ROBERT J. LEHNHAUSEN|
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
May 16, 1988
As I have told you before, I am a very poor correspondent. I do, however, wish to impress upon you that any delay in getting this note off to you lessens the great thanks I owe to you for all of the information you have gained for me. I am sincerely grateful for all of the time you have given to this and the great detail you have related. Thank you so very much.
A huge bouquet to you for the excellence of your marvelous "Roll of Honor." The amount of time that you had to give to this labor of love is unbelievable. I am frank to tell you that while I have read almost every paragraph with great attention, I find that I can only stick with it for a limited time at one sitting. Too many memories - such great losses. Brave, young men determined to carry out their duty - against such great odds. This was especially true early on in the air war. That, however, does not diminish the tremendous task you have accomplished. Thank God for you and your talent. You do our men great honor. For that, too, my thanks.
You also deserve a standing ovation for the work you are going on the "Log Book." It has truly come alive. So for that, too, thank you!
Liz and I plan to be in Riverside next week. I look forward to seeing both of you.
I talked with Werner Garrett last week. I was his co-pilot when we ditched on return from Lefoe, Italy on July 2, 1943. It was the group's fourth mission from Benna Main, Lybia. I asked about Bob LeFleur's hometown. He tells me he was from Watertown, Maine. In fact, the airport in Watertown is named in honor of Bob - the LeFleur Memorial Airport.
Once again, the Lehnhausen's are most grateful for the time and effort you have given to us and Clark's case. Thank you.
July 18, 2004
Several months ago I began a narrative to flesh out the basic information of the MBD form. I filed it so well that I cannot find it so I must start over.
Some time ago Steve Adams, our English friend, had asked me for information on myself, and my experiences as a CO. My response to him was that while I was willing to put some things on paper I thought that there was a lot of humor that was overlooked in the retelling of WW II duty.
The attached recollections are a part of "my story" of WW II. This represents four different sessions of putting things on paper. One of my daughters was kind enough as to type my longhand printing. She consolidated all of the work.
Each session had an element of history and a recount of humor. I have marked them by a red line separating history and humor. The humor is also highlighted in yellow.
Rather than retyping the corrected work I am submitting to you her work with my corrections in longhand in the hope that you can, without too much effort, figure out my thoughts.
I leave to your judgment where in the scheme of things that these writings are placed properly. I will get to you later with more of my recollections.
Thank you again for your marvelous sense of history and your very great patience with all of us, especially the 44th.
I joined the 68th on March 16, 1943, together with my crew, of which I was the pilot. On that date the 8th Air Force Bomber Command was made up of six bomb groups: four B-17 units and two B-24 groups, the 44th and the 93 rd.
We had arrived in Englalnd several days earlier. We had flown a brand new B-17 ("The Spook") via the southern route with 34 other 17's. We landed at Bovingdon. After some days of training and indoctrination, the pilots of the 35 crews were assembled in the commander's office. The C.O. then told us that since there were no replacement crews available to the B 24's, General Longfellow, Bomber Command Chief, had ordered that seven crews from this class were to be assigned to B-24 units. He asked for volunteers. There were none. He had anticipated that. Each crew had been assigned a number. His sergeant had placed 35 crew numbers in an army garrison hat. He then drew seven numbers. The Lehnhausen crew was among the seven drawn. We were assigned to the 44th. Four other B-17 crews joined us in transport to Shipdham. Two crews were sent to the 93rd at Hardwick.
These five crews were the first replacement crews the 44th had received since arrival at Shipdham in the fall of 1942. Bill Roach's crew was sent to the 67th. They were lost on the Kiel raid, May 14, 1943. Charles Hughes' crew (Spencer Hunn was the co-pilot on this crew) and George Winger's crew joined the 66th. Winger was lost on the Ploesti low level mission of August 1, 1943. Both Hughes and Hunn, at different times, served as C.O. of the 66th. Both were excellent C.O.'s.
David Alexander's crew and my crew were sent to the 68th.
Now for some humor, in the summer of 1944 a teenage gunner joined the squadron. He was fond of milk. The reconstituted powdered milk served in our mess halls was not to his pleasing. A true Yankee, he set out to solve the matter on his own. During one of his pub crawls, he negotiated with a local farmer and bought the gentleman's milk cow and brought it to our living site. Now he could have fresh milk. Caring for such a large pet on squadron pasture did not work out. Keegan and the first sergeant decided that Bobby would give up his fresh supply. Ach, back to powdered.
