CHARLIE F. KUCH|
Excerpts from his letters
World War II
Tom Hybarger, who was my bombardier in the 68th Squadron, was trying to get one or two more missions so he could finish with us. He went out with a new crew (to Berlin, I think), in June or July and went down over the target. Answer: Tom P. Hybarger was on Steinke's ship lost July 7, 1944 and was KIA.
Charles Kuch came into the 44th BG as copilot for Harold Slaughter into the 68th Squadron. Slaughter was moved into Operations later and Kuch took over as first pilot. Slaughter came home in August or September 1944.
No. 225 Flak Alley, Alpha T for Tommy, a "D" with toothpick props. I remember Dunda, Pellegrine and Yount, Martin. I have never been convinced that the bombing of Switzerland was accidental - nobody ever caught hell over it and I've been hearing rumors it was a ball-bearing factory.
Too, Edmondson is the name you want. He was on my right wing - I think that we flew two missions.
We joined the 44th while they were still coming back from Africa. As I remember, we got our first H model in April 1944.
Anecdotes: Whatever you've heard about Pappy Hill was probably true. And add Benny Gildart to that list. On one return from a mission, the call was heard, "Hello, Darky. Hello, Darky. Give me a heading to Shipdham." He was answered (I think by Dave Alexander) "Come on down, Gildart! You're home." Benny's stories of the vast Mississippi Delta and the Peabody Hotel are still remembered.
And Politz. We also hit Posen and Hybarger was bombardier both trips. Man, were they long! I didn't appreciate trips to Poland. The red line used to run off the briefing board!
Anderson, October 9, 1943, probably had Slaughter along as copilot. That's how we broke in new crews and pilots.
Brandon's 110 - flexible gunners did get quite a few, but their confirmed kills (all 8th Air Force accounted for more than twice the aircraft the German's ever built. But they were damned sure handy to have around anyway.
If it helps, I joined the 44th while Johnson was CO, and stayed through Posey, Dent, and John Gibson. I had Gibson in the right seat, Posey between them, and Fred Dent behind a flak suit or vest at one time or other. I also had Herman Sapp as an engineer once.
It was Pappy Hill who told Stars & Stripes that "We scrambled Hamm with our eggs."
Parke Jones. His copilot was a cadet classmate of mine at Luke Field. He went down on one of his early missions - you probably know the date. Those of us who saw him shot out of the formation were amazed that he got the airplane back to England. If I recall correctly, he had No. 4 shot clear off the wing and the No. 3 prop shot off, too. He disappeared into a cloudbank with the catwalk hanging out of the bomb bay - the front half. He bellied in on a mined beach near Hull.
I felt fortunate in more ways than one. I came out of a single engine training into final stage B-24 as a copilot to Harold Slaughter. Hal had been a B-24 instructor at Davis-Monthan. I live right off the corner of D-M right now. When Hal moved up (to Johnson's staff), I got the crew. My copilot was almost always a first pilot from an in-coming replacement crew. Hybarger was a replacement for our original bombardier, and, except for him, we brought everyone home! On occasion, the command pilot would ride right seat for me. John Gibson, Group CO, had come from American Airlines and he wanted to fly.
I went through a few Group CO's - from Johnson to Posey, Gibson and Dent. But I'd rather not talk about Dent.
I can remember one mission we flew into the Ruhr Valley - Flak Alley - as we called it. We were above a low cloud layer and never drew a shot. We saw no flak, no fighters, nothing. We may have brought the bombs home. I don't recall. I remember that all the way back we wondered if the war was over.
Bombing of Switzerland: I was briefed for the flight as a back-up lead. The navigators and bombardiers were briefed separately. I'm going to say that the briefed target was Freobirg, but don't know for sure and don't quote me. What should be kept in mind is that Schaffhausen is right on the border and that the run to he target was plotted over Switzerland and the mission was on course. The navigators were the best available and could split hairs. Schaffhausen was hit on the button - a watch factory - and only the standard apologies were given. Switzerland was paid something like $75,000, as I remember it, and I don't recall any casualties.
Later, we were told probably through the grapevine, that the watch factory was making precision parts for Germany. For me, there have always been too many inconsistencies. The leaders of the mission were damned good and why fly an approach over Switzerland, anyway? Schaffhausen is a border city and no possible target in Germany would justify having the bomb bay doors open at that point. Other inconsistencies point toward the Swiss having advance knowledge of the strike. No one on the lead crews were more than asked what they hit.
Check the dates. Targets were critical at that time. We were preparing for an invasion and nothing was haphazard. Maybe we did fly some diversionary mission toward Bordeaux or Brest, but anything going into Germany was carefully picked - from the targets and loads to the leaders picked to hit them. Nothing was scattered, they were all precision. My observations weren't based on any inside knowledge - I didn't have any. My basis is that I flew a lot of leads with the best of navigators and bombardiers and this mission had excellent leaders.
