
Glen R. Swenson, 359th Navigator
CRASH LANDING CLOSES 30 MISSION TOUR
On April 19, 1944 our Fortress was shot out of formation on a mission to Kassel, Germany. One engine gave out and we couldn't keep up. We were lucky in that friendly fighters picked us up and stayed with us. The plane's gas gauges were shot out and when we made it back to base we found there wasn't enough gas left to wet a handkerchief. On that trip we got 80 holes in one wing. The flaps were shot out and we had to land without flaps and with a flat tire. It made landing pretty tricky. My 30th and last mission was to Metz, France over the invasion area just six days later on April 25. We were bombing rocket gun emplacements. All over France that day flak was particularly accurate. There is nothing you can do about it. You just sit and hope and pray, complete your run over your bombing objective, and start home if you're lucky. Our tanks were hit and I knew we wouldn't have enough gas to make Molesworth so I made for a fighter base close to the English coast. The tanks registered zero, two engines were gone, and then to add to our difficulties the wheels wouldn't come down as I prepared to land. On my last mission, I had to crash land but we all considered it was lucky we got back at all.
Vere A. Wood, 427th Pilot (From family records)
TACKLE FOOTBALL IN THE OFFICERS CLUB After one raid where our losses were very heavy, after debriefing we congregated at the officers club for a few beers. Well, after several beers, the tears stopped flowing. Someone suggested we play touch football in the club. We cleared out the furniture, and, not having a football, rolled up a couple of scarves and tied them with string. We chose up sides and began. But, we didn't play touch football - it was tackle football and mayhem. After a few bloody noses and several bruises, sober heads prevailed and the game was terminated. We all proceeded to our various Nissen huts to repair the damage.
Hank Pratten, Supply Officer, 1114th QM
THE TASTE TEST WENT WRONG
The target was Halberstadt on 30 May 1944. Took a major hit in #1 engine. It threw a piston and lost oil pressure so that the prop couldn't be feathered. Because of the windmilling prop, we couldn't keep up with the formation or maintain altitude. We hoped that we could make it back as far as the Channel and then expected to ditch the aircraft. Everything loose was thrown overboard to lighten the load. Fortunately, we had personal fighter escort back to coast. We were flying so slow that fighters had to put flaps and wheels down to stay with us. We appreciated P-38s because they would fly closer to us than other fighters. The #1 engine and left wing vibrated so violently that the cowling fell off and many rivets popped in the wing. As we approached the English coast, fuel gages registered empty. We discussed the option of ditching, but all favored a try at a dry landing. Fortunately, John Watson, our pilot, was able to stretch our approach to a landing at a fighter base that I located near the coast. During the channel crossing, bombardier John Borg taste-tested some yellow fluid dripping from tubing on the bulkhead in front of the pilots, thinking he should report a hydraulic leak. I'll never forget the expression on his face when he discovered that the fluid was urine. Watson and copilot Glen Neely were so busy keeping the aircraft under control that, thinking that the airplane was going to be ditched anyway, the pilot didn't bother to use the relief tube.
Charles Coe, 358th Navigator
NO INTEREST IN A PURPLE HEART
I think that my greatest achievement was that, after all we heard about the Luftwaffe and all the flak guns that we were told about at briefings, I still managed to fly 30 missions without ever getting a decent shot at an enemy fighter and had only one piece of flak come close. Of course, it did wreck my radio transmitter, which I was leaning against. It missed me by six inches, which was okay because I never wanted a Purple Heart anyway.
