1st Lt. William (Bill) R. Overhultz, Pilot - 44th Bomb Gourp, 68th Squadron, 8th Air Force|
Our crew came together in early fall of 1944 in Walla Walla, Washington. Lt. Harry M. Garbade, 1st Pilot; William R. 0verhuItz, Co-Pilot; John V. Patton, Navigator; George V. Medenwalt, Bombardier; Staff Sergeants - William Ploense, Nose Gunner; Oscar D. Hill, Radio Operator/Gunner; Valeria J. Indri, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner; Leo Boncher, Right Waist Gunner; Melvin W. Laprade, Left Waist Gunner and Kent R. Nutter, Tail Gunner. We flew the first of 26 missions against Nazi Germany on November 29, 1944 from our home base at Shipdam, England. We flew home with same crew members after Germany surrendered in May, 1945 by the Northern route - Iceland, Greenland and Bradley field Conn., carrying mail and a few ground personnel. Someone accidently opened the bombay doors - slightly. No mail was lost, or passengers, but my fur-lined boots are in the Atlantic ocean.
Our first mission to Berlin on February 26, 1945 to hit marshalling yards, was to say the least, an eye opener. It was a long haul and the flak was fierce. They threw up walls of 88 and 105 mm at intervals and was so thick you could walk on it. You could hear it rattling around the bombbay and could cut a squadren in half if you were not between walls when they exploded. There was a cartoon in the Stars and Strips, official armed forces newspaper, that pictured a giant flak helmet sitting on a pilot's seat with two big eyes peering out. Funny, but a lot of truth or wishful thinking. Memory fails me to know the mission involved, but you don't forget things that happened, like having shells exploding all around and having one piece hit your rudder pedal and your feet feeling numb from the cold, thinking - do I have a foot left and then reaching down into your boot to see if it was still there. It was. Our Navigator, who had the same last name as General George Patton, called on the intercom to say he had ice on his table and was informed that it was shattered Plexiglas from his Navigator's dome above his head. His nicknamae after that was "blood and guts."
On a mission, I believe, was to Madgeburg, because it was another long haul, we had to land the squadron in St. Quentin, France, on a steel mesh fighter strip because we were short of fuel and had wounded onboard another plane. We sheared off our nose wheel trying to negotiate the short runway quickly. Got back to base in about 3 or 4 days. All planes in the Group dropped bombs by radio frequency when the lead plane dropped for maximum impact. On this particular mission (not sure of the target destination) we were tooling along, feeling pretty good and all of a sudden the plane lurched upward and our bombs had dropped prematurely right through the bombay doors. The Germans had locked onto our radio frequency and released our bombs. We were short of target, but we hit no allied forces. The possibility of that happening again was corrected immediately. Our crew, as well as others, often wrote "in your face messages addressed the Fuhrer and Nazi troops on small anti-personnel bombs and threw them our bombay doors and waist windows. Gave them a sense of satisfaction. On this mission a piece of shrapnel caught the Radio Operator's flight suit leg at the ankle and ripped it to his waist, but never touched him. That was a close call. I don't recall that he did that again.
Those of the age, able to recall the beginning of WWII, may recall the cigarette ad that said "Lucky Strike has gone to war" when the manufacture stop putting tinfoil in the packages. The Air Corp used the foil cut in long narrow strips and bundled like pine straw and carried by bomber crews. Just before starting a bomb run, the Waist Gunners would unbundle the foil and throw out millions of tinfoil strips. You can imagine German radar bouncing off millions of strips floating all over the sky. It was very effective against anti-aircraft fire (flak).
On the lighter side, a mission to Port DeRoyan on the coast of France in April 1945, to hit German troops that had been by-passed, we thought we recognized that slow, hesitating drawl over the radio as Col. Jimmy Stewart. It was later confirmed that we had heard correctly, as he was flying as the Command Pilot for the Lead Group.
