Ed Taylor - October 1943 |
Akins (Evadee) - December 1943
Greetings again little girl, this time from way off in another part of the world. This time I'm in another part of the world. This time I'm in North Africa and have seen quite a bit more of this old world since visiting you. Kinda wandering where the next step will be on this little world tour of mine.
It's pretty damn hot here just now, and cold at night. Awful sandy, windy, and dry too - reminds me of parts of Arizona and Texas, however, it isn't that which causes me to be homesick. . .
The morning of the 16th of September, James Akins' crew, together with all the other of the 44th, 93rd and 389th Liberator Groups were somewhat astounded to receive orders for a detachment from Shipdham to North Africa, to furnish additional support to retrieve the situation of the ground forces in the Italian Salerno beachhead.
The 44 BG "Eightballs," landed from England on an air field "Oudna," near Tunis.
The crisis at Salerno had, in the meantime, passed; the B-24's were, therefore, directed to bombing Italian targets that had some bearing on the land campaign. Docks at Leghorn and Bastia, and Pisa marshaling yards, were successfully attacked on September 21st and 24th respectively, but therefore, the weather over Italy proved very difficult. Several missions had to be abandoned or cancelled.
October 1st, 1943
Another attack on the Wiener Neustadter Flugzeugwerke, some 30 miles south of Vienna (Austria) was the only other mission undertaken of many planned. This firm produced Messerschmitts under a contract license and therefore was a prime target for the U.S. Army Air Force. I was the second mission to this target for the 44th. On the previous mission there, on the 13th of August shortly after the Ploesti raid, the defenses were negligible and the 44th taking off from Benina and landing at Tunis on their return had not suffered any loss or damage. But this time, it would be different.
This morning, James Akins could not get up. He had dysentery. "Never in my life, I felt; so sick than that day in Africa". His crew needed another co-pilot.
The B-24 serial 41-23779 "G" waited on the sandy airstrip of the Tunisian Desert. 1st Lt Edward F. Taylor, the pilot goes with his replacement co-pilot, 2nd Lt Ralph E. VanEss into the cockpit.
The engineer, S/Sgt. Michael J. Bennett said, "For this mission, half of the bomb bay where fuel tanks. This was our crew's first mission. On board were also 2nd Lt William T. Murphy (navigator), 2nd Lt Withers V. Tolbert (bombardier), S/Sgt. Sid T. Marion (radio-op), S/Sgt. Walter B. Bagge and S/Sgt. Richard E. Hunt (both waist-gunners), S/Sgt. Henry J. Dzwonkowski (ball-turret), and S/Sgt. Donald W. McKinney, the tail gunner.
Taking off in the early hours of the morning, the group reached the target shortly afternoon. General Hodges led the 73 B-24's only to find that a 10/10 overcast persisted from the Adriatic to Austria. Only a small gap was found in the clouds and it seemed inadequate for a good bomb-run.
This time, the German Luft Waffe was waiting for a raid. On the previous mission in August, no German fighters were available to contest the bombers and. because of this, a JafuOstmark was created for the air defense of southern Germany and Austria.
Wave after wave of Messerschmitt 109's started from various bases around Vienna. A few minutes later, the Luftwaffe fighter-pilots sighted the Liberators above the thick clouds.
The American's hopes of an easy mission soon faded as gunners started to call out the Messerschmitts at twelve, one and two 'o clock high, sitting right on top of their birthplace, the airframe factory. They had let both 93 and 389 Bomb Groups ahead through without attacking, preferring to jump the tail-end group, which was the 44th. While the Flak was pounding through the clouds, the Me's were queuing up for a head-on attack and in flights of three and four abreast they started tearing through the formation. The first attack crippled some of the Lib's force and broke up their formation. However, the 'Eightballs' managed to get their bombs away and started a running battle home. The German force was out 120 aircraft strong, attacking by two's from every position of the clock.
Edward Taylor tried to keep his '779' in the battered formation. His ball-turret gunner, S/Sgt. Henry J Dzwonkowski, recalls, "Over the target, we were hit by a Flak-battery. We were also attacked by Me 109's, and I probably could destroy one of them. Mike Bennet. the engineer, got a hit in the elbow, and the same 20 mm destroyed the radio. The German fighters also shot out the electrical and hydraulic system. We tried to pump the fuel from the bomb bay to the wing tanks by hand, but. that didn't worked very well."