Herbert Kennedy, 359th Radio Operator
A TRIBUTE TO MOM
After a rough mission to Berlin, a lieutenant and I were in the armament tent cleaning our guns when he told me of an incident that had taken place while he was stationed at the Kingman, Arizona, Gunnery School. As he was new to the squadron, he didn't know that I was raised in Kingman. He told me he had been in Kingman only three times- his arrival, his departure and a mandatory formation for a ceremony in front of the County Courthouse. He recalled that a local widow was being honored on Memorial Day, 1943 because all her five sons had enlisted and were overseas in combat. The new lieutenant told me what he thought of any woman stupid enough to have five sons in the first place, much less to have them overseas in combat. I informed him that the foolish woman was my mother, Della McDevitt. None of her sons were in Kingman at the time to see her honored, but this lieutenant was, though not by choice. About 18 months later, my brother, S/Sgt. Francis McDevitt, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
Theodore McDevitt, 360th Bombardier
A CREW CHIEF'S GLORY
The most satisfying experience was never to have our plane abort on a mission. The 8-Ball led the Group many times with Col. Calhoun, Romig, Cole and many others at the controls. Clark Gable flew on The 8-Ball, as did many others who were well known. The most unusual experience? Probably two - the morning that an armourer dropped all the bombs onto the ground while loading a plane across the road from us and the morning a tail gunner sprayed the Guard House with 50-cal. ammo. Most of the time, though, everyone did their best to keep things running smooth.
Duane Turner, 359th Crew Chief
FROM THE NOSE CONE TO THE CLASSROOM
After Germany's surrender, a program was devised by the 8th Air Force to bring learning to all personnel at air bases. Courses and classes were established. Apparently, a perusal of my records noted my college studies and degree. And lo, I became an instructor. This was truly an exhilarating experience - from the macabre participation in daily bombing to the ivy halls of an Officer's Club was exciting. My class of seven included three mechanics, two headquarters personnel, a pilot and a navigator. We analyzed the causes and history of World Wars I and 11 and military combat in general. We solved nothing nor did we really get into the heart of the matter. Daily missions were the awesome, frightening routine of our war. This shortened journey into academia was an unusual experience.
Clifford Steinberg, 427th Bombardier
OUR OWN BOMBS HIT OUR FORMATIONS
I was on Lt. John Scott's crew on a raid to a German air field towards the end of the air war over Germany. The attack strategy was to send the bombers in first at low level to destroy anti-aircraft defenses. Armament for the raid was fragmentation bomb clusters. The fighters would then attack after the Group's run. When the attack started and bombs were released the clusters broke open as they left the bomb bay. Squadron bombs came back into our own formations causing heavy damage and loss to our aircraft. The tubular rack fuses of the clusters had not been set to give us time to get away from the failing clusters. This was the first and only time that I could actually see German soldiers on the ground and fire my nose guns at them. Our plane was hit and resulted in two engine fires. Coming off the target, we climbed to altitude and headed to England. The pilot gave the order to reduce weight by throwing out as much equipment as possible. Our co-pilot, Lt. Weinant, came on intercom and asked if he had to throw out the apple he had gotten at the mess that morning. That broke the tension in the plane. It was soon apparent we still had a major problem and the order was given to prepare to jump. I attached my chute to my harness and sat down with my legs hanging out of the front hatch ready to jump into the North Sea. Lt. Bergson, our navigator, grabbed my harness and pulled me back into the plane. The fires were under control and we made it back to Molesworth. After we taxied to our site, the crew chief told us to come around to the front of the B-17. Our number one engine had a tubular rack behind the propeller lodged against the cylinders. He said if the rack had moved forward a fraction of an inch, the engine would have exploded.
Robert Morris, 360th Togglier
GERMAN BUZZ BOMB ATTACK ON BEDFORD
In the fall of 1944, our crew was granted "flak leave." As we returned to base, Loren Clark, my co-pilot, and I stayed overnight in the town of Bedford near Molesworth. We checked in at the Red Cross Club, the usual place for U.S. troops. We had started to undress when the air raid sirens went off. Suddenly, we heard the putt-putt sound of the German V-I bomb. Civilians could be heard yelling, screaming and running for the air raid shelter. I suggested to Clark that we dress quickly and find an air raid shelter. Clark replied, "They've shot at us a lot closer than this and missed. Let's stay here." Just then, the engine on the V-I quit. All was complete silence for a few seconds, then the explosion. It seemed that the building was rocking. The one light fixture hanging down from the ceiling in the center of the room started to sway back and forth. We heard the civilians screaming and yelling again. We went to bed.
