LEWIS M. ROBINSON|
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
107 Center Street
My children's request and gift of a new typewriter prompts these memoirs which I started a couple years ago for my 44th Bomb Group newsletter, Logbook. Local history? Perhaps!
The 506th Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force, flying B-24s, was an important part of our U.S. effort to defeat Germany in WWII.
If it had not been for a visit to Dayton's Air Force Museum in "86," I would never have known of our 44th Heritage Memorial Group, or its Logbook. My wife and I did visit Shipdham (our base), Norwich and Cambridge (U.S. Forces Cemetery) in "78." I wanted her (Beverly) to share in old memories.
Since then we have returned with others from our group and I have located some of my crew. I have enjoyed 44th reunions each year in Colorado Springs, Milwaukee, and Riverside, California. I hope to continue with these reunions as long as able. Our "Folded Wings" grow longer year by year. There are just not many of us left. So, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their squadron!"
After five years of retirement from 32 years of teaching World Affairs and U.S. History, I, too, feel the need to record for posterity those brief months of service and combat, especially as a tail-gunner in the 506th Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, from August 1944 to February 1945. I do have memories, at age 65 years, who doesn't? First reunions, none of my crew were there, but wasn't sure. A replacement crew in August 1944 didn't make much impression on veterans of combat.
We were welcomed by name and serial number over German radio in the mess hall when we arrived. Our pilot was Ray Ciesielski. We were a replacement crew who survived three other crews in our hut and finished 35 missions before returning home in the spring of 1945.
That tells a lot, if you know what it was like at age 20 and a service record like a yo-yo. I arrived as a busted private and flew as S/Sgt. I, too, know the 23rd Psalm by heart, and have given morphine to a crewmember. We were the lucky few!
Ah, yes, memories - Should I start with the girls I met in London, Brighton (R&R), etc.? After becoming a Lead Crew, our passes were extended and we would head straight for London Fog, Underground, Regent Palace Hotel and Piccadilly. On a special tour of Parliament (an American Air Crew), I happened to bump into a little man carrying a sheaf of papers. I bent down to help pick them up and become acquainted with the Chancellor of Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps. How's that for starters? Sorry, a closer relationship never developed.
No other high-level dignitaries do I recall, except on a mission to Hanover, August 24th, our first mission. Instead of flying head-on into the Cliffs of Dover (two engines out, supercharger on a 3rd, hydraulic system out), we managed to crash land on an 8th Air Force field. Base commander, Jimmy Stewart, came out as the dust settled, picked up our officers in his jeep and later sent a truck for the rest of us. That was the end of our first plane (Clean Sweep). And the realization that we would have to do better if we were to remain on good terms with our ground crew. We managed to total two of our planes and cripple another. I had to fly spare gunner to complete my tour of 35 missions. I was grounded for hemorrhoids for about a week. Flying spare gunner on a couple of milk runs was most frightening with a green crew.
After our first mission, we were a seasoned crew, at least by our third to Berlin, 27 August (more later). When our plane was the only one from Shipdham to land back on base because of fog, we became a lead crew. Now, perhaps someone will remember the Clean Sweep. On landing, a broom up through the top hatch when we finished a successful trip? I believe it made a picture and news story back home at the time, but I have no record of it. Because of our pilot's skill, we out-lasted three different combat crews in our hut.
Speaking of our hut, we had a very good chicken thief on our crew, flight engineer Robert Beauchamp. Many a time we would barely have the water boiling in the helmet before he returned with a local bird. Of course, the squadron commander complained. He had to pay off Limey farmers once a month.
I didn't keep a diary, but I did keep a record of missions. I also carried a small box camera on first few missions. After that, I was supposed to take pictures of combat with an 8mm hand-held camera, place a big K-24 camera over the escape hatch, and photo the bomb run results. Sometimes I was so busy throwing out chaff (by the boxful at times), that I didn't get the bombing results. I do remember interrogation. We had a couple of teetotalers who didn't drink. A bonus for the rest of us back at the hut. We could get scotch which our officers acquired at their club. I do remember the seedy cider at a local pub (Golden Dog). Does anyone remember Alfred, the bartender?
