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as published in the Hell's Angeles Newsletter
[Copyright © 303rd BGA, Hal Susskind, Editor]
The demise of the first "8 Ball"
The date: 12/20/42 - the target; Romilly-sur Seine. Captain William Calhoun was the pilot with Major Romig flying as co-pilot. The "8 Ball" was the squadron lead ship. Pilot took us over the target twice. Our four ship formation came off the target 10 miles behind the rest of the group. Enemy fighters found us and started the first head-on attacks. The fourth ship in the diamond formation was flying high when the fighters came head-on. Calhoun dove down and the ship in the diamond formation was taking the hits. The plane went down on the French coast in the English Channel. The enemy fighters made their last pass halfway across the Channel. The main spar was hit and two engines were out. We had no hydraulic system and the plane was shaking violently. As soon as we crossed the coast of England, we were ordered to bail-out. I landed in a tree. When I opened my eyes I was three feet off the ground and not a scratch. Calhoun and Romig flew on with no navigator. They didn't know where they were until they were over London. A Spitfire appeared in front of them and guided them to Bovington where they crash landed with wheels up. We all made it back to Molesworth three days later.
Charles R. Terry (359) Radio Operator
"Schweinfurt was the worst of the lot"
As most of the original men who went over to Molesworth in 1942, it is hard to explain your most unusual experience. Having flown most of the real tough missions in late 1942 and 1943, it would be hard to pick any one as the worst of the lot. But in August of 1943 the raid on Schweinfurt had to be the longest and roughest for me. But the fondest memory I have of Molesworth was when I was presented the DFC by Gen. Travis. The General had been a friend of my father for many years and when he was presenting it to me, he said, "Bob, I should be giving you your high school diploma, you are the youngest man that I have ever awarded the Cross to." I was 19 at the time. My dad and I talked about it on my return to the States.
Robert M. Cooney (427) Tail Gunner
There I was 28,000 feet over Brunswick!
Today we went to Brunswick, Germany. We were briefed for intense flak and intense fighter opposition. That along with the fact that we were going deep into Germany made us all plenty scared. Everything went as planned until bombs away. One of the 500lb GP bombs wouldn't release or salvo. It was half in and half out. Since it was hanging by only the rear clip on the bomb shackle, and the arming wire had pulled free, we had to get rid of this armed bomb. So I called for bombay doors to be closed and then went into the bombay with a walk around oxygen bottle to see if I could reach the bomb shackle with the bottle, since there was nothing else available to reach the outer wall of the bombay. When I found that I could reach the shackle with the walk around oxygen bottle, I went back into the radio room to give instructions over the intercom to our waist gunner, who could see me from his position, and to our bombardier as to what I was going to do and what signals I would use. Then I went back into the bombay wearing my chest pack parachute, oxygen mask plugged into a walk around bottle and carrying an extra walk around bottle to knock with. I sat down on the catwalk and twisted my feet around the braces and seeing that the walk around bottle was in the way, I tossed it back into the radio room. Then hanging onto the upright supports as best I could with my left arm, I signaled for the bombay doors to be opened. The waist gunner called the bombardier who opened the bombay doors. I was breathing out of one end of the oxygen bottle and swinging at the bomb trip release with the other end. For a split second as I looked down and saw the clouds flying by I became terrifyingly aware that 28,000 feet below was the enemy and I couldn't afford to fumble now. After four swings with the bottle, the bomb fell away! I then signaled for the bombay doors to be closed and I proceeded to drag myself out of the bombay and into the radio room again. Whew! What a relief! Now when I think of what could have happened, I feel a bit light headed, but it went as planned. My prayers must have done it, because my actions were fully controlled by adrenaline at the time and I gave little thought of the possible consequences. And I do pray on the bomb runs especially, during all missions. We dropped five 500 lb GP bombs and six incendiary clusters from 28,000 feet. No battle damage to our plane and no fighters were seen, but there was inaccurate flak over the target, thanks to our foil strip chaff being dropped. I'm really dragging anchor tonight! And so to bed!
