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as published in the Hell's Angeles Newsletter
August and November 1997
[Copyright © 303rd BGA, Hal Susskind, Editor]
In the spring of 1942 I was stationed at what is now called Edwards Air Force Base. The 303rd had a detachment from Boise, ID, there for training. I got information that they needed personnel. I walked over and got an interview. The Officer asked me what I knew about B-17s. I said "nothing." He said good; now we can teach you what we want you to know. That's how I got into the 303rd. Stayed 'til the end of the war.
I had no schooling by the military on aircraft. It was "on the job," but I had men like M/Sgt. Yaniga, M/Sgt. Mintz, M/Sgt. Osiecki and M/Sgt. Helton that had faith in me. They gave me the time and opportunity to get ahead. I also became the youngest Crew Chief in the 359th and was awarded the Bronze Star. I was the Crew Chief on "Lucille" that Lt. Col. Dick Cole claimed as his plane. I made a career out of the Air Force and of all the outfits I was in, none ever came close to the 303rd. I'm proud to have been a part of it.
Joe B. Strange (359) Crew Chief
Our first mission with the 303rd was on Feb. 26, 1943 to submarine pens in the Netherlands. Our radio operator passed out and, because of inexperience, we left the formation and were immediately attacked by seven FW190s. We got back but luck was with us - a lesson was learned on mission number one.
On Feb. 17, 1943 while flying locally on a training mission our barracks (4 crew officers) burned to the ground; all we saved was what we had on our backs. We had to start from scratch to replace uniforms, supplies and personal items. Tough time!
Luck was with us on March 18, 1943. Returning from Vegesack, shot up and low on fuel our plane engines lost power at approximately 600 feet while we were approaching Molesworth. All we could do (pilot and copilot) was to land wheels up, straight ahead. We hit a plowed field with no trees or dwellings. The plane was totaled, but we had no injuries. Just one of those times that luck and the "One" above was with us.
Walter Swanson (360) Co-Pilot
"Grapefruits" for Cologne
On 28 May 1944, we delivered "grapefruits" to Cologne, Germany. This was classified as a highly secret mission. I remember it well. We were called to briefing about 0800 hours. This was later than the usual briefing. They were usually around 0300 or 0400. We were going to carry "grapefruits" to Cologne, Germany. No, not the round yellow juicy ones, but large 2,000 pounders with wings attached. A single wing about 20 feet long was attached to the top of the bomb. Two 4x4" beams ran along the side of the bomb and about 4 feet to the rear ending in a tail assembly. Control rods ran from the tail to a gyroscope control unit placed a bit forward. It looked like a large glider. This is what it was. Two of these glider bombs were placed in the wing racks on each ship. One bomb was slung under each wing. Three airfields (41st CBW crews) were participating in this experimental mission. Weather was predicted to be perfect. We had been turned back on a previous occasion because of a slight change in the wind. We did not want a recall. We wanted to get rid of these "grapefruits." We were three small groups, about 20 planes in a group. With only 60 planes in our immediate air space, the sky seemed empty. At the North Sea our fighter escort met us. It would have been difficult for any bandits to have challenged us this day. Fighter escort was below us and above us. Everywhere you looked, there was fighter escort, 47s, 51s and 38s. It was apparent that General Doolittle didn't want the Germans to get a good look at our gifts. We crossed France struggling for altitude.
Our target was the Eifeltor Marshalling Yard in Cologne. About 20 miles from the city was a road running north and south. This was to be our dropping point. Spotting the road in the distance, we started a shallow dive. Air speed built up quickly. The old lady began vibrating. Noise increased as George eased her up to the speed required for releasing the "grapefruit." My ball turret was whistling. Hank, our bombardier called "bombs away." Away they went. They dropped about 300 or 400 feet straight down, straightened up and began gliding in a zig zag course. Some of our bombs must have gotten their gyros dumped. Some went into tight nose down spins. Some went into flat spins and some did acrobatics. It was quite a show; a show reserved for some sixty ball turret gunners. We made a turn to the right and headed back to England. Bursts of flak were beginning to appear over Cologne. I do not know why. They had seen us coming and had seen us turn back. They could not have thought that those few bursts of flak had scared us off. They kept putting it up. P-38s were swooping in taking all kinds of pictures of the "grapefruits." It was great, get within 20 miles of your target, drop your bombs, turn around and head for home. Not a burst of flak within miles.
From the ball turret, I kept my eyes on the city of Cologne. We had been headed homeward for almost five minutes when I saw the first explosion. A giant burst of flame and smoke leaped skyward from one section of the city. A geyser of water leaped from the river running through the city. It must have been a half mile high to have been seen from such a distance at such clarity. We probably killed a few fish with that one. Explosions were seen in many sections of the city. I counted 18 explosions before the city passed from view. Later hearsay was that approximately 35 bombs had glided into the city. One of the "grapefruits" had clipped the great Cologne Cathedral. We heard that the Cathedral damage wasn't too extensive.
The "grapefruits" were put away and not used again, to my knowledge. They were not accurate enough for these "pin-point" experts of the Eighth Air Force. It was a new experience.
G.E. Bale (359) Ball turret gunner
Ed. Note: 1,341 aircraft of the 8th AF bombed the marshalling yards at Cologne that day. The 60 "grapefruit" aircraft was just a small force. I visited the Cologne Cathedral in 1993. The damage to that magnificent structure was minor a testimony to the accuracy of the US bombing when you consider how close it was to the marshalling yards.
