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as published in the Hell's Angeles Newsletter
May and August 1997
[Copyright © 303rd BGA, Hal Susskind, Editor]
During my crew's combat tour at Molesworth, we had several exciting experiences, all of which were thankfully rather mild. We lost an engine over the target; we had to abort because of a sheared propeller shaft; we had to land without a tailwheel when the worm gear was damaged by flak; we ran off the runway when landing because the hydraulic line between the brake pedal and the wheels had been damaged by flak; we landed at English bases on several occasions because of low gas, and we had a bomb snag in the bombbay over the target, which we had to kick out. But "the most unusual experience" as witnessing the collision of two B-17s on the January 21, 1945 mission to Aschaffenburg, Germany (described on pages 636-7 of the fine book "Might in Flight.")
We were flying on Tasker's left wing, and I was consciously observing the situation before and at the time of the collision. Duffield, the squadron leader, let his IAS increase to about 160 mph in the left turn. Upon completion of the turn, he immediately reduced his air-speed, and Tasker was slow to react. Consequently, Tasker's plane moved forward until he was nose to nose directly under Duffield's plane. In an apparent effort to slow down, Tasker put down some flaps and the lift raised his plane into contact with Duffield's. While I had been watching this entire event develop right in front of me, the actual collision was unexpected. My first realization of the seriousness of the situation was when a landing gear wheel from one of the planes nearly hit my right wing; my instant reaction was to peel off to the left, so both planes were on their way down by the time I saw them again.
Since we generally expected that everyone involved in the collision had perished, my tail gunner, Howard F. O'Neal, was surprised to encounter Tasker's tail gunner, A.H. Driver, on the ship when returning to the U.S. a few months later. Witnessing two B-17s colliding in mid-air only a few hundred or so feet ahead of you certainly qualifies as an "unusual experience."
Most often I flew plane 608E which I named "Lucille," after my wife of a few months.
John S. Proffitt, Jr. (359) Pilot
Ed. Note: Actually, there were two survivors to the collision. Lt. J.C. Flemmons, a bombardier on Lt. Duffield's crew, also survived the collision and became a POW.
Did it open or was it a streamer?
The plane we flew for the most missions was "Shoo Shoo Baby." We were downed by flak on our 21st in "Sack Time" as "Shoo Shoo Baby" was having the #2 engine changed. "Sack Time" was on its 110th mission. l flew as Copilot on the Blaine Thomas crew. Our target on the 17th of April in '45 was the marshalling yards at Dresden. At the I.P. we had an 88mm anti aircraft shell go through our wing and the #1 fuel tank without going off. The hole was so big, that the self sealing tanks did not seal and we opened the bomb bay door to get rid of the leaking fuel. The target was obscured by clouds, so the lead plane took us back to the l.P. Again we had intense flak which hit our #2 exhaust system knocking out the #2 turbo system. We feathered the #2 engine and tried to stay under the squadron. l checked the #1 engine visually and thought I saw flames in the hole the 88mm shell had made so I had the engineer, Harry Haynes, in the top turret look at it and tried to get the radio operator, Walter Smith, to get the ball turret gunner, Louis Contreras, out of the fish bowl. The engineer confirmed my observation of fire and I told him I had not got the radio operator and to check on him and the ball turret operator, Conferred with the pilot, Blaine Thomas, and told the crew we would probably have to bail out and get ready. This time at the target, a squadron of B-24s were below us, so back to the I.P. the lead ship went. We tried both bottles of CO2 on the fire with no results. We picked up flak again at the l.P. but were able to stay under the squadron until bombs were finally away on the 3rd trip. At this time the tail gunner, Melvin Carlson, got on the intercom and said the flames were going by the tail. Blaine and I decided it was time to get out and gave the order to bail-out and turned on the bell and hit the button to destroy the IFF.
The ones that opened their chutes right away drifted back to Dresden. We believe the tail gunner, Melvin Carlson, and the togglier, Edward Eschinger, were killed by civilians and the ball turret gunner, Louis Contreras, was roughed up and received three broken ribs.
Our auto-pilot evidently had received damage, as we had trouble getting the plane to fly level and spent some time rolling in rudder trim to fly level. l checked the nose to see if everyone got out and then set down to go out the nose door and saw my shoes so I fastened them under my right leg harness. l evidently passed out from lack of oxygen and fell out. When I came to, I was looking at a couple of plowed fields and a fence line and pulled the rip cord on the parachute.
The next I knew there were several regular German Army personnel around me. l had landed two blocks from an encampment in the woods. My parachute was gone as was my 45 pistol and shoes, and I knew I had two broken legs. l never found out whether my chute opened at the last possible moment or if my chute was a streamer.
Max R. Bartholomew Co-pilot (427th)
Proud to have crewed "Neva-The Silver Lady," 123 missions without any major damage.
First airplane was a "Jinx." No one seemed to be able to get aircraft across the Channel. After some time the plane was assigned to me. Still no luck. Put new engines and superchargers on. Went on mission and returned. Pilots complained could not keep up with formation. Operations Officer came out to the pad, saw the complaint and said, OK, we will make a lead ship out of it." No problems after that.
Albert C. Fox Crew Chief (358th)
James D. Stewart dearly loved baseball; played centerfield on the 303rd Hell's Angels baseball team (The Moles). The "Moles" won the Eighth Air Force Championship in 1943. Team record - 29 games won and only one loss. In the "Might in Flight" book by Harry Gobrecht, in the picture of the team on page 250, James is the front row, second from left.
Mrs. James D. Stewart Crew Chief (427th)
"Happy Birthday" Dear Doris!
I celebrated my wife's birthday on April 22, 1945, by crawling out from under a railroad trestle somewhere in the western part of Germany, and surrendering to a scout party of the U.S. Army's 45th Infantry Division. And "surrendering" is exactly the word I mean, too.
My companion in the adventure, John Maksymic, and I were the first Allied prisoners of war these American troops had encountered, and they were taking no chances. They were all too aware of the kind of deadly tricks they could encounter from a desperate and resourceful enemy.