(The above article is an excerpt from the complete 35 mission diary which I kept while flying combat with the 303rd Bomb Group, 358th Bomb Squadron at Molesworth, England)
T/Sgt Raymond N. Calenberg (358) Radio Operator
Our different enemies
Flying missions over Europe during WWII taught us that there was more than one enemy to fight. There were well known German fighter planes, Me-109s and Me262s; frigid temperatures which reached 65 degrees below zero which could easily cause a loss of fingers; then there was anoxia (loss of oxygen) which could snuff out a life in a matter of minutes, the enemy of red-hot flak sent up by 88mm guns; and confusion caused by the excitement of battle. Perhaps the most sinister of all which the news media seldom mentioned was the WEATHER.
According to the book Might in Flight by Harry Gobrecht, Mission #290 was the largest raid ever in which over 2,000 bombers participated. The target was Merzhausen, near Frankfurt, a vital German landing field. The famous "Battle of the Bulge" was into its eighth day and our ground troops needed all the help they could get. Today, 24 Dec. '44, we battled zero visibility fog. Even the birds walked. A man was stationed at the end of the runway to assist each plane with take-off. Within three minutes of flight in any direction many other Bomb Groups were also in progress.
The great armada streamed across the English Channel and reached the target under clear blue skies. We dropped our bombs, made our turns and headed into the Westerly Winds toward "home." Six hours passed since our original lift off, therefore, we had hoped to return under clear skies but this was England and continued fog.
Each group commander was given a specific landing base, so we all headed off to our destination. Bassingbourne was our assigned field. As we descended through the dense layers of fog, we all anxiously searched for the smudge-pots which lined each runway. Tense minutes began ticking away when finally on our third approach our togglier spotted the "pots" and our pilot made a perfect landing. Many silent prayers of gratitude were said as all 38 planes with dangerously low fuel supply once again survived our silent enemy "WEATHER."
T/Sgt. Walter N. Jones (359) Radio Operator
[Ed. Note: Touche! I'll bet the brass in London weren't flying that day!]
Assigned to William Baker's crew in Pyote, Texas in May of '43. Flew to Preswick, Scotland and then went to Molesworth, England. Flew 25 missions, came home in January 1944. Got into so much trouble here in the States that the best thing for me was to go back overseas again. Joined William Martin's crew in October '44 went back over and flew 32 more missions in the 401st Bomb Group and Germany surrendered. Came home in June of '45. Have Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters and the DFC with one Oak Leaf Cluster. Had a Purple Heart issued to me but did not accept it because I was not hurt that bad.
Norwood "Woodie" Borror (360) Gunner
Number 3 was a charm
It took three of them to complete the experience, although not one of them was a thrill. I was a member of Lt. Harley D. Snider's crew, the navigator in fact. Three times we were forced to abort missions to Merseburg. The number two engine began vibrating and lost power each time and we couldn't reach altitude or maintain speed. We began to feel that everyone thought we were "chicken" because the engine would recover after we had turned back. The maintenance crew could find no fault after the first two aborts.
But it happened again on the third trip and we dreaded the return to base. As might be expected, we were met on the hardstand by the base operations officer. He was really excited. He pulled his jeep under the number two engine and climbed up on the hood. You can understand our relief when all he said when he climbed down was, "Move the jeep before the engine falls on it."
Robert McCorkle (359) Navigator
Two memorable missions
My most memorable experiences with the 427th was my third mission on Sept. 12, 1944 to Brux, Czechoslovakia and my seventh mission which was on Sept. 20, 1944 to Magdeburg. The Brux mission was a diversion mission which went by way of Berlin. This mission was led by General Travis flying "Mercy's Madhouse" and took nine hours. Approaching Berlin we were hit hard by the Luftwaffe and were not protected too well by the few planes that we had for our fighter support. This was my first experience of actually seeing fighters in action and my adrenaline was running high. Three of our B-17s were put out of action with one returning to England on three engines. "Lonesome Polecat" and "Temptress" were shot down. Out of the 25 Luftwaffe 109s, 190s and jets, six were shot down. Our waist gunner Bob Burkermer got credit for one of those shot down. Four missions later, Bob was seriously wounded, losing part of his leg and returned to the U.S.