Meanwhile, Edward Taylor tried to leave the battle area. Without radio and without fuel, an emergency landing seemed inevitable. The return journey flew over Yugoslavia. Over the Adriatic, the navigator William T. Murphy pointed out the nearest field near Ban, on the coast of Italy's heel. It was in the newly conquered zone, and hastily occupied by N-450 Australian Squadron, which flew Curtis Kittyhawk III.
After the battle-worn Liberator had landed at the short airstrip, the crew started to repair the Liberator themselves. Ed Taylor and his wounded engineer, Nike Bennett spent several days inside the plane to fix the electrical systems. But it seemed impossible to repair the oxygen and radio. They put gas in the ship and took off for their base in Tunis (Tunisia). When they landed there, the only friends they met on the deserted base were Jim Akins and Jack Foard While the rest of the 44th had left for England - the Wiener-Neustadt-mission was the last to be flown from the African base for the 44th Group - they both stayed with their ground crew. From there on the now complete crew headed for Marrakech (Morocco). There, the oxygen and radio were fixed. On the sixth of October, almost one week after the Wiener Neustadt-mission, '779' headed finally over the Atlantic for England.
The navigator on this mission 1 2nd Lt William T. Murphy, was killed six weeks later (18th November 1943).
MISSIONS FROM ENGLAND FROSTBITE, BAD WEATHER AND "SCRUBBED"
October 4, 1943 : Buddies drowned in the North Sea (1)
After the return of the main pert of the Group from Africa-to break in the new combat crews for operational missions, the group participated in diversions to the North Sea.
Diversionary flights were usually considered 'Milk Runs,' (Easy Mission No Flak No Fighters'), but the one that was flown on this Monday was anything but a 'Milk Run'. The purpose of this flight was, to attempt to draw enemy fighters from the main effort which was directed to Frankfurt, Germany.
Turning-point for the 44th was the North Frisian island Helgoland (Germany). In this area, 30 to 50 single engine fighters attacked the 44th's formation. Sergeant William W. Morris from Chadwick, New York was tail gunner in B-24D 42-72873 E-Bar. His pilot was Lt Robert Stamos. During this mission E-Bar was attacked by four FW 190's. Their 20mm shells scored hits in the ball turret and aileron controls. In this attack, a gunner Sgt. James Oblack, was wounded. Stamos' Liberator was thrown into a spin. The plane was out of control and dropped from 20,000 to 8,000 feet. Although he was fighting desperately to gain control, the pilot ordered his crew to bail out, as he did not think the ship could possibly pull out. SOS's were sent out and the set. was switched on to emergency IFF. The bombardier, Lt Donald G Campbell and the navigator, Lt John A. Must opened the front escape hatch and bailed out. Some fellow crew members, rather reluctant to jump at this moment, saw two silhouettes disappearing into the clouds. The rest of the crew were aiding their wounded gunner Oblack, and assisting the pilot and co-pilot to give their parachutes. Lt Stamos showed great presence of mind and courage, fighting the controls all the way down. His quick thinking led him to pull out of the spin at 8 000 ft.
Lt Stamos proceeded home, flying on AFCE (Automatic Flight Control Equipment) and landing under very difficult conditions, as the hydraulics were also shot out.
Lt Donald Campbell and Lt John A. West. drowned in the North Sea.
The crew was disbanded and Sgt. Morris flew from now on with always different crews.
October 6, 1943 Back from Africa
A lonely B-24 arrives on the landing strip. Ten exhausted but happy men descend from the hatches. Their skin is tanned. It is the crew of Lt Edward Taylor, who finally arrived at Shipdham after a six day 'holiday' in Italy and Northern Africa. Their plane, '779' seemed heavily beaten. Only the essential functions to fly a bomber worked. Meanwhile, the crew found out that their family's at home had received word that they were all missing in action.
They all had leave and went to London.
"779" is pulled in a hangar and the mechanics attack the Liberator in order to bring the bomber back in battle condition. One of the men enters the cockpit. When he takes pilot's parachute, he remarks a round hole. The parachute is brought to the parachute shop. Later that day, Ed Taylor is informed that he flew from Africa with a German 20 mm canon shell in his chute!
November 3, 1943: How "Pappy" got a hole in his pants.
The shipyards and U-boat docks of Wilhelmshaven were the objective of the first mission this month.