Benjamin O'Dell, 359th Navigator
FORMER UK LIAISON URGES "ONE LAST" REUNION IN ENGLAND
Way back in 1983, I think it was, at your Washington DC reunion, you honored me with Honorary Membership of the 303rd Bomb Group Association. Since then I have been privileged to attend several of the Group's reunions, both within your country and here in England. As your then UK Liaison it was my pleasure to organize no less than three get-togethers over here, and I look back with fond memories of the times many of you enjoyed with Theresa and myself back in our country. We have forged so many friendships over the almost 20 years I have been associated with the 303rd and have enjoyed many stateside visits and benefited from numerous 303rder's hospitality. Likewise, many of you have been welcomed into our home and we've always enjoyed having you visit with us. Theresa and I regularly exchange letters and/or faxes with our many 303rd friends and every so often chat with them on the phone. With the unrelenting passage of time we've seen several such friends move on to that better place and we miss them. I suppose we have to accept that, by its very nature, organizations like the 303rd will inevitably diminish in membership. Sad, but true. My real reason for writing this piece is to apologize to our many 303rd friends for not having attended a reunion within the States for some years. As you will know only too well, it's a long way (especially to the West coast) and not inexpensive. Having said that Theresa and I do promise to get out the passports and get to the States in the not too distant future. We often think about our friends in the 303rd and like to think they recall us from time to time. Whilst I am no longer the UK Liaison for your Group (that's now Robin Beeby's job), I hope that there'll be an opportunity for one last mini-reunion over here. If this should come about I can assure you I'll be there to meet with you once again and to share a pint in a traditional English pub! Just because we're out of sight does not mean you're ever out of our mind. We wish you all you would wish yourselves in the future and express the hope that if you're ever this way you'll look us up.
Ray Cossey, Norfolk, England
IT SEEMED LIKE AN ETERNITY
On March 8, 1945 our target was Alten-Essen in the Ruhr Valley, a heavily defended area. We came off the bomb run with over 90 holes in our plane, one engine feathered and most of our instruments not in working order. As the formation flew off to the north, we lagged further and further behind, until, finally, we were all alone, a perfect target for German fighters. I could navigate by pilotage for a while, but we were soon above an undercast and the ground was not visible. After what seemed to be an eternity, I saw a slight break in the clouds below. I could get just a glimpse of a narrow strip of land. I realized that this had to be the dam holding the ocean water out of the Zuider Zee. I gave the pilot the new heading for Molesworth, and we were the first plane to land. The rest of the formation was on a Cooke's tour of England to confuse German radar.
Walter McDonald, 358th Navigator
AN UNEXPECTED FLYING LESSON
One bright morning in November, 1943 when the Group was "stood down", a practice mission was scheduled to train the many new crews. After take-offs had begun, I was approached by an officer who asked if "609" was ready. When I advised that it was, he said "Let's go." I asked, "Where's your crew?" He said "You're it." I said, "I've never flown in a B-17 and I never sat in the left or right seat of any plane." He said, "I'll tell you what to do." And he did! The B- 17 we were flying was completely stripped down and flew like an eagle. We rapidly climbed up above the Group and observed a very ragged formation. After several critical comments by radio, the officer announced, "A whole squadron of 109's can fly through the group and take a bunch of you with them." Whereupon, he peeled off to the left and put our plane into a steep dive right through a big hole in the group formation! On the intercom, I heard the pilot say, "Pull up!" so with all my strength, I helped pull back on the wheel until we leveled off and again started to climb. Needless to say, what we then saw was a dramatic improvement in the formation with continuous refinements until the end of the practice mission, After we landed, the officer said "Thanks, Lieutenant, for the help." I said, "Thank you, sir, for my first flying lesson." Does anyone recognize who this pilot was?
Ernest Fischer, 427th Asst. Engineering Officer
1,300 GAL. OF FUEL, AND NOT A DROP TO USE
I was leading a formation over Cologne on October 18, 1944. After the bombs were dropped, I noticed that we were getting short on fuel. The Tokyo tanks at the end of the wings contained 1,300 gallons of fuel. The valve that operated them was in the radio compartment. After the main tanks ran down, we would open the Tokyo valve. If we didn't let the main tanks run down first, they would overflow. When we tried to open the Tokyo valve, it had frozen. We were over Germany with 1,300 gallons of fuel we couldn't use. I turned the lead over to Deputy Group, and landed at Brussels. The valve thawed, the main tanks filled, and we flew back to Molesworth.