After the fighters finally gave up on their attacks we proceeded on course to the target in Czechoslovakia where we ran into intense and accurate flak with nine aircraft receiving major and five minor damage. I didn't think we would all get home without further fighter attacks with still over four hours flight time left. We did however and I was glad to get my "spirit" allocation plus that of two of our crew who didn't partake. Forget mess hall! I went to my bunk and slept until the following morning being completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, but very thankful.
About two weeks later, what I considered my worst mission, "Number seven," came up which was Magdeburg on Sept. 28, 1944. The 427th was the lead squadron with Capt. Bob Sheets and Lt. Ashwell in the lead crew. Twenty-seven aircraft reached the target area, 16 dropped their bombs on the target and only 16 returned to our base that day. Eleven aircraft and 99 men were missing in action. The 358th and 360th squadrons took the heaviest losses that day. The 427th and 359th each had one loss.
Our plane was heavily hit by flak and two of our crew, the radio operator and waist gunner, severely wounded by flak. We lost our oxygen, hydraulics and rudder control and could not stay with the squadron. We sought low level and had to find our way home alone Not knowing the status of our plane, Gano had given the order to prepare to bail out. As we descended, we found that we still had some control of the plane. The left outboard engine was running rough and we sought cloud cover at about 10,000 feet. Fred Gano, our pilot, did a remarkable job of dodging the flak which followed us for what seemed a long time, We stayed just above the clouds in case we had to duck in to avoid fighter attack. We were Running a "gauntlet" so to speak. Our bombardier, Ray Haakonson was in the rear of the plane attending to our injured crewmen. He happened to be a replacement for our regular Bombardier that day. We were all thinking we might still have to bail out and thoughts went through my mind; what about the wounded?
We limped back towards home, hoping we would get over the channel without further mishap which we did. The problem now was landing with no brakes or rudder control. Gano brought the plane in and used up as much runway as he dared and then ground looped the plane to a stop and taxied off of the runway where we met by an ambulance to remove the two wounded airmen. I don't recollect the name of the plane that day, but ground crew reported that we came back with 540 holes in the aircraft.
I was aware that we had been under fighter attack in the target area and saw at least two planes go down but wasn't aware that it was as devastating as it turned out to be until we finally got back home. Our ball turret gunner, T/Sgt. Art Coyle reported later that he had seen the fighters coming in, four of five abreast, behind the low squadron at slow speed and didn't believe that the squadron had even saw them before they were shot down. Nine of the enemy aircraft were reported to be shot down and confirmed however.
This mission changed my entire view of air combat. l finally realized that we had very little control over our fate and were playing "roulette" as far as finishing our complete tour was concerned. My prayers were all I had to fall back on for the rest of my tour. I still had 28 missions to go. Many of my friends were lost on this mission, some of whom I went through all of my Cadet training with. l was to lose more friends that came with me to the 303rd before my tour was completed.
My last and 35th mission was Berlin on Feb. 3, 1945. When I arrived at the briefing room and they uncovered the target I thought, "This is it." No other missions had been flown to Berlin during my tour to my recollection and I had a premonition that it would not be a "milk run" for my final mission. The mission air commander was Lew Lyle and the lead crew Bob Hullar and Bob Healy. By this time I had acquired 1st pilot status and had been flying new crews on their first missions. My regular crew had already completed their tour and resumed to the U.S.
Our plane was hit over the target during the bomb run and again our plane lost oxygen and we had to leave the group and fly home at low altitude alone. Surprisingly, we got back to base without any further damage. I was destined to finish my tour and this was my last mission or flight in any plane of the Army Air Corps. European air warfare was to end in less than three months.
Wesley J. Flanders (427) Copilot/Pilot
When we first flew, we were a 12 plane formation over targets such a. St. Nazaire and Lorient sub pens. Then when more support arrived we had more formidable formations. At that time we faced the German "Yellow Nose Fighters." They were great pilots. As a prisoner, I met them in the basement of a railroad station in Frankfurt during a bombing. They were very much the gentlemen. (S/Sgt Bridges was shot down by fighters, part of a pack of 150-200 fighters on July 23, 1943 or a mission to bomb the Blohm and Voss shipyards at Hamburg.)