One of the participants on this raid, Staff Sargent Miles J. McCue from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was just married to Catherine. He was assigned to be the waist gunner of pilot Earl T. Johnson. He flew missions on October 2, 4, 9, and 18. Today his crew flew again with B-24-H 42-7521 "Poop Deck Pappy." A huge Popeye was painted on the nose of this ship.
This mission had, for the first time, a complete cover of fighter support because the P-47's and P-38's were equipped with drop-tanks. Only a few German fighters could break through the fighter-curtain. Bombs were dropped through the clouds on smoke markers, with unobserved results. Over the target there was some moderate inaccurate flak. Miles McCue recalls:
"I was flying left waist and Sgt. Bill Morris was right waist. As we dropped Wilhelmshave, one of those sharp-eyed Krauts, blew a hole in our nose taking Poop Deck Pappy's leg along with the hydraulic system right through the roof. The shell missed our bombardier, Lt. Siegal, and his ammo cans by about four inches. We couldn't close the bomb bay doors and, of course, we lost formation and landed last.
If you look closely at the picture of Poop Deck Pappy, you will note that the leg on the caricature (Popeye) is painted a little different than the rest. After the body shop patched the hole, they didn't have the proper paint, so the new leg came out a shade whiter.
I can't remember the tail gunner's name on that trip, but I do remember that it was his fifth and final mission. He refused to fly after that and the last time I saw him he was on the base rubbish detail sans stripes."
November 6, 1943: Mission Scrubbed
The crew of Ed Taylor was scheduled to fly 232 M-bar, but this mission was scrubbed.
November 7, 1943: Mission Scrubbed
Again, the mission was scrubbed for Taylor's crew in K-Bar 549.
November 13, 1943: The Luftwaffe Attacks
272 bombers were dispatched to bomb Bremen, the second largest port in Germany. The USAAF wanted to stop the material transport by rail to the harbor. A new kind of formation of twelve ship sections with two spears for each section was used on this mission. Three such sections were scheduled to fly as the 44 Group and three aircraft were scheduled to fly with the 392nd Group. Due to the weather, this raid proved to be less than successful, with the bombs being dropped on Pathfinder flares from the B-17's. Machine-guns and bomb-bays were frozen and two-inch thick ice covered the windshields in front of the pilots. Again, the mission was well escorted by P-47's and P-38 "Lightnings."
In 1st Element Lead
Ed Taylor flew this mission in 779 G "4-Q-2," and was in first element of form. His formation had some fierce engagements with the Luftwaffe. The German pilots used the dense contrails to make their attacks, and this proved to be a very successful technique. About fifty enemy aircraft (mainly the Me 109's from Jagdgeschwader 11 and the twin-engine Me 410's from Zerstorergeschwader 26) made their attacks on the formation from all directions. American fighter pilots reported to have seen how the Liberators slipped under the B-17's, to avoid the diving-attacks from the Luftwaffe. The German Air Force lost seven machines that day. The results were that the 44th lost two aircraft (Hansen Almlis). Only 19 "Eightballs" effectively bombed the target. One of their bombers crashed at Northrepps (F-186 Bickerstaff).
November 16, 1943: Mission Aborted
37 44BG crews were scheduled to fly to Oslo (Norway). Taylor started in 232 M-Bar "Calaban," but returned early. The three other bombers successfully bombed Rjukan, a target of opportunity.
November 18, 1943: Buddies Drowned in the North Sea (2)
In a predawn take off under adverse weather conditions of cloud and darkness for crew to assume their briefed positions in the formation, the 44 Bomb Group proceeded to the Kjeller Airdrome - a supply, repair, and maintenance depot located near Oslo - to bomb from an altitude of 12,000 feet.
Edward Taylor flew again "Calaban." Also Miles McCue's crew was scheduled, together with some 100 other Liberator-crews. But Miles had flue, and John W. Reaslons took his place that day.
Miles stayed in bed, and didn't get up until he heard the roaring of the homecoming bombers at the horizon: "One of the bombers was in big trouble, the hydraulics were shot out and only one wheel was hanging out from the wings. After seven parachutes bailed out, the plain came in with only the left wheel down (R. C. Griffiths H 161). The pilot, Lt. R. C. Griffiths, tried to land the Lib with a wounded gunner. As it was sliding and spinning toward me after lending I turned to run, tripped over a bicycle and lay on the ground for a moment in panic. One of the seven chutes failed to open until it was about five or six hundred feet from the ground. As it opened a great cheer went up from Myself and the many others who were watching. We all must have had the same, sickening feeling, for it seemed as though the chute was about to fail."