Charles Mainwaring, 359th Pilot
CREDIT FOR DOWNING THE 11TH GERMAN JET
The mission was to Hamburg, and the target was the fuel supply for the new German jet, the ME-262. On the way over, we were hit by anti-aircraft fire which took out one engine. We lost another engine over the target, and then an ME-262 came after us. It shot out our third engine, but I was able to hit the jet fighter from the tail position. Flying with one engine, our pilot decided to try to make it back to base. In order to save fuel, he told us to dump everything that was not essential. While we were tossing things out, the navigator asked the pilot on the intercom if he had to throw out an orange he was planning to eat. This broke the tension and helped us through a very scary time. We made it back to Molesworth. About 50 years later, a friend sent me an article that had appeared in the Stars and Stripes after the Hamburg mission. It said the ME-262 I shot down was the eleventh German jet destroyed in combat. I had heard about the article, but missed seeing it during the war.
John Woolpert, 360th Tail Gunner
GROUND CREW INGENUITY
Any day that we were aroused by the C.Q. and told there was a mission scheduled got the mind going as to what your immediate routine was. Go wash up, brush your teeth, comb what hair there was left and go back to the barracks in the dark. Off to the mess hall on your bike with a flash light-no bracket to put it on unless you were lucky enough to have an installed light. Off to the flight line through a muddy ditch. We were warned not to take that short cut in the dark, but we didn't want to lose time. Once there, we got a little fire going in the tent. A shovel full of coke was made into a nice fire by the combination of used engine oil diluted with 100-octane gasoline. It was regulated by a copper tube and a valve connected to an old gallon can. "Air Force ingenuity!" Then, it was out to the aircraft, pulling the props through about five revolutions to get the oil out of the cylinders so they wouldn't blow because of the excessive pressure. We loved to see the flare go off and get the flight in operation. Nothing worse after a pre-flight check than to have a mission scrubbed. After the air crew was off on the mission came the long, long wait and the strain of wondering "Would ours be among the returnees?" No one day was special. Everyday was special.
Robert Heiliger, 360th Crew Chief
ENGLAND ON A WING AND A PRAYER
On July 30, 1943 on a mission to Kassel, we were subjected to heavy anti-aircraft fire and to repeated attacks by enemy fighters. Prior to reaching our target, one engine was knocked out. We successfully bombed our objective and another engine was knocked out and further damage suffered. I managed to get the plane back to England despite the fact that we lost the controls on the third engine. I had seven of the crew bail out over England, and landed on a field that had two ditches across an unfinished runway. I was able to stop before further damage was done to the plane. All four engines had to be replaced before the B-17 could be flown back to Molesworth.
George Shope, Jr., 427th Pilot
BOMBS LOOSE IN THE BOMB BAY
We were on the I.P. on the Saarbrucken mission May 23, 1944 when we were hit by an ME-110 from 2 O'clock high. The pilot put the plane in a steep dive, and, when he brought it out, bombs came loose in the bomb bay. I remember the bombardier and the engineer cutting the bomb bay doors open with axes. Then, we hit the deck and went home. When we finished our missions, we were put on guard duty because of D-Day. Each B-17 had a guard and we had a jeep with a mounted machine gun for perimeter protection and to take coffee to the guards.
Carl Books, 360th Waist Gunner
EMERGENCY LANDING AT RAF PREDANNACK
I was co-pilot on Old Faithful, later renamed War Bride, when we were attacked by FW-190s after dropping our bombs on Lorient April 15, 1943. Two FW-190s were shot down, but we had lost one engine and two others were damaged. We jettisoned over two tons of equipment and had dropped to 20 feet over the water when we were attacked by another two FW-190s. One was shot down by our gunner, and the other flew away. We landed our badly damaged B-17 at RAF Predannack on the southern coast of England.