It was the 27th of December 1944. We were feeling good about it all. The crew of M.M. Stiver had a successful trip over the railyards at Euskirchen. There were no enemy flak and no fighters, therefore no matter that there were also no escorting P-51s. This was our fourth bombing raid and the first time we had seen Germany, much less the target. Our three previous trips had been over 10/10ths cloud cover. Our navigator was kneeling beside me with maps in hand and giving us a "Cook's Tour" of Germany. His father had been in WWI and Leon recognized the names of some of those battle sites that we were now approaching.
Suddenly all hell broke loose as the front-line German gunners began firing at us and hitting us. Our path out of Germany had taken us too near to the point of attack of Hitler's winter offensive which was now beginning. The waist gunner, Bob Wilson, reported that he had been hit in the leg; shortly a report of bandits in the area; everyone else untouched; Bob asking for help; it all happened so fast. The pilot was sending me to help but I suggested the navigator since I would be needed on the guns with enemy fighters around. Stiver reminded me that he would be needed to layout the shortest way back to base. I had to agree, so with shaking hands, I reluctantly attached the portable oxygen tank and made my way through the now empty bombbay and the radio room to assist Bob. He had been hit behind the knee and it seemed to me had bled profusely. I managed to cut the flying suit so that I could apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding knowing full well that he was going to die any minute. I soon realized that I had been out of touch with the crew so I unplugged his headset, since I felt he would be better off not hearing. By now he was in severe pain and I realized I had not yet administered morphine. I took out a vial and immediately broke the frozen needle. Remembering the training I then placed two vials under my arm pit and in due time successfully injected one into the calf of his leg. We had been warned about leaving the tourniquet too long so periodically I released the pressure and each time he would yell in pain. It finally dawned on me that I had applied the morphine below the tourniquet. I managed to cut away some more of the suit and get a shot above the restriction.
Everything else was going for the better. No enemy fighters appeared so we left the formation at the coast and rapidly descended below the need for oxygen. At last I divested myself of the portable tank that seemed to be always in the way. The radio operator came to my assistance and also administered moral support to us which I sorely needed. The plane, though badly laced with shrapnel, was not severely damaged. The navigator got us to Molesworth long ahead of the Group and the emergency crews were ready and waiting when our wheels stopped rolling. There were 168 flak holes patched, we were told.
Bob never flew again but he also never regained complete use of his leg. He frequently used a cane but he was able to go into the construction business with his father-in-law in West Virginia. He and his wife had a child each year for the next five or six. Several times during those years I told him he survived in spite of me - not because of me.
I'm well aware that this situation was not so unique. Many times during the next few months I was far more severely frightened, but that fourth mission is burned in my memory forever.
Basil D. Hight, Jr. (360) Bombardier
I flew 34 missions with the 359th and on 19 April 1945 was transferred to the 427th Sqdn. I flew no combat missions with the 427th. I was scheduled to fly one on 25 April 1945. As I recall I had just returned from pass to London and was alerted that I was to fly with Lt. Mauger on that mission. A Navigator, named Knox came and asked if he could fly in my place on the evening of April 24th. He was eager to fly missions because his father was ill in the U.S. and he wanted to get home quickly. I told him that if he could square it with the squadron, it would be fine with me. He arranged it and flew in my place to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia on what would have been my 35th mission. Lt. Mauger and the crew were shot down. Lt. Knox apparently survived but the bombardier was KIA.
My most unusual experience was not going on what was to be the last mission the 8th AF flew in Europe and not being shot down on my 35th mission.
Glenn V. Hudson (358 and 427) Navigator
My most unusual experience or achievement was being Commanding Officer of the 303rd Bombardment Group (H) for 14 months.
Kermit D. Stevens (303rd ) Commanding Officer
Left or right?
I do not remember the exact mission or date but while we were over the target, the flak was heavy and my ball turret operator called to inform me that we had been hit in the left wheel well and he was sure that the tire was blown. Upon returning I reported this to the tower and was told to wait until all the other planes had landed. All the usual firetrucks, ambulances, etc., were in the ready. As I came in to land, I kept the left wing high so not to put any weight on the left wheel. I made the two point landing OK but immediately we took off to the right. It was then that I realized it was the right tire that was blown instead of the left. It was too late then for any corrections so I just continued across the field until I came to a cross runway where I stopped. No damage was done except the tire. Before I got the engines shut off, a staff car came roaring up and there was Col Stevens who yelled out the car window, "If you can't fly the damn thing get the Hell out of it." I could see he was laughing, so I knew he was not serious. We figured out later that the ball turret operator was facing the rear of the plane which put the right wheel on his left side. Needless to say he took quite a ribbing from the rest of the crew.
Deane L. Barnes (427) Pilot
"Halt! Who goes there?"
Night guard duty; mid March 'til June 5, 1944. Rumored that German Airborne units might try to neutralize some 8th AF bases at the time of the coming invasion. Some of us - about 25 - who worked the 4 to 12 shift were chosen to stay over the rest of the night in bunks that were set up in the hangar. We were issued Thompson sub-machine guns, with three loaded clips. Since most of us were unfamiliar with this weapon, we all had a brief course at a target range. Some fun.