After this hair-raising show, Miles could only wait for his friends. Some moments later Ed Taylor landed safely with 'Caleban.' But still no trace of Miles' crew (E. T. Johnson's).
The plane his crew was flying was not Poop Deck Peppy, but an unnamed one, 42-7545 D-Bar. D-Bar should not return.
Incidentally, on this session, this plane was tail-end Charlie, with 1st Lt Edward Mitchell flying just ahead of D-Bar, and Joe Houle just in front of it. All three were lost on that mission, apparently from a concentrated attack on that rear section. Earl Johnson, co-pilot Daniel D. Jarratt, navigator Louis Siegel, bombardier Irwin Fann, engineer Earl M Holland, radio Wilfred C. Sullivan, gunners Lloyd E. Russell, Kenneth J. Glasrock and Ewon R. Snider, and also Miles' replacement gunner, John W Reasons, died in the water of the cold North Sea.
Miles remembered : "I'll never forget my feelings as I waited for their return and realized that these great and brave friends were lost. I'll never forget those wonderful men I lived with for six months as they moved to their fate. Their act of charity is so outstanding that there are no words worthy enough to eulogize these men properly."
Again, several other ships returned that day with amongst their crew members airmen with severe frostbite and ear trouble. The crew of 2nd Lt William 'Bill' Dolgin shared the same faith, and Dolgin should never flew with his original crew.
Miles McCue had the same faith as Bill Norris. From now on, Nile McCue, Bill Morris and Bill Dolgin should have to fly with other, unknown crews. These three men should go down in the same bomber within the following two weeks.
November 2G, 1943 Suffocation and Frostbite over Bremen
For the second time this 'month, Brerren was the target bombed by the 44th. Again, the weather proved to be a very difficult factor to deal with. There were low clouds over Holland and Northern Germany, with some cumuli towering 7 to 8000 meters in the icy sky. The American crews hoped that this bad weather would keep the Luftwaffe on the ground. Taylor flew C-Bar 42-7544 for the first time. The crew probably didn't know that this was the aircraft which they should abandon a few days later...
There were some severe cases of frostbite among the crews - one man from the 68th Squadron died of suffocation when his oxygen mask froze. Also Ed Taylor's bombardier, 2nd Lt. Withers V. Tolbert was grounded.
MISSIONS TO SOLINGEN
November 30, 1943
Some 14 miles ESE from Dusseldorf lies the industrial city of Solingen. Throughout the world, people use knives and scissors with the name of this city of North Rhine-Westphalia. Since medieval times Solingen was known for his sword blades, cutleries, steel castings and machine tools. For the Allied Command it was known for his manufacturing of aircraft parts and special steels. As it was located in the heart of the heavily defended Ruhr-area, aircrew called it the 'Happy Valley' or 'Flak Alley'.
After returning to Bremen on November 29th, two missions were flown to Solingen, the first one on the last day of the month. Lt William 'Bill' Dolgin, the air bomber, wrote:
"Most of my regular crew was grounded after the Norway mission due to ear trouble and frost bite. On November 29, our operations officer, Captain Bunker. called me in and asked if I would like to fly as deputy lead bombardier with Lt. Taylor's crew the following day as Lt. Tolbert, Taylor's regular bombardier was also grounded. Anxious, at that time to complete my missions, I readily assented and thus on November 30, we took off after briefing for an all out effort on Solingen in the Ruhr Valley, the home of Germany's steel works." UCU-544
The assembling was difficult due to the heavy and high clouds.
"After gaining altitude over England and while forming, the right waist gunner called over interphone that we were losing gas out of the wing tanks on the right side. Taylor quietly brought the ship back in and the crew chief installed another gas cap. After refilling the tanks, we again took off and tried to overtake the formation still over England. Upon reaching altitude, the oxygen system started acting up and I was called back to the waist to administer first aid to one of the turret gunners whose oxygen mask had frozen and was therefore suffering from nexia and severe frostbite. He had tried to hold the hose between his lips when his mask quit operating. The moisture and cold had frozen his lips and face to way more the normal sizes. He was unconscious and so I did what I could for him. I called Taylor and advised him to get down fast and head for home. Once more we landed and rushed our gunner to the waiting ambulance and then the hospital.