The prison hospitals I was in were numerous. I woke up in a hospital somewhere not far from the Baltic. Then was picked up by two Gestapo agents and brought to a brig at a JU-88 airfield. Later I joined a group and was shipped by rail to a Stalag at Frankfort. Then went to a hospital at Obermassfett. Then was sent to Stalag 17B.
Robert C. Bridges (360) Tail gunner
Combat was punishing!
As a tail gunner on my third mission to Augsburg, Germany, I picked up some flak which put me in the hospital for 17 months. I was lucky though as the gunner who replaced me was blown out of the tail and lost. My crew made it back, but later Lt. Binder was killed when he became lead navigator. I also heard that Sgt. Berman was killed.
Verle J Maxwell (358) Tail gunner
A fire the first thing in the morning could ruin your day!
On Oct. 19, '44, I was called to fly as navigator on Lt. Hallum's (I believe) crew. This would have been my third mission. While waiting in the crew chief's tent before start-up time, we heard a machine gun go off. The crew chief stepped outside the tent and then Hollered, "My plane's been shot and it's on fire."
We all piled out of the tent and indeed gas was pouring out of the wing between #1 and #2 engines and there was a pretty good fire going. The pilot said, "I think we had better get out of here." I figured he had a lot more experience than I did so I would stick with him. The pilot, another crewman and I ran for the woods. After a ways we stopped but the pilot said, "I think we should get further away." Both the Sergeant and I thought this was a good idea too, so we all ran some more. By and by we finally stopped and after waiting for an hour or so, we made our way back to the field. The fire was out, and the plane had been towed away. We recovered our equipment from the tent and returned back to headquarters and then back to our barracks.
I later found out the gun had been fired by the ball-turret gunner from our crew (Lt. Hardin's). He had been called to fly at the last minute to replace a ball-turret gunner who became sick. In checking the guns, the other gunner had hooked up the ammo belt with a round already in the chamber. "Shorty" Kaber, our gunner was not used to doing this and he somehow hit the trigger setting off a few rounds.
They told me the firemen had handled the whole thing just right; no explosion and got the fire out, but no before there was over $30,000 damage to the plane. "Shorty" was taken off flying status for a short time and busted down to PFC. In a few weeks he was put back on flight status, returned to our crew and flew a good number of missions with us and finished his 35 missions shortly after we did. He got his Sergeant rating back, too.
At the last reunion in Colorado Springs, I met and visited with the man who had the privilege of towing the burning plane away from the hardstand to a more remote area while the firemen were trying to put the fire out. He said it was the last thing in the world he wanted to be doing, but someone came along and volunteered him for the job. I learned that morning that things can go wrong, even before you get on the plane and take-off.
George E. Hiebeler (360) Navigator
"Fly your missions and keep your nose clean!"
On December 5, 1941 as an enlisted man (radio operator) 38th Recon. Sqdn., I sailed on the President Johnson for Clark Field in the Philippines. Seven of our B-17s flew into Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. We turned around and sailed back to San Francisco. Ultimately wound up at Boise, Idaho where we became the 427th Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group. While at Boise I flew with 2nd Lt. Calhoun and Capt. Billy Southworth. Captain Ben Stone was our ground executive and 1st Lt. Frank Doherty our Adjutant.
I left the 427th in mid April 1942 to enter the Aviation Cadet Program. When I completed my pilot training (commissioned a 2nd Lt. on June 26, 1943 at Pampa, Texas) and completed my B-17 phase training, we sailed on November 3 1943 aboard the Queen Elizabeth and landed at the Firth of Clyde. Following a few days in an assignment center, our crew, 1st pilot T.L. Simmons and myself as co-pilot were assigned - Yes, miracle of miracles - to my old outfit the 427th Sqdn. of the 303rd Bomb Group Molesworth, England. When I reported in to then Col. Ben Stone, he called in Frank Doherty. now a major, and said, "You're the first one of the old 38th Recon to be assigned to us; others have stopped by. Fly your missions and keep your nose clean and we'll take care of you."
