World War II
Memories and Biography
21 July 1944
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
I'd better try to answer some of your questions about our mission of 21 July 1944. Want to give you that information while I'm only in the springtime of my senility.
Probably the reason why more bombers did not get to the target was because the top of the clouds were above 25,000 feet almost all the way. I'm sure some of the planes must have had runaway engines and others with mechanical problems as we were trying to stay above the clouds. So the engines were under a terrific load, many aborting.
The planes ahead of us were making their own clouds in the form of vapor trails, so the followers had to go up higher to be able to see each other. Very few of the planes could have done it if we had not burned a lot of petrol on the way in.
From the IP, I was buried under flak suits (one above and one below) and had my helmet on, too. The flak was intense from the IP on in. I stayed buried through two bomb runs and came out on the 3rd one. As the flak was less intense, I was getting curious - especially because they'd warned us about running out of gas due to the long flying time involved.
As I was observing this fiasco, there were some breaks in the clouds - and the bombs went out, saw many of them explode in what appeared to be a pasture, with little black specks - cows?? I knew we hadn't hit anything (reported to be Schorndorf RR Junction), but hoped we had cut their availability to have a good supply of meat and milk.
I was probably the only one on the crew that could observe this. The pilots were having a hellava time staying in formation and the gunners were looking for bandits...they were in the area.
Whomever was lead pilot made a diving turn to the right, into clouds right after the bomb run. This took care of the formation. And, as far as I know, everybody started out for home alone. If the clouds had not been about 16,000 feet thick, the German fighter pilots would have had a field day with our planes scattered as they were.
We decided to go under the clouds. I gave Lou a heading of 270 degrees. But after three bomb runs, no visual sightings and no radar, I didn't know where the hell we were. I did see the bombs strike in a pasture, so I knew Munich was NOT our starting point.
We broke out of the clouds at 11,000 to 12,000 feet. I saw a Pathfinder and told Lou we ought to fly with him for more firepower against any possible German fighters. I also thought he might know where we were, which way home. Rule No. 1 - never tell a pilot you're lost!!
Shortly thereafter, he took us through a tremendous flak barrage (he was lost, too). I later calculated back from my first GEE fix and found he had taken us over Stuttgart with its 1,000 shells bursting, at a time that would make your underwear turn brown in back.
We took off on our own. The B-17s were in trouble, too, as they had their little clusters of five or six planes.
I picked up my first GEE fix at Charlesville, France, which was close to the French-Belgian border, not too far from Luxemburg. We were supposed to pick up our fighter planes (escorts) at halfway between Charlesville and the IP (P51s) and the target, P38s near Stuttgart, and then P-47s to take us home from there at Charlesville.
That was a lucky GEE fix, as normally the Germans had us jammed as we got closer to England.
I navigated us between the flak areas till we hit the coast at Ostend. One "88" was right on. He would have gotten us if Lou hadn't taken evasive action. But we got two wounded - our nose gunner and bombardier. I had to pull the gunner out of his nose turret and he was a mass of blood, scared to death, nearly a nervous wreck. He had been hit in the middle of his forehead, but it didn't penetrate his skull. He probably could have been fixed up with a bandaid.
Naturally, it scared him badly. I don't believe he'd been to church (Catholic) for ten years, but he led the pack for communion on the next mission.
Our route back was a lot shorter (thanks to the navigator being lost) as we were very close to the main bomber stream coming in. But, we were 15,000 feet plus lower than them. The planned route was way to the south, but after three bomb runs, we'd probably have ended up as POWs and a belly landing.
Luckily, this shorter route got us to Shipdham with, as I recall, four of our planes were landing in France, the Channel and all over England - out of gas.
The bombardier got a piece of flak in his back that he really did fix with a bandaid. He didn't report it, as he wanted to fly every mission with Lou Wimsatt, who was a former copilot on B-24s and a hellava good pilot. I talked with the bombardier's wife in 1986 and she knew about the flak.