While leaving the ship, another accident occurred. The engineer (the rear gunner Mike Bennet) severely cut his hand on the escape hatch. We went back to operations and by then it was too late to hope to catch our group; so we had to call it a day. Imagine my surprise, however, when about an hour later all our planes returned - "Mission scrubbed due to weather over the target." That put me in fine spirits again. I spent most of the day at the officer's club before going into Norwich that night. Upon returning to the base about 1:30 in the a.m., I saw my name on the alert list with Taylor's crew again. I went to bed.
Only 78 B-17's from the 3rd Bombardment Division had arrived at the target, These dropped their bombs through the clouds. Only 14 explosives, 3 incendiary, and 5 napalm bombs fell in the boundaries of Solingen. There were no civilians killed or wounded. Only three houses were slightly damaged. The 3rd BD had to pay the poor results of this attack with loss of three B-17's, one P-38 and five P-47's.
The Story of a Fighter-Pilot
On the return journey, more than 300 P-47's sped home from a mission on which they did not meet their bombers. The successful American ace Lt. Col. Francis Gabreski led his olive-drab Thunderbolts over Belgium towards Halesworth, Suffolk, the home base of the 56th Fighter Group.
Suddenly, one of Gabreski's disciples, 1st Lt William Dean Grosvenor, 23 years with Air Medal and D.F.C., heard some staggering noises. Vapor was leaking in the complicated system of his Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine. It should be not so difficult to imagine the language this experienced fighter-pilot was using. It seemed that he had to finish his 4th mission over occupied Europe.
Flying in the Malines-area, Grosvenor looked for a place for a safe crash-landing. A few moments later, the fuel lines stopped feeding the engine, and the 2800 horse powers remained silent Without these, the huge 'jug' lost almost all her flying capabilities, and the aircraft lost height. Flying over the River Scheldt, Grosvenor slipped out of his cockpit and hurled through the sky at barely 500 feet. Only a few seconds later his 14,000 lb. Thunderbolt (squadron code HV-?) smashed in the marshy ground of St-Amands-Puurs.
Grosvenor landed safely in the. same area. A few minutes after he unhooked his parachute and mea-west, the first curious civilians arrived. This former student from Iowa spoke only a little French, and as in most parts of Belgium only Flemish was widely spoken.
A sergeant from a Belgian underground movement - the royalistic 'Secret Army' - Mr. De Smid picked Grosvenor up, and hid him away. Some time later, Jan De Decker gave him some Belgian money and marched in front of him. Unfortunately, the couple was followed, and Jan left his American guest, after pointing him in the right direction. (Recently, we asked some local villagers about Grosvenor's escape 47 years ago. One of them said, "An American was walking around and he asked me 'America?' I stretched my arm southwards and left him"...).
The same day, Grosvenor was again picked up by a Mr. Harnie, who gave him clothes, and conducted him to Mr. Leclef, who hid him until the 4th of December. The American was finally brought to Brussels. Further in this story, we will meet; Grosvenor again in a famous escape line.
THE SECOND ATTEMPT
On that Wednesday of December, the USAF generals decided to set a start for a new attempt to bomb Solingen. Again three bombardment divisions were involved. A total of 299 crews were scheduled to fly to the Ruhr.
The Pick-up Crew
An officer of the 44th started the evening of the 30th of November forming a new crew for Edward Taylor. The man found six new people. Finally, the crew for the following morning consisted of:
1st Lt Edward Taylor - pilot
2nd Lt James Akins - co-pilot
2nd Lt William Dolgin (replaced 2nd Lt.Withers Tolbert due to flu) - bombardier
2nd Lt Jack Foard - navigator
T/Sgt. Edward Wojcik (replaced S/Sgt. Michael Bennet due to a wound on his hand) - engineer
T/Sgt. Robert Knoll (replaced S/Sgt. Walter B. Bagge due to unknown reasons) - radio-operator
S/Sgt. Henry J. Dzwonkowski - bell-turret
S.Sgt Miles McCue (replaced unknown gunner) - waist gunner
S/Sgt. Arthur Bayer (replaced unknown gunner) - waist gunner
S/Sgt. William Morris (replaced S/Sgt. ?) - tail gunner
It was like working with one arm.