The story of how we got to that railroad trestle began when Stalag Luft III was evacuated in January, 1945. The group I marched out with eventually wound up at an abandoned Italian prison camp in Nurenburg. This camp was a far cry from Stalag Luft III; it had open bay sheds for barracks, filthy and loaded with bed bugs and every kind of vermin known to mankind.
While we were there we had front row seats to some of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. For 14 straight days the Americans bombed during the day and the British bombed at night. From our vantage point about two miles away from the rail yards, we could see it all, and it was spectacular.
We felt relatively safe because the bomber crews knew where we were, and we also had some concrete slit trenches that had been made for outdoor latrines but had never been used. Admittedly, we were a little apprehensive during the first American daylight raid through a thick overcast - we had never heard of radar-controlled bombing.
We had been at Nurenburg about two months when the rumors started that the Gestapo was going to hold all officer personnel as hostages to be used to bargain with when the time came for them to surrender, which everyone knew was not too far off. The rumor got more believable when we saw some of the men in their long black leather coats in the voerlager of the camp. Mac and I decided it was time to go, reasoning that we would rather die trying to escape than to take our chances with the Gestapo.
We picked a night when the British were bombing, because on these nights all lights were out, including the sweeping searchlights on the guard towers. On the night of April 1st or thereabouts we managed to climb over the fences using a piece of siding from one of the latrines to walk over the coiled barbed wire between the fences.
It was about three weeks of walking at night and sleeping during the day that we arrived at the point under the railroad trestle. During this 21 day trek we were recaptured once. We walked right into a German forward scout post. l guess the Germans were as surprised as we were, and for reasons known only to God, they didn't shoot us.
We were being marched back toward the interior by two German GIs; sleeping in barns at night and stopping for food along the way at farm houses in the country and at little home cooking cafes in the villages. It was while we were in one of these little cafes that Mac and I thought that our time had come. There was a sudden loud explosion and the building started to collapsing around us. Needless to say, the Germans went one way, and Mac and I went the other.
After we got out of the building we ran to a wooded area just outside of town and from there watched two P-51 fighters strafe and destroy the little town with 50 caliber machine guns. The town was a motor pool and truck depot for the Germans, which they were out to destroy. And that they did, believe me! It is only by the Grace of God that I am alive day. A few nights later we were holed up under the railroad trestle, and that was our ticket home. The American scouting party we surrendered to marched us back to their headquarters with our hands held high, and there we stayed in the custody of the Military Police while they checked out our stories. In my case they contacted the 303rd Bomb Group in Molesworth, England, who verified that Lt. James H. Fisher, Serial Number AO-753783, a B-17 Pilot, had been shot down on April 29, 1944, was reported captured by the Germans and held at Stalag Luft III. When Mac's story checked out too, they treated us royally.
After dining in their field kitchen on pork chops and cherry cobbler, we were given a little car that had been "field requisitioned" from a German civilian, and we were allowed to make our own way back. We were given directions to a field hospital, where we were given a cursory physical.
While waiting at the hospital we met two pilots of some kind of small airplane that could handle short-field landings and takeoffs. Their job was to pick up and return crew members of downed aircraft. They took us to Brussels, where they had a building with four apartments all to themselves. They had found the basement stacked with Seagrams 7-Crown, apparently left when the Germans evacuated. Three drinks and I passed out. While I was there, I also had my first ice cream in more than a year. After we spent a day sightseeing in Brussels, they flew us to Paris, where we checked in with the American Command at Allied Headquarters.
After we received a $300 pay advance and a new outfit of clothing at the PX, we were allowed two days of sightseeing and entertainment, including the Follies. Then we proceeded to Camp Lucky Strike for the boat ride home.
James H. Fisher Pilot (427th)
An act of valor!
My greatest achievement with the 303rd was earning a Medal of Valor.
One day while Joe Robida and myself were working on our plane, after a raid, the drop cord we were using shorted out. His coveralls caught fire, as well as the plane, and he started to run which made the fire spread over his body. I ran after him, using a flying tackle to bring him down and beat out the flames with my hand. Joe was taken to the hospital with second degree burns. In the meantime, Russell Shuppe working nearby, grabbed an extinguisher and put out the fire on the plane. Russell Shuppe and I received the Soldier's Medal for heroism. It was a proud moment for me when the general pinned the medal on my chest, June 1944.
My most unusual experience was while our crew was in the tent, beside the end of the runway, waiting for our plane to land from a mission. As it came closer it sounded like it wasn't on the runway, so I opened the tent flaps and looked out. It was coming straight for us, so I yelled to the crew, 'let's get out of here" and luckily they all followed. In fact the last one out had to duck down to clear the flaps. The props tore the tent apart and split the heavy workbench in two. To add to the danger, the plane was still loaded with bombs, because it had aborted the day's mission.
Richard A. Lund Mechanic (360th)
Some days were long and scary!
I never thought too much about my war-time experiences until I became a member of the 303rd Bomb Group Association and realized what an elite group I was associated with. After reading some of the Group's experiences contained therein, a couple of outstanding recollections did occur as follows:
It was August 15, 1944 - 3rd mission - Target: Wiesbaden. It was an exciting day to say the least. After "Bombs Away." we turned right off target. The turn was not sharp, and we spread out and fell behind the combat wing. As we were beginning to catch up with the lead and high group, we were greeted by about 35 FW-190s! It was scary how fast the situation could deteriorate and still feel like eternity. They attacked from the rear - high and low making one pass that essentially wiped out the 358th squadron. We were fortunate to be one of the two surviving crews from the 358th. I do believe I kissed the ground after we touched down. What a way to be initiated into the ranks of "Baptism by fire."
I remember wondering if we would ever survive "35." Well, we made it through August. Here it is September 9,1944 7th Mission - Target Ludwigshafen. The flak was intense and accurate, the kind that made ball-turret gunners "pucker up." We were on the bomb run when we were hit by flak which knocked out #3 and #4 engines and caused our right wing to drop. The bomb load was salved and our aircraft lost about 2500 to 3000 feet before it was returned to level flight. As we continued losing altitude at an alarming rate, first aid was being administered to our Bombardier, Fred Kiesel, whose right arm was nearly severed by the shrapnel.