One more dignitary - on an all-out mission we were informed at briefing that General Doolittle would be leading the mission. After forming over the wash, we headed in and hours later before target, here come four P-51 escorting a Mosquito through lead squadron. Later, Stars and Stripes informed the world that an American hero had led such and such mission over enemy that day. We were not thrilled until much later.
There was a mission to Muchen when we were to pick up our fighter escort out of Italy (Fogia) over the target area. Sure enough, here come the P-51s. Only what we were hearing on intercom was jive talk, only understood by our nose-gunner from down south. Later, we were to recognize and appreciate those Tuskeege flyers that had to prove themselves and their race with so much discrimination that it sickens me, even today!
Combat crews didn't get to know ground personnel very well during our time. In fact, we didn't care to know other combat crew members, even in our own hut. One tail-gunner I did buddy with, S/Sgt. John Biggs, is listed in Book of the Dead, Norwich Library and listed as missing in action on the Wall at Cambridge. His plane was on our wing when we were hit by an ME-110 with 20mm cannon. First, he and his turret spun off, then a hit in the bomb bay and the whole plane exploded. It wasn't much of an interrogation that day.
How did an air crewmember get hemorrhoids or frost bite? I know. Hemorrhoids were caused by fright during pre-dawn preparations after a breakfast of limp flapjacks, powdered eggs, bacon, and trying to get in one good crap before take-off. Frostbite was another problem caused by failure of heating elements in boots or socks. I switched to Limey suit and back parachute after my chest chute was riddled with flak as it rested on an ammo rack at my side. Of course, I didn't know that my chute was riddled until we landed. You could also lose skin when touching a gun mount without silk gloves at 50 below.
How does one remember the 23rd Psalm even to this day? Because of the flak (fighter attacks were few for us - more later). Flak was frightening for this tail gunner. So glad to not have been in the nose. Our nose gunner, S/Sgt. Jimmy Crume, was hospitalized by a flak burst under the nose. As a result, a fistula that he lives with today. My feet always tell me when to expect a cold snap and I've learned to live with hemorrhoids. (None of which appear on my service record).
Now, for bed sheets - three biscuits and a wool blanket just didn't measure up. On our first London pass, the hotel contributed two large bed sheets and if cut for upper bunk, turned over once in a while, lasted until the next pass to the London hotel..
Escape boots - those black issues to be attached to parachute harnesses in case of bailout over enemy, never saw the airship. They were exchanged for cash in Brighten, where our crew was sent for a week to restore us to combat readiness.
Oh, yes, payday - by payday, some of us had already borrowed more than we earned. It was sometimes difficult to slip off base without paying our debts. I recall 10% or was it 50% usury charges by CQ or tailor at the latrine, who would also charge for a haircut at a reasonable rate.
Did anyone ever complain about those cold-water showers? Or did officers have someone like a Red Cross girl give back rubs? I remember our 200th mission party when we threw the Red Cross girls into the beautiful duck pond. I do apologize. However, some of you must have been enlisted men, earlier on.
Let's not bring up Colonel Snavely and reasons for Luftwaffe's congenial concern for Flying Eight Balls. We did most of our bitching later, when it was all over. Colorado Springs (1986) convinced me that we were all hell-bent angels, thankful for those few months of historical moments. Amazing, isn't it?
Now, for more memories - tail gunners had to pull pins before the bomb run and learn to keep pins in pocket, just in case of abort, or recall. Sometimes we had to return to base with bomb loads. Returning to base with guns in sack, ready for cleaning, proved to be another costly lesson for us, as I recall. Most depressing was the combat tour. From 25 to 30, to 35, which didn't encourage our eagerness to get over to the Pacific Theater or our re-enlistment (after completing mission tour, it was custom to be returned to states for further training and re-assignment to the Pacific Theater).
It was my experience eon a couple of pin-pulling trips to pull out a piece of flak from the upper turret gunner's thigh (S/Sgt. Clarence Unger), slap on a bandage and give him a shot of morphine. He returned in a few days and, of course had missions to make up.