Coming back from hitting marshalling yards at Aschaffenburg, Germany, December 1944, the weather had closed in solid over England. We had a new crew on their first mission. They had assured us that they had sufficient fuel to stay with us rather than land at an air base in France. They were flying our wing and I kept track of their fuel. After crossing the channel, the clouds were low and solid as we looked for a hole to drop through. The new crew radioed that they were running short of fuel so we headed them to the English Channel for ditching which they did successfully and picked up by boats patrolling for that purpose and returned to base. We found a hole only minutes after they headed to the channel. It opened only briefly and we chopped all power and you might say dropped quickly like a rock through the hole as it closed. "Ole Blood and Guts," Patton, our Navigator, located a Polish Air Base, where we landed not too soon. We were debriefed and served much food. We had damage in the forward fuselage and tail section. They said they counted approximately 200 holes, some just missing our control cables. All is well that ends well.
The Germans in a last "ditch push," just before Christmas 1944, during very fowl weather, created a bulge in the allied lines and surrounded our troops at Bastogne. Because of the weather over the continent, the 8th Air Force heave bombers were stood down along with the P-47s that gave close ground support. The weather finally cleared and the 8th and the P-47s were out in force.j I believe this was the time that it ws reported that it took over two hours for the bomber force to clear the Cliffs of Dover on our way to Germany. We flew about 6 missions in 9 days. Patton's Third Army rescued our troops at Bastogne and began his push to the Rheine Rover. This was known as "The Battle of the Bulge."
On February 16, 1945, our crew flew a low-level mission and as best as I can recall, because we were designated as a lead crew in the squadron, we flew lead. Stripped of guns and ammo in order to carry as much gas, ammo and rations as possible to Patton's Troops, who had out run his supply lines, we had a buzzing good time. We were so low that we blew over haystacks when we pulled up and over and almost swamped small fishing boats in the channel. As we approached the drop zone, we could see the Rheine River because of the heavy smoke screen laid up and down the River to obscure our troop's advance. The Germans hit us with small arms fire, plus the kitchen sink. Unfortunately one crew lost a man, who had caught his foot in a tie down rope and it pulled him out without a chute, as he ppushed out supplies.On this day, January 1945, our target was the marshalling yards at either Koblenz or Dresden, Germany. The mission was to go in at about 25,000 feet drop down to around 6,000 feet to drop our bomb load. On the way in we lost one engine and Harry feathered it and let it windmill to cut drag. As best as I can remember we were flying lead. Our Deputy Lead, flying our right wing, was told to take the lead and we moved either to Deputy Lead or to the slot of the lead element. We know we would not be able to climb back to altitude with the Group. After a successful bomb drop we were able to make it back to about 10,000 feet and watched the Group disappear out of sight. Being all along, without fighter escort or the protection of the Group, we were "sitting ducks" for the German Luftwaffe's fighters. Harry and I decided we would drop drown as low as possible if we were spotted. I was on the radio calling every available Allied Fighter Channel. In a short time (seemed like hours) a familiar american accent said: "Don't worry, we are just above you, look up." Well just above us was 3 or 4 of the prettiest P-51s, with bright red tails. They stayed with us all the way to the English Channel and bid us "so long" for now. We thanked them with great appreciation for their cover and they said they were glad to help and off they went to fight another day. We later learned that this was the Black Fighter Group stationed in France and now known as the Tuskeegee Airmen. We dropped down so low over the Channel that we churned up water with our props. When we sighted the White Cliffs of Dover, we knew we were home safe one more time.
I don't recall that any Air Crews were aware that the Germans had come out with a Jet Fighter Plane, but on this mission of March 1945 to hit marshalling yards at Magdeburg, Germany, this German fighter came up to the front of our formation and pulled straight up with ease and back to attach a Group to the rear. I had never seen a plane maneuver so fast without props. Sometime later we hit a jet aircraft factory in Neuburg, Germany, with good results.
After Germany surrendered, we flew what was called the "Trolley Mission," a sightseeing tour of bomb damage to Gernmany, not bombs, but thousands of ground personnel, who had in countless ways, played an important part in the defeat of Germany and the opportunity to see the destruction first hand.
The flying route was Ostend to Brussels, Belgium to Mannhein, Germany to Aschaffenburg to the Rheine River to Frankfort, to Bingen to Koblenz to Bonn to Cologne to Dusseldorf back to Brussels and home base. In some places the Rheine River Cliffs on both sides were so close to our wing tips you felt like wings would touch them. We flew low over POW camps along the Rheine and there appeared to be thousands of them. We were low enough to see their uniforms clearly and they hit the ground - probably out of fear.