Our crew was welcomed enthusiastically by all. It had been a difficult winter for the 8th AF. The 44th had shared in the cruel operational losses. New crews were a tremendous morale booster, even if they were B-17 proficient and had to be retrained on B- 24 equipment and procedures.
Everyone was helpful to us. However, I was told I would not be checked out on the B-24 until I had flown with every pilot in the 68th. I was to "observe all the good" qualities of each of them and forget the failings that I observed." That l did. The 44th had been operational long enough that the groups original co-pilots were being checked out as first pilots. To accommodate that plan my fine crew was broken up. This enabled two of the original co-pilots to have crews of their own. I, together with three of my gunners, joined Wilmer Garrett. My co-pilot Willie Weant, my navigator Bob Peterson, my bombardier George Hulpiau and the flight engineer Bill Morton became part of William 'Doc' Hughes' crew. Two new crews.
Training was intense. Many, many hours of practice flying, many more hours spent in classes studying this fine airplane, new to us, cramming into all of us the emergency procedures, theatrer orientation, British flight and navigation facilities and rules. On the flying side, formation flying and the mastery of it was top priority.
On April 5, 1943, I flew my first combat mission. That mission's target was a Ford Industrial Plant in Antwerp, Belgium. Thus began my combat tour that eventually required 28 missions for completion. I fulfilled that requirement on October 2, 1943. Between those two dates my personal journal of airborne combat and command experience follows.
I flew six missions as a co-pilot. Among those missions were the May 14, 1943 raid on Kiel and the Ploesti low level attack of August 1, 1943. Both of these missions merited the presidential unit citation for the 44th Bomb Group. My fifth mission was flown against the airfield at Leece, Italy. It was the first of the missions that the 44th flew from Benina Main Airfield, near Benghazi, Libya. We incurred some battle damage in the target area and lost fuel. We were forced to ditch "Miss Virginia" in the Mediterranean. Six of us survived and were rescued by a British mine layer. Tragically five brave young airmen lost their lives. Among those drowned were two gunners from my original crew. David Bernstein and Andy Tenosky both were excellent crew members, fine men.
I flew eleven missions as a first pilot. Among those were the two missions to Weiner-Neustadt. Both were traumatic. The first was flown on August 13, 1943 from Benina Main. This very long flight, like the Ploesti mission, required extra fuel tanks. We were briefed to land in Tunisia. Because of a failed fuel transfer system, we had to make a dead stick landing on a bombed out fighter field in Northwestern Sicily. It was an emergency situation. Our second mission to Weiner-Neustadt was flown from Tunesia, North Africa on October 1, 1943. It was a fierce and costly air battle. The 44th lost eight of the twenty five Libs that reached the target.
Finally, in December of 1943, four of my original crew got back together as part of a combat crew. By now we were the most senior in the squadron. We got to fly three missions as a team. We flew as group lead to Kiel on December 5, 1943. We led the group on the December 31,1943 raid on the airfield at St. Jean d' Angely, France. This is near Bourdeaux. Bill Cameron flew with us as command pilot. This was a great day for high altitude precision bombing. The weather in the target area was clear. Enemy opposition was moderate. George Hulpiau who by now was the squadron bombardier got a bull's eye and our formation was tight enough that 81 percent of our bombs were within 1000 feet of the aiming point.
General Hodge, Second Air Division commander, sent a message that read in part: "It gives me extreme satisfaction to tell you that your bombing today was the finest example of precision bombing yet accomplished by the division."
The mission for January 11, 1943 was briefed for Brunswick, Germany. The 44th was to lead the Second Air Division and our crew was selected as lead crew. Colonel Dent, the 44th commander, was to fly with us as command pilot and mission commander. On this mission, the Second DIvision was the third division in the bomber column. Weather throughout assembly and just short of the enemy coast was lousy. Suddenly we broke into clear skies. As we approached the German- Dutch Border we received a recall message. This upset Col. Dent. After several challenges of the message, he accepted that it was authentic and not a German hoax. However he determined that the 44th bombs would be dropped on Germany.