I spent as much time as possible in the "ball" monitoring the oil smoke pouring out of #3 and #4. Fortunately, no major flames were visible. l finally got out of my turret when a crash landing seemed imminent. The descent was becoming hazardous as we skimmed over enemy occupied territory. We knew those were not friendlies down there because of the small arms fire we encountered. Miraculously, we survived the shooting gallery without further crew injuries.
We were braced for a crash but landed safely in a pasture 1500 to 2000 feet inside our lines. It was a relief to see that we had made it when we were greeted by the good guys. Our red flares brought an ambulance for our wounded Bombardier who later lost his arm. I remember thinking, "This was the best landing the McCutcheon ever made."
James E Aberdeen Ball Turret Gunner (358th)
Merseburg - one of the roughest targets in the ETO!
Most difficult mission was mission #275, 21 Nov. 1944; target Leuna works in Merseburg, Germany. Thick fog from 18,000 to above 28,000 feet made visual bombing impossible. PFF (Radar) bombing from 18,000 feet was ineffective and also exposed the group to murderous accurate flak. Thick contrails obscured vision and made tight formation impossible. As it was, Lt. Green's plane collided with Lt. Virag's ship sending him down where ME-109s finished the job. Many ships dropped bombs when they saw others salvo, resulting in a scattered drop and in no way accurate.
Our ship (Lt. Haynes) lost two engines over the target and received major flak damage. We were unable to keep up with the group and stayed hidden in the fog until we emerged north of Frankfurt in bright sunlight and unlimited visibility. We felt that at any moment the Luftwaffe would appear and pounce on us, but miraculously they did not appear; instead a lone P-51 eased in on us and flew with us for a short time until a sudden burst of flak from the Frankfurt area hit him and he plunged down - no chute was seen.
We were gradually losing altitude crossing the Dutch coast under 5,000 feet and hoping we could reach Molesworth. We were now 1 1/2 hours late and dusk was falling. When we reached Molesworth a runaway prop on #3 engine, due to severed throttle cable, caused us to lose the engine. We came in on one engine and without hydraulics or brakes, we used up the entire runway before finally coming to a stop on the perimeter.
The ground crew counted over 200 holes in the ship including one that had partially severed the main spar. This was to be our last mission as a complete original crew. Most of us became lead crew team members finishing our tours flying sometimes with some of our original crew but mostly as lead crew members.
February 3, 1945 - my last mission was to Berlin as lead Bombardier, 359th Sqdn. and my 32nd mission. Target was wide open and bombing results were very good. My original pilot Chas. D. Haynes flew with me on this one. We both agreed that although the Berlin mission was one of the most important we had flown on, nothing could compare with the nightmare of experiences we shared at Merseburg on Nov. 21, 1944.
Charles A. Dando Bombardier (359th)
WWII as I remember it
My father wanted my younger brother and I to leave Italy and come to America not only for the freedom and opportunity, but also to avoid fighting the war in the Italian Army Ironically, once here and as American citizens, we were drafted. After boot camp, eighteen young men (myself included) agreed to meet on a certain day in a specific location before our next assignment, overseas. Five of these young men and myself made a pact to meet at Ft. Dix on July 14, 1941
Once there I found myself alone. None of my buddies were anywhere to be found. The disappointment and fear were difficult to describe. In desperation, I boarded a bus that went all around the area hoping to spot one of my comrades. I even went around the route a second time until finally, the bus driver yelled over, "hey, you gonna get off?" I explained the situation (the best I could in my 'broken' English) that I'm supposed to meet my outfit here. He directed me to the barracks. What a wonderful sight - another buddy had been waiting. We were thrilled to find each other!
Out of the 18 men who wanted so much to be together, one got lost somehow, and the remaining 17 were dispersed to various squadrons. It would have felt more secure and less frightening if we could have stayed together. I had this recurring thought, "I don't want to kill anyone, and I don't want anyone to kill me."
I had thoughts of deserting, but there were about 18,000 soldiers boarding the Queen Mary, and on all sides were MPs. Being seasick was one of the worst experiences of my life - death would have been a welcome relief. Upon arriving in Scotland, we were greeted by groups of Scottish women who came to welcome us and convey their support and encouragement by displaying the Victory Sign as we disembarked.
While stationed in England, they thought I was an Italian spy because they saw me talking with the Italian prisoners of war. I was ordered to see the English Captain who interrogated me about my activity. I admitted I was talking with them, and yes, I did give them cigarettes, but I was no spy. My captain, Captain Seaton of the 359th, vouched for me, reassuring the officer I was trustworthy. What I didn't disclose at the time, was my agreement with the Italian prisoners. Since Italians were considered the enemy, I was not allowed to correspond with my parents. In exchange for cigarettes, they mailed letters to my parents so I could let them know I was O.K. It had been 14 years since my parents had last seen my brother and myself. I was grateful I could converse with the Italian prisoners since this facilitated my correspondence with my family in Italy.
One day the woman who owned the farm where the prisoners worked, called me over to say I had received a letter this particular letter brought the news of my grandmother's death.
My trade agreements, secret and benign, were beneficial to many. In exchange for sugar (which I obtained from the kitchen), the English gave me eggs. The English were thrilled to have sugar and the American soldiers were thrilled to have eggs. Italian prisoners working the farms even gave me chickens now and then. - (this made me popular amongst some of the officers). I was given a pass in exchange for obtaining (through honest trade and barter) staples not provided to American GIs. A pass was a wonderful 'ticket' during this time - I was one of the few GIs who could take a date to the movies.
During my short stay of approximately one and a half months in Dakar, Africa, my job was to keep the planes and facilities clean and working as the new recruits came to replace us. Also, during this time, I remember the incredible heat and swamps of mosquitoes that attacked my body. The African natives were paid fifty cents a day to work. The conditions were unimaginable. Poverty was so bad, leftover scraps of food were consumed regardless of the debris in which it was found.
Probably the best event of this experience was, although I did not recognize it at the time, my fathering a daughter while stationed in England. Now 50 years later, I have been reunited with her. Within the last year I have visited her in England and she has visited here.