Bill Kolliner, Lt. Col. Who came home with me, when a Red Cross lady in Atlantic City asked us, "How do you get so much rank so young?" Bill said, "Where we come from, all you have to do is stay alive."
Don Heskett - He was an evadee - he walked out through Portugal before the invasion.
Sweden - Yes, there were flights to Sweden. The airplanes were stripped painted black and identification removed. They were flown into Malmo under a British National Airways clearance. The purpose was to bring back interned personnel. Everyone was in civilian clothes, and Germans drank in the same bars and stayed in the same hotels.
A captured German pilot was being held at Prestwick when I was on my way home. Nobody wanted him to sit in he dining hall, and with it being full, I let him sit with me for the two days he was there. We corresponded for a few years after I met him, playing piano in the Hollandorf in Garmisch in 1949 or 1950. He died in the mid-70s and I was informed and thanked by his family. I guess there were Germans and there were Nazis.
I think that I may have had a Pathfinder on my wing on a couple of missions. His purpose being to lead the bomb run if we had no visibility. We also experimented with some Loran (?) bombing on its outer limits in Pax de Calais. The Norden sight was still the best.
Photo of Flak Alley - She shows 12 missions after the Ploesti raid, so Slaughter and I must have been on a couple of them.
Understand, my Ploesti stories are all secondhand, but they kicked around so much I still remember them. No one can respect the men on that mission more than I do - I lived with them for up to a year after they got back. Leon Johnson said the biggest mistake made on the raid was too many tried to go over the trees instead of around them.
Willie Baxter Weant. If I remember correctly, William Brandon was a Major at the time and the story was that he went to Malmo to establish a unit for processing our airmen back to England. You probably have something on the flights - from London to Malmo to bring our Internees back.
Switzerland was a different story. I remember reports that some of our interned men spent the rest of the war in college getting advanced degrees.
Most of my combat problems came from a failure to transfer fuel soon enough, or being forced into separation from the main force by weather. I was reminded of a navigator from Boston named Shaljean (67th, I think) and that brought back the gang that used to ride the 6-bys to Norwich for double doubles at the Bell or the Castle, and an evening at the Muscle Palace.
I had a Protestant Chaplain fly with me a couple of times. The command pilot usually rode the right seat with me. I don't remember this one's name, but he was about 5'6" and probably around 140 lbs., wore horn-rimmed glasses, and wanted to know what the men went through. I have a lot of respect for that man - most of us were looking for a way to get grounded. . .
Now I remember about Stahler. He and Jay Meador were issuing parachutes and my first bombardier found a way to get stateside. I certainly can find no disgrace in a man being afraid of combat, but there were some who found too much shame in it. I was usually pretty busy, and probably petrified. I had a bombardier, Hybarger, and a navigator (Shea) that used to say, "What fighters?" at debriefing. They'd get so involved in their work they didn't know we were in combat.
I remember Stamos, but he was just slightly ahead of us. We went to Bovingdon for indoctrination while waiting for the group to return from Africa. We flew some diversions, and usually had to wait for replacements to put the group in the air again.
Don Hesket told me about his walkout. If we can locate him, we'll get him to tell the story. He may not want to have it told at all, but I'll repeat it for him, otherwise. It's not very pleasant. I was on R&R in London and we had just closed the Princess Anne Pub in Leicester Square at 11 p.m. I turned a corner and there was Don - fatigues, no hat, French boots. We got a bottle of Scotch and went upstairs to the after-hours room. It was his first night back in England. I doubt if any story you have heard about the crash is overstated. One needed to - see below . . .
One needed both a jeep and an airplane to see them. The guy who had to wait for a six by to go to lunch didn't get too close to look. Jansen and I must have been at least 30 minutes getting to Hovey's crash after staying overhead for 15 to 20 minutes to guide emergency vehicles. Nobody got out. I can still see and smell the black bodies on the stretchers.
I gather that you didn't know about the Swedish Connection. The word was that Bill Brandon went into Malmo to set up an office for an air base group. Crews were detached to London every once in a while to put on civilian clothes, fly unmarked airplanes in the worst weather available, to bring back interned crews from Malmo. They called it British National Airways. There were Germans staying at the same hotel and drinking at the same bar.
You're right. The pilots did not tend to hold position long. I can't explain it to anyone's satisfaction. Sometime one can get the feeling that it is much easier to follow than lead - less responsibility, no cares about where and how. Probably many pilots unconsciously carry an uncomfortable feeling for a long time. I saw a very famous fighter pilot unable to stop sobbing because two bombers out of a flight of 48 he was escorting were lost . . . Sometimes you have to wonder what military pilot's wings can do to a man.
I am stranded at home most of the time by doctor's orders, and it (writing) gives me something to do. Some of the stories I give you are what was told me, some I was there. Even at that, 40 years is a long time to come up with dead accuracy. But I don't think any of them are wrong. Some are apocrophyl (?) - such as Brandon and Sweden. I don't know or remember where the story came from - I got it at Shipdham and I believe it. I pass it or them on for what they're worth.
