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Legacy Of:

Donald  A.  Johnson

 

Personal Legacy
COMBAT DUTY

We spent a few weeks practicing formation flying and flew our first combat mission on September 5,1944. It was a bombing raid to Karlsruhe, Germany. There was moderate flak over the target and the co-pilot, Gene Rouse, panicked and came on the intercom saying there was no way we could fly through that but we received no damage. On return to the home base we ran out of gas on the approach and all four engines quit. As the saying goes, with a B-24 if you feather all four engines and throw a brick out the window you will beat the brick to the ground. Needless to say we landed about a mile short of the runway. Chuck had raised the landing gear and we landed on the belly. It was one of the smoothest landings I ever experienced. The crash brought a crowd to the site and the photo lab took pictures. One with the nine of us standing by the plane has been on the internet and in newspapers. The flight surgeon asked who was hurt and Chuck said nobody. The plane never flew again. This was our baptism to combat.

Mission number two was to Mainz. We bombed a marshalling yard. Marshalling yards are railroad switching yards where the train cars are coupled and uncoupled and assembled on the proper track in preparation for the trainís departure. There was moderate flak and bandits were sighted but we had no attacks.

Mission number three was to Olm, Germany. Again we hit marshalling yards. It was a long mission, 8.5 hours. We were on oxygen for six hours. Flak was heavy but we had no injuries.

On our fourth mission we encountered heavy flak and had about forty holes in the aircraft.

During the fifth mission we had moderate flak but it hit one tire and it blew out on landing. Chuck was able to keep the plane on the runway but got bawled out for doing the impossible. Because it took so long to clear the runway two planes behind us had to go around again.

Mission number six was to Koblenz and again we hit marshalling yards. There was moderate flak and bandits were reported but not engaged. This was the mission for which we won the Air Medal.

Mission number seven, on September 27th, we flew to Kassel, Germany. We had no big problems but the 445th Bomb Group got too far away from the bomber stream and was attacked by Me 109s. They shot down 25 of the 33 planes in the formation. Two others crash landed in France.

Mission number eight was to the Hamm marshalling yards. Flak was heavy but we only had a few hits and no one was hurt.

Mission number nine we hit the airfield at Lippstadt. Moderate flak.

Mission number ten we hit the marshalling yards at Koblenz. Heavy but inaccurate flak encountered.

Mission number eleven we hit the marshalling yards at Bingen. After our 11th mission, on October 12, Railroad marshalling yards were prime targets, along with the vast network of canals. The Germans estimation for the importance of the marshallng yards at Hamm can be measured by the 4000 regular railroad men employed there.

Mission number 12 we went to Cologne but did not drop the bombs. Coming back we were over Belgium when the engineer said we did not have enough gas to reach England. We were at 21,000 feet and did a 180o turn and let down. We went into the clouds almost immediately and didnít come out of them until we were at an altitude of less than 1,000 feet. I thought we were over Brussels and because the airfield was on the northeast edge of the city I had Chuck head northeast. At our low level we could not see very far and never found the airfield. I got a G-fix and found that we were headed for German-held Holland and were almost there. I called for a quick 180o and we headed back toward Brussels but we were running out of gas. Chuck called to jettison the bombs. Wik was in the bomb bay replacing the pins so the bombs would not be armed when I hit the release switch. He hadnít quite finished and four 500 pound bombs exploded when they hit. We were so low that it blew out the waist windows and damaged the elevators. Chuck landed using the throttles to control the attitude of the plane. He made a good landing but the nose wheel collapsed and the plane folded at the flight deck and he was almost pinned in. Several of us received minor bruises but nothing serious.

The explosion of the bombs attracted a large crowd. We were taken to the home of a Belgium doctor and given a snack and a glass of wine. Some Ninth Air Force men who were in the area working on a plane also showed. They and the doctor took us to the airfield in Brussels. The doctor had a 1936 De Soto he said the Germans had left behind. The next day we got a ride to England in a B-17. The pilot asked me to follow his course because he had no navigator. I was amazed that we were climbing out over the Channel at 90 mph. In a B-24 we would still be on the ground at that speed. We landed in the midlands and our base sent a plane to pick us up.