The 44th attacked as a target of opportunity, a large concentration of barges on the Dortmund-Ems canal at the small town of Meppen, Germany. A bonus in this attack was that some of our bombs fell into an ammunition dump with immediate visual confirmation of success. Once again higher headquarters expressed their congratulations for the excellence of the 44th bombing. Col. Dent was in a jolly mood, unusual for this normally stem commander. His fly boys had performed very well.
This mission also marked a turn in the prosecution of the air war: the battle for air superiority. That day the 354th fighter group of the 9th AF, flying P-51's provided fighter cover for the 17s in their target area. What a welcome development. This was the first time that the heavies had been covered at all the way to and from the target. Not all but some of the units. It was also the start of the plan to destroy the German fighter force in the air, on the ground, and in the factories. The shift was from the primary role of protecting bombers to the killing of the German fighter arm and to rid the Luftwaffe of its pilots, Germany's most critical pesonnel. The plan was to force the Germans to fight, use the bombers as bait. It was a successful concept. It worked. By D-Day, we.had gained control of the air over Europe.
This January 11, 1944 mission was George Hulpiau's last combat mission. He had completed his tour. What a great way for this skilled bombardier to finish. He had become the squadron bombardier some time before. These two successive jobs of superb precision bombing came as the result of hard work, constant practice and his fine navigational skill. He was very good at pilotage navigation which made it easy for him to locate and identify targets. In thoughtful reflection several days after he finished, he said to me "Lehn, what a system. We train for months, endure fierce opposition to gain experience, finally become very good as a team that can successfully lead a combat unit, fly to, find and bomb a target with precision...and we are finished, and they begin the process all over again with new people."
Now for some humor in this segment.
Charles Benjamin was a buck sergeant in the 68th. He was assigned to our engineering section. He was a small man with a pleasant personality. He was regular Army, not a draftee. He was one of a group of five enlisted men who made up the cadre of the 44th when it was first organized at McDill Field, Florida. He always believed that that gave him special status, or should have. Over the time that he had been in service, he had mastered a skill that was despised by his fellow soldiers. He was an accomplished "goldbrick." Shortly after arriving at Shipdham he had picked me out as someone who may be valuable to him in the future.
Charles hated extra duty of any kind. He held the view that a buck sergeant should not be subject to any extra duty. This day I happened along just as he was leaving the squadron orderly room. He was very upset. He asked for my assistance. I asked him to tell me his problem. He then told me that he had checked the squadron bulletin board which was outside the orderly room (squadron office). He found that he was scheduled for KP (kitchen police) for the coming week. He was incensed. In his anger he stomped into the orderly room and demanded to see the adjutant, Captain Harry Durham. His request was granted. He put fortlh his best reasons for why he should be exempt from this duty, which he considered onerous. He could sense that his argument did not impress the captain. He then chose to fire what he thought was his best shot. He explained, "Captain, if I have to pull KP I would as soon do It as a pnvate, I don't belIeve sergeants should pull KP." To his astonishment, the captain accommodated him immediately. Captain Durham called to the administrative sergeant, "Gus, type up a voluntary reduction in rank for Benjamin." Charles was now a private and on KP.
The January 11, 1944 mission changed life for me personally. We had apparently impressed Col. Dent. On January 29 I was transferred to group headquarters. I was to be an operations briefing officer. That finished my duty as a first pilot. The balance of my combat tour would be flown as a command pilot. I joined a list of other command pilots on a chalk board that hung in the group operations room. The seventeen or so pilots on the board were listed by rank. Leading the list was Col. Dent followed by the air executive group operations officer, the four squadron commanders, their operations officers and those pilots who made up the group operations staff. I was the bottom name on this duty totem pole. This list gave the colonel the pool from which to select the command pilot or pilots for each combat mission
The lead of a mission was rotated by each level of organizational responsibility. The lead of a division of bombers was rotated among its wings. The lead of the wing was rotated among its three groups. The lead of the group was rotated among its four squadrons. Custom and experience played a part in each, rather most, command lead selections within the group. Almost always the colonel was the command pilot if his group was to lead the dvision or air force that day. Squadron commanders usually flew lead if their squadron was leading the group. Please note there were exceptions. An example: In May 1944 the 44th was to bomb the marshalling yards at Hamm, Germany. I was ordered to fly as command pilot for this mission although the mission would normally required a more senior commander. l flew with a 67th crew. I was told that I was being sent because, as close as this was to the planned invasion, that if I was to be taken prisoner, I knew nothing about the plans for that event, and I didn't, so I got the lead.