Neil J. Svare (444th S.D.) Mos 555 - Sheet metal
"Thru Hel'en Hiwater"
Saturday, April 22, 1944, Mission #139, Railyards at Hamm, Germany. Takeoff time 16:30. In the vicinity of Werl, Germany was hit by flak behind No. 2 engine and fuel cell, causing an inferno. I helped Ray Brim, ball turret gunner out, as he started out the door, he fell. As I was pushing him out the door, the fuselage separated at the waist door and I was thrown against the tail wheel, wrapped in control cables. As I freed myself I floated out as the tail was falling guns down. Made a successful parachute jump landing in a tree over a deep rocky gulch, too high to drop. As I hung there, two Me-109s came at me, the leader was low at my level. As he passed me, he waved. I can still see his face He had a mustache. I slid down the tree trunk and walked over the hill and met H.E. Levy, the navigator. He had a bruised leg. Did not get captured 'til Monday morning. Then we got separated. But we both made it back home.
Everett E. Culp (358) Radio Operator
Ditch in Time Saves Nine
We had begun our missions over Germany, June 11, 1943 with Wilemshaven, our primary target. We were veterans of 33 days of this air combat of which there was no history or example of this type of warfare, unique in its experience, even to this date. We were roused on July 14, 1943 at about 4:30 a.m., and after breakfast were briefed to bomb a German aircraft assembling and repair facility in Villacoublay, France about 14 miles South of Paris. It was Bastille Day for the French, a holiday, so we could bomb away with a lot less fear of killing our French Allies and the factory idle.
We went over the target at 21,500 feet, loaded with 500 pound demolition bombs to destroy any and all of the material and factory. We were 116 at the time we left England, 101 reached the IP (initial point of the bomb run), and 96 hit the target area about 8:10 that morning, and this is where we got ours.
Flak took out one of our engines over the target, we dropped down a bit with this loss of power and the fighters hit; they got one more of our engines and reduced another one to less than 50 percent power. We were on the way down, dropping 1,000 feet a minute with about 90 miles to the coast. But we made the coast, ditched about nine miles off France and 60 plus miles from England. By this time we were being covered by Spitfires and Hurricanes and a PT boat was on its way. The PT boat arrived as the prison boat from Le Havre was about 300 yards away saved by the tide. I think the two hours from the time you are first hit by enemy fire 'til the time you hit the water and rescued, are the longest minutes a man can stretch time into relativity.
We were in the English Channel about 1 1/2 hours when we were picked up. They gave us some hot rum, warm sweaters and delivered us to Exeter, England, where those English girls really knew how to greet the downed "heroes" when they return to the White Cliffs of Dover. The ship we ditched was the "Memphis Blues," a sister ship to the "Memphis Belle," of Hollywood fame.
James O. Matthews
"O' you picked the wrong one today!"
My first experience was on my third or fourth raid which was over St. Nazaire. I was in the ball turret flying with Lt. Castle. We were on the right wing of the lead ship "Ooold Soljer" in the heavy flak. l saw it hit "Ooold Soljer." Soon after, I saw someone parachute from the nose of the lead ship. (Holy Mackerel) It scared the hell out of me. This was 23 November 1942. On 23 Jan. 1943, on my sixth raid, we were bombing Lorient, France in the "Thumper." We were hit by flak coming off the target. We fought fighters until Lt. Castle brought the plane down close to the water, which kept the fighters from diving down at us. I was stuck in the ball turret, because of so many empty 50 Cal. shells were ground up in my turret track. Castle ordered us to bail out over land. Somehow with the help of Craft, one of the waist gunners, he got me out of the turret. When I went to bail out someone noticed my chute was full of holes. I thought, well, I'll stay with the pilot and crash land. But he insisted I take his chute and he rode it down. Sgt. Yannie was hit in the forehead but his Army helmet saved him. The tail gunner Sgt. Billy Staner was killed when his parachute failed to open at low altitude. Sgt Yannie was badly wounded also from the fall. Sgt Craft and I both landed in the trees that broke our fall. We were both also wounded. (For further accounts of this mission of the "Thumper," see the August 1996 issue of the newsletter).
After a stay in he hospital, I began to catch up on my raids. By March 1943, there were no full crews left of the original flight crews. I went from one plane to another when there was a shortage of gunners. I flew most of my remaining raids in the "Ooold Soijer." On March 4, 1943, at the last moment I switched from "Ooold Soijer" to the "Yardbird." When I returned to my barracks, I heard that the "Ooold Soijer" crashed in flight formation and all were killed except the tail gunner, Sgt. Balcombe. My hut buddies, very embarrassed, returned my belongings to me. On my last raid on May 29, 1943, a ground crewman said, "Semonick, I think you picked the wrong one today." He was right, and I have thought about it many times since.
Ed. Note: Sgt. Semonick, flying in "Yardbird" was shot down over St Nazaire. Hit by flak over the target, it was finished off by attacking FW190s and Me-109s. Eight parachutes were seen The C/P Lt. T.S. Vaughn was killed and the rest of the crew became POWs.
Martin Semonick (360) Ball Turret gunner
A day at the beach!
