GERALD J. GROSS|
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
July 19, 1995
Once again, thanks for keeping me informed. Your letter of June 21 went a long way in clearing up various questions. Relieved as I was to have it confirmed by you that I had indeed been in the 506th, I took the liberty of phoning Roy Owen since he had written to me in regard to my May 25th letter to you. That completed the loop. We had a good discussion and I made my pitch about the Speer talk, but Roy felt that it might best be considered for a later annual meeting since so much of the planning for San Antonio is in order. So We've left it at that.
Back to the points in your letter. Our rest home was in Dorset, but I can't recall the name of the town. I have Tom McKenna's address, but you've saved me an hour's search by giving me all the numbers. I will be writing to him shortly. I was the Gerald Gross in Queens - living there about the time I enlisted. It is unfortunate that there are no other addresses for other members of the crew. I would particularly welcome being in touch with our copilot, Russ Dowell, who hailed from Minnesota, plus our tail gunner, Lou Spector, who was out of New York City.
I found your P.S. interesting. I flew 24 missions till the war ended. Twenty-three of them were as part of Tom's crew. Our first was over Cologne, and we did fly with the gliders during the Bulge. I had a neat listing of every mission, but years ago misplaced the little booklet in which I had made my notations.
I Look forward to greeting you in San Antonio. Best wishes for a joyous summer.
Gerald J. Gross
GERALD J. GROSS
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
336 Greens Farms Road
Westport, CT 06880-6332
25 May 1995
I would like to know the name and address of the Association member in charge of the program for San Antonio. My thought is that he may wish to include a contribution to the program in the form of my reminiscences. I make this suggestion because I am quite certain that I am the only member of the 44th who had the post-war opportunity to spend many days and weeks with one of Hitler's top aides. He was the only one, in the docket with Goering and Hess, to plead guilty at Nuremberg: Albert Speer. I published Speer's memoirs Inside the Third Reich. I sure had no idea I'd ever make that connection when flying out of Shipdham.
With very good wishes,
Gerald J. Gross
MISSION MEMORIES WITH A POST-WAR FINALE
NAVIGATOR - BOMBARDIER
In thinking about the missions of WWII, we tend to forget the long days of intense and skillful training which anticipated the risks to come. From the first moments of marching-drill on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, to classrooms at the University of Vermont, to Florida landing strips for pre-flight, to exhausting physical training in Nashville, lengthy navigation sessions in Quonset huts in Texas, to our first crew assembly in Mountain Home, Idaho, I had been honed to be part of a combat-ready team.
I and my crew members were an easy, efficient fit as we joined our pilot, Tom McKenna for final training and flights in B-24 rejects. We were a typical mix, drawn from Minnesota farmland, Pennsylvania coal mines, the plains of Texas and union halls of Brooklyn. Tom and I had broken away from our college years; he from Michigan and I from New York City.
The McKenna Crew:
Gerald Gross, Navigator/Bombardier; Russell Dowell, Co-pilot; Tom McKenna, Pilot.
Louis Spektor, Tail Gunner; Mike Allen, Radio Operator/Gunner; Jacques Jacobson, Left Waist Gunner; James Johnson, Armament Gunner; William Hornberger, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner; Glen Allen, Right Waist Gunner.
In that final stage of training we flew seasoned crates that had known the heavy engagements we would soon encounter. Young brides, waiting for our return to base, would often enough look up to the skies to see our smoking B-24's coming in to land. Years later, I published the writer, Randall Jarrell, who had been with the Second Air Force, stationed in Tucson, and had trained briefly at Mountain Home. Poet, critic and teacher, he wrote what eventually became the most anthologized poem of WWII. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner ends with "black flak" and "When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."
Our crew had no such thoughts as we left Mountain Home for our last base in the States Lincoln, Nebraska. There, for Division and Theatre assignments, one of our first briefing officers was Captain Eric Rhodes. He sure surprised his audience in coming on stage. Many of us had known him only as the foppish, feather-brained comic character, Beddini or Tonetti, of our favorite Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies. An Oklahoman and not a Franco-Italian via Hollywood, his presence on stage emphasized how many of us were in the war effort.
