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William  H.  Topping

 

Personal Legacy
2nd Lt. WILLIAM H. TOPPING
World War II Diary

William H. "Bill" Topping, a native of a small town near Roanoke, Virginia, with only a high school education and working for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, enlisted in the Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbor. Although flight training required two years of college, he was accepted after he passed an equivalency exam.

"I wanted to be a pilot but they said they needed navigators and bombardiers. If you wash out of those, you can go back and try pilot training. I felt I'd be better off as an officer, so agreed to bombardier instruction."

After he graduated he began a tour with the 19th Antisubmarine Squadron that patrolled the waters around Gander protecting convoys and searching for submarine wolf packs. "I never saw a German sub, but we did see what happened to ships getting torpedoed while in convoys."

When the U.S. Navy assumed responsibility for that sector of the Atlantic, Topping flew to England to perform anti-sub work in a B-24 off the southwest coast. Attached to the RAF, Topping and the officers lived comfortably in a hotel. "We had tea servings and I had a batman who took care of my clothes and shined my shoes. Next door lived a group of Land Army girls.

"The missions and techniques were the same as those of the RAF. Stay in cloud cover as much as possible, use radar to indicate someone was out there. In an attack we were to dive down to about fifty feet, and as a bombardier, I was to string out five depth charges. It was hours and hours of boredom, flying the Bay of Biscay, sometimes going to Gibraltar to refuel. I belonged to the Whale and Ale Club, getting a couple of whales we dove on. The British were quite concerned about the whales in the Bay of Biscay, always asking how many we saw and in what direction they were headed. But one day, it all came together.

"I spotted the subs - there were three - followed by four all on the surface, going towards France, probably for supplies, including torpedoes. We broke radio silence and the navigator gave our position. Then we attacked. We dove on them and I tried to string out the five depth charges. As we pulled out and swung away from them, we were taking a lot of hits from the subs.

We had attacked the first three subs and were getting ready for another depth-charge run when the tail gunner said, "Nothing came out, no depth charges."

"I rushed back to the bomb bays and I found out what had happened. We were nearly helpless! We had been shot up so badly on the left side of the bomb bay that the main wiring system along the top left was shredded. There was nothing we could do, and we had to stay out of range of the shells from the subs, which could throw up a lot of lead."

We waited until other planes came in, with the first being a British Sunderland. I said, "Bring me some ammunition from the back." I had a .50 caliber nose gun and I figured I could at least fire if we attacked. We dove and I was shooting at the German crew on the subs that were firing at us and trying to get the Sunderland behind us. I don't know how many I hit; they looked like ten pins in a bowling alley, just being knocked off the subs, The Sunderland dropped some depth charges and our tail gunner told us that he had dropped them and was still with us.

"Six or seven other planes came in and we proceeded to lead, telling them to follow us. They started hitting the other subs. One of the Wellington's went into the water, losing all but one of their crew. Some Royal Navy sloops showed up where they fanned out, went through throwing depth charges and firing guns off their decks. It was a long battle, lasting about six hours, but seemed like all day."

The British Air Ministry announced the engagement sank three U-boats, but Topping upset his commanding officer. "Back at the base, my C.O. wanted to know why I didn't drop any depth charges. He was a West Pointer and we didn't get along too well. I made the nasty remark, "I just missed getting the Congressional Medal of Honor." He asked, "How come?" I said "I should have gone back into the bomb bay, grabbed one of the depth charges and dove out, giving my life." That comment gave me lots of trouble, but I deserved it. I was always causing him a lot of headaches. Topping saw no more subs while posted to the southwestern assignment in England.

Newspaper article - September 8, London (UP)

Seven U boats have been destroyed by British and American planes and sloops of the Royal Navy in the Bay of Biscay, three of them in a running six-hour battle, the air ministry announced yesterday.

The sinking of the three U-boats, two of which were supply vessels, was described as the greatest single victory of the war in that area. The other four were sunk in separate actions.

