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a tribute to S/Sgt Calvin G. Turkington
by Lt. Col. Harold A. Susskind, USAF (Ret)
Copyright © 303rd BGA, Eddie Deerfield, Editor
Several weeks ago, all facets of the media hailed the return to space of a "legend," Senator John Glenn, an American hero with "the right stuff." As the giant engines ignited and the space vehicle blasted off, the female voice of NASA said, "We have lift off of Discovery bound for space with six astronauts and one legend aboard."
It was about the same time that I, as editor of the 303rd Bomb Group Association's newsletter, received a letter from Mark J. Adamic, an aviation artist/historian in which he said,
"I recently had the good fortune to acquire a grouping of items of a former member of the 303rd Bomb Group who unfortunately was killed in action. I'm hoping that members of your group can help me obtain more information about this airman.
Other information requested by Adamic was the name of the original crew that Turkington flew with; plus when and where was he wounded; what aircraft was he flying in when he downed a German aircraft and contact with anyone who might have known Sgt. Turkington.
I first met Sgt. Calvin Turkington in August of 1943 when I joined Lt. Donald Stoulil's crew at Ephrata AFB, Washington. A recent graduate of a navigation school, I was the navigator they needed to fill out the ten man B-17 crew.
Two days later we were transferred to Geiger Field in Spokane, Washington to start phase training in the B-17 as part of the Skaer Provisional Group. Upon completion of our training, we were shipped to Grand Island, Nebraska where we picked up a brand new B-17 to ferry to England. After stops at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wright Paterson AFB, Ohio, Bangor, Maine and Stephenville, we finally arrived at Gander, Newfoundland to await favorable weather so we could make the big hop across the pond to England.
A few days later we got the "go" sign from the weather forecaster. We were the first of many aircraft that rolled down the runway that evening in October bound for Nutts Corner in Northern Ireland.
As we lumbered into the air with our full gas load, we slowly climbed to our briefed cruising altitude of 10,000 feet. Over the water but still within sight of Gander, we were startled to see, what appeared to be gun flashes from the surface. Something splattered against the fuselage and we immediately took evasive action. Whether we were fired on by a German submarine, we never did find out, but it made an interesting item in my navigator's log and it was an interesting introduction to World War II.
A few more hours into the flight we were treated to another surprise. The weatherman's prognostication of the weather en route was as genuine as a three dollar bill. We had to climb to get over the weather. Eventually we broke into the clear at 26,000 feet. On oxygen, now I could see some stars to get a fix.
Hours passed by before we got close enough to Ireland to pick up the Derneycross Beacon. It showed us on course. Ultimately we crossed the Irish Coast and set our course for Nutts Corner and a landing We managed to taxi off the runway and got ourselves stuck in the mud. That is the last we saw of our aircraft.
We debarked the aircraft to a strange welcoming remark, "What the hell are you guys doing here? Didn't you get the recall message?"
We all turned and looked at our Radio Operator, S/Sgt. James Owen who sheepishly stammered, "I guess I must have fallen asleep."
A few days later our crew was at RAF Bovington for further training and assignment to a permanent station. We were part of a replacement pool of crews to fill in the various gaps at bomb groups throughout England after the second Schweinfurt raid. By the luck of the draw we were assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group at RAF Molesworth I guess our Guardian Angels had a hand in this. Reporting to the 303rd, we were then assigned to the 359th Sqdn. A combat tour at that time was 25 missions and chances of finishing it was "slim and none."
After our pilot Lt. Don Stoulil and co-pilot Lt. Ed Callahan got their baptisms of fire on missions to Bremen, we flew our first mission as a crew on December 24, 1943. We attacked a "Crossbow" target at Vacqueriete, France. It was a "milk run," the last we would see like that in a very, very long time.
The second mission was an eighth hour mission to Ludwigshafen, Germany on Dec. 30, 1943. The plexi-glass windows on both sides of the navigator's section were shot out. We soon learned what flak was like on a combat mission. I also realized we had a great cohesive crew anchored in the tail by Chicago born Sgt. Calvin Turkington.
