LT. COL. MERRITT E. DERR
W.W. II -- 27 JUNE 1944
My logbook indicates that the target on 27 June 1944 was a railroad bridge in the vicinity of Creil, France, and the total flying time was five hours 45 minutes.
This was my 24th mission and I remember our crew -- Stone's -- was feeling sorta cocky by this time, maybe even invincible. How stupid that was, as we were to learn later in the day.
If I recall correctly, the weather was fine. At briefing, I was glad we had been scheduled for this mission for, to me, the target seemed like it would be an easy mission. It would be one more toward completion of that 35-mission tour.
It was always customary for Stone to fly the mission to the target and after "bombs away," for me to fly it back to our base at Shipdham. This mission was no exception. As we approached the target, flak became very intense and accurate, and over the target we were bracketed by it.
Just about the time of bomb release, there was a tremendous explosion, which seemed to be just outside the copilot's window. Just at that moment, Lt. Scudday's plane, Q-496, ahead of us and on our right, turned belly up and went down on fire! We received numerous hits, which resulted in a fire in No. 3 engine, a large hole in a fuel cell that poured gasoline into the open bomb bay, cut hydraulic line, and all sorts of flak flying through the cockpit area. Why we didn't blow up I'll never know.
I glanced over my shoulder toward the bomb bay and the stream of liquid fuel pouring into the bomb bay reminded me of a cow urinating. A piece of flak entered the flight deck from below, lodged in my seat, and literally lifted me up against my seatbelt. (I still have this piece of flak in my possession today). Another piece of flak entered the aircraft on the left side of the cockpit, flew across the instrument panel and out the window on the right side. Had Stone and I not switched jobs at that precise moment, his hands would have been on the yoke and would have been shattered.
There was debris flying all over the cockpit. We feathered No. 3 and then hit the fire extinguisher button, which killed the fire. Charlie Brown, our flight engineer, and Lt. Herman Flugman (who flew with us on this mission as an observer) stopped the flow of petrol from the ruptured fuel cell as best they could by stuffing clothing into the hole. Brown then created plugs for the hydraulic line by chewing on some pieces of wood that he produced from who knows where.
We started losing altitude and couldn't keep up with the squadron. About this time, Bob Faust called on the inner-phone from his waist position to report that Bill Strange had bailed out. Surprise! Surprise! No bailout signal had been given, but apparently from the waist position, it appeared imminent. (Strange and Foust have previously given their stories to you).
Meanwhile, we called our "Little Friends," for support and along came the most beautiful P-51 I have ever seen. He stayed with us to the Coast. We checked our fuel supply and decided we would bail out after crossing the allied lines. But, upon reaching that position, we again checked fuel and decided to stay with the airplane as long as she had fuel to keep those engines turning.
Again, after reaching England, we found that there still was some fuel remaining and headed for Station #115. Eventually, we got back to Shipdham, but with only vapor for fuel, and landed on the grass. This action made the engineering officer very unhappy because the aircraft had to be towed back to its revetment.
That night, we all went into town and got thoroughly soused, with the result that we nearly suffered several casualties from guys who rode their bicycles into ditches on their way back to the base.
* * * * *
Merritt E. Derr's Diary of Service with the
506th Squadron, 44th Bomb Group (H) during W.W.II.
First, a little background as to how I became copilot on Fred Stone's crew. I had trained in B-17s at Roswell, NM, but upon completion of that training was assigned to the 29th Bomb Group, Gowan Field, Boise. While at Boise, I was transferred from the 52nd Bomb Squadron to the 43rd Bomb Squadron and it was there that we, Stone's crew, met and trained in B-24 D's.
Upon completion of our training at Boise, we were ordered to Topeka, Kansas on 5 February 1944 to pick up a new B-24 and commence our movement to an overseas destination. On 23 February, we were assigned B-24 airplane serial number 42-29552, which we christened "Bronko Nagurski," in honor of the Chicago Bears football player by that name. After local test flights of #552, we departed Topeka for Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, FL on 25 February. The flight south took seven hours, 35 minutes.