Duty as a briefing officer was interesting, exciting work. Duty days and nights were rotated among a small group of us. We were responsible for coordinating all the elements of planning, preparation, and presentation for the mission based upon the field order for that mission which originated at 8th Bomber Command. The field order was routed to us through Second Air Division and 14th Combat Wing. These field orders were received by teletype in the operation room of group headquarters. If a mission was scheduled for the next day, you would be told that you were on "alert status." Then late that afternoon the field order would contain all of the details. As briefing officer you, with staff assistance, were responsible for routing to all of the various sections the requirements of the mission. Normally you worked through the night in preparation. The task was completed with the briefing of the crews and their take off. What I have described above was the norm, as I recall, there were many exceptions.
Working as a briefing officer afforded me an excellent opportunity to better get to know all of the group headquarters leadership. You were also in daily contact with all of the squadron commanders and operations officers and the lead crews of the four squadrons.
During this assignment in the building that housed group headquarters and its personnel you had the opportunity to get to know all those folks. My roommate during this time was W. Harold (Bill) Brandon. Bill, a Lieutenant Colonel, was at that time the 44th group operations officer. He came to that responsibility from the 66th squadron. He was one of their original pilots. Bill was a regular Army officer, although not a West Point graduate. He was General (then Colonel) Johnson's pilot on the low level mission on Ploesti. Bill Brandon was a fine boss. He was very good to me and very helpful in my personal development.
This incident occurred in mid May 1945. Some time ago you emailed a photo that had been taken in Essen, Germany. It is of a group I had flown to an eastern Holland airfield. By someone's pre-arrangement an armed military escort met us at this Dutch airfield and trucked us through the Ruhr Valley towns of Duisberg, Dusseldorf, and Essen.
This group was made up mostly of high ranking ground officers of the 44th headquarters staff. It included Lt. Col Goodman, Major Ralph Riegalman, Gil Magaziner, Bob Nathanson and others.
I had been asked if I was willing to fly such a group on what was basically a sight seeing trip. I agreed and put together a crew. Sterling Dobbs was the co-pilot and Shelby Turner the navigator, the engineer was Joe Rehmel.
Arriving in Essen, our truck was parked in a central location. We were given some time to roam about on our own and to reassemble at a time certain for departure. This gave us an opportunity to observe up close the price of war. Devestation surrounded us. Rubble was everywhere. Every street and roadway was filled with refugees and their meager possessions. Everyone was headed westward.
After Sterling, Shelby and I had completed our walk about the portion of the town that we were in; we headed back to our truck. Sterling stated that he would like to find some German currency to take home as a souvenir. Up one of the streets adjacent to our truck we spotted a group of American soldiers on the steps of a house. We approached the GI's and engaged them in conversation. They were billeted in the building. Sterling asked if any of them could tell us where we may get some German currency. It really had no value to our troops, only German civilians were supposed to use it. Our troops had been issued "invasion currency" for their use. The soldier who had been the most vocal of the group responded "How much do you want?" Sterling told him just a few denominations. The sergeant excused himself. In a short time he returned to the doorstep with a bulging musette bag overflowing with German currency of all denominations. He invited Sterling to help himself. In astonishment, we inquired, "Sarg, where in the world did you get all this money?" With a goofy grin this young soldier who was wearing a silver star pin ribbon above his left breast shirt pocket said, "We bazooka-ed a bank vault."
In further conversation, we learned that this currency was relatively useless to them. However, being GI's they found that they could use it to create an open bar for the troops that were billeted in this neighborhood. Each morning the Sarg would visit the nearby tavern and buyout the day's allotted product to satisfy the thirst of his fellow troopers, on the bazooka-ed bank.
The last mission that I flew as command pilot while still assigned to group operations was on April 8, 1944 (Easter Saturday). The briefed target was Brunswick, Germany. The 44th was to lead the second division on that day. It was classified as a maximum effort mission. You were expected to put up as many planes as possible. Col. John Gibson had just arrived as a new c.o. as few days before.