At a debriefing after that flight, our pilot, Chuck Norris, wrote the following:

ďWas #4 in High High Right. Did not drop bombs. Just after target, manifold pressure in #3 dropped 30 and remained that way. #4 engine fluctuating. Returned with formation and coming over Belgium, checked gasoline to find only 50 gallons in each tank. Called Formation and left - did a 180 degree from 21 ,000 feet and let down thorough clouds - icing up. Then instrument let down, broke out about 2000 feet over Brussels, headed N.E., missed the field, did another 180 degrees to get back. Then engines started to spit and sputter from lack of gas & headed for an open field about 400 feet. Salvoed bombs, which blew up and the blast blew all windows out of aircraft. It also damaged elevators, etc. No elevator controls, #3 engine began burning and #2 began smoking. Used throttles to maneuver , - nose up and down, had elevators. Went down into a grassy meadow NE of Brussels (25 to 30 miles. Hentje/Westerloo) and nose wheel collapsed, main gear held up.

Split the ship apart, shoved dashboard back. Minor bruises to crew, caused by flying plexiglass. Pilotís knees banged, but crew okay. A/C completely wiped out.Ē

After this mission we went to Southport, England, for Rest and Relaxation. This was a week when we did nothing but take it easy. They wanted to keep Chuck there for another week but he did not stay. When we returned to Shipdham they took him off combat status and he became assistant operations officer. We were assigned a new pilot, Larry Wilson.

We flew our 13th mission on November 26 with Larry as pilot. He was our pilot for 10 missions. This was our first of the three missions to hit the railroad viaduct at Bielffield. These were not outstanding but we did have light flak and minor damage. No one was hurt.

Mission number 14 we bombed the Hanover area.

Mission number 15 we hit Wetzler/Koschausen/Bebra as a target of opportunity.

Mission number 16 we returned to Bielefield again to bomb the viaduct. It seemed that all we did was to blow the rails off the concrete.

We didnít fly from December 6 until the 24th because of bad weather. On the 24th it cleared and we were able to support the fight called the Battle of the Bulge. We dropped bombs on a railroad bridge and tunnel to cut off supplies from the German troops. This was mission number 17.

Missions Number 18 and 19 we continued to hit railroad junctions and bridges to cut off supplies from the Battle of the Bulge.

On mission numer 20 we went back to Koblenz and hit the railroad bridge.

After mission 20 Gene, Wik and I were promoted to First Lieutenants. This meant a small increase in pay.

Mission number 21 on January 3, 1945, we hit ordinance supplies at Landau, Germany.

Our daughter was born January 4, 1945, but Charlotte had a rough time and didnít inform me for a couple weeks and then I got a V-mail picture of Charlotte holding her on her lap. She named her Diane Marie. The doctor came to the house and had to be towed into the farmhouse by a team of horses because there was a lot of snow. He even stayed overnight and slept on the sofa. I canít imagine a doctor doing that today. They donít even make house calls.

January 14 Chuck returned as our pilot. We were happy to get him back. He was an excellent and experienced pilot. Both Gary and I have remarked that we owe our lives to him.

His first mission with us was January 14. We hit an oil refinery in Hemmingstedt. The entire route was over water except for the bomb run. This was mission number 22.

Mission number 23 was on January 16th. That was a mission that went almost to Berlin and then turned south. We were to bomb a storage area but didnít and continued on to Dresden and dropped the bombs on what looked to me to be a nice residential area. This seemed to me to be a bad decision because there was no strategic target in the area. I believe it was a retaliation for a German raid on a British city. Because the trip was so long, when we were coming back over France the lead pilot radioed that he didnít have enough gas to reach England and he was going to land in Paris. All
but one of us followed him there. We stayed overnight and went to the Follies Bergere. We returned to England the next day.

Mission number 24, on January 28, we flew our worst mission. We hit a coking plant in Dortmund. Dortmund is in the Ruhr Valley. It was the most heavily defended part of Germany because most of their heavy industry was there. We were flying at 24,000 feet and the flak was very heavy. They were shooting at us with a four-gun battery of 105ís. We could see three of them explode just ahead of us and heard the fourth one directly below us. We sustained major damage. We lost two radios, had many gas leaks, the amplifiers to two superchargers were hit and we lost the entire hydraulic system. At 24,000 feet without superchargers those two engines were barely running above an idle. After the bomb run the group made a wide turn to the left. By turning shorter and losing altitude we were able to keep them in sight. The engineer we able to get the damaged amplifiers out of their cases and luckily we had two spares so we got full power back and were able to rejoin the formation. All this time I keep getting colder and kept turning up the voltage up on my heated suit with no results. I reached down and felt along the cord and found it had been cut. I found an extra cord lying right by my feet and exchanged them and immediately got warm. That was the only time I ever had an extra one.

As we approached our base we were able to contact another plane on our remaining radio and informed them that we were going to Ipswich to land because they had a three-mile runway and we had no flaps or brakes as they both were hydraulically operated. The engineer and radio operator cranked the main gear down and kicked the nose wheel down. We landed OK but used the entire three miles to get stopped. Without flaps we must have touched down at about 140 mph. We called the home base and told them where we were. They had heard us on the radio and Major Hughes was on his way to pick us up.