Wheels up - crash landing on coast at Rye, England. Damaged right wing area and leak in right wing fuel tank after bomb run over Berlin, 28 March 1945. Left formation to locate landing strip on coast - fuel ran out. Weather ground zero on coast. Flew along coast to locate possible open beach area. Fortunately at Rye, there was an opening and set plane down with wheels up. Sloping beach caused plane to slide forward and right. Ended up in four feet of channel water. All crewmen OK. Spent night in jail at Rye - only place available. Returned to Molesworth next day. Plane was #43-38451 - D (Dog) No other markings. Crew Chief, Willis Meyer, Bryan, Ohio. Our engineer, Norm Hammel did fine job of transferring fuel during return.
Robert E. Edmunds (360) Pilot.
Ed. Note: According to "Might in Flight" (page 687) this magnificent piece of flying was credited to Lt. R.E. Edwards, but the questionnaire from which this copy was taken was signed by Robert E. Edmunds. It was one of two B-17s low on fuel in miserable weather which made wheels up landings in southeast England. Both planes were salvaged and no crew members were injured in either incident.
"The last mission!'
On my last mission #35, on March 20, 1945, we bombed the submarine pens at Hamburg, Germany. Flak was very heavy. During the bomb run I saw gasoline streaming off our wing and thought we had been hit. Actually, fuel was being transferred and overflowed one tank. As we left the target we were attacked by Me-262, jets, the first we had seen in the war. They shot off the stabilizer of the ship flying next to us; then shot it down. On the next pass, we shot down the ship attacking us. It broke in two just ahead of the tail. l put in a claim, but there were many guns firing and I don't know who was credited with the kill.
On February 22, 1945, I had a surprise visit from my cousin, Glen Walling, whom I had not seen since we were boys in our early teens. He was in our group, in the 359th squadron, and happened to see my name in a Red Cross Register. We had a great visit, talking about his family's visit to our Oklahoma farm in the mid 1930s.
Not long after his visit, l completed my missions and resumed home. I did not learn until after the war's end that he was killed on the 303rd's last mission of the war. His plane was shot down near Pilsen, Czechoslovakia on April 25,1945.
James M. Walling (358) Ball Turret Gunner
Ed. Note; Your cousin's sacrifice was not forgotten by the citizens of the Village of Krimice, Czechoslovakia. On May 7, 1996 a memorial honoring the deceased members of Lt. Mauger's crew was designed, erected and dedicated by the citizens of that village. Mr. Zdenek Prosek, Mayor of Pilsen and the Mayor of Krimice along with Air Force Colonel David E. Potts, Air Attache at the US Embassy in Pilsen said a few words at the ceremony. (See page 14 of the May 1997 issue of the Hell's Angels Newsletter).
On one of our missions we were attacked by a German fighter. Fortunately, his shot only tore into the top of our wing instead of our gas tank. This was probably due to the evasive action taken by our pilot. But the evasive action shook all of the 500 pound bombs off of the bomb racks. The bombay doors could not be opened except manually. So after our flight engineer, John Mason had refilled six oxygen walk-around bottles, l went into the bombay and got the doors opened over France.
I never did brag about my ability as a bombardier but "Gee" my target on this mission was in Germany and I hit France.
Harold L. Scott (360) Bombardier
Ed. Note: Let's look on the bright side. Since you dropped you bombs before D-Day, France was in enemy territory. Who knows, you might have been fortunate enough to wipe out a German garrison of occupying troops. and shortened the war?
Can you top this?
Whether or not this is unusual or not, l would like to know if any and how many others that flew three different aircraft in the same war - as gunner - these aircraft were B-17, A-20 and B-26.
Bill B. Tipton (359) Right waist gunner
Sweating out take-offs
I would like to comment on one aspect of each mission which I have found to be largely overlooked. I can recall seeing only one mention of it in all of the material I have read. While each mission was an adventure, one of the most frightening parts was the take-off and the feeling of apprehension (for me) grew with each successive mission.
During our tour, I estimate that at least 50 percent of the time visibility down the runway could be as little as 100 feet to 100 yards. The fact that we had a short runway and were always overloaded added to the feeling of dread as the throttles were advanced against the brakes.
On our third mission we had to abort our take-off because of an inoperative "air speed indicator" and it was only the skill of our pilots that prevented a tragedy. Since this was the first and only time this situation occurred, it was unique in that we really weren't ready for it. I believe it was through repetition in training that enabled us to survive unscathed. We were able to recognize that the needle was inert when movement should have been detected. The final result was that we ran off the end of the runway and just managed to stop about 10 feet from a draining ditch. I estimated that we had reached about 70 mph when corrective measures were initiated
Herbert Shanker (359) Flight engineer
Ed. Note: I believe the writer has a valid point. With the transfer of Gen. Ira Eaker to Italy, I don't believe that many of the Brass at Hdq. in London ever experienced a fully loaded, zero visibility takeoff, in a B-17.
"To bomb or not to bomb?"
There were many incidents during World War II that will continue to be in my memory forever.
1. Prior to my assignment with the 303rd, we were flying a new B-17 on the northern route to England, and were five hours overdue going into Meeks Field, Iceland from Goose Bay. It was a result of radio malfunction and unfriendly winds. With the help of a star-shooting navigator, a radio operator who just the day before had heard of "QDM," P-40 pilots who searched for us, and the radar operator at Meeks Field, we finally made it, but landed with less than thirty-five minutes of gas. I will always remember those icebergs, large waves, and cold waters where survival could only have lasted for minutes.