I have many memories: love and romance, fear and friendship, bombings and bargaining, bridges and bicycles, air raids and air corps, heat and heroes, service and salutes, ... and, looking back - what a great experience - I am proud to be an American.
Antonio Pascucci Admin. Clerk (359th)
A machinist speaks!
There are so many memories of Molesworth. I was in the 328th Service Squadron which became the 444th Sub Depot. We were mostly not in any danger but most of us went through a few raids on London. The Germans were very considerate of us as they came over after the pubs closed; then we were brave being full of beer.
I worked in the very good machine shop we had and very seldom worked directly on planes. I made parts, special bolts and tools. The one job I hated was to go out on the line and drill and remove a broken exhaust manifold stud. When the drill was in that small space, visibility was nil.
During a conversation with Mel McCoy, who was our engineering officer; he showed me a picture of the wall inside the J1 hangar. This was by the office and showed a large amount of B-17s stenciled on the wall designating planes repaired by us. I think he said 1600. I wish that we were able to tour the J1 hangar on the last trip to Molesworth and see if the list was still there. I remember how in the first few months of combat when supplies were hard to get, that crew chiefs were reluctant to leave their B-17s in the hangar overnight. Too often there was a "Moonlight Requests" done on them; nobody knew where the parts went but we were sure that it put another plane in combat status. This ceased when supplies became more plentiful.
I remember the "Sweating In." When the raid was tough they landed fast, almost tail to tail. But after a "Milk Run" it took a long time to land. The crews of the plane that didn't return were a very sad bunch, but would brighten up on the news that their plane landed somewhere else. I was amazed how some badly damaged planes came back and we repaired most of them, a few of them had to be scrapped. Some of the planes became familiar to us like the "Black Diamond Express." She received a lot of battle damage but always came back while some of the newer ones were shot down.
I remember how nice the people were to us even though their towns and pubs were crowded with us GIs. I also remember being invited to stay the night with people that I had just met. Especially a British Soldier who was invalided out because of wounds in India-Burma where he had been with Wingate's troops. We met in a pub and he invited me to his home for the night. His sister warmed a pair of pajamas by the fire for me. I wish I hadn't lost their address.
I also remember the difference in pay. Their's seemed so little compared with ours; we were wealthy once a month. I also remember how stringent their rationing was. How little meat and clothing they could get. My buddy Joe Michel and I tried to buy two of the ugliest red neckties to wear to our squadron party, but we were unable to bribe the clothing store owner to part with them.
I also remember when the British Bombardier put a practice bomb through the hangar roof. There was a completed B-17, but the crew chief said leave it for the night as it wasn't scheduled for the next day raid. The bomb landed a few feet from the side of the plane and made a dent about a foot in diameter and 1 1/2 inch deep, The cement was like buckshot and there were many holes to repair; it took a couple of days.
There are many memories of the 303rd. Some happy and some sad but we were all happy when the war came to a close.
Henry G. Johansen Machinist (444th Sub Depot)
"Look Mom - no pilot!"
During 1944, I was the lead crew radio operator on a mission to Cologne. We were over the target and the bombardier attempted to release a smoke marker as a signal to others in the squadron to release their bombs. At that point, there was a loud bang that jarred the plane which was immediately filled with smoke. We all thought we had been hit with flak which was heavy that day. Our waist gunner immediately kicked out the side fuselage door and was prepared to jump as were the rest of us in that section of the plane. Luckily though we were all on intercom, and the bombardier asked me to check the bomb bay to determine if the smoke bomb had released or had hung in the bay and exploded. To our great relief, I found the smoke bomb had not released and had exploded in the bay resulting in no damage to the plane. I can assure you this was an exciting day. We successfully completed our mission and returned safely to base.
This incident occurred during our Flight Crew's temporary assignment to the Chelveston Air Base (305th BG). However, we were still flying our mission out of Molesworth (303rd Bomb Group; 358th Sqdn). This particular day, we were on a flight practicing bomb drops over England. We had a partial crew and everything seemed to be going O.K. The engineer, who was normally the waist gunner, was operating the upper turret. Suddenly, the alarm bell sounded and shortly thereafter the acting engineer came into the radio room looking for a fire extinguisher and rushed through the bomb bay to the turret to do battle with the fire. We were spraying the fire when to our amazement we noted with alarm, that there was no one in the cockpit - pilot or co-pilot! The alarm bell was still sounding. We immediately decided that it was past time for us to abandon ship, The acting engineer threw the fire extinguisher into the fire. We went back through the bomb bay to the radio room picking up the Mickey-Navigator on the way to the fuselage side door. Then it was 1 - 2 - 3, out that door! The last I saw of the plane; it was still flying. I learned later that the pilot had set the controls on auto-pilot, heading it out from England towards the English Channel. We all landed safely, but we three - the last to Jump - were approximately 10 miles down range from the earlier jumpers. After considerable time, and with some help from local English farmers, we all got back together. The pilot contacted the base and during our wait for pick-up, a very kind and generous English family invited us into their home and served us tea and crumpets.
We all finally arrived back at the base safe and sound. This was an unforgettable experience and I have often wondered about the plane... where it went down and the thoughts of anyone who may have seen it crash.
O.Z. Rowe Radio Operator (358th)
Ed. Note: Are you sure you had a pilot and co-pilot on board when you took off?
Fate deals strange hands!
Most of my memorable experiences are well described in Carl Fyler's book, "Staying Alive" which I recommend to anyone who hasn't read it. Although I feel very lucky that I had been transferred to 8th Air Force Headquarters a few days before my crew was shot down and my successor in the Radio Room was killed, I have always felt pangs of guilt that I was not there for that last awful mission.
John S Jillson Radio Operator (360th)
June 21, 1944 (Berlin) we were hit by flak just after "Bombs Away." Right wing was on fire and plane filled with heavy black smoke. Pilot gave order to bail out. I jerked off my oxygen mask and flak suit and looked for my chest pack chute. In the smoke, confusion and panic I was unable to locate it immediately. C.R. Allen, the pilot, came forward and motioned for me to get out. I told him to go ahead. I finally found my chute and crawled to the hatch only to find Allen stuck in it. I pushed him out and followed him.