I have two black and white prints of the plotted course that day. The original route was two hours 15 minutes shorter, but apparently the course and targets were changed - possibly by the weather, too.
As a result, we had two planes go into Switzerland, two shot down, and who knows how many wounded and POWs.
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from an article sent to Will Lundy)
Thirty-five missions out of England in a B-24
By Frederick A. Johnsen
We had a real good pilot . . . the most unmilitary man you ever saw in your life. "B-24 Liberator navigator Ken Adrian credits his pilot, Lou Wimsatt, for taking good care of his 44th Bomb Group crew through a tour of 35 missions over Europe from July to November 27, 1944. And Adrian recalls the exact date of the end of his tour without hesitation - he was happy to have survived Hitler's gauntlet.
Crew moral was important. Navigator Adrian and the rest of the crew realized they were lucky to be assigned to Wimsatt's crew because their pilot had more experience than many others.
"You got a pilot with an extra 500 to 600 hours and you stuck with him, because a B-24's hard to fly," Adrian explained. "We even had to fly," Adrian explained. "We even had two guys get wounded and we didn't' report it because they didn't want to leave the crew," he added.
Adrian remembers his pilot's great height - a towering 6'6" - came in handy one day during a slow time sortie over England to break in a new engine on a B-24. For unexplained reasons, the Liberator lost effective elevator control, and wanted to pitch down. Adrian remembers Wimsatt bracing his feet against the instrument panel and hauling back on the control wheel to keep some semblance of control over the big bomber.
While he struggled with the errant B-24, Wimsatt offered the crew the opportunity to bail out. So great was their faith in his abilities, they elected to stay on board, Adrian said. Trouble-shooting the problem in flight, Wimsatt learned he could keep some semblance of pitch control by engaging the autopilot.
Adrian said his crew did not fly mission lead position, making his chores as a navigator much easier, except for occasions when his Liberator had to make its way home alone, and not in formation. When in formation with other 44th Bomb Group B-24s, he said he frequently spent time scanning from the bulged Plexiglas astrodome atop the nose of the Liberator, calling out over intercom if other planes got too close for comfort.
Adrian's crew flew an older Ford-built B-24J when they got to the 44th Bomb Group, because new crews "didn't get good airplanes, but we got a good crew chief." (It was common practice to assign new crews, who were considered more vulnerable to loss than seasoned fliers, to older aircraft, leaving the newest, best planes for the experienced crews). Adrian's a Liberator was nicknamed "Down 'De Hatch." A crew chief named Iverson kept this B-24 in top operating order, Adrian said.
Some memories made lasting impressions on Ken Adrian. He recalls looking down from his B-24 in flight, and watching German V-2 rockets launch vertically from the Low Countries, spewing a plume of smoke in their trail as they accelerated out of sight on their way to bomb England. "We'd see them take off in Belgium and Holland. We didn't know what they were (at first), he said. After a while, the sightings became so numerous he lost track of how many he observed, he said.
One of Adrian's missions that stands out was a strike over Munich. Cloud cover complicated the mission first. Then, when the Liberators were on their bomb run, they abruptly pulled away when they noticed B-17s appeared overhead to drop their bombs, he said. A second bomb run was dangerous because flak gunners would be ready with proper altitude measurements. On he second run, Adrian said, flak killed the formation lead bombardier.
A hazardous third bomb run was set up over the target, with the mission deputy leader in control, before bombs were released that day. Adrian said he thinks the 44th Bomb Group lost four B-24s that day over Munich - each carrying a crew of ten men.
Ken remembered the pain of losing friends in combat. "After you flew for awhile and you lost some buddies, you didn't even want to know anybody anymore, because they got shot down," he said.
About the B-24, Ken Adrian has one compliment to make: "The engines were great!" And he should know - those four Pratt and Whitney -1830 powerplants carried him time and again over hostile lands, and returned him safely to England.