Got your card with the addresses of Griffin and Ben Gildart. You need a full picture of Ben (Gildart) for anything you put out - the heavy black mustache and the accent you can cut!
You can't get (memories) from the latter replacement crews - you've got to have the early ones - the old timers. Remember when we had to wait for replacement aircraft to fly a mission? Well, we used to play some games between missions.
We used to take cracks at the tower coming back from practice, see who could get closest to it. We knocked down more than one of their antenna poles. Used to really get some chewing for it, too. Do the same thing down the runway. A lot of us would kick sparks from the underside skids. And remember the layout of the perimeter track on the opposite side from the tower (north)? We'd try to make all four turns without using brakes. You could build up a pretty good speed using only throttle to turn the plane. We had to give that up, though. You'll probably recall the track being blocked for a couple of days when one guy missed the inside corner and put one into the mud, blocking the whole track.
I remember clearing the housing areas coming back from a practice mission when Dave Alexander told me that's the first time he'd ever ducked. He said the only other plane he'd seen that low was a P-51. Some of those stories will have to wait until I can get together with some of the others that were in on them.
You mentioned my lead on D-Day. You'd have to check and find out who the lead crews were that got long range, pinpoint targets; then see if one of them wasn't the lead to Switzerland. We had a lot of strikes on "targets of opportunity" that only lead crews knew about. We also had spots to avoid.
I don't know if it was a joke or if we were actually told to be extremely careful at Bremen. Remember a radio station Kehle One, Kehle Two, Bremen and Friesland. Axis Sally broadcast the best music in Europe over those and we didn't want to knock the station off the air. By the way, I met her after the war. Her name was Mildred something, and she came from my hometown, Portland, Maine. When I met her, she was awaiting a trial decision. I don't' remember now whatever came of that. Hell, she was about 50 years old then (1946 or 47). Her broadcasts shouldn't be left out of any stories of the Air War over Europe. I can remember missions when she welcomed us safely home, knew what target we had hit, and who the crews were. She had information faster than our Intelligence, and she was always right!
Try writing AFMPC/MPC D003, Randolph AFB, Texas 78150-6001. They will forward a letter to some retired people.
I had a letter fromJohn Griffith (Parke Joens crew) and looking for more.
Bob Whittington, 68th Operations gave me this information: Our original bombardier was Gus Glandel, and the other Engineer was Herbert W. Russell. Am going to write to him as he is trying to find us! Talked to Herb Russell last night. Our original bombardier was Alex Glaudel, I believe. He was sent back to the States for a shoulder operation - couldn't keep it in place.
I have four of our crew pinned down - I just talked with Scotty Frank Ross - at 78 Parham Road, Kingsboro, MA. Harold Slaughter is retired from the Air Force and I've got a letter being forwarded to him. That address that you have for Gordon Brandon is his son. Gordon died. Shea is not in Chicago.
Charles Durrell (from Brooklyn). I remember one day he jumped on some B-17ers who were knocking the B-24 with a "There I was at 20,000 feet, nothing but the putt-putt running, flat on my back - and still climbing . . ." Charles Upton Deurell, it was and he just got tired of listening to B-17 pilots. First Lt. Deurell was in the 68th Squadron in April 44 and sent to 12th RCD 25 July 1944.
We were back in the States in September 1944, so I missed much that came later - including "Henry."
Frank Davido used to send pilots from a new crew out with me. When we got the "H's" we had a different 10th man most of the time. Seyler took over the ball turret.
This crew just about finished together but flew something like 34 missions due to the invasion. After slaughter left, we were mostly leads. I think we flew element lead once, squadron, a few times; and group (command) leads. I remember we carried Fred Dent into Pas de Calais, but that is another story. I don't remember the people we carried on division leads, but I remember that quite a few flew the right seat. Fortunately, no one else was seriously hurt. I took a spent piece of flak in the shin, and most of our other problems were frostbite. The "D's" were not noted for their heaters; and we had flown a few missions before we got electric suits.
If it helps, we got the "Lone Ranger (No. 44-40098) the first unpainted B-24 in the group. The plane we delivered in September 1943 was named "Helen Hiwater" (No. 42-63971).
"44th Libs Over Europe. You can spot the crews who came later - January 4 and on. They were standing by "J" models and they are wearing the fancy, new, warm gear. And I think he got some crews mixed up. You could always tell Gildart by the mustache - and I think you'll find him second from left, front row, bottom left of crew No. 49. Helen Hiwater was the one we flew over from Lincoln. "Mi Akin Ass" was famous - named by a crew chief who came from India - as was "My As'am Dragon."
Flak Alley . . . if she is still around, you'll find some names on that one. Lehnhausen, Alexander, mine (Kuch) and more. It leaked all over, like Lemon Drop, and it was cold! But it was faster and smoother than anything else.
Wood is the one who named Helen Hiwater - and Pigg had the next revetment.
Then when I took the crew, we got the first silver plane - the "Lone Ranger," and M/Sgt. Robert E. Lee - with that constant grin.