To the U.K.:
I went to bed every night with a prayer that our crew would be sent to the U.K. and not
the Pacific. It worked. Tightly packed into a small French liner, the Louis Pasteur, we dodged subs and swiftly arrived at Liverpool. Introduced to Britain by a first meal heavy on brussels sprouts, we were issued all of our basic gear for the months ahead. It was a strange sensation to feel a small arms revolver under my armpit and a bayonet knife strapped to my leg as we entrained to East Anglia and our airbase at Shipdham
It was Fall of 1944. In September of 1942, on approaching the age of21, I had enlisted in the Army Air Corps Reserve. Not called up until February or March of 43, it had taken me more than a year a half to reach Shipdham and the full engagement of war, as a navigator/bombardier in the 506th Squadron of the 44th Bomb Group.
At Mountain Home we had been surrounded by rolling countryside with sheep tended by Basque shepherds who had been brought to Idaho years ago. Now we were walking along English hedgerow. Planes from our group were just returning from a mission as we ambled through the fields to our base. One plane had been seriously hit. Hobbling into the landing strip, it didn't quite make it. The ship exploded before our eyes as it attempted to land. It was an unforgettable beginning for a green crew arriving at Shipdham that day.
Our crew did 23 missions 'til the end of the war. Our pilot, Tom McKenna, had made it clear from the very outset that we would perform as a disciplined group, and we did. No joking around in flight. No idle chit-chat on the intercom. On only one occasion I was called up to serve as navigator/bombardier for another crew. That group seemed awfully strange to me. Joking on the intercom and lots of casual talk made it somewhat unnerving for me as I went about my work. It was a relief not to ever go up with an unfamiliar crew again.
In our twenty-three runs we had many close calls, turbulent rides, and damaged areas to our ship as we encountered our share of fighters or flak.
Often enough, I saw fellow planes go down on my left or right. We were lucky and were never forced down in combat. But weather could do it On returning from one mission over Germany, Britain was so socked in by heavy fog that we had to be directed to a fighter base landing strip in France for an overnight. The Quonset hut that we stayed in was festooned with a galaxy of champagne corks. The fighter boys had hung them from the ceiling with strings or wire, happy evidence as how our buddies supported the local vintners. We were in Saint Quentin.
I had the time to walk into town. I then had a deep interest in music history, as I still do. Walking by the local bookstore, I noticed a book about a great fifteenth century composer. The title, Was Josquin des Pres a Native of St. Quentin? intrigued me. On inquiring about the author, I was told he was the local mayor. So I called on him, struggled through his English, and had a pleasant talk about J osquin.
Another music-related mission started when our early A.M. briefing officer told us we were going to Beirut. That's what I first heard when I wondered how in the world we were to reach Lebanon. It turned out to be Bayreuth. That, in turn, alarmed me because I had visions of accidentally hitting the famous Richard Wagner Festspielhaus. I kept careful notes as to where we dropped our bombs that day. Later in the evening, I went to the nearest phone booth and was able to obtain the phone number of the eminent Wagner scholar, Ernest Newman. Reaching him in London, I introduced myself and immediately told him that I was breaking regulations in talking with him because I was about to tell him just where we had dropped our bombs. I described the location of the ordnance area, whereupon Newman replied: "My dear young man, I am sorry to say that you may not have hit the F estspielhaus, but you may very well have hit that delightful rococo Bibiena theater at the Residenz." As we did. Years later, I saw it completely restored.
It Wasn't All Bad
On occasion, the anomaly of a stunning visual moment in the drab course of a mission evoked emotion well apart from the tension of the hour. An unexpected rendezvous in Belgium around Louvain University, or circling about as early daybreak broke in East Anglia over the magnificent quads of Cambridge, or following the French coastline on return to base, to look down and see Mount St. Michel. These were special tokens of air warfare.
Meeting the Jets
We went to Berlin twice. It was a long jaunt, some 550 miles from Shipdham. Heavy flak on arrival, but our luck prevailed, as it did near the end of the War. On missions in southern Germany, we were among the first crews to be attacked by the newly developed jet fighters. Fortunately for the Eighth, as I later learned, almost two years earlier Hitler had bluntly vetoed production of the ME-262 twin-jet fighter. The fastest plane in the world, it was capable of more than 700 mph in level flight.