I remember the blast of air and seeing the plane pass over me, then I lost consciousness (I assume from lack of oxygen). My next memory is being vaguely aware that I was spinning slowly on my back with my head down about 45 degrees. I tried to maneuver, to turn myself so I could see the ground but couldn't. I had no idea of how long or far I had fallen but decided I probably should open my chute.
I reached for the "D" ring on my right side, but it wasn't there. I had my chute on upside down so the ring was on my left side. Surprisingly I figured this out pretty quick. I pulled the rip cord and the chute blossomed out yanking me upright where I could see the ground which was frightenly close. l swung back and forth about three times and landed between the wall of a bombed out building and an iron picket fence on top of a coal pile. I hid my chute in the rubble, climbed over the fence and was met by the only person around, an unarmed Air Raid Warden. Since bombs were falling fairly close and spent shrapnel was kicking up dust all around us, I was glad to accompany him to a nearby air raid shelter which was occupied by several teenage slave labor girls from various occupied countries. When the all clear sounded I was turned over to the military.
John A Thurmon Navigator (427th)
Ed. Note: What are the odds of getting hit by flak from the enemy, bailing out, and then get caught on the ground just in time to get hit by bombs from your own countrymen? Things like that could ruin your entire day.
Reference Mission #83 to Bremen, 26 Nov.1943, A/C #42-5177 "Fast Worker Mk II" (359th) It is most unfortunate that the pilot (Lt. H.S. Bolsover) declined to be interrogated. There were several actions on this aircraft way beyond the call of duty and at the risk of ones life. There may have been a CMH or DSC awarded if the story was told.
Reference Mission # 114, 28 Feb. 1944, aircraft # 42-5306, (359th). 1st. Lt. N.E. Shoup pilot. A/C downed by flak. Lts. Clark and McClain and Sgt. Asvestos bailed out. Lt. McClain and Sgt. Asvestos were captured immediately. McClain and Asvestos escaped and evaded through France. Both returned to England, Asvestos on May 17 and McClain on June 21.
Reference Mission #109, 20 Feb. 1944, Target Leipzig, Germany. Note mission commendations on pages 347 and 348 of "Might in Flight." The strike photos and other related material should be displayed in the 8th AF Museum
Charles J. McClain Bombardier (359th)
The day the King, Queen and Princess visited the 303rd Red Cross HQ. The now Queen Elizabeth, opened the window and allowed me to take her picture which I later entered in a contest sponsored by the RC and won 1st prize of $50, which really seemed like a lot of money at that time. But I'll never forget the day we sent out 11 planes and only two returned. Going through the boys things to send home really left an impression on me that I'll never forget.
Arthur M. Stoy (360th) Supply Unit
London's Eiffel Tower
In this predicament it was a case of assuming that the other guy had everything under control:
"In January 1944 the Ken Edwards crew was assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group at Molesworth. We took ground classes for a week and then went for an area familiarization flight with Tommy Quinn, an experienced pilot, and Joe Vieira as radio-operator. We flew around the area so that they could show us the prominent landmarks. When it was time to return to base, the Group was returning from a mission, and Flying Control needed us out of the way while the planes landed. We flew around, climbing through the overcast to about 5,000 feet. As I'd finished my assigned duties for the flight, I didn't pay much attention to the instruments and didn't know that a 100-knot wind had developed at the altitude we were flying.
When it was time for us to let down through the clouds, Quinn asked me for a heading back to Molesworth, I looked down as soon as we broke out and saw London below. Joe Vieira, our radio operator, heard my report to the pilot and came on the intercom with, "London doesn't have an Eiffel Tower!" At first I thought he was joking, but sure enough it was Paris, not London. What a shock. An unarmed B-17 flying around over enemy-held territory was unlikely to be ignored. Sure enough someone calls out that a couple of fighters were coming up fast. Quinn promptly took us back into the clouds, but not before one of the fighters had taken a shot at us. We took a heading for England and finally got a steer from the radar people who had been tracking us and wondering what we were doing. When we eventually got back base we all swore secrecy, hoping our stupidity would not be known. Next morning the ground crew found a few bullet holes in the B-17 so we had some explaining to do!
Coleman Sanders (359) Navigator
In retrospect, I know now that I had the rather unique experience of viewing and participating in a broad concept of a successful military operation made possible by the cooperative efforts of many. I claim no personal laurels, but was proud to be a part of that team effort. As a "ground pounder," I dealt with mission preparation and the paper war that supported combat. The dedicated performance of duty by the ground support units cannot be over emphasized or praised. By special permission I flew five missions and thus experienced the combat side of the war. Flying as an observer or photographer, I was in various positions In the plane and in various slots in the formation, from deputy lead to tail-end Charlie. I returned better prepared to brief the bombardiers on target identification, interrogate crews on mission results and interpret the strike attack photos.
On two occasions I put the whole package together over a period of almost 24 hours. When the field order came in around 0200 hours, I prepared the bombardier's briefing and conducted it about 0600. I flew the mission (8-10 hours) and after the quick shot of "Four Roses" or whatever it was, I interrogated the crews. By that time the strike attack photos were in from the photo lab and it was time to put on my photo interpreter's glasses. Several hours later I issued the PI Report to the Group and Squadron Commanders. I hadn't felt any lack of sleep during this time because there was so much activity and so much to do, but eventually I sacked out like a rock. Unlike the crew I had just flown with, I could sleep in the next day - they weren't as fortunate.
After a few hours of well-deserved sack time, they were aroused with the familiar you're flying today. Breakfast at 0400; briefing at 0500. The Intelligence did a lot of report writing which eventually became history-recording. I did my share of it, but I wished I had kept more notes and was more mature at that time. I didn't realize I was an eyewitness to history in the making and was experiencing that broad view of the war. I also wish I could shake the hands of my good and now departed buddies. They performed so well and contributed so much. Experience with the 303rd Bomb Group is hard to describe in terms of one man's experience. Molesworth contained a family, a team, a group of dedicated men who did a variety of jobs to win a very important battle. Maybe my greatest achievement at Molesworth was getting to know that great gang of guys. I have never known a better bunch in my 30 years of service in the Air Force.
