World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
D-Day, June 6, 1944
On the night of June 5th, I went to bed as usual at about 7 o'clock. I was bushed from the day before and just barely got to sleep when the lights went on in my room and the orderly came in and said, "Okay, everybody up. It's 10 o'clock." Usually they came and shook your shoulder because they didn't wake everyone in the barracks. This time they woke everyone and told us that we had to go to briefing. At 10 o'clock at night? Usually, we didn't get to briefing until 2 o'clock in the morning! We figured well there sure is something going on.
So we all piled out and got dressed, went into breakfast at 10 o'clock at night and then into briefing. When we got into briefing, the C.O. got up in front of the whole group of us and said, "Okay, you guys. This is it! This is the big day we have all been waiting for." Then they briefed us on what our targets were, what bombs we would be carrying, what the weather conditions were and advised us that today, of all days, we should exercise extreme caution. Be careful that we didn't run into someone because every plane that could fly would be in the air that day.
Normally when we took off on a mission, the lead plane would go out with the tail gunner flashing code either in blue, green, or white with a hand spot light, and each plane that followed the lead plane at 30 second intervals would have his tail gunner flashing the same code. This way you could gather a formation and keep track of each other because it was usually dark when we took off. Any other way, it would be almost impossible to locate your squadron lead. Most of the time it would be cracking a little bit of daylight so that you did have half of a chance to be keeping at rack of the guy ahead of you. This time we would be taking off so early in the morning that they advised us that if you could not for some reason keep track of your squadron lead, you were to form on any radio ship. In other words, if you lost track of your squadron leader, you were to fall into formation with whatever plane you could find up there that had a radar dome on it because they would all be dropping their bombs using radar sights.
So we started our engines and waited and waited and waited, checked our planes out, then lumbered out of our parking areas like a huge herd of circus elephants and lined up around the field. When we finally took off, our group was bombing with the first wave that went across. They had advised us that there would be a 20-mile wide corridor no aircraft were to be going toward England. They had a traffic pattern. Any aircraft seen heading toward England within that corridor would be shot at by every other aircraft in range as well as the ships on the ocean until he was knocked down. So they said, "If you have troubles, get out of that corridor before you head back to England, no matter what troubles you've got." Pilots were taught to have swivel necks and roving eyes to keep track of other traffic in the air.
After I took off and climbed to altitude, I had sighted my squadron leader and was just starting to pull forward into position of high element lead, when for some reason, I looked up out of the top of the B-24. My hair stood on end, lifting my cap and headphones with it! At that exact moment, the man who was supposed to be flying on my right wing came down on top of me. He had been approaching me from a higher altitude and from behind and dived to come into position and had failed to reduce his speed enough and was over shooting. I hit the stick and dived the craft and when I did, my right rudder swung up and tore a hole in his flight deck right next to his navigator. This positioned my tail gunner between the two engines on that side of the plane with the prop of the two engines spinning about six inches away-one on each side of his head. We broke loose again instantly-we just hit and then broke loose again.
I poled all of the crew individually on the intercom and asked if they were okay but couldn't get any response from the tail gunner. I sent one of the waist gunners back to check on him and they found him frozen on his guns. For about 20 minutes, he was unable to speak. The shock of having those props so close to his head totally immobilized him. We surveyed the damage and could see that the plane was handling all right; it was a little sluggish, the top of our rudder was flattened out, but it still worked okay and didn't cause too much vibration so I decided to go ahead and fly the mission. After all, we'd been up preparing for almost five hours by then and I couldn't see aborting the mission at that late hour after all the trouble we'd gone through to get ready.
I pulled into position on the squadron lead again and we circled for about another hour and a half, forming into larger and larger formations, i.e., groups, wings, etc., and then we headed of the Coast of England to go across and bomb the Coast of France. We were carrying 100-pound fragmentation bombs (4,200 of them) and our target was just barely on the beach.
As we went across the Cost of England, out over the Channel, there were thin, scuddy cumulus clouds about halfway between us and the ocean. It was just daylight then. Every place you looked there were airplanes by the thousands above, below, and behind us. The sky was literally black with them. Down on the ocean surface, it looked like you would be able to walk from one ship to another there were so many of them. The whole Channel looked like it was just one big bridge made up of every type of boat, ship, and landing craft. There were even sightseeing type side-wheelers from the River Thames loaded with soldiers headed for France.
We went across without any opposition and dropped our bombs then headed back to England outside the corridor, of course. No German fighters could have found their way through the maze of aircraft that was in the air. We even had very light flak so that we sustained no further damage to our ship.
We got back to our base and landed and as I pulled into my assigned parking spot, the C.O. came buzzing up in his Jeep and as I climbed down out of the belly of the ship came over to me and asked what the blazes had happened to me. He could see the flattened rudder. I told him that I had been rammed in mid-air and that apparently my wingman in attempting to pull into formation with me had approached too fast and had gotten right over the top of my plane. He said we had another crew that had a mid-air and had aborted and come back. It turned out that it was the crew whose navigator bunked right next to me that had plowed right into me.
He then asked, "Is your ship all right?" I told him, "Yes," that it handled fine. He then told us to stay out with the plane as we were flying another mission. He told us they would bring a new tail section and reload the bombs. We lay down on the flight deck to get a little sleep and they brought us something to eat. Our food turned out to be sandwiches and powdered milk.
They put out the controls and they worked out okay, so we took off and climbed to altitude, formed into formation, and headed for the Coast of France again. This time we bombed about one and a half miles inland from the shore. This trip was uneventful as far as problems or accidents. The number of planes in the air was not as noticeably heavy that second trip, although there were still a lot of planes going through.
When we got over France and dropped our bombs, they all went out without any problems. We had no engine problems and brought the plane back in and sacked out for two days at the end of the mission. What a way to celebrate my fiancé's birthday!
Flight Crew for this mission:
Weaver, Ted L. 2nd Lt. Pilot
Shambarger, Walter B. 2nd Lt. Copilot
McClane, John W. Lt. Navigator
Cannetti, Domenick Staff Sgt. Nose gunner/togglier
Fahey, Donald F. Staff Sgt. Radio operator/gunner
Gniadek, Joseph S. Sgt. Engineer/top turret gunner
Crouse, Marvin L. Sgt. Right waist gunner
Parsons, Thomas S. Sgt. Left waist gunner
Voight, Loren L. Sgt. Tail gunner