We were shot down on January 11, 1944, short of the IP for Oschersleben. That day then Lt. Col. Calhoun with Gen Travis aboard led that mission. Remarkable coincidences, while at the Colorado Springs reunion, l got reacquainted with George Miller and Paul Winkleman who were old 38th Recon members. I had only been in the 38th for two weeks before we sailed or the Philippines.
I brought to the reunion a plaque with the wings of Russian, British, Polish, Czech, Free French and U.S. pilots who were POWs in Barth. These were cast using silver foil from cigarette packages (Rec Cross parcels) by a Czech Sgt. Frank Crap. [Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum records indicate that his name is Sgt. Frank Knap.] He didn't want cigarettes but he saw a ring on out Bombardier Dick Vaughn's little finger for this he would make the plaque. l asked him to step outside then I asked Dick if the ring was of sentimental value. He said,"No" and agreed to give it to me to accept payment upon return to the U.S. The deal was struck and I donated it to the 8th Air Force Heritage Museum, Savannah, GA, in the name of the 427th Sqdn. of the 303rd Bomb Group. I told Maj. Gen. Lew Lyle that I was originally going to make the gift upon my death, but decided that right then and there was the time to do it. I had been offered $3,000 for it by a collector but I told him, "this was too precious and that I'd donate it in honor of the wonderful comrades-in-arms I was privileged to serve with."
Gen. Lyle was so pleased he asked me to make a tape telling about my service and about the plaque. This I did and the tape will enable visitors to know how it came into being and the great outfit it represents. He kindly sent me a copy which I treasure. In this tape I told about my experiences as a POW, a portion of the highlights and some of the lighter aspects I now repeat.
We had flown with two outboard engines props windmilling - we lost all hydraulics on first FW-190 pass. We flew for about 5-10 minutes 2700 RPMs - 55-60 inches of mercury before the number three engine caught on fire. I can't say enough about the ground crew and the condition old S for Sugar was in. l bailed out at 19,000 feet. Free fell to about 2,000 feet. My chute was in for repack, so I had an English chest pack on. I had not adjusted it like my own, so when it opened I worried about my 'family jewels.' Fortunately no serious damage as I fathered three great sons. The area I came down in was heavily wooded (Hartz Mountains) and there was a small clearing - from center to circumference about 75 feet. Beyond that the area had been logged stumps protruded above the snow. The Good Lord was with me as I landed right in the center of the area; on my heels then on my rear end. If I had been a skydiver I couldn't have done it any better. I said a prayer, buried my chute and then saw a ski patrol about a quarter mile away coming in my direction. I walked up a small stream looking for the biggest tree I could find. Not a redwood in sight.
I took two quick steps and got behind the biggest tree I could find. There were four old men who carried large sticks and four youngsters -13 or 14 - with guns wearing Wehrmacht green. The last one saw my two footprints. I backed around and threw up my hands. Although of German ancestry, I didn't speak or read German. I did know a few words. I said, "Vas is los? What's up." This led to a stream of German. I told them I didn't understand or speak German. The old men wanted to beat me but the kids pushed them away. I was taken to a farmhouse where there were a grandmother, mother and three girls. One about eighth years old asked me in perfect English, if I'd like some coffee? We had been briefed that Hitler had told the German people that U.S. airmen were gangsters recruited from American cites to bomb innocent women and children. I asked her to drink first. She jabbered in German to her mother, then she drank telling me it was alright. So I thanked her and drank it. I then reached in my flight jacket and offered her some gum. Without batting an eye, she said, you chew first." I took out a piece, it was Beechnut, and chewed it and then handed her the pack. She again conversed with her mother; handed it back saying, "No thank you. Have you got any Wrigley's?" I chuckled and replied, Sorry I haven't any with me." Deep in the heart of Germany and she knew Wrigley's.