On another trip forward, through the bomb bay, I had pulled pins and stuck my head in the cockpit. Starting to return to the waist and tail turret, I noticed a hole, from bottom to top, where a 105 had passed through the catwalk without detonating. Imagine ours and the ground crew's surprise when we returned to the base. I also have as souvenirs, a piece of first plane's fuselage (Clean Sweep), and a piece of flak (88), the size of my little finger. It tipped the rim of my helmet during battle and ended up under my arm (rest) when we returned to the base.
As for enemy planes, I never got a shot at the ME110 that destroyed the plane on our wing. However I did share credit for one P51, making an attack on our tail. It must have been a captured plane flown by a German. I reported the incident at interrogation and never heard about it again.
Do you remember the piss tube? Right by my right shoulder!? Relief that showered me in my turret... I soon remedied that situation with extra helmets and ammo boxes. However, if I forgot to empty at ground level after the thaw, I was in bad with the ground crew.
We were a great bunch of guys, inter-dependent and able to function. Our pilot had given us all the time at the controls during training. Some of us had previous pilot experience. By the way, what ever happened to that new, clean plane that we flew from Topeka to Old Brighty?
A reunion that didn't happen - two friends from home (Gardner, Ill), Dwayne Hout, a P47 pilot, and Peg Gray (Chase) army nurse, and I were to meet in London. I made it, but they were both transferred to Northern France with the 9th Air Force. Peg and I are still good friends and reminisce. Dwayne died of a brain tumor after the war. He was credited with five or six kills, a 9th Air Force Ace, WWII.
A reunion that did happen - my mother's cousin from Copenhagen, Denmark had visited us in 1937 and mother continued to correspond. On a mission to Berlin, we flew over Copenhagen and in a letter home, I said, "I flew over Katrine today." Later, in 1948, I had that reunion with Tante Katrine and my Danish relatives. I was a hero in their eyes.
Mission to Arnhem - a low-level flight to "a bridge too far." We lost one plane practicing over hedgerows in England. I remember Dutch women flapping their skirts as we flew over their village, and ground fire from the roof of a hospital with a big red cross on the roof. We dumped supplies and saw Germans pick them up. Another one of those Limey mistakes.
Benzedrine - or "Battle of the Bulge" - Finally the weather cleared and we were able to fly about four days in a row. At any rate, our flight surgeon issued us all Benzedrine tablets and we remained awake. Flying "missions of opportunity," I remember getting down to ground level. Everything was snow-covered. We shot up a train and dropped our bombs on it as it went into a tunnel. However, I never heard any more about that episode. I sometimes wonder where all that interrogation information is stored.
Letters from home - mail call was always a big event. However, those "Dear John" letters were some letdown. Of the three I remember, one caught up with me overseas. The heartthrob that had come all the way to Topeka with my mom and dad to see us off, had met a better hotshot (available?) at Hunter College, New York, where she trained for WACS (WRENS?). I presume they were married and lived happily ever after.
Getting home after 35 missions, a few aborted missions, etc., in February 1945, was sort of a letdown. Our officers were flown home. I ended up on a troop ship out of Liverpool to Boston - no escort or convoy (the old President Wilson Liner). We finally arrived in Boston after a five-day gale and submarine warnings, but no attacks off our East Coast. Everything I had traded for (souvenirs, etc.) was taken away from me in Liverpool.
I do remember the continuous chow line, and a live crap game run by a new buddy of mine, Tony Geametti. Tony and I ended up at Radio Mechanics School, Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin. Tony Geametti. Tony and I ended up at Radio Mechanics School, Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin. Tony belonged to "the family" and we had a great time together until WWII ended in August 1945.
Also, an unusual meeting in the john aboard ship coming home. Shaving kits had our names and hometowns stenciled on them. Standing next to me was a Peter Dinelli, South Wilmington, IL. Pete had seen a lot of combat - from Iceland to North Africa, from Sicily to Normandy, etc. Pete has passed on now. I doubt that he ever talked much about his wartime experiences. Some of our heroes had experienced too much to even talk about.
Now I am retired with a wonderful wife (Beverly), three grown children, and two grandchildren. I do feel like recording memories, or at least part of them. More confessions will have to come in the next edition.
I dedicate this light-hearted memo to S/Sgt. John Biggs and all our comrades on the Wall in Cambridge.
Lewis M. Robinson