2. On a mission to Berlin, 7 May 1944, we had heavy flak but no apparent damage until we entered the traffic pattern at Molesworth. At 500 feet, No. 2 engine caught on fire. We were too low to jump, so we rode "Iza Vailable Too" in, expecting the plane to blow up any second. We landed and all the crew got out. The fire truck crew was magnificent, and the fire was extinguished, but "Iza Vailable Too" was sent to the salvage yard. The fire was caused by flak damage to the fuel line which burst when the booster pumps were turned on. This was my first mission.
3. Having lived through the raid on Saarbrucken where a second run on the target resulted in a great loss of men and planes I said, as a lead bombardier, I would never make a second run over the target. On 10 June 1944, I was the lead bombardier flying with General Travis. Our mission was to bomb the marshalling yards at Paris, France. Clouds obscured the target to such an extent that neither I nor the navigator could identify the target. I closed the bombay doors and announced to the cockpit that we were going to the secondary target at Nantes, France. We made a successful run which was accomplished without any losses. I did not want to go down in history as the bombardier, nor did I feel that Gen. Travis would want to be known as the General, who bombed the Champs Elysses, the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower. Upon returning to Molesworth, I mentioned this to General Travis. He heartily agreed with my decision.
Ralph M Sudderth (360) Bombardier
Sixty-two days in the blue!
Of the 24 combat missions that I was part of an excellent crew, there were seven that stood out in my mind. We were given a brand new plane called "Iza Vailable Too." Our first mission was Easter Sunday, April 9, 1944 to Marienburg, East Prussia. It was a beautiful day; you could see Sweden in the distance. The mission was flown six months to the day that the 8th AF bombed the Focke-Wulf plant that was described by Gen. Hap Arnold as the best job of precision bombing to that day. With much curiosity as a newcomer, I saw the bombs from the group ahead hit the buildings that had been built up in the past six months. The 303rd followed and dropped right on target. It was a beautiful sight and was the longest (11 hours, 38 minutes) of the 364 missions that the 303rd flew.
Our third mission was to dreaded Schweinfurt. The 8th AF had a fetish for bombing approximately six months to the day (Oct. 14, 1943 - Black Thursday). Gen. Doolittle commanded we bomb at 19,000 feet. As we entered Germany, I looked out the window and noted the 384th Bomb Group flying high group. All of a sudden enemy fighters came out of the contrails from above and hit them hard. I saw four or five B-17s go down at once, some spinning, one blazing from wing tip to wing tip and nose to tail. I didn't notice any chutes because our group got hit at the same time. The flak was very intense and accurate as we dropped our bombs on target. We were lucky. The 384th lost more planes to flak and the last time I saw them flying along side of us, they had only four planes left out of a formation of 18 or 20. The 8th AF lost 60 plus bombers that day. l had a hard time eating steak served to us that evening.
Our seventh mission was April 24, 1944 to Oberpfaffenhofen. We were passing near Chartres, France when I looked out and saw two Me-109s flying parallel to us at about 150 yards. I called the pilot Don Johnston and he saw them too. All of a sudden, they peeled off at 10 o'clock and I started firing my 50 cal. mounted over my desk. Since we were flying Purple Heart Corner, we could maneuver easily without fear of colliding. Don kept a close eye on the 109s and as soon as they started firing he pulled back on the stick. I was thrown to the floor with gun pointing straight up and my finger still on the trigger firing away. Paul Pesetsky, ball turret operator, said the 20mm fire burst below us. It was the only time I was able to fire my guns on 24 missions. Later near Munich, Paul said he shot down a camouflage painted Me-109 that tried to sneak up on us from below. The worst thing I remember about the mission is that Lt. Stewart's plane was hit by flak and tried to get to Switzerland. They didn't make it and seven of the ten were KIA, three POWs. Our crews were good friends because we trained together in the States.
Our 11th mission was very memorable. It was May 7, 1944 to Big B - Berlin. Nothing happened on the way except the usual apprehension about fighter attacks or concentrated flak over the target. Being a big city, there was a lot of flak; but it was scattered and we were able to avoid much of it. However, on the way back we had to pass through the narrow corridor of flak at Dummer Lake. Our #4 engine must have been hit by a piece of flak because as we were approaching the end of the runway on landing at Molesworth, fire in #4 was streaming all the way back to the stabilizer. With a fire of that magnitude, it doesn't take long for a B-17 to blow up. With the usual great skill of our pilot, Don Johnston, he ran the plane off the runway and ground looped it so B-17s behind us would face a clear runway. He cut the engines and then the fire was not very large. Needless to say we exited the plane in record time. The fire crews immediately jumped on the wing and sprayed foam to put the fire out. Our new B-17G,"Iza Vailable Too" had all of nine missions completed. No more, for it was scrapped for spare parts. After that our crew flew in old B-17Fs and new B-17Gs.
One of our most memorable missions was our 13th to Saarbrucken, May 11, 1944. It was a lousy mission in many ways. First of all, we took off after 3 p.m. in the afternoon. There must have been high priority rolling stock in these marshalling yards that had to be destroyed. We took off in an old B-17F but it got us there and back. Secondly, we made one bomb run through intense and accurate flak in late afternoon when smoke and haze were blowing down from the Ruhr Valley making it impossible to see the target. We did not change altitude and made a successful second bomb nun through more intense flak. All but two aircraft sustained major or minor flak damage. Worst of all, the 303rd, 360th Squadron lost Capt. John Long on his last mission. He and six of his crew were KIA. I did not know him too well but he did live in our hut. We landed in the dark after 9 p.m.