During interrogation at Dulag Luff, Frankfort, I would give only, name, rank and serial number. The German Hauptman said, "You could be a spy and we could shoot you." I indicated that both our countries abided by the Geneva Convention so I didn't think that was a true option as we had many German POWs. He then proceeded to tell me where I had my training, when I left the States, when I landed and what my outfit was. We had been warned their intelligence might be very good but we shouldn't confirm anything. I gave him a blank look and he said, "Everything true -yes?" I replied, "l must congratulate you, you are the first German I've met with a wild imagination." He said, "After you've been in solitary, you won't be so smart." I replied, I meant no insult but come on, you're not going to waste time with a lowly 2nd Lt." A week later I was en route to Barth.
Stalag Luft I was right on the Baltic and when I arrived we had about 4,000 POWs.-upon Liberation Week over 15,000. While we got Red Cross parcels and one package every two months from home, we held our own. We got Rutabagas and turnips; once in awhile, horse meat and a few times some moldy Argentine cheese.
We played softball, had four baseball teams and I was lucky enough to play on one of them. Some played Rugby and there was some boxing. Life was austere and the last six weeks; a little watery soup, 1/2 loaf of bread was all we got. I lost 35 pounds - some bigger chaps, more.
We had two Catholic priests (captured in the lowlands) and protestant services on Sunday. Some of the chaps put on stage shows and we got books from the Red Cross.
A day at a time was the answer. We dug tunnels - only two guys got away- one to Sweden the other to Switzerland. We kept our spirit.
One English flyer got this letter from his wife, "I've been living with a Sgt. since you got shot down, but Love, please don't cut off your allotment as we need the money."
Another- "l didn't know what to send you, so I'm sending a diary with five years on it - looks like you'll need it."
A Canadian's wife wrote, "We understand that you're at a summer resort on the Baltic and have Country Club privileges. We have German POWs nearby and we let them use our Country Club one day a week. I've loaned them your golf clubs!" Her reply, after receiving her husband's, "Get the G-D clubs back" was, "My how your disposition has changed." We were liberated by the Mongols on horseback with a bottle of vodka in one hand and their women riding along with them.
We refused to work on farms for we knew that would free men for the front. All this was our share in the ultimate great victory. May the history of our great group endure forever and may we be blessed to share many more reunions together.
Fred F. Reichel (427) Co-pilot
If the flak didn't get you; the weather sure as hell would!
One day during the winter of 1944 or '45, I was on guard duty outside on foot. It was snowing very hard. Could hardly see. Visibility was less than 100 yards. It was late in the afternoon and the B-17s were starting to come back from their mission. This one bomber circled the field preparatory to landing. I couldn't see him but I could hear him easily. He pulled up with a roar of engines and circled back. This time he hit the many trees around the field. He cut a huge chunk out of the top of the trees, the width of the plane's wings, crashed and exploded and caught on fire. All on board were killed. The wreckage burned for hours. I was one of those sent out to guard the wreckage until it was cleared away. It was still burning. The wheel hubs were so hot you could stand by them and keep warm. I was very impressed. I had never seen anything like that before. I never knew the name of the plane or the names of the crew.
Arthur Akers (1199 M.P. Co.) Military Police
[Ed. Note: This proves without a doubt that the combat mission wasn't over until you rolled to a stop at the hardstand. Does anyone remember this incident? This story certainly adds credence to the experiences of Walter N. Jones.]
The Old Timer!
The date was September 19, 1944. The 303rd Bomb Group, a B-17 outfit in the 8th Air Force, was briefed to fly a bombing mission to Hamm, Germany. This mission would take seven and a half hours. The 359th Bomb Sqdn., one of four in the 303rd, took part in this mission. One of the 359th crews was that of 1st Lt. Robert O. Akers, Pilot (then of Lubbock, Texas). The waist gunner on this crew, an armament specialist, was S/Sgt. Fulton R. Meyer.
The 359th was scheduled to fly with the High Squadron of the Group which meant that they would drop their bombs between the Lead squadron and the Low squadron. Each flying group consisted of three squadrons designated: "Lead, High and Low" and flew as a cohesive unit until the Initial Point (IP) was reached, the point at which the bomb run started. At the IP the three squadrons separated and bombed individually, two minutes apart, and then reformed as a cohesive unit as quickly as possible to consolidate the Group's fire power for defensive purposes.