On 28 February, we took off from Morrison Field for a destination unknown until we had reached a specified altitude at which we opened our sealed orders that sent us to England. Our first stop was Waller Field, Trinidad. Other crews departing Morrison Field on the same operations order were: Lt. Gerald E. McBroom, Lt. Frank E. Foy, 2nd Lt. Harrison V. Nowales, 2nd Lt. Glenn W. Sweigart, and 2nd Lt. Richard J. Hruby. I don't know whether all these eventually were assigned to the 44th Bomb Group, or not, but I'm positive Hruby's crew was. Anyway, after ten hours flying time, we reached Waller Field and I discovered we had a leaking fuel cell. After replacement of our leaky fuel cell, we test flew the airplane on 3 March and on 5 March took off for Belem, Brazil.
The flight was eight hours and 50 minutes long during which we encountered severe thunderstorms and for the first and only time in my life I became airsick. I used the box in which my oxygen mask had been packed as an airsick bag which we jettisoned out the bomb bay after I could "heave" no more. The following day we took off for Fortaleza, a flight of only four hours 20 minutes and on 7 March, we departed Fortaleza for our flight across the South Atlantic to Dakar, Africa. Much of this 11 hour, 15 minute flight was at night and very boring, except to Patrichuk, our navigator. He was constantly worried about our position and did an excellent job of getting us to our destination. We took off from Dakar for Marrakech, North Africa on 9 March. The most memorable part of this eight hour 20 minute flight was the discussion that ensued among the crew concerning the smell and taste of Spam sandwiches we were issued as food en route. Once again, we availed ourselves of the ability to jettison unwanted cargo via the bomb bays.
Enroute to Marrakech, we lost our artificial horizon and because our final leg to England would again be a partial night flight, we refused to depart until it was repaired. Repairs were not completed until 18 March. Finally, with 50 rounds of ammunition per gun, we headed out over the Atlantic, by passing neutral Portugal, for England. Of course, England was completely "socked in" upon our arrival and we had to resort to British control procedures to receive a heading to an airfield. We were vectored to Prestwick, Scotland where after then hours, 40 minutes flying, ATC claimed credit for transport of the aircraft from the U.S. to the U.K. and we never saw "Bronko Nagurski" again.
After the usual "training," in Northern Ireland, we reported to the 506th Squadron 44th Bomb Group, Station 115. Following is a chronological report of missions I flew with the 44th:
Mission 1. 21 April 1944
B-24-H. Mission recalled - 4 hrs. 15 min. This was Stone's second mission as he flew copilot on his initial mission a day or so previously. I'm not sure whether Emery Lundy flew this mission with us or not. Emery was given a crash course in navigation and assigned to Walsh's crew in that capacity. He went down on the 11th May Mission to Mulhouse.
Mission 2. 22 April 1944
B-24-H. Mission to Hamm, Germany, 6 h. 55 min. This mission was unique in that takeoff was late in the afternoon and we returned to Shipdham after dark. It was too early in my tour to judge the intensity of flak but I thought it was accurate and I was fascinated by the fact that I could see the orange flame inside the octopus-shaped black smoke cloud as the shells exploded outside our aircraft. We could see the German fighters taking off from their airfields near the coast as we approached the European coastline at dusk on our return to England. They followed us back to Shipdham where we landed at night.
Mission 3. 8 May 1944
No. 952A "Shack Rat" aborted. We picked up another aircraft, a B-24J, caught up with the group, and completed the mission to Brunswick, Germany.
Mission 4. 9 May 1944
No. 952A Mission to St. Trond. 5 h. 50 min.
Mission 5. 10 May 1944
B-24-H. Mission to Diepholtz, Germany. Recalled.
Mission 6. 11 May 1944
B-24H. Mission to Mulhouse. 8 h. 55 min. Target was railroad marshalling yards. Lundy was Stone's bombardier, not his navigator.
Mission 7. 13 May 1944
B-24-H. No. 952A Mission to Tutow. 7 h. 45 min.
Mission 8. 19, 20,22,23,24 May 1944. Mission to Brunswick, Germany. 7 h. 30 min. Local radar test. 2 h. 15 min. No. 952A - local practice flight. 1 h. 35 min. B-24-H. Test flight. We enjoyed a five-day leave. Stone, Derr and Patrichuk went to Edinburgh, Scotland. The enlisted men went to London.
Mission 9. 29 May 1944.