Carlton M. Smith (HDQ) Photo Interpreter
Target: Merseburg! "nuff said"
My most memorable remembrance of my time spent with "Hell's Angels" 303rd Bomb Group, 427th Bomb Sqdn., would be what proved to be my 14th and final bombing mission. I had intended sending this story to Carlton Smith after reading the "One Way Trip for Miss Lace" by Robert Krohn that appeared in the Hell's Angels Newsletter in January 1993. But I started treatments that put me in the hospital for major surgery, followed by three more hospital visits for more surgery that kept me out of action for a few years.
Our plane for this mission to Merseburg, Germany, 24 Aug. '44, happened to be "Miss Lace." We had a full flight of 12 planes from the 427th and joined the other groups to fly in at 35,000 feet (our highest mission to date) and that in itself seemed to be a good sign. Looking out to the rear of our formation, I saw a B-17 quite a distance behind, and I called to our tail gunner to check and see if he could make out the markings and whether she might be in trouble. As far as he could tell, she seemed to be flying at the same speed and altitude. However, as we approached the l.P., he called back to say she was peeling off. This confirmed our suspicions that the Germans had captured one of our B-17s, repaired it, and used it to fly behind our formation and call in our air speed and altitude to the anti-aircraft batteries on the ground, thus providing perfect accuracy.
We started on the bomb run when all hell broke loose. I had my hand on the gun control arm to press the intercom button to tell our pilot I was opening the bombbay doors when I saw our lead plane take a direct hit (we were deputy lead) and blow apart, scattering pieces of the plane and bodies - saw one with his hand on the handle of his chest pack chute, others with chutes open.
I felt our plane lurch and a funny feeling on my arm and hand. I looked over to see my ring finger on my right hand missing and pieces of shrapnel in my hand. Due to low temperatures (probably about 60 degrees below zero), there was no feeling yet.
We continued our run and I dropped my bombs, closed the bombbay doors, called the pilot and told him "Let's head for home right now!" A. we started back I got a call from our waist gunner, Charlie, telling me he had been hit. Since one of my extra duties was first aid officer, I asked him if Jarvis, our radio man, could handle it since I had a little problem myself. He assured me it wasn't serious and I didn't have to come back
By this time I was bleeding all over the place, so I called our navigator to give me a hand. When I looked a him, he was shaking like a leaf. I looked where he had been sitting or the navigator's desk and noticed the gaping hole where the shrapnel her entered, right where the middle of his anatomy had been. But he had reached down at just the right time to retrieve some maps and papers and it probably saved his life. We must have made quite a pair with my one hand and his shaky ones as we dumped all the sulfa powder on my shot-up hand, then bandaged it 'til looked like I was hiding a boxing glove.
We got back over the coast with out any fighter plane encounters and headed for our home base a Molesworth. When you have wounded aboard, you fire off red flares to landing priorities. That day every plane was firing flares! The first plane to land was really in bad shape; two engines out, the third one going out on landing, and the fourth and fine engine quitting when he hit the run way; most of the stabilizer tail section was out; there was a hole in the wing that you could crawl through and a monstrous hole in the fuselage where one crew member was killed and an other lost a leg. They told me afterwards that they just hooked what was left of the plane to a tow vehicle and took it straight to the junk yard.
Our plane came in for a landing with our hydraulic system shot out so we were off the runway going through a field with an ambulance chasing after us. If it hadn't been of such a serious nature, it probably would have looked like a Keystone Cop comedy with al the planes going off in different directions, chased by ambulances.
The final toll was: one plane blown up over the target with 10 casualties (actually two got out); one plane home but destroyed with two casualties; the remaining 10 planes of the 427th with at least 100 holes in each and 23 wounded taken to the 303rd station hospital. The good part was that my crew went on to finish their tour in "Miss Lace" and returned to their states before I did.
Lt. Charles W. Ziesche (427) Bombardier
Ed. Note: The navigator the 427th's lead aircraft was also wounded in the arm with blood sputtering all over the nose of their aircraft. In this case, it was the bombardier who became the first-aid administrator. Unfortunately, I believe you went over the target at 25, 000 feet - not 35,000, as stated.
A memorable mission!
My last raid was memorable in that it was a terrible fiasco. On June 25, 1943 we were Hamburg bound to join the Brits in demolishing it. I was with Capt. Roller and we were leading the high squadron. Bill Cline, our original copilot, was now flying our wing with his own crew. As I recall we were in bad soup shortly after take-off, which was compounded by serious contrails as we got higher. Then we began to lose visual contact with others. Our wingmen stuck tight and we finally broke through, and guess what? Our three-ship flight was it!
They were not shooting at us very much so we chugged along over a solid undercast as far as the eye could see. At last we joined up with Capt. Billy Southworth of the 427th Sqdn. He had 3 ships with him. We couldn't see the ground so somebody decided to go home. Then we had a nice running fight with "Jerry" for quite sometime. I finally saw the island of Baltrum in the Frisians and made a quick bomb run - six ships together dodging in and out of the clouds. Don't know if we did any damage other than plowing sand and I never could find out. Our six got home together and the rest of the formation straggled home in two's and three's.
The 8th AF lost 18 aircraft to no avail. Anyway, when we landed, Bob Yonkman, our bombing officer, met me at the plane with a big drink of rum. I had made it through the war.
You know, time distorts; you should get Jack Roller's version of this mission.
John R. Shoup (359) Bombardier
Ed. Note: John Shoup, Jack Roller and Bill Cline were part of one of the original crews that came over to Molesworth in October of 1942. Their original aircraft was the "Knockout Dropper, " the first B-17 to reach 75 missions in the ETO.
A few unusual missions!
On a mission to Nurnburg we were hit hard and fell from around 28,000 to 18,000 feet. Number three engine was on fire. The navigator, Lt. Trieges, left the nose to go up with Lts. Leach and Olson. I was ordered to stay in the nose and give reports on the fire. I figured if that prop fell towards the fuselage, I would have my own plane. When the engine burned out, the prop fell and thankfully it went straight down.