Bill Dolgin continues: "The next thing I knew, the C.Q. was shaking me telling me Bunker wanted me at the line immediately. It was then 6 o'clock, and the C.Q. had forgotten to wake me in time for briefing. I hurried down to the line minus my breakfast. The radio was to be on the same objective end since I'd attended briefing the previous day, I rushed out to the ship after picking up my target folder, maps, flak suit, chute, etc. Our plane for that day was C-bar, a brand new B-24H. Lt. Taylor, Akins and Foard were waiting for me."
Some other new faces appeared at the bomber: S/Sgt. Edward Wojcik from Portland, Oregon, became the engineer. On the waist guns, Miles McCue greeted S/Sgt. Arthur T. Bayer from Saint Louis, Missouri and the oldest of the crew.
Radio operator for this flight was T/Sgt. Robert Knoll. He wrote:
"I entered the Army and was assigned to the Army Air Force on October 3, 1942. I had a very brief base training period at Miami Beach, Florida and then spent 189 very busy weeks at radio school at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Next, I went to aerial gunner school at Las Vegas, Nevada for about six weeks. I trained with my crew at Casper, Wyoming doing a lot of flying. We picked up our brand-new B-24 in Kansas and flew it to England in early September 1943 with stops in Newfoundland, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and our base at Shipdham. I did go south of London for radio procedure school for about a week. On November 5th I flew my first mission to Munster with another crew. On November 13th I flew mission two to Bremen with an unfamiliar crew and on November 18th I flew mission three to the Oslo Kjeller airdrome, again as a pickup radioman. I never flew a mission with the crew I trained with back there in the states."
Hank Dzwonkowski inspected his ball-turret and greeted Bob Knoll, whose assistant he was in case of emergency. After 47 years, he recalled:
"So Taylor, Akins, Foard and I were from the original crew. I had never seen these other guys before, even not on the base. I felt really lonesome. I had a certain feeling that morning. It was like working with one arm."
Ed Taylor and Jim Akins started the starting procedure. All ten members okayed on the intercom. The airmen in the cockpit took a deep breath, and pulled the gas handles forward. "C-Bar" taxied towards her final destination.
"The engines were turning over and as I hurriedly checked the bombsight, bomb racks and our payload - '40 of the new type pitch incendiaries. Everything was all set so we taxied out and took off on time. Our group formed and then joined our wing division, and finally at altitude and in formation, we left the Coast of England about 0900 hours." The weather was clear with less than -50E.
The "Mighty Eight" was again present over Europe. Almost 3000 American airmen from more than 50 states were united in bombardment divisions, combat boxes, bomb groups and squadrons, united to bomb their target, and then to turn back as fast as possible, alive. Most of these young men just did what they thought was right, but some of them were noisy up there, and all these 3000 Americans were gazing in the icy sky to the other bombers of the formation. They had fear for collisions, fear for mechanical troubles, fear for flak, and fear for fighters. High above them, like tiny, shiny stars on a clear blue sky, were hovering their 'little friends,' the protection of Thunderbolts and Lightnings.
Over the channel sailed again one of the most impressive sights human nature could ever create, trailing fragile white wires; each green spot was carrying in its belly a nearing Apocalypse 'Little America.'
The B-17s of the 384BG-547BS were led by Major Maurice Dillingham. He actually took part in this mission as a co-pilot of B-17F 238033 'Little America.' This 384 BG Fortress had left her base Grafton Underwood for Leverkusen, but the 1BD crews were later briefed to bomb Solingen. This crew consisted of:
1st Lt. Edmund S. Goulder - pilot
Major Maurice S. Dillingham - co-pilot
1st Lt. Arthur C. Harris - navigator
1st Lt. William Boomhower - bombardier
T/Sgt. William F. Searns - radio operator
T/Sgt. Edward Thomasson - top turret gunner
S/Sgt. Claude R. Leslie - ball turret gunner
S/Sgt. Paul R. Saudners - waist gunner
2nd Lt. Ernest M. Boyce - tail gunner
This must have been an experienced crew. The ball-turret gunner, 23-year old S/Sgt. Claude R. Leslie, already wore the Air Medal with three clusters and D.F.C. He stated: "Twenty minutes after landfall, we had a runaway prop. Our pilot intended to fly to the target, but this seemed impossible. We then salvoed our bombs. The captain decided to abort this mission. Ten minutes later we left the formation, called for fighter support and turned back on three engines. Number two engine went out three minutes from the coast and seven minutes later number there stopped. We had two P-47's on our wingtips - one had Minnie Mouse on the cowling - when the pilot turned S and told us to prepare to bail out. When I got in the waist, I saw the two gunners still on the intercom. We were at 20,000 feet. The right waist gunner went to the waist door and opened. He jumped, his chute opened immediately. The left waist followed him. He delayed his opening to 7000 feet. I fell out behind them and delayed my jump to 5000 feet. I was in free fall when I last saw the aircraft and counted two chutes after mine had opened.