No. 952 A Mission to Politz. 8 h. 20 min. I have our navigator's flight record for this mission. At 1000 hours, copilot called in sighting a possible dingy. 1015 one of 44th aircraft aborted. 1115 another B-24 aborted. 1145 sighted FW 190s. 1150 - one B-24 down, one chute seen. 1153 another B-24 down. One chute seen. 1210 another B-24 down. Five chutes seen. 1216 bombs away. 1240 fighters. ME-109 and JU-88s.
Mission 10. 31 May 1944
B-24H. Mission to Brussels. Recalled. 4 h. 5 min. 1 June 1944 - B-24H. Local test flight.
Mission 11. 3 June 1944
B-24H. Mission to Merlimont Plage, France. 5 h. 15 min.
Mission 12. 6 June 1944. "D" Day!
B-24-J. Mission to St. Laurent-Sur-Mer. We took off in the middle of the night and almost had an air-to-air collision with another aircraft while assembling. We suddenly saw this red light approaching head on at our altitude and immediately made a diving turn to the right. Avoided the collision and resumed our assembly procedure to an altitude of 16,000 feet, by 0402 hours. We bombed from 16,000 feet at 0600 hours. Upon returning to Shipdham we stayed with the aircraft, eating "K" rations, while she was reloaded for a second mission in support of the invasion. I don't recall whether we went out again or not.
Mission 13. 7 June 1944
B-24H. No. 952A. Mission to Lisieux, France. The target was a highway intersection. 6 h. 30 min.
Mission 14. 8 June 1944
B-24H. No. 952A. Mission to Angus, France. 6 h. 10 min.
Mission 15. 10 June 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Orleans, France. 6 h. 10 min. I'm not positive, but I believe this to be the mission on which the lead bombardier did not drop our bombs on the first run over the target. The group then did a 360° turn for a second approach to the target and you know what that did for the German anti-aircraft crews protecting the target and, consequently, for us.
Mission 16. 12 June 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Illier, France. 6 h. Target: airfield.
Mission 17. 14 June 1944.
No. 952A. Mission to Chateaudun, France. 6 h. 25 min. Target: airfield.
Mission 18. 15 June 1944
B-24H. Aborted. 3 h. 10 min.
Mission 19. 18 June 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Wesermunde, Germany. 7 h. 30 min.
Mission 20. 19 June 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Autheux, France. 4 h. 5 min. Target: rocket installation.
Mission 21. 20 June 1944.
B-24-J. Mission to Enguinegatte, France. 3 h. 45 min. Target: Rocket installation (2nd mission of the day).
Mission 22. 22 June 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Nucourt, France. 5 h. 15 min. Target. Rocket depot.
Mission 23. 24 June 1944.
B-24-J. Mission to Laon, France. 5 h. 40 min. Target: Airfield. 25 June 1944, B-24-. Local test flight. 1 h. 30 min.
Mission 24. 27 June 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Criel, France. 5 h. 45 min. Target: railroad bridge. It was always customary for Stone to fly the mission to the target and after bombs away for me to fly back to Shipdham. This mission was no exception. Flak was very intense and accurate. Over the target, we were bracketed by it. Lt. Scuddy's plane which was on our right, turned belly up and went down. I don't believe there were any survivors. We received numerous hits which started a fire in No. 3 engine and cut a big hole in a fuel cell that poured gasoline into the open bomb bay area. Why we didn't blow up, I'll never know.
Charles Brown and Lt. Herman Flugman, who flew with us on this mission as an observer, plugged the fuel leak as best they could with clothing. I feathered No. 3 and hit the fire extinguisher switch which stopped the fire. A piece of flak entered the aircraft on the left side of the cockpit, flew across the instrument panel and out the window on the right side. Had Stone and I not switched jobs at that precise time, his hands would have been on the yoke and would have been shattered. Another piece of flak entered the flight deck from below and lodged in my seat. There was debris flying all over the cockpit but fortunately the armor plate seat saved my butt.