On this particular mission, the Lead squadron had two Radar equipped aircraft (code name Mickey) and the Low Squadron had one Mickey ship. For some inexplicable reason, the High squadron had none. The 303rd BG was scheduled to be the last group to bomb this day which meant that the 359th squadron would be the next to last squadron in the entire bomb stream to bomb.
As things worked out, the Lead and Low squadrons were able to bomb visually, therefore having no need for the Radar aircraft for bombing purposes. The High squadron, on the other hand found the target obscured by clouds and made a 360 degree turn to make another attempt.
The second attempt was less successful than the first and so the High squadron "Lead" decided to find a "target of opportunity" on the way home. As the other two squadrons had completed their part in the mission, they took off for home, which was standard practice, so as to limit exposure to loss. All crews had been constantly briefed not to hang back to protect disabled aircraft as the practice usually resulted in greater loss.
The High squadron was now completely on its own as even our fighter escort had disappeared by this time. The squadron, consisting of 12 or 13 aircraft, eventually bombed the town of Osnabruck. Because of a navigational error after "Bombs Away," the squadron found itself in the Ruhr Valley, one of the most heavily defended areas in the world. At least one aircraft was shot down and all aircraft were subjected to extremely intense flak. The aircraft flown by the Aker's crew sustained something like 400 holes in the fuselage, its Radio Operator, T/Sgt. Gerald E. Meyer of Mill Valley, Calif., was wounded and all other crew members miraculously escaped being hit, although there were chunks of flak all through the aircraft. The ammunition track of S/Sgt. Cletus H. Vogel, Tail Gunner, sustained a hit which caused several rounds of 50 caliber ammunition to "cook off," luckily being directed outward of the aircraft and not hitting Sgt. Vogel. All this while a very sharp watch was kept for the enemy fighters which, fortunately, did not appear.
The formation was crossing the North Sea toward England, when on the Aker's aircraft, it was discovered that one of the 500 lb bombs had not dropped during the bomb run because of a bent triggering mechanism. The safety cotter pins had been removed from the bomb which is the first step toward creating a "live" bomb. Lt Akers directed our armament specialist, S/Sgt. Fult "Pop" Meyer to kick out the bomb ("Pop" nearing age 34 was one of the oldest aerial gunners in the USAAF). Sgt. Meyer then proceeded into the very narrow passageway in the bombay and, although handicapped by his flight gear and open bombay doors, somehow managed to release the bomb from its defective shackle and into the North Sea some 2,000 feet below. All this without benefit of a parachute as it would have been impossible to work with a parachute attached. The thought of that bomb having been hung up during our fiery passage through the Ruhr Valley was chilling to all on board.
Our adventure was not yet over because the weather was so bad when we arrived over England that most of our formation landed at a fighter base, Boxted, home of the famed 56th FG, in completely zero weather. The Akers aircraft had to go around for a second (and successful) pass when it was discovered when lowering the wing flaps to "full down" position, that the left flap had been damaged by a flak hit and would not lower fully. This landing called for exceptional skill by Lt. Akers and Co-pilot Lt. Leslie W. Giddings to land a "hot" aircraft with non-existent visibility and on strange field. They were equal to the task and, as a result, we are here today to tell the story.
The Akers' crew was awarded battle stars for the Battles of Normandy, Northern France and Germany.
The other members of the crew were: Lt. Neil A. Montone, Navigator; T/Sgt. Joseph R. Cappucci, Togglier; S/Sgt. Donal W. Saam, Ball-Turret gunner, now deceased; Sgt. Cletus Vogel has also passed on.
T/Sgt. Herbert Shanker (359) Engineer -Top Turret gunner (then of "The Bronx")
"What a man!"
Raid to Posen, Poland - 11 1/2 hours. Landed on coast of England with two engines out of gas. British charged half-crown per gallon! Lend-lease program? We flew maps to Gen. George Patton (someplace in Germany). Upon arrival at IP, we asked where was Patton? His answer, "I'm in the lead tank of the 3rd Army. Drop those 'God-damn' maps!! "We salvoed!" What a man!
R.A. Boreland (358) Togglier