Robert A. Norsen|
Diary of World War II
Ol' "Lemon Drop," was one of the originals, flown across by my close friend Phil. Reginal Phillips. Phil named it that because it had some defects originally that caused Phil and crew some delay to get the defects fixed.
Will, I haven't written much about me for the 44th. I guess I didn't get into the terrible trouble on missions that so many did. Many times close but I never came back with serious damage and only once with an injury on board. No, I didn't fly a full 35 missions either. Between an operations job and then engineering modifications for the B-24 after my crew was lost, flying with another pilot, I flew when needed as a substitute pilot. In that situation I seldom got to go. I remember flying for Johnny Diehl on a Hamm raid. Nearly frozen controls. Working so hard with stiff controls I had the window open, drenched in sweat. B-17's flying back through our formation, engines out etc.
Another mission I recall while the main group did Ploesti I stayed to bring down another flight when the "promised new crews showed up. We ran training missions of semi real missions with long and complete briefing, then careful debriefing to review the "mission." Idea was to become so familiar with combat details the new crews would be as safe as possible for themselves and for the rest of the team. On one of several such missions, a diversion, my plane was head - on attacked by a twin engine Meshersmitt that launched the first rockets I had seen.
Back in the States we had mentally practiced quick evasive action: "Just as they 'stand still' out there, do a quick dive." I did. The rockets smoked a few feet overhead. Slight rudder damage.
Problem - both wingmen dove out of sight. For the clouds? They showed up at de-brief. Never understood why they broke formation.
Would it be interesting to any of the now members to learn more of the early days of the group - when we first began to fly the B-24's?
My first ride in a B-24 was with some 8 other pilots as passengers, Major Curtis LeMay was pilot. He fought that airplane like he was wrestling alligators. I think we helped by walking in unison from front to back in the waist section while he was in the pattern. I wondered at the time -- This B-24 will take MUSCLE! It turned out that it was easy and fun to fly. Maybe not as much fun as the P-47 but not a muscle builder either.
I had just finished B-17 school as a "qualified" 1st pilot, B-I 7. There they tried to get us to land tail wheel first. Some did at great expense. The main gear came down so hard the drag strut would part, laying the plane on one wheel, a wing tip and one engine.
Early instructions on the B-24 were to land three point. Some did. The result collapsed the nose gear, left the tail pointing at the sky (at Fort Meyers). Of course the right way to land both airplanes, is on the main gear with the tail low but not dragging. The planes fly much alike. They can fly in formation easily -- same altitude, same speed.
Ten or 15 pilots were sent from B-17 school to Fort Meyers for a couple weeks waiting for assignment. Donna and I found a beach cottage and extended our honeymoon. Several others of the group did too. Terrible mosquitoes, beautiful beach on the gulf; wonderful fishing. One of the pilots caught a 24 lb. Snook, a choice local fish, fishing from the bridge. Donna agreed to cook it. Right then we got orders to Barksdale. We gave half to the owners of the cabins, baked the other 12 lbs., ate 12 lbs. fish among the group, packed for Barksdale while the fish was in the oven. Ate, left for Barksdale that night. Drove all night. The rush was to find places to live. Found a group of new duplexes. We all moved in, side by side. The next morning the pilots signed in, started to learn the new airplane. The wives played musical chairs, matching the furniture and carpet colors among the furnished units. Some of my happiest days were living in that group of great people.
Since much of the sub patrol was at night we often slept days Hot humid weather. No air conditioning. The attic fan made the curtains blow straight out into the room. Donna would lay a wet sheet over me. With the fan going sleep came easy.
The instructors were about a week ahead of the pilots being assigned. On my initial check out the instructor kept showing me how to steer with brakes, engines and rudder as we used up runway. Ahead they were extending the runway with a paving machine covered with workmen. When he said, "Follow me on the throttles." I firewalled them. At the last minute we both pulled us off the runway and we mushed over the paver, men jumping off and running for life.
My check out lasted 15 minutes. Nothing was said but I think we both learned that runway behind, is in the wrong place! A month later we were flying sub patrol day and night over the Gulf of Mexico. The groups first loss - a B-24 coming home in the dark to a thunderstorm over the base after a long night on sub patrol.
As squadron Ops 0 and pilot I suspected that if we ever saw a sub the chance of the bombardier doing every detail of the procedure right in the few seconds we would have from sight to bombs away position was rather poor. So without any approval from anyone the 68th started to carry 10 practice bombs in the rear bay, 8 live 500 and depth charges in the front bay. We intended to drop practice bombs on cloud shadows or other sudden targets where we get the procedure in mind, practiced and tested.
The first 10 or so "drops" nothing went out. Another several. Nothing. I got on the intercom to Sgt. Gillford - "OK the next drop either a bomb or you; one is going out. The next ten went out, one every target!
Late in the day we were way off course, south, Sgt. Canton, the Photographer, spotted what he thought might be something further south. We flew to where he pointed and the marker beacon came on. Lt. Johnny Diehl spotted the periscope leaving a wake as the sub headed west into the sunset. I made a tight 270 left to get some run distance, Sgt. Gillford laid a perfect pattern over the sub. The crew in back reported seeing the broken ends of the sub rise up, then sink out of sight. A little wreckage. Bubbles.
We stayed on site for maybe 20 minutes trying to radio the Navy. Locating the position thinking there might be survivors to rescue. By now we were low on fuel so I put the engines on max range settings, max lean, low RPM. The very light B-24 in the cool of the evening flew home quietly. I think we all had mixed feelings about our "victory." Would victory always mean we will kill a bunch of young men just like us - doing their job for their country?
The radio signals had reached Barksdale. There was a big celebration that night as we landed. The first and only sub the 44th sunk? Was there another one?
Sub patrol experience would pay off in Europe. I was Operations duty one night planning an ordered 44th mission to Danzig North around Denmark. A flight well over twice as far as Berlin. We had not gotten all planes back from Berlin on missions because of fuel shortage. Using what I learned about stretching miles flying like we did sub patrol we got the entire 44th flight to Danzig and returned with fuel to spare.
Today while working in my garden here in Seattle, a Spitfire flew over, low. What a lovely memory, beautiful plane musical sound. So many memories. The best were the happy days as a group getting ready for the "Glory" days..
The day we taxied to the end of the runway at Geiger Field, New Hampshire. All the guys were planning on being home again soon, victorious. We were riding high. The wives and girl friends stood clutching the fence along the end of he runway where we turned for takeoff. All were bawling. They knew more than we did of what was about to happen. That was a final parting for almost all of them. I can never talk about that scene. Even after 58 years, it breaks me every time. I can understand why Col. Robinson struggled to carry out the orders he was given in early '43... This was his family. He was sending too many on a one-way flight.
Yes, and it was my family, too. Treasured memories!!