We started losing altitude and couldn't maintain speed with the squadron. About this time, Foust on the intercom reported that Bill Strange had bailed out. No bailout signal and been given, but apparently from the waist gun position, it appeared it was imminent. Anyway, out he went and was captured by the Germans at about dusk the same day. Meanwhile, back on "Shack Rat" we called our little friends for support and along came the most beautiful P51 escort I've ever seen. He stayed with us to the coast. We checked our fuel supply and decided we would bail out after crossing the allied lines, if need be. Upon reaching that position, we, again, checked fuel and decided to stay with the airplane as long as possible. Eventually, we got back to Shipdham with only vapor remaining in the tanks and landed on the grass. This made the engineering officer very unhappy because the aircraft had to be towed back to its revetment. 30 June 1944. Local test B-24-J.
Mission 25. 4 July 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Beaumont, France. 5 h. 30 min. Target was an airfield. We were all very tired after returning to base and had hit the sack. Suddenly the adjutant burst into our quarters to announce that we, Stone, Derr and Patrichuk, were promoted to 1st Lt. At the moment, I couldn't have cared less. 6 July 1944. B-24-H. Aborted.
Mission 26. 7 July 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Bernberg, Germany. 7 h. 35 min. As we turned from the IP toward the target, I saw heavy smoke rising from the target and a formation of twin engine, aircraft flying toward us at our altitude. This formation, which turned out to be German ME 210s flew right through our formation. They were so close I could see the faces of the German flyers. We exchanged fire as they passed through and I believe Ryan was credited with one aircraft downed. There were many chutes seen in the area as planes went down and one of our gunners reported seeing some set on fire as they were pursued by German fighters. 12 July - B-24-H. Aborted mission to Munich. 2 h. 25 min.
13 July 1944. Entire crew sent to "Rest Home at Southport" for seven day leave.
Mission 27. 24 July 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to St. Lo, France. 5 h. Target was German troop concentrations. At the briefing we were given a road that would serve as the line between our ground troops and the German forces. There was to be no bombing behind that line. As we approached the target, artillery marked the corners of our designated target area with colored smoke. I'll never understand how the 8th A.F. could possibly bomb our own forces but I saw it happen. The group preceding us to the target dropped their entire load on the allied side of that road. I felt sick. Upon release of our bombs, we made a diving turn to the right at speeds up to red line to avoid flak from all the 88s the Germans had there.
Mission 28. 25 July 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Returned to ST. Lo. 5 h. 15 min.
Mission 29. 29 July 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Bremen, Germany. 6 h. 45 min. Target was an oil refinery.
Mission 30. 31 July 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952-A. Mission to Ludwigshafen, Germany. 6 h. 30 min. Target: oil.
Mission 31. 1 August 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Corbie, France. 5 h. 45 min. Target: RR bridge.
Mission 31. 1 August 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Corbie, France. 5 h. 45 min. Target: RR bridge.
Mission 32. 3 August 1944.
B-24-H. No. 952A. Mission to Mery-Sur-Oise, France. 4 h. 45 min. Target: Rocket depot. I believe this was the last mission for Stone's crew (Patrichuk, Foust, Ryan, Cervellera, and Meunitz). Brown and I had been hospitalized earlier in the tour and consequently, had some missions to fly to make the required 35 (later reduced to 30).
Mission 33. 4 August 1944.
B-24-H. Mission to Kiel, Germany. 6 h. 50 min.
Target. Submarine pens. I flew as copilot for Thomas Smith who was Rhuby's copilot.
Mission 34. 5 August 1944.
B-24-J. Mission to Brunswick, Germany. 7 h. 5 min. Again I flew as CP for Smith and for the first time we flew an unpainted aircraft in combat.
Mission 35. 6 August 1944.
B-24-H. Mission to Hamburg, Germany. 6 h. 30 min. At the briefing I couldn't believe that the target was defended by 700 anti-aircraft guns. I knew we and the British had been hitting Hamburg a lot and I thought there couldn't be much left to bomb. As we turned from the IP toward Hamburg, I could see an immense cloud of black smoke ahead and realized the intelligence reports at briefing were correct. Flak was very intense and accurate. We flew number 4 slot in the lead element. Right after "bombs away" the other three ships in our element were hit and just seemed to disappear. I really racked that B-24 all over the sky in evasive maneuvers to get out of there. I knew this was my last mission prior to rotation back to the U.S. and I sure wanted to get safely back to England.
14 August 1944 -- B-24-H. Local check flight in left seat. 3 h. 10 min.
27 August 1944 -- Departed U.K. for the U.S. on board the ship "Louis Pasteur."
Merritt E. Derr