Although we had been given prior instruction as to how to fire at these new fighters, nothing could prepare us for the severe swiftness of their attack. Off one wing and then off another while we had barely time to aim our machine guns. Fortunately, the German fighters' jet propulsion was of short duration. If some of our long range escort fighters were nearby, they could deal with those jets. But there must have been a higher KIA rate for nearby 24's on those missions.
Harrison Salisbury may have written this in '42 or '43. It still applied when we flew in '44 and '45, although increased fighter escort had reduced casualties. The words from The New York Times correspondent were: "To fly in the Eighth Air Force in those days was to hold a ticket to a funeral. Your own." Young men, and well trained, we were entirely unaware of such momentous sentiments. For example, I don't remember ever being downright scared during the conflagrations of a mission or during the heavy flak of a bomb run. Awfully preoccupied, resigned, determined, angry, fatalistic; but not scared. However, I'm sure I would have been if we had ever gone down.
Toward the end of the war, though, I experienced some moments of panic. B24's had been selected over 17' s because they could fly more effectively at low levels, and we had to drop supplies on the German side of the lines, as our transports and gliders came in to land troops. That mission to Wesel was a well-coordinated effort, but in dropping supplies for our troops at a very low level of about 200 feet, Tom had to fly well into German lines, in order to circle properly for our way out and return. We seemed to fly lower than some of the tall smokestacks in the area. The German small arms fire was intense (rifles included!). Much of it ricocheted through my nose turret area. And that was the only mission for which I had
forgotten to wear my flak vest! The debriefing session following that
engagement was the only occasion where I drained more than one double Scotch.
Although our low level run in aiding glider troops during the Battle of the Bulge was unforgettable because of heavy arms fire and the number of gliders destroyed on landing, my absent flak jacket on the Wesellow level jaunt "takes the cake" in the close call category.
An Engine Problem
Another close episode, ironically enough, was not in action. We had just taken off for a mission when two of our four Pratt and Whitney engines, which normally carried 1200 horse power each for take-off, were not functioning properly. Tom, our pilot, could not gain altitude, and it was immediately clear that we would have to abort our mission to Germany that day. In addition, it was also clear to us that we could not gain sufficient altitude to circle and land the plane, given our heavy bomb load. Tom, therefore, had to make the decision to salvo the bombs, knowing they would not explode with the pins still in them. Some of us were still assembled in the cockpit area while Tom sought to find his control to release the bombs, in order to keep us from heading into the ground. His control failed to function. The only thing left to do was for me to crawl up to the nose as quickly as possible. There, I was able to release the regular bomb control. And just in time.
On returning to base, Tom and I, along with our co-pilot, Russ Dowell, decided to see where our bombs had landed. We hopped into a jeep, drove into the countryside, and found the bombs which had ploughed up a narrow macadam road. A number of locals were nearby, puffing on their pipes as we approached. Looking up at us, not the least bit upset, one of them, standing next to their little building, merely said, 'Well, boys, you almost got our pub, ya' did, almost got our pub.' If I hadn't gotten up to the nose in time, we woulq not have been with those blokes for such a pleasant exchange.
The Trolley Missions
Our first mission had been to Altenahr, near Cologne. It was a source of relief to see the Cathedral still standing at the end of the war. While we waited reassignment to the Far East, the 44th, as with other Groups, conducted what we called 'Trolley Missions.' We took up all our
ground personnel to fly low level over now-silent Germany, to closely inspect the results of our bombings. We were incredulous as to the damage we had done. The ruins of Hamburg were unbelievable.