Our 21st was the big one -"D Day" our rendezvous with destiny. When we were awakened at 0200, we had the feeling, this was it. The briefing was short. Col. Stevens said, This is D-Day. This is the day we have all been waiting for. Make 'em know it. We took off about 0730. Apparently, our crew was part of the second morning mission because about halfway across the Channel, the undercast became 10/10, completely obscuring the target. There was no PFF aircraft flying in our group, so we had to bring our bombs back - the only time. It was a sickening feeling to know that thousands of men were dying down there on the beach. We did not see the beach until two days later on June 8th on the way to bomb Orleans.
My most memorable mission was the 24th and last with the 360th Sqdn., 303rd Bomb Group (H), 8th AF and Donald Johnston's crew. It was June 10 1944. It was a day when everything seemed to go wrong. First, our crew was not scheduled to fly that day; but since another crew could not make it for whatever reason, we felt it was a good time to get in a short mission after D-Day. Many of these short missions after D-Day were flown without any opposition. Our bombardier Ralph Sudderth was lead bombardier flying with B/Gen. Travis. Second, we had an older plane with mechanical problems but not enough to keep us from flying. Two days before we had a brand new B-17G with 1/4 inch armor plate on the floor at the navigator's table. I later found out that many navigators spread flak vests on the floor. I had never thought of that. Flight was uneventful until Nantes, France. Our target was reached at 23,000 feet. It was about 0820. I was relaxed and I don't remember if it was just before bombs away or just after; a burst of flak below us made my left leg kick. I looked down and saw blood streaming from my boot and flowing down the catwalk. There was no pain, just numbness. I called Don on the intercom and notified him that I had been hit and he sent the engineer down to help put a tourniquet on and give me a shot of morphine to stop any shock setting in. The temperature was about 28 degrees thereby freezing blood on the catwalk. l had a hard time to keep from sliding in it. Heading home I had to release the tourniquet every so often, and the morphine worked wonders. Approaching Molesworth, Don shot off the customary red flare to denote wounded aboard. I was operated on at about 1620 at the station hospital and, after 3 more operations and 15 months in various hospitals in the USA, the war ended. The rest of our crew finished their 30 missions and went their ways.
Milo R. Schultz (360) Navigator
Poltava seemed safe - until!
In February 1944 an order came to the 303rd Bomb Group that was to provide about 30 group members a most unique and interesting period of their military service. A few members from each squadron (5 from the 427th) were assigned to go to the USSR to establish temporary bases for shuttle bombers and fighters. Some of us made the trip by plane via The Air Transport Command.
After a week of orientation and preparation we arrived in the Ukraine at the town of Poltava which was to be the main bomber base. About 100 men were to work there. To each crew chief, three or four Russian helpers were provided. Some were boys 15 or 16 who had received aircraft maintenance training. Others were veterans who were recovering from battle wounds. Many of these men had fought in the bloody vicious battles with the Germans there on the Eastern Front in the previous two years where life expectancy was very shoe. We learned a sufficient vocabulary of their language to engage in a basic conversation and explain duties. Some of us even achieved an elementary reading level despite the strange alphabet.
We found their soldiers to be fun loving and humorous. Nearly all of them had lost some or all of their family from war causes in the past three years. One of my crew, Peter, an infantryman from the Vladivostok area of Siberia, had been wounded seven times, once in the throat so he could speak barely above a whisper. As one looked at the scars on the land and villages of the Ukrainian countryside caused by the titanic battles of the two great armies as they struggled on this small sector of the 1500 mile front, one realized that there in the USSR was where Hitler and his Wehrmacht lost their hope of expansion.
Our bases at and near Poltava seemed safe - the Nazi Army was retreating toward Poland in the summer of '44 but the Luftwaffe displayed their strength with a devastating attack on the night of June 21 when 75 B-17s from the 8th AF 3rd Division, were parked on the field after arriving from England.
It was near midnight when the Nazi lead plane came over the field releasing three large chandelier flares that lit up most of the airdrome. In a few minutes the bombers arrived dropping their incendiary, 100 pounders and antipersonnel devices. The raid went on for an hour and a half, fighters planes were strafing. Fortunately, no attempt was made to strike personnel, many of whom took refuge in a ditch along a railroad track.
It was a sad sight that greeted us as the first light of dawn came. Some planes were still burning. An acrid pall of smoke hung over the area. Remaining parts of aircraft lay in grotesque patterns. The tally of damage showed 68 planes affected, most of them seriously.. Only six craft could be air ready in one day.
The raid on the Poltava field no doubt caused the worst destruction inflicted on any Air Force bomber base during the war. The losses had a very depressing effect on all of us crew chiefs as we considered the B-17 the best plane of our bomber fleet.
Salvaging usable pans and repairing the repairable occupied the following months. In October, with a touch of winter in the air, most of the staff returned to England, except for a skeleton crew left to provide emergency aid to crippled aircraft.
Paul Winkleman (427) Assistant Crew Chief
A P-51 tale
On mission #25, (July 8, '44) we lost No. 4 engine and finally feathered it. On mission #30, (18 July '44) as we turned at the IP and started our bomb run, we had a P-51 on our left wing and he flew the bomb run with us. He slowed to our air speed, rolled his canopy back and waved to us.