On another mission, after dropping my eight 250-pounders, the red light would not go out. The bombbay doors would not close, so I unhooked my oxygen and hooked my mask to a walk-around bottle and made my way back to the bomb-bay. I discovered one bomb did not release. Standing on a walk about six inches wide with a great view of the mountains, I held on with one hand and released the bomb with the pliers held in my other hand. I went back to the nose, went back on oxygen and closed the bombbay doors. The red light went out.
Those were about the most unusual missions, plus going to Berlin twice and seeing our share of the flak.
Johnny W. Psota (358) Togglier
Luck or skill?
Hullar's crew (our crew) was a very lucky crew. We all did our 25 missions and went home. We did have our troubles but always managed to get back to Molesworth, except for the one time we ditched on our way back from Stuttgart on 9/6/43 in "Old Squad." The first Schweinfurt mission was our second combat mission. We were very lucky to complete that one. But our luck held out. We ditched on our sixth mission, as stated above. We also flew the second Schweinfurt mission and was very lucky to get back from that one. Our plane "Lucious Lady" was badly shot up and had to be partially repaired on the base before she could be sent to the repair depot.
We went to Bremen, Germany, about five times. Hated that target. Had trouble every time. On Jan. 5, 1944, we went to Kiel, Germany. We took off in the dark that morning and one of our planes and a plane from Kimbolton hit head-on right under us. The concussion knocked down two more planes and damaged one of our engines. We pushed on to Kiel leading three green crews. We couldn't keep up with any group, but managed to latch onto one group, then another. On the way back from the target, we were jumped by a lot of FW-190s but about the time that things got serious, a group of P-51s came along and drove them off. We flew our 25th mission, Feb. 20, 1944, to Bernberg, Germany, but had to abort and got credit for an abortive sortee. Lucky again. No one in our crew was killed or wounded - eight of us finished on the same mission and the other two later. (On Schweinfurt, our crew credited with one kill (mine), two damaged and one probable.)
After I was in the States for awhile, I asked for a transfer to B-25s and flew 14 missions in B-25 Gunships in Asiatic/Pacific area; skip bombing and straffing Japanese ships and airfields and oil refineries in Indo-China and Formosa.
Merlin D. Miller (427) Tail Gunner
On Jan. 22, 1945, on our 30th mission on Sterkrade, I was injured. We had flown in intense flak for 20 minutes, and during this time a piece ripped into the tail section cutting through my flak helmet and leather helmet, knocking away my oxygen mask. I was immediately unconscious and as I slumped forward, the oxygen mask miraculously swung back into place, thus saving my life until crew members could come to my aid. We made it back to Molesworth and I was immediately taken to the hospital, where a leading neurosurgeon performed surgery. A good sized piece of flak had entered my skull just above my right ear, resting precariously close to delicate brain tissue. The surgeon removed the flak and placed a titanium plate over the injured skull.
I experienced severe paralysis of my entire left side as a result of the injury. After several weeks of recovery and therapy in England, my mobility improved. Later I was sent to DeWit Hospital in Auburn, CA, for more rehab before being discharged in May.
A partial paralysis on my left side remained a factor all my life, leaving me with no sensitivity in my fingers and weakness of arm and leg muscles. I'm grateful to God for sparing my life when my oxygen mask swung back in place and for having such a great crew, whose friendship and concern supported me all my days.
(Wife's notes - "Tom became a teacher and school administrator whose life touched countless others. He influenced young lives and was a popular leader in our community. He was a natural athlete, and in spite of his handicap, excelled in tennis, skiing and golf. He loved life, music, nature, friends and family.)
Thomas Henn (358) Tail Gunner
Ed. Note: The crew later named B-17 #44-8427 "Henn's Revenge" in honor of the wounded tail gunner.
RHIP including golf!
I volunteered on a mission to Norway to destroy the "heavy water" operation at the command of Germany. This was the start of nuclear warfare. The day before the mission, my commander canceled me because he was on another mission and I was to take his place while he was gone. I am able to write this today because the aircraft and crew that made the flight was shot down by German fighters.
The unusual part of my assignment came after recovering from a bad case of the flu. The doctor released me after a few weeks, but did not allow any high altitude flights. I managed somehow to end up with an old twin engine British airplane with the task of flying generals to Scotland to play golf. At that time I was a fair golfer, but I could not leave the aircraft on the small airport because the Germans could knock it down for good. (My wife and I played golf at St. Andrews in Scotland on the 4th of July 1976.)
Peter L.M. Packard (358/360) Pilot
Ed. Note: Since the 303rd had no general officers assigned, Maj. Packard must have been on special assignment during the golfing expeditions.
A bogus B-17
On a mission over Denmark, all of a sudden a B-17 joined us and flew alongside of us. The plane had no markings and we waved to them and it disappeared as fast as it had come. All of a sudden we were shot at from the ground and we received many hits. The plane was an enemy plane and had flown with us to get our altitude. We were lucky we didn't get shot down. The plane was a B-17 which had probably been fixed up by the Nazis.
Irving Libert (360) RO/Gunner
A medley of experiences!
Our crew (Lt. E.S. Harrison's) was extremely blessed to have survived our missions. In part it was due to the skill of our pilots and co-pilots, and a large part in the skill, work and dedication of the ground crews to prepare the plane for combat missions. Everyone knew that once over enemy territory there could be no safe turning back to get something repaired. It gave one a secure feeling to look out and see all four engines turning after having fighter attacks, flak, and very cold weather, to contend with. So in a way the ground crews had a big part in our survival.
On the Jan. 5, 1944 raid to Kiel, Germany, before we had reached Denmark, our supercharger controls wouldn't work properly, so we aborted the mission. The pilot and navigator turned the plane and followed a signal on the radio compass that was supposed to bring us straight back to England. We had let down to 4,000 feet, and after a short time some one spotted islands off to the left, and we were heading right into them. (I don't think the Navigator or pilot had heard about how the Germans learned how to bend radio beams). As we started to come over the islands, it was the impression of the pilot and navigator that it was the Wash on England's east coast. It was my belief that it couldn't be the Wash for two reasons: first, we hadn't flown long enough to reach the Wash and second, land was on our left not or our right. The pilot asked me if the l.D. set was turned on and was i working? And I replied, "yes" No sooner had we come inland, a battery of 12 88 mm flak guns opened up. First four bursts were close, then four more closer and so on. Some one said, "We've got to turn and dive out of here, if we can." So the pilot turned sharply and dived down to the ocean with the plane just clearing the waves. As the flak gunners were tracking and firing at us out to sea, we were very lucky in that only the tail gunner got hit with flak. He had his flak helmet on, and it saved his life.