After The War
After the end of the war, I decided to seek out a career in book publishing, while, via evening hours, I completed course credits for my truncated college degree. The profession of book publishing can allow one to become involved with many individuals of consequence, as it did for me. From high table at Oxford's All Soul's, to a gathering of "old China hands" to celebrate Barbara Tuchman's Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 with a festive dinner at the Hoover Institution, or overlooking Paris at midnight from her apartment building with Marlene Dietrich, there were many memorable occasions. For about five or six years after the war, I had a complete aversion to flying. It was only when I had to be in Washington on short notice for my company's publication of The Economic Report of the President that I could get myself back into a plane. After thirty years, I left book publishing to go on to academia, where I served as vice president for a large university in New England for almost another twenty years. Both careers provided me with exceptional linkages to Germany
I expect that it is correct for me to say I am the only member of the Eighth Air Force to have had an extended relationship, some twenty years after the war, with one of Hitler's closest associates. During the war, London's The Observer posited that one man in Germany was responsible for having extended the conflict by an additional six months: Albert Speer, Hitler's Minister of Armaments. 1 surely could not envision that I would meet with him some twentyodd years later.
As a senior executive of the Macmillan Publishing Company, 1 would each year manage business negotiations at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The first year that I attended and saw the vast and meticulously ordered expanse of exhibitors from a balcony in the large hall, I immediately thought of the regimented troops of a Nuremberg rally.
The only defendant to declare himself guilty at the Nuremberg trials, Speer, sentenced to twenty years at Spandau, came out of prison in October, 1966. Then at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 1 and the London publisher, Andre' Deutsch, decided to call Frau Speer at their home in Heidelberg to express our joint interest in the English language publication of her husband's memoirs. That phone call eventually produced the international best seller, Inside the Third Reich and it initiated a relationship that I maintained with Speer over the years, even after I left Macmillan to join Boston University.
On settling in Boston and meeting trustees of the university, 1 encountered someone who knew more about the 44th Bomb Group than I did. He was Arthur G. Metcalf, owner of the Electronics Corporation of America. He had been a test pilot and had served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the war. Involved in the development of the Norden bombsight, he and Ira Eaker were good friends. Out of that relationship and my affiliation with Speer, I, at Metcalfs behest_ was able to arrange a significant post-war meeting, wherein General Eaker met with Speer at his home in Heidelberg to review the WWII bombing results. The talks were taped and published in Air Force Magazine.
Upon reading this text, Dr. John Silber, President Emeritus of Boston University, wrote to me as follows: "You will recall that you arranged for me to meet with Albert Speer at his home in Heidelberg, and subsequently arranged a meeting for Arthur Metcalf, General Eaker and me with Speer. On that occasion, Eaker returned to Speer all the medals that had been confiscated trom him after the war. Speer seemed pleased to receive them."
Speer and I had much to discuss in the translation of his memoirs, which were being translated by my close friends, Richard and Clara Winston. Clara and my wife, Flora, had been college classmates. Flora
could recall the day when Clara decided to quit college to go off to live on a farm with Richard, who was a conscientious objector. There, deep in Vermont, as language experts immersed in German translation work, they were, on occasion, thought to be German spies.
Translated chapters came to me from Richard, one at a time. I would then send them on to Speer. In discussing a chapter on the bombing of Berlin, Speer said to me: "I must have been looking up when you were looking down."
For the sake of my own conscience in working with Speer, I had him agree to direct his share of his American royalty income to a refugee aid association in the States. This never became public knowledge. Til now. I still have a page that Speer wrote out for me, to indicate the relatively small amount of income that he realized from the world-wide success of Inside the Third Reich. Much of the income went to the original German publisher, Ullstein. The supervising editor there, Wolf Jobst Seidler, had been a tremendous help to Speer in polishing off the final text. Wolf had brought in Joachim Fest, then a member of the editorial board of the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung for close assistance. On occasion, I would meet with the three of them in Heidelberg.
We did not discuss the war much over the years. However there was a memorable exchange when I happened to mention end-of-war missions when my squadron was attacked by jet fighters. Speer then recalled how he, Milch, JodI, Galland had urged the rapid development and production of the Messerschmitt ME-262. It was 1943. Hitler, obsessed with the need for bombers to strike Britain, ordered that all work on the ME-262 cease. He then reversed the order in early' 44; but time had been lost, and it took months for the first jets to go into action.
When I told Speer how relieved we were, having engaged those planes, to come to the end of the war and the end of our missions, Speer looked at me, and in his somewhat droll, ironic manner, slowly said, "Well, I suppose we can say Hitler saved your life."