Russell Ney (358) Bombardier/Navigator
Ed. Note: According to "Might in Flight," Russell Ney finished his tour of 35 missions on 24 July 1944. The 303rd flew 19 missions in July 1944. Who in the 303rd holds the record for flying 35 missions in the least amount of time?
"There's a bomb on the wing!"
On my third mission to Bremen Germany - 26 November 1943 while over the target and "bombs away" a plane flown by Lt. Bob Sheets left the formation and came across the top of our plane and one 100 lb. incendiary bomb hit our port wing about 8 feet from the fuselage, inflicting a hole about 2 1/2 feet long and 10 inches wide. This was an awesome sight looking up from my top turret into the bombay as the bombs were being dropped. Lt. Eckert was our pilot and he managed to shake the bomb off the wing.
On my fourth mission and Lt. Eckert's last one to Solingen, Germany, we encountered a lot of flak and while on the bomb run number three engine ran out of gas due to fuel tank getting hit by flak. We managed to get back over the English Channel and pretty close to England before we ran completely out of gas and had to ditch. The seas were pretty rough and the water was pretty cold considering this was December 1st. All of the crew safely got out into dinghies and floated around for about two hours before being picked up by an English PT boat. We were taken to shore where we got rid of our wet clothes and given some RAF uniforms to wear. We returned to Molesworth the next afternoon.
Frank X. Neuner (427) Flight engineer
Ed Note: What ever happened to Lt. Eckert's crew? I see no further mention of it in the "Daily Diary." Did they ever get to mission number five?
What downed this B-17?
The date: 26 Nov. 1944; the place, Osnabruck. Our number one engine caught fire. We were ordered to bail-out. As ball-turret operator I was number one to jump. Right wing tip blew off as I was coming down and I lost a shoe. Then a German fighter fired on me - I saw the paint marks in the chute canopy. Our fighters chased off the German fighters. Coming down into a river with ice flows, I knew I didn't have much of a chance to live so I pulled down on the risers and the canopy collapsed. I might have gone unconscious because I had come through a roof; hanging some three feet off the floor I had come down through. I was surrounded by German soldiers. I was taken to where some of my crew were in a motorcycle. I was transferred to a touring type automobile and taken to a civilian type police station. There I was interrogated then sent to a transient camp, then Luft four. Many happenings from transient camp to Luft four. From Luft four to Luft five at Nurnburg 80 to box car; nearly died from no water. At Nurnburg food was so lean that I got down to 90 lbs. Forced march from Nurnburg to Moosburg 7A - terrible conditions. Liberated by The American 14th Armored Division, April 29, 1945.
Rollin J. Bender (358) Ball Turret Gunner
P.S. There's a conflict among crew about what brought our B-17 down. At this point in time, just what difference does it make? "None!" But the others??
Watched a B-17 from another group take a direct hit in its bombay from an "88" anti-aircraft gun on a raid to Ludwigshafen (Mannheim) on Dec. 11, 1944. Just pieces of aluminum foil floating in the sky at 20,000 feet. Returned from that raid with some 80 holes in our fuselage but no one was injured.
We didn't make it back to Molesworth from the continent on Dec. 24, 1944. Had to land at Gravely, a Royal Air Force Lancaster base and spent Christmas eve and Christmas day with the British. Had a lively celebration.
Walter Dennis (360) Navigator
"Luck be a lady tonight"
I guess that one of the hairiest incidents during my combat tour occurred on my 24th mission which was to Wilhelmshaven on Feb. 3, 1944. I was flying low sqdn. lead and was supposed to fire red/red when the group leader (a PFF plane replacing Col. Stevens for the bomb run) dropped his bombs.
Normally the engineer would ready the flare gun for firing but since he and the others were busy on their guns and the flare gun was not very accessible to the C/P, I turned the controls over to the C/P (Sam Bass) and tried to lock the flare gun into its holder, but just as I did the plane made a violet jerk and the gun fell from its holder.
When it hit the floor, it fired with the flares coming to rest under the oxygen tanks behind the pilot's seat. The bright red glare and smoke was something else. Since the bombay doors were open, most of the smoke was sucked out or we would be blinded. I jerked my oxygen loose, went to the nose for an extinguisher and tried to put the fire out but it seemed that I could not get the extinguisher to work and felt as if I was passing out. So I tried to reach across my seat for my oxygen. The next thing I knew was that some one of the crew was helping me into my seat and the flare was out. I asked who had done it and was told that I had but was apparently so far gone from the lack of oxygen that I didn't realize it. I thank the crew members that probably saved my life and the plane.
I flew overseas as C/P on the Monahan crew and flew my first eight missions with them. While I was hospitalized on Aug. 31, '44, the crew had to fly with a sub C/P and they were shot down. Subsequently, I flew as sub C/P on three missions with Lt. Sumarlidason and three with Lt. Campbell. John Lemmon checked me out as first pilot and I took over as combat checkout pilot with Lt. Jack Watson's crew on their first two missions and then finished my tour as combat checkout pilot with the Lt. Sam Bass crew. Before I could clear the base, four of the five crews that I had flown with had been shot down, but there was never so much as a Purple Heart for anyone when I was aboard and I never had to land without all four fans turning. I feel that I had much more than my share of luck all the way through.