Dave Rogan, 358th Co-Pilot
FIRST DAYLIGHT RAID A PHOTOGRAPHIC SNAFU
When the first daylight raid on Germany was scheduled, my crew was on R-and-R, so I was assigned to fly with another crew as photographer on Eight Ball. The target was Wilhelmshaven, but, due to cloud cover, we bombed Kiel instead. My job was to stand in the bomb bay and photograph the release. Because we flubbed around looking for a target, I almost froze to death. When the bombs were released, one of them nudged my shoulder and almost pushed me out; then the bombardier closed the doors so fast I didn't have time to shoot any film. I then went back to the cockpit and starting taking footage of incoming FW-190s passing head-on. After we returned to Molesworth, I turned in the camera equipment and was later informed I had forgotten to remove the lens cover. About that time, a newsman who introduced himself as Walter Cronkite cornered me and asked my reactions to the mission. I was so angry with myself, I told him to "bug off." My home town newspaper wrote me up as a hero for participating in the "first raid." C'est la guerre!
Jay Trojan, 360th Pilot
THE PROP FELL OFF
We were in formation over Germany at about 25,000 feet near Hannover when the number two engine went out and would not feather. I watched some of the cylinders explode as it ran away, until I was ordered by the pilot to leave the nose. We dropped out of formation and, as we lost altitude, we jettisoned our bombs. We continued to England with the prop on the number two engine windmilling all the way until we landed at Molesworth. It fell off halfway down the runway and we ran over it.
Leo E. Laverty, 427th Navigator
THE COLONEL GAVE THEM HELL
I was a driver for Colonel Wallace. He was very good to me and treated me with respect. When we were on any trip, he would give me money and tell me what time to meet him. I was free to go and be on my own with a car and money until the appointed time. One time, in Cambridge, the local Military Police had set 10 PM as the time for all GI's to be off the streets. The colonel didn't know that, and had asked me to pick him up at 11 PM. I got arrested and put in jail. They took everything away from me and impounded the car. They even took the belt that held up my pants "so that I couldn't hang myself with it." I sat in the cell laughing to myself, thinking of what was going to happen when Colonel Wallace found me. I wasn't disappointed. Boy, was he ever mad! He took those MP's apart and nailed the pieces to the wall. After that, I carried a letter from him to keep the MP's away. One day at Molesworth just before a mission, I was driving the colonel all over the base while he checked to make sure that everybody and everything was ready. He was riding in front with me and his parachute was on the back seat. When he was satisfied with what he saw, I took him to his aircraft. I reached for his parachute and accidentally got hold of the rip cord handle. The chute opened there in the car. Colonel Wallace was pretty angry and threw his hat on the ground, but he never took his anger out on me.
Richard M. Vincent, 359th Driver and Aircraft Mechanic
A GRUESOME TASK, AND REMEMBRANCE
Two of our B-17s on a training flight collided near the base. While three of the crew miraculously survived, 17 died and their bodies were removed to the Molesworth Base Hospital. I was called to come and pick up their equipment and flight clothing. Seeing those men dead was a horrible sight. I never forgot those men. In 1993, I visited the Mattingly Cemetery in England where I thought they might be buried. I spent some time looking for their grave sites. I felt that just my being there helped to honor the dead and the missing in action.
John C. Zerr, 358th Technical Supply
THE LEMON DROP KID
I was a bombardier on one of the 303rd's early missions into France in the winter of 1942. On the bomb run, a hole opened over my machine gun where my head would have been. While I was looking at this hole another opened up just over my bomb sight. In a few seconds I had just missed being hit twice. After the bomb run, our B-17's heating system and hydraulic system were both knocked out by enemy fighters. Our thermometer's indicator arm ran off the end past 45 degrees. Holes were opening up in various parts of the plane. Excited voices over the intercom sounded like a bunch of guinea hens cackling. The waist guns were frozen, and the gunners were manually pushing single tracers into their guns and firing them like a single shot rifle. The navigator and I were unable to use our guns because of heavy frost on the aircraft's nose. The upper turret gunner was keeping up a steady roar with his twin 50 cal. machine guns but he was running out of ammunition. With the aid of an oxygen bottle, I took him a string of 50 cal. ammunition. The weight of my load at high altitude was very tiring, and I was gasping for breath. After my second trip, I sat down on the floor of the nose compartment, and, over the intercom, I asked the navigator to pass the lemon drops. There was silence on the intercom, then laughter. That is how I gained the reputation for being cool under fire. The truth of the matter was that I was just plain pooped. Several hours later I was more than glad to be back at Molesworth. Our plane Holy Mackerel had brought us home again, but was shot down a few missions later.