After gaining some altitude, the pilot called me and told me we were lost, could I use my radio to get us back. I told him I could. So I tuned the radio to the direction finding station to get our position and a compass course. On the first transmission, I received back it was very loud and clear, and a heading was given to me. The heading he gave me was unrealistic to what it should have been. And it was too strong a signal for being over the channel area. So I became suspicious. I again called the D.F. station using its call sign. And again the operator answered giving me a heading, which as yet I hadn't asked for. So I challenged the operator. He came back with the right numbers. Again I challenged asking for a different set of numbers. Again he gave the right ones, and a heading. Once again I asked for another set of numbers. This time they were wrong. So then there was no doubt in my mind that it was a German radio operator, using our D.F. station call letters, trying to get us to turn back over Holland, so they could shoot us down. (Later we decided we had come in over the Frisian Islands.) I kept trying to reach our D.F. station, and soon very weakly I heard the station. I asked the radio operator for the authentification numbers. He gave the right numbers. Then I asked the operator for our position and the magnetic heading to fly. So once we had our position and a magnetic heading to fly and it wasn't too long before we reached England and Molesworth.
January 11, 1944 on the Oschersleben mission we started out as a spare but due to an abortion, we filled the vacant spot and went on in even though the Engineer's headset wasn't working. By now it was too late to turn around. As soon as the 2nd and 3rd Division aircraft got their recall and turned around, the Luftwaffe started coming up through the clouds like a swarm of bees. Soon they attacked with ferocity. On the way to the target, an enemy fighter hit a B-17 in front of us, and it blew up sending a wing toward us. The pilot had to dive to prevent colliding with the wing. I was standing at my gun position looking out of the radio hatch as the wing barely missed us going over the top of the plane. As we started on our bomb run a flak burst came close sending a chunk of metal hitting and cutting one oxygen line. So that left half of the crew without oxygen, including me. I got down on my knees hunting up my walk around oxygen bottle, which had fallen down into the supercharger control compartment along with a case or two of loose 50 Cal. ammo. (The plywood had come off the top of the ammo box due to evasive action taken to distract the fighters aim.) While down on my knees, pulling out my oxygen bottle, a FW-190 at three o'clock high came in and put a 20mm or machine gun bullet through the radio room cutting the other oxygen line and hitting number 3 engine. The pilot was able to feather the prop. If they were 20mm shells they didn't explode. Had I been standing holding my 50 Cal. machine gun, the projectile would have hit me. We began losing our eyesight for lack of oxygen. My spare oxygen bottle hose was so badly damaged that it was useless to me. One or two crew members started passing out. (I would take aim at a fighter and soon I couldn't see anything). Someone said, down below us is a small formation of crippled B-17s. The pilot asked if there were any fighters trying to make a pass at us. And we answered, "no." So he said hang on, we are going down to join them. We were able to make it down without being attacked. It felt good to be able to see and breathe again, as we were now down to about 17,000 feet. We made it back to England without being picked on by German fighters. But we could not locate Molesworth, due to the fog, and were instructed to proceed to Horsham St. Faith. So we headed in that direction. Soon the pilot said, "Put on your parachutes and prepare to bail out" as we were running out of gas. The bombbay doors were opened and I was just putting one foot on the catwalk and was disconnecting my heated suit cord and my mike, when someone said, "look down there at that opening in the clouds at 11:00 o'clock low, there is a B-24 base." The pilot said,"hang on, we are going down through that cloud opening." The bombbay doors were closed and we went down through the hole in the clouds. The pilot brought the plane around in line with the runway and set it down. No sooner had we touched down, the engines stopped running and they had to get a tow tractor to pull us off the runway. All of you who flew on that mission know how lucky we felt to have made it back. We flew the plane #4239885, "Sweet Rose O'Grady" and landed at Wengling. Some of the battle damage was No. 3 engine hit and feathered, the two oxygen lines cut, the radio room damaged by the ammo coming out of the boxes and flying around due to the evasive action.
Easter Sunday, 9 April 1944. Mission to Marienburg. In briefing we were to fly our regular assigned plane, "The Spirit of Flak Wolf." We had started putting in our guns, when an Operation's Officer came with Lt. McGarry's crew and told us that we were to fly #42-3158 "Max" this day instead. We grumbled about the change as we had the guns about in, and besides it was our assigned airplane that we had been flying. But, off we rushed to get the other airplane ready, as take-off time was fast approaching. We had barely finished when the taxi flare was shot up. We took off allright, but Lt. McGarry and his crew crashed on take off in "The Spirit of Flak Wolf," killing six of the crew. Afterwards we wondered, if battle orders hadn't been changed, this might have happened to us.
6 June 1944, Invasion Day. I had finished my missions on May 28th, on the Glide Bomb mission to Cologne. I was still assigned to the 427th Sqdn. All the crews had taken off for France, when a pilot came into the barracks and asked me if I would be his radio operator, as he wanted to fly down and have a look at the invasion. I told him I would. So off we flew to the invasion coast in the tow target B-17. When we arrived there it was so cloudy and foggy that all we could barely see was a few ships firing at the French coast, and flights of B-17s going in. So the pilot turned around and headed for Molesworth. At the time I didn't realize how close we came of being shot down by our own group. One gunner told me afterwards that he almost opened fire on the tow target airplane, as in briefing, they were given orders to shoot down any airplane that wasn't in formation, and had markings that wasn't up to date, and acting like it might be a captured B-17 being used by the Germans. Needless to say, no mission credit was given for this flight. As I recall (after 52 years) the crew consisted only of a high ranking pilot, co-pilot, navigator and a radio operator. But there might have been more but I can't remember any of their names.
Lawrence Volmer (427) Radio Operator