Lieut. A. L. Leal of Fresno, California, pilot of a Liberator in the six-hour battle, described the fight as a "marvelous show." Credit for sinking two of the German subs went to the planes and the other to the sloops.

Exact date of the sinkings was not given. Survivors of several of the undersea boats were made prisoner.

Seven planes were involved in the battle along with the sloops. The U-boats first were sighed by a Liberator, which they tried to fight off with anti-aircraft fire.

Liberator gunners silenced the flak fire and other planes scored with bombs and depth charges before the surface ships came up to shell the vessels with 121 rounds from four-inch guns. The attacks cost the RAF one Wellington and all but one member of its crew.

Other U.S. Liberator crew members who participated included copilot/bombardier 2nd Lieut. W. H. Topping, Clifton Forge, VA; Staff Sgt. J. Geanious, Winchester, VA; and Staff Sgt. W. H. Hays, Eadston, KY.

Later in 1943, the 19th Antisubmarine Sq. was relieved of this duty, with Bill Topping being assigned to the 44th BG, 67th Squadron. There he was assigned to the 1st Lt. L.M. Hansen crew who had lost their bombardier when flying for another crew during the detached service from North Africa. This Hansen crew was an experienced crew so were utilized to help train the many new replacement crew flooding into the 44th in September, 1943.

On November 13, Bill and the Hansen crew were assigned their first bombing mission to Bremen, Germany. While on the route in to the target, the formation was attacked by nearly every type of fighter the Germans had. But finally, on one more pass, the #4 engine on Lt. Hansen 5 aircraft was hit and started smoking, so the prop was feathered. But they maintained formation on three engines, bombed, and were turning for home when a flak burst knocked #4 engine completely out and #2 was damaged.

The pilots managed to nurse their plane back to the Dutch coast, but just after getting out over the sea, one more engine gave out so Lt. Hansen turned back. He knew they could not reach England in that condition and ditching probably would be fatal to all. When attempting to lower their landing gear for a crash landing on the level ground, it was found to be damaged, with only one main gear coming down. Then it could not be retracted. Too low now for the men to parachute, Lt. Hansen saw a canal and headed for it, dipped low enough into it, and successfully tore off this gear on the far bank, with nose just high enough to permit a miraculous, safe belly landing.

The only unfortunate circumstances then was that they came down very close to a German flak battery, so almost immediately were made prisoners of War.

In August 1996 Bill Topping was advised that the Russian Government and the entire Russian people had awarded him' a Commemorative Medal. "The 50th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War" (World War II)

"This medal is awarded to you in recognition of your courage and personal contribution to the Allied support of Russia during her fight for freedom against Nazi Germany."

Many of you 44thers will remember that "Sir William" Topping also served on the board of the 44th HMG for many years, being very active in his efforts to recruit our members through the many publications throughout the U.S.

The use of B-24s as part of the antisubmarine campaign actually, preceded the assignment of Potts and his unit by several months Bill Topping, a native of a small town near Roanoke, Virginia, with only a high school education and working for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. enlisted in the Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbor. Although flight training required two years of college, he was accepted after he passed an equivalency exam.

"I wanted to be a pilot but they said they needed navigators and bombardiers. If you washout of those you can go back and try pilot training I felt I'd be better off as an officer so I agreed to bombardier instruction.

After he graduated he began a tour with the 19th Antisubmarine Squadron that patrolled the theaters around Gander protecting convoys and searching for submarine wolf packs. "I never saw a German sub but we did see what happened to ships getting torpedoed while in convoys.