William D. Cargill, 359th Bombardier
PROUD OF BEING A "HELL'S ANGEL"
I guess my achievement was in doing the job I was assigned to do, in keeping as many airplanes as possible in flying condition at all times, even if it required working 12 to 24 hours a day and sometimes for weeks without a day off. I was always proud of being a part of the 303rd Hell's Angels Bomb Group.
Sam M. Masinton, 444th Sub-Depot Engine Mechanic
FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE
Our target on November 21, 1944 was Merseburg, Germany. The flak was heavy. We dropped our bombs, made a right turn with the formation, and got hit. The number three engine spewed flame back to the tail. I made sure my chest pack parachute was securely on. The ship careened and lost altitude. The pilot and co-pilot finally righted it, but then on my headset I heard the pilot shout "Bail out, everybody out." I worked my way back to the waist hatch, and found the crew trying to open the door. It wouldn't budge. As we struggled with the hatch door, I heard the pilot on intercom shout that the fire was out and to stay with the ship. As I turned to tell the others to wait, the hatch door suddenly fell away and three of the crew went out with it We saw their parachutes open, but never saw them again. The pilot put us on a course to allied territory in France, but somehow we found ourselves over Frankfurt. We were at 14,000 feet, and it seemed like 300 anti-aircraft guns opened up on us all at once. As our B-17 was blown out of the sky, we all bailed out and most survived as POWs.
Albert Miller, 358th Radio Operator
CLARK GABLE ASKED "WHAT'S TO EAT?"
Three years as a cook/baker at Molesworth provided ample time to explore the British Isles. Most rewarding was the friendships with British families in Northhampton. Quite memorable was when Clark Gable came into our kitchen at 1:30 in the morning and asked, "What's to eat?" We fixed him a filet mignon (kitchen personnel had access to the good stuff.) The turnover of B-17 crews was very sobering. Some completed missions, others didn't return. Always new faces.
Dick Miessler, 359th Cook/Baker
MURDER NEAR MAGDEBURG
I was radio operator on the Walter Mayer crew. We were shot down on September 28, 1944 on the mission to Magdeburg. We had our two right engines shot out and made it back to seven miles on the U.S. side of the front lines, near Wilz in Luxemburg, where we bailed out. Douglas Hicks, our engineer, had bailed out near the target. Two German storm troopers went to pick him up. They began beating him up. Some slave laborers went to his aid. When the two SS men saw they were outnumbered, they shot and killed Hicks. Three missions after Magdeburg, we crash-landed at a fighter strip in Belgium where we smashed up the B-17, a B-24 and two fighter planes. After being hospitalized, I fell behind my crew, checked out for squadron lead and finished my 35 missions on February 3, 1945 going to Berlin.
Ernest Tuescher, 358th Radio Operator
EXPERT HELP ON THE NORDEN BOMBSIGHT
My first assignment as an officer was with the 17th Bomb Group, and then on to the 34th Bomb Group whose Operations Officer was a Lieutenant Colonel named Curtis Lemay. They were flying B-24s, so I was soon transferred to the 303rd Bomb Group at Boise where my training on the Norden bombsight was needed. I was out checking the lead plane for one mission at Molesworth when General Travis squeezed himself into the plane. He mentioned that his brother William was coming to Wing HQ and should be a help in the bombsight department. Captain William Travis was head of the bombsight school at Lowry when our class of 16 cadets went through and graduated on December 5, 1941.