My chute was drifting toward a large town, but I steered it into the fields and was surrounded by more than 30 people the moment I landed. After kicking the chute into an irrigation ditch with the harness, I asked, in German, if anyone could speak English. They were surprised that I spoke German because they had assumed I was American, and, after assuring them I was American, I asked the crowd to scatter before the Germans arrived. I ran toward a farmhouse and had traveled about 400 yards when I heard shots. One of the Belgians had dragged my chute out of the ditch and spread it in the field. The Germans arrived and fired into the crowd, which scattering them all over the countryside. This was a help to me because the people ran in all directions.
I crawled into a barn, pulled hay over me, and, being tired, fell asleep."
"Little America" crashed near Seysele, some five miles west of Bruges. The nine other crew members were taken prisoner almost immediately, including their squadron commander Major Dillingham.
Over the Target
The rest of the 1st Bombardment Division proceeded to Solingen. When the B-17s arrived at noon over the target the whole area lay under a thick overcast of clouds. The navigators calculated the direction and place to drop the bombs. The bombardiers dropped their loads and flares (a total of 1,530 x 500 general purpose bombs and 6,399 100-lb. explosives), which were used as pathfinder markers for the Liberators of the 2nd BD.
These had to arrive over the target area between 1159 hours and 1212 hours. Bill Dolgin, Ed Taylor's bombardier narrates: "I was in the nose of our plane and we crossed the Rhine halfway between Dusseldorf and Cologne. We were trying to avoid the heavy concentration of flak around these two cities. Our initial point was the autobahn (highway) between Cologne and Dusseldorf. Things went along quite uneventful until then when all hell broke loose. Over the target, a solid barrage of flak came up and splattered the ship. However, we continued on and dropped our bombs on time." Not all the bombs came out of the belly of his Liberator. Two explosives were stuck in the racks.
When the Liberators were leaving the area, the Flying Fortresses were crossing the border between Germany and Belgium.
Jagdgeschwader 26 "Slageter" Attacks "the Stragglers"
German fighter pilots of the famous JG 26 were waiting for the return of the bombers. They had left their bases of Florennes (Belgium), Vendeville and Cambrai (France) and were now hovering in the grey Belgian sky, strapped in the narrow cockpits of their Focke Wulf 190-A's. Their easiest targets were the "stragglers," bombers which were unable to fly in the protection of the formation because of battle damage or mechanical failure. One of these was the "Damn Yankee," piloted by 2nd Lt. Bruce Sundlun. Together with "Little America," his ship would become one of the four losses of the 384th Bomb Group that day.
Some 20 miles before the coast, two (a 'rotte') yellow-nosed Focke Wulfs spotted the lonely Fortress, and started the attack. Once in the tail, one of the fighters gave some lethal 20mm-shots into the rudder and horizontal stabile, which were almost completely blown away. The tail gunner S/Sgt. Frank Lekas was probably killed or wounded during this action. The now steerless Fortress could only wait for the 'coup de grace.' The FW's did not hesitate, and made some dive attacks on their victim. The waist was pierced with bullets, killing the right-waist gunner S/Sgt. Chester Snyder and the ball turret gunner S/Sgt. Harry Cologne. The No. 1, 3, and 4 engines were shot out and "Damn Yankee" was losing altitude. Shrapnel entered the nose and cockpit section, killing the bombardier S/Sgt. George Hayes. The pilot, who already had given the order to bail out got some fragments in his shoulder, elbow and right hand. Pieces of glass gave him face lacerations. His four surviving crew members jumped through the bomb bay and landed safely at the village of Snellegem (five miles SW of Bruges). They were captured immediately by German soldiers who were doing exercises at that moment. They were 1st Lt. Andrew Boles (co-pilot), 2nd Lt. Reino Jylkka, the navigator which as shot in the arm, T/Sgt. Charles Snyder, radio operator and T/Sgt. William Ramsey, engineer.