When the U.S. Navy assumed responsibility for that sector of the Atlantic, Topping flew to England to perform anti-sub work in a B-24 off the southeast coast Attached to the RAF. Topping and the officers lived comfortably in a hotel. "We had tea servings and I had a batman who took care of my clothes and shined my shoes. Next door lived a group of Land Army girls. The missions and techniques were the same as those of the RAF. Stay in cloud cover as much as possible. Use radar to indicate someone was out there. In an attack we were to dive down to about fifty feet and as bombardier I was to string out five depth charges. It was hours and hours of boredom, flying the Bay of Biscay, sometimes going to Gibraltar to refuel. I belonged to the whale and ale club, getting a couple of whales we dove on. The British were quite concerned about whales in the Bay of Biscay, always asking how many we saw and in what direction they were headed. But one day, it all came together.

"I spotted the subs, there were three, followed by four all on the surface going towards France probably for supplies, including torpedoes. We broke radio silence and the navigator gave our position. Then we attacked. We dove on them and I tried to string out the depth charges. As we pulled out and swung away from them, we were taking a lot of hits from the subs. We had attacked the first three subs and were getting ready for another depth-charge run when the tail gunner said, "Nothing came out, no depth charges."

I rushed back to the bomb bays and I found out what had happened. We were helpless We were helpless. We had been shot up so bad on the left side of the bomb bay that the main wiring system, along the top left was shredded. There was nothing we could do and we had to stay out of range of shells from the subs which could throw up a lot of lead.

We waited until other planes came in, the first a British Sunderland. I said, "Bring me some ammunition from the back." I had a .50 caliber nose gun and I figured I can at least fire if we attack. We dove and I was shooting at the Germans on the subs who were firing at us and trying to get the Sunderland behind us. I don't know how many I hit; they looked like ten pins in a bowling alley, just being knocked off the sub. The Sunderland dropped some depth charges and the tail gunner told us he had dropped them and was still with us. Six or seven other planes came in and we proceeded to lead, telling them to follow us. They started hitting the other subs. One of the Wellington's went into the water, losing all but one of the crew. Some Royal Navy sloops showed up. They fanned out, went through throwing their depth charges and firing off their decks. It was a long battle; lasted six hours, but it seemed like all day..."

The British air ministry announced the engagement sank three U-boats, but Topping upset his commanding officer "Back at the base, my C.O. wanted to know why we didn't drop any depth charges. He was a West Pointer and we did not get along too well. I made the snotty remark, "I just missed getting the Cognressional Medal of Honor." He asked, "How come?" I said, "I should have cone back into the bomb bay, grabbed one of the depth charges and dove out, giving my life. That comment gave me a lot of trouble, but I deserved it; I was always causing him a lot of headaches." Topping saw no more subs while posted to southeastern England.
WILLIAM TOPPING
(Notes from Amelia Hann)

Was assigned to anti-sub duty on a B24 bomber. His radar picked up a cluster of 7 U-boats. They were returning to their base in France and their batteries were too low for crash dives. As his bomber zoomed down to an altitude of 50 feet to attack, the U-boat's anti-aircraft guns opened up. He dropped his depth charges and nothing happened. The German fire had knocked out the wiring controlling the release. British bombers joined in. Topping manned the nose gun and machine-gunned the decks. After six hours, all 7 U-boats went down.





WILLIAM TOPPING
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from an e-mail to Will Lundy)

I think you knew I was attached to the Coastal Command for approximately seven months in southern England, patrolling in the Bay of Bisquay for German subs. Those Brits treated me as one of their own and made me feel as I was home. I'll never forget that time, if I live to be a hundred. That is a wonderful part of England, down at Lands End. I was a frequent visitor in the pubs of Neuquay, and when not flying, you could find me there. I have been back two times with Kay and she saw my room in the hotel we had for the Yanks. Next door was the hotel for the land army girls. I'll stop there. They were very nice as we were treated as we should have - we were the officers and gentlemen. I'll never forget that time as I was accepted as one of them.

Looking back, my ancestors came from England and landed in Virginia. I was born in Virginia and my name is English. I'm proud of that. I still have relatives in Virginia. Can't say anymore. I'm still an "old Brit." All now, but wanted to touch base and send our best to you both. We love you.

Kay and Bill (Topping)
67th Sq. POW
 
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