Morris B. Sjoberg, 427th Bomb Sight Officer
STERKRADE MISSION MOST MEMORABLE
Flak had our planes rocking on the bomb run over Sterkrade, Germany 22 January 1945. The red bursts of shells were all around us. A piece of flak entered the cockpit and hit the armor plate on the back of my seat, bounced off and struck the oxygen tank. The tank exploded, knocking our engineer out of the upper turret and across the cockpit. The forward escape hatch door was blown off. Two engines were shot out and feathered, a third was damaged and being babied. We got back to Molesworth with one full engine and that third one just turning over. The next day, our crew chief, Joe Ruark, asked, "How the hell did you get this thing back?" We later found out that the wings and engines were so damaged that they were just dropped and replaced. Over 400 holes were patched on the rest of the plane. The miracle of the mission for our crew was that no one was injured. Six of our crew members, at various reunions, when asked about their most memorable mission, answer emphatically: STERKRADE.
Lou Grandwilliams, 359th Co-Pilot
TROUBLES ON AND NEAR THE RUNWAYS
I was driving a "cletrac" on the perimeter road with Sgt. Erwin Heins when a jeep pulls along side and the driver yells that they need us near the 360th parking area. A B-17 had been set afire from an incendiary that was accidentally fired from a ball turret across the field. Heins and I hooked up to the B-17 and pulled it away from the burning fuel on the revetment. Another B-17 returning from a mission could not lower its landing gear. It would extend only halfway. The plane kept circling until the others had landed. It came in with wheels in half-retracted position. The gear held up for half the runway and then collapsed. The B-17 skidded to the right side of the runway and came to a stop about 100 yards from the perimeter road and almost adjacent to the main hangar. Those that were watching really made a run for it, including me. Major Melvin McCoy gave us orders to prepare for removal. A staff sergeant in Class A's was close to the right wing, smoking while the wing was dripping fuel. I told him in so many words to get away! I asked Captain Jones, the Provost Marshal, to clear everybody away, and he did.
Raymond A. Espinoza, 444th Engine Installer
DAMN THE ABORTS-FULL SPEED AHEAD
We aborted on a raid to Merseburg because of a runaway propeller. Upon landing with our bomb load, the squadron brass were waiting for me. They took the plane up for a test flight as I returned to the barracks, fell in my bunk and went to sleep. That afternoon, I was awakened by one of our officers who informed me that I should have reported to Group headquarters on landing. He told me to blame the squadron for not having me read the SOP. I did that, and the C.O. nearly had a heart attack. I was grounded and instructed to read the Standing Operating Procedures to get my crew back. I vowed I would never turn back from a mission again unless an engine fell off. On a later raid, our hydraulic system blew on take-off, but we continued on the raid, left the squadron early on the return and landed safely ahead of the others. On another raid, the oil pressure on one engine was extremely high, but we continued to the target. I would not have aborted unless an engine blew or stopped.
John D. St. Julien, 360th Pilot
THIRD MISSION REWARD IS VISIT TO PARIS
My first mission was on January 6, 1945. The Battle of the Bulge was in full swing. The third mission on January 8 was my most memorable, to Coblenz, bombing through clouds. We took some flak on the bomb run and lost two engines, one on fire. The bomb release mechanism failed, and the engineer and I released the bombs manually. By the time we had all the bombs released, our rapid descent had put out the engine fire. We were down to less than 5,000 feet and the rest of the Group was nowhere in sight. We got a radio reading from Rheims, France and headed 180 degrees. It was the wrong way. By the time our mistake was discovered, we were heading into Germany. We turned back and got a new direction. By this time, we were low on fuel and crash landed near Tourney, France. All the villagers came out, took us to the town where we spent two days. I stayed at the Mayor's house. Next stop was a Ninth Air Force base for B-26s. From there to Paris and the Hotel Francais for escapees and evaders. During several days in Paris, I visited historic sites and listened to Ray McKinley's and Glenn Miller's bands at Rainbow Corner. I met a lot of GIs who had come from the front. They were 81st Airborne. It wasn't until late January that I returned to Molesworth and resumed missions, finishing 35 on April 25.
William J. Carter, 358th Ball Turret Gunner