Suddenly, the ship put her nose down, took a turn of almost 180E, while a fifth crew member left the plane. He had just enough height to bail out.
The B-17 crashed in a turnip field and had enough fuel and ammunition to keep a huge fire burning, in which hundreds of .50 caliber ammunition was exploding.
Sundlun landed safely by parachute near the wreckage.
A third "crippled" victim of the 384th Bomb Group was the Fortress flown by 2nd Lt. Darwin G. Nelson. Other crew members were:
2nd Lt. Elmer L. Smith - co-pilot
T/Sgt. Joseph H. Harrison - navigator
2nd Lt. Sam E. Drake - bombardier
T/Sgt. Curtis Easley - radio operator
T/Sgt. Vincent Gregorich - top turret gunner
S/Sgt. John H. Turner - ball turret gunner
S/Sgt. Antonio C. Gomez, Jr. - waist gunner
S/Sgt. Francis M. Seager - waist gunner
S/Sgt. Albert Brewer - tail gunner
Their aircraft was hit by flak over Belgium in their number two engine. The tail gunner saw clots of oil flying past the tail and a few minutes after the target number two engine went out so fast that it could not be feathered. At that moment, the bomber was still at altitude, but because of head winds the pilot was forced back and lagged in formation. The B-24s of the 2BD which were flying behind them, passed the crippled bomber. Leaving the formation, the crew saw another B-24, carrying the number 42-7544.
Near the coast, number three engine went out. This was the moment the Focke Wulfs were waiting for. A "Staffel" of four fighters jumped on the Fortress, which was limping on only two engines. But then, a strange bird appeared in the arena.
From his position, tail gunner Albert Brewer saw a B-17 tailing his aircraft. The guns of the German fighter remained silent now. They were just circling around the crippled Fortress. The astonished crew was suddenly betted up by some very accurate flak. T/Sgt. Harrison was wounded by a piece of his right hip. It seemed that the "ghost" B-17 was calling their position. Bremer wanted to shoot at the Fortress, but the aircraft never came in range of their guns.
Indeed, at this time of the war, the Luftwaffe had one B-17F - former 41-24585 "Wulf Hound," 303 BG, lost on December 12, 1943. Since September 10, 1943, it joined I/KG200, the most secret of all Luftwaffe combat organizations. But in his book "B-17 Fortress at War," Roger Freeman states: "Since early 1943 U.S. bomber air crew had often reported strange B-17s during combat missions and it was accepted that the Luftwaffe was using captured examples to pace U.S. formations and direct fighter attacks. There is, however, no evidence to substantiate this and Luftwaffe fighter commanders have pointed out that such a practice would have been far too dangerous with the risk if German crew B-17s being shot down by their own side. Indeed, most (italics by author) of the strange B-17s reported during that time were aircraft that had become detached from their own formation and were seeking protection of another."
Darwin Nelson, the captain of the ship, decided that time had come to surrender. He dropped the wheels and turned the plane back; the fighters pulled away. Then a third engine stopped. Nelson realized that he could not crash land his ship, and gave the order to bail out. This ship also had two replacements, Antonio Gomez and Vincent Gregorich. His parachute opened in the waist. Gomez helped him to fold it up in a hurry. With a weak heart, Gregorich jumped with his parachute in his arms. To his relief, she opened okay. Albert Bremer took his GI shoes and bailed out. He landed in a tree not far from Properinge, still holding his shoes in his right hand. Some 40 farmers ran toward him. The airman got out of his harness and started running in the opposite direction. In the woods, he discovered another group of people coming toward him. Bremer relates: "I ran right into one man. I did not know whether to hit him or what to do. While I was hesitating he stuck out his hand, so I shook hands with him. He spoke to me excitedly, but I could understand nothing of what he said except "American." I figured that he was all right, so I sat down and put on my GI shoes, giving him my flying shoes and boots. He talked to some other people.
Suddenly, someone said, "Allemands" and everyone scattered. I was left standing by myself. I ran into the woods, heard someone coming and lay down. A German policeman passed but did not see me. About 15 minutes later a boy came through the woods shouting, "Hello, boy!" When I raised cautiously, he came over. I gave him a cigarette and he said that he would take me away so that the Germans would not catch me. He moved me to the other side of the woods where I stayed until evening." At that moment, the rest of Bremer's crew was already captured.
TO BE CONTINUED