M.L. (Pete) Clark (358) Co pilot/Pilot
An unusual incident or was it?
On the Stuttgart raid on Feb. 2, 1944, the pilot noticed that our fuel supply was low and so he lagged back so that we would make Molesworth. About 45 minutes from the French Coast we were jumped by a lone Me-109. He stayed behind firing his 20mm guns. The pilot took evasive action and the bandit finally took off. Ten minutes before we hit the coast our fuel warning light came on and our pilot called "May Day" and we were instructed to land at the British Spitfire base at Brighton on the south coast of England. We glided over the channel and landed on the mesh runway at Brighton. While the British were trying to figure out how to put fuel in our aircraft an air inspector looked over our B-17 and said even if we were fueled up, we couldn't take of because our left wing main strut had a 20 mm cannon slug in it. We stayed there overnight until a truck came and carried us back to Molesworth three days later.
When we got back to Molesworth, from my foot locker was missing: my 45 cal., my binoculars, fifty one dollar bills and two pair of ebony handled Sheffield straight razors which I had purchased a week before in Sheffield. One pair I was going to give to the pilot when he finished his missions . These items were never recovered.
Keith W. Clapp (427) Bombardier
"Bring it back?"
It was the 27th of August 1944 and my 23rd mission. The original target was Berlin. This was the 233 mission of the 303rd BG. The takeoff and assembly went as scheduled. Upon arriving at the enemy coast, the cloud cover was quite high. The Group flew up and down Denmark trying to gain altitude for primary target. At 1432 hours, the order was given to abort the primary target and pick a target of opportunity. This was Esbjerg Airfield, Denmark. The initial nun was aborted and a 360 degree turn was made. The squadron on second run was at same heading, same altitude and same airspeed. Over the target a/c #A629 (Lt. Yarnall) received a direct hit and went down over the target. Aircraft #D841 (Lt. Hallum) managed to get back to English coast and crew bailed out. Our aircraft received extensive damage (0-781). We lost #2 and #4 engines at the target area. We could not keep up with formation now could we maintain 20,000 feet altitude. Anything loose went overboard, including the Norden bombsight. We managed to level off and maintain 11,000' altitude back to England. Our radio operator was able to contact the Air Sea Rescue unit with the command set. The rest of the flight was made without further incident. When the aircraft was parked at the hard stand and the two remaining engines shut off, the #3 engine lost the rest of the remaining oil. The oil line had been ruptured by flak. Needless to say, the crew chief was not happy with our bringing this much damaged aircraft back.
Harry F. Jenkins (359) Pilot
Flew over the White House!
Last week in June 1942, took off from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., in B-17 #19125 "Prowler," lost two engines and made emergency landing back at Bolling Field. Got "chewed out roundly" by operations officer, as we had flown over the Capitol and the White House which was restricted. Glad to land successfully.
The good part was that we got to eat at mess at Bolling Field which was excellent. Saw Eleanor Roosevelt as she met Maxim Litvinov, Russian Foreign Minister. Talked with Russian Crew that flew the Foreign Minister direct from Moscow to Washington, D.C.
As indicated flew 1st mission of Heavy Bombers in 8th Air Force on August 17, 1942. (Then attached to 97th Bomb Group, 342nd Squadron.)
Willard L. Heckman (359) Navigator
I was lucky on my 35th mission - I didn't fly
I flew 34 missions with the 359th and on 19 April 1945 was transferred to the 427th Sqdn. I flew no combat missions with the 427th. I was scheduled to fly one on 25 April 1945. As I recall I had just returned from a pass to London and was alerted that I was to fly with Lt. Mauger on that mission. A navigator, with 10 missions, named Knox came and asked if he could fly in my place on the evening of April 24. He was eager to fly missions because his father was ill in the U.S. and he wanted to get home quickly. I told him if he could square it with the squadron it would be fine with me. He arranged it and flew in my place to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia on what would have been my 35th mission. Lt. Mauger and the crew were shot down. Lt. Knox apparently survived but the bombardier, Lt. Moss was KIA.
My most unusual experience was not going on what was to be the last mission the 8th AF flew in Europe and not being shot down on my 35th Mission.
Glenn V. Hudson (359) Navigator
Oranges and boots!
On January 12, 1943 we arrived in England from N. Africa, out of gas after being lost over occupied France. We landed wheels up on a golf course in southern England. I can still see the long-legged grounds keeper, come running out with coat-tails flying and holding onto his cap to complain about his golf course being dug up. The British anti-aircraft crew nearby came running out to gather up the oranges that spewed from the nose of our new B-17. It didn't matter if we were hurt or the plane demolished - welcome to England.
Our crew (Lt. Burch) was the 303rds first replacement crew. I no sooner walked into the nearby empty 427th sqdn, barracks than my gaucho boots, that I purchased in Brazil on the way over, were spotted by a Sgt. Karensen. After asking the size, he announced to the rest of the barracks that he was "sweating out" my boots. Shortly after l left on a mission; he, went on a "whiskey run" to Ireland with my boots. That's how it was in early '43.
One of my roughest missions - Kiel, Germany, May 14, '43. In a dogfight including B-24s, B-17s and German fighters, I will never forget all the planes that were falling - theirs, and ours. A JU-88 was going down so close that I could see the rear gunners face. He looked as scared as I was.
George W. Ashworth (427) Radio operator