Garistina later told me that if he had been in his seat he would have been killed. The flak that hit the radios and superchargers went across his seat. He was standing up looking into the bomb bay to be sure the doors were open and none of the bombs hung up.

Mission number 25 we hit the marshalling yards at Magdeburg. Flak was heavy but inaccurate due to cloud cover. We got one flak hole in number three engine.

Mission number 26 we returned to Madgeburg again.

Mission number 27, on February 16th, we flew to Rheine and bombed a marshalling yard. On the way home we stopped overnight in France. When we landed there I could not clear my ears and all I could hear was a steady roar. When we went on to England after four days they cleared when we reached 10,000 feet. I was taken off flying status and had to go to the hospital twice a day and put eardrops in my ears and lay under a heat lamp. While I was grounded the crew flew two missions with Wikman as navigator. After those missions the crew was given a three days pass to London and I was returned to flying status so I could go with them.

Mission number 28 on March 1 we headed for Inglostadt, Germany. We were nearly to the target flying on three engines when General Johnson, who was monitoring the formation, told us to turn around and go home. We jettisoned the bombs and headed back across France. We were losing oil pressure on a second engine and landed on a metal strip runway near Metz. We thought we had notified the home field but apparently they didnít get the message. We stayed overnight there with a group that was following Patton across France repairing airstrips. The commander happened to be a friend of Chuckís. He seemed to have friends everywhere. The next day they took us to Paris on a GI truck. We were put up in a hotel that was set up for returning POWs. We stayed three days and enjoyed touring Paris and even went to see the Follies Bergere. We were then flown to London in a C-47 and got a train to Norwich. We called the base and they sent a truck for us. They said where have you been. Apparently they didnít get our message from France.

Years later my sister-in-law, Dorothy, told me Dad Burgess had gotten a ďmissing in actionĒ telegram but never told Charlotte. I did write to her as soon as we were back to the base.

Mission number 29 on March 10 we again bombed the railroad viaduct at Bielefield. This was the last time we had this milk run because the English sent their Lancasters with 22,000-pound bombs and destroyed the whole concrete structure.

Mission 30 on March 11 we went to Kiel to bomb the sub pens and shipbuilding. The flak was heavy but we had no problems.

March 12 we went on our second R&R. This time we went to Scotland. We visited both Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the way back to the base Chuck and I checked in at the Railroad Transportation Office. Chuck told them he wouldnít go unless we got a sleeping car. The two of us and an English Officer had the room to ourselves. We went to bed soon after leaving Glasgow and were almost to London when we woke up. I didnít even know English trains had sleeping cars.

Mission number 31 on March 24 we bombed a landing strip at Stormede, Germany.

Mission number 32 on March 31 we bombed the marshalling yards in Brunswick, Germany. There was heavy but inaccurate flak due to cloud cover and crisscrossing of bomb runs.

While on mission number 33 on April 4 we had a German ME262 Jet fighter go through our formation. It was the first and only one we saw. He took one shot but didnít hit anyone and he was gone.

Mission 34 on March 6 we went to Halle. The 1st and 3rd divisions hit Leipzig which is only a few miles from Halle. We had B-17s going in over us and coming out below us. There must have been 1,000 American bombers and their fighter escorts in the area. No German fighter would dare to come into that area.

Enemy action wasnít the only danger we had to face. One morning on a predawn takeoff we climbed out on the prescribed heading to half our formation altitude and did a 180o and homed in on the radio beacon. It was still dark and we could not find the other planes. Chuck said he was going to let down a little to look for them. Just as he said this someone in the waist called ďpull upĒ. As he did this a plane went beneath us at a 90o angle. It must have cleared us by less than 50 feet. Thank God for the men in the waist watching out the window.

In a way we were fortunate in that we flew our missions in the latter part of the war in Europe. Earlier the Eighth Air Force took an awful beating from the German Air Force until the arrival of the P-51 fighter. With wing tanks it could follow the bombers all the way to the target. It has been said that the Eighth Air Force lost more men than the Navy and Marines combined. In fact the Eighth Air Force lost 47,000 men.

At the end our tour (35 missions) we got a week off and went to Bournemouth on the southern coast of England. Chuck knew a girl there but hadnít visited her since he went back to England with us. We met her and her father. They were direct descendents of Charles Dickens. It was a nice small city and the coast was a high cliff. We stood at the edge and looked down at planes flying along below us. When we returned to Shipdham all the crew except Chuck and I departed for the states. We were awarded the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, one for each six missions. We also got the ETO ribbon with four battle stars.
 
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