We started the New Year with a mission to Kiel, Germany on Jan. 4, 1944. This time the flak took out part of the plexi-glass nose in front of our Bombardier, Lt. George Trawicki, of Milwaukee, WI. George who tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds, was as wide as he was tall and completely filled the nose cavity. He was my personal "flak stopper." On this mission, Sgt. Turkington was credited with destroying a JU-88 and our ball-turret gunner, Sgt. Ken Holder was credited with probably destroying a JU-88
Our fourth mission on Jan. 11, 1944, started out as routine but turned out to be one of the roughest missions of the war. The target was Oschersleben and the route to the target gave the appearance of a run on Berlin, which had never been bombed before by the USAF; so the Luftwaffe responded in force. It was probably one of the biggest and longest dog-fights of the war. The 303rd lost 11 aircraft and 110 crew members. Our ball-turret gunner was credited with destroying an FW-190. The close coordination of our crew, led by Sgt. Turkington, in calling our enemy fighters and their positions contributed greatly to our landing back at our home base. I can still hear Cal saying, "FW-190 coming in on our tail. Hold it. 'Bronco." which was a signal to our pilot to take evasive action. I also believe that our aircraft, The Duchess on its 50th mission, was determined to make it through the battle. It brought us home with an unexploded 20mm shell in its gas tank.
Soon after the crew's 16th mission to Lechfeld, we received notice that our crew had been selected to join the newly formed PFF (Pathfinder) pool with the 305th Bomb Group at Chelveston. The B-17s in the pool were equipped with radar and a radar operator would be assigned to our crew. We would fly as lead crews only on deep penetrations into Germany, especially when the target would be obscured by clouds. Since there would be no ball-turrets on the radar aircraft, our ball-turrret gunner Sgt. Holder was not transferred with us.
After a month of training at Chelveston, the Stoulil crew returned to lead the 303rd on a mission to Oranienburg, on the outskirts of Berlin, on April 18, 1944.
On April 24, 1944, the Stoulil crew was alerted to lead the 384th Bomb Group which was scheduled to lead one of the two 41st Combat Wings tasked to bomb the Oberpfaffenhofen Airdrome near Munich. Col. Dale Smith, CO of the 384th, decided to lead with one of his own crews and aircraft, consequently, we in our radar equipped B-17, were selected to fly off his left wing as deputy lead. It turned out to be a screwed up mission. Consequently, the 41st CBW-B, led by the 384th, bore the brunt of the air attacks by more than 50 Me-109s and FW-190s for more than an hour. It was during one of these air attacks that Sgt. Turkington, in his tail position, yelled, "I'm hit!" He was moved to the radio room and was tended to by the radar operator whose radar equipment had been destroyed in the air attacks. We lost fuel and there was a question of whether we cold make it back to England and get medical help for Sgt. Turkington. But we made it. Upon landing in England, Sgt Turkington was taken to a hospital. It was his 18th mission.
Because of being hospitalized, Sgt. Turkington fell behind the rest of Stoulil's crew who finished their 30 missions tour, (it had been raised from 25) on D-Day, June 6, 1944 by flying two missions.
After a short rest in the States, I returned to RAF Molesworth in September of 1944 and started on my second tour. I flew my first mission on my second tour on Sept. 27, 1944 to Cologne, Germany. I ran into Sgt. Turkington at one of the briefings. He was flying with another crew. I believe it was his 20th mission. He still had 15 missions to fly. During the time he was hospitalized they raised the tour from 30 to 35 missions. Was he penalized for being wounded?
On Sept. 28, 1944, flying with Lt. W. F. Miller's crew on a mission to bomb the Krupp Works at Magdeburg, Germany, Sgt. Turkington was badly wounded by fire from an FW-190. He came out of his tail position and died as he asked Sgt. Zelnio, a waist gunner, to help him. The 303rd lost 11 B-17s with 100 missing in action, on this mission due to persistent attacks by about 40 to 50 FW-190s and Me-109s. Sgt. Calvin Turkington was buried at the American Military Cemetery at Margraten in the Netherlands.
I wrote this article as a tribute to Sgt. Calvin Turkington, husband and father, as well as a fine and courageous soldier who gave his all for his country. He died as he lived; quietly without fanfare but when all is said and done, I'd say that he, like John Glenn, had the "right stuff."