The squadrons of the 44th really responded to this call for a max effort. 44 aircraft took off that day. I believe that 42 were classified as effective, two were aborts.
Shortly before this mission second air division had begun using pathfinder crews to lead all missions. The lead air craft used by the pathfinder crews were equipped with H2X radar gear manned by a trained radar navigator known as a "Mickey" navigator.
To strengthen the navigation team of these lead crews they used a trained navigation officer in the plane's nose turret as a pilotage navigator. These crews then had three navigators on board: the crew's regular D/R navigator, Mickey navigator and the pilotage navigator. They really should find the target.
Col. Gibson chose to fly in the lead aircraft as a command pilot and mission commander. I was chosen to fly as the command pilot in the deputy lead aircraft.
The pathfinder crews for the second division were at that time part of the 389th BG at Hethel. Col. Gibson and I, in his staff car, were driven to Hethel. We each had all our personal clothing and flying gear with us. We each joined our respective assigned lead crew and took off to have the 44th assemble on us over Shipdham.
I joined the crew of a fine young pilot by the name of England. I assumed my position on the flight deck immediately behind and between the two pilot seats. As I recall the weather that day was good. We were approaching our LP. (Initial Point) for the mission. Near Celle, Germany someone called out, "bandits at twelve o'clock". Almost at once there appeared German fighters dead ahead. One had lined up with us. He was firing and so were our gunners. We took hits. With that the pilot, to avoid a head on collision, lifted the B-24 up and to the left out of formation. Either our top turret gunner or others in the formation had disabled the Jerry fighter and he collided head on into the B-24 behind us in the formation. Col. Gibson witnessed this and thought that we were the stricken bomber.
The fighter hits that we took on our airplane disabled our entire electrical system. Another enemy shell had burst just ahead of the top turret on the top of the fuselage. It left a gaping hole. The engineer who was manning the top turret was knocked out of the turret but uninjured. Both of the navigators on the flight deck were badly injured and immobilized. The pilotage navigator in the nose became locked in his turret for the balance of the mission.
As Captain England pulled up and out of formation, the instrument panel went wild because of the loss of electrical power. All of the electrically powered instruments were rendered useless for the balance of the mission. I saw this and I also saw the co-pilot respond by reaching for the prop feathering control buttons. I grabbed his hand and screamed to him, "NO, They are still turning." And they were. All of the engines looked and sounded fine. The pilot told me that he was heading for the deck. We were hopelessly out of formation and would have been no value to the fulfillment of our mission. Now the task was to survive. We had no intercom. After asking the engineer to check on the rest of the crew and the condition of the plane, I turned my attention to the wounded navigators. Having given both a shot of morphine to ease their pain, I stretched each of them out on the sides of the flight deck. I went back to the pilot. He had taken the plane down to 5,000 feet and was headed northwest. With alarm I noted that we were headed for a very large city. The sunlight on the structures of the town made it a huge vista of brick red. I said to Captain English, "Let's get the hell out of here." No more having said that, the first flak burst greeted us. He immediately started a series of evasive action turns to the south and west which successfully eluded the gunfire. With the three navjgators unavailable to us, I now became the navigator. Using one of the D/R navigator's charts it was not difficult to get back to, the mission's planned route of withdrawal. All went well. We even picked up a lone P-47 escort over Holland. He rode our left wing until just before we got to the Dutch/North Sea coast. A few minutes after he left us, we were probably at 1,000 of altitude. We had been at this altitude since leaving the Bremen area. It was the city where we had picked up the flak greeting. All of a sudden we picked up some small arms fire from the ground. It was very accurate. Fortunately the only damage we incurred in this encounter was the loss of our hydraulic system. At least that is all we were aware of. Shortly after we were out of ground fire range our little friend, the P-4 7, rejoined us. He stayed with us until we were mid-way to the English coast.
Throughout the return flight the fuel had been closely monitored. As we crossed the English coast it became a matter of concern. Very little remained. I suggested to the pilot that the blacktop glinting in the sun ahead of us should be our destination. Hurriedly the engineer cranked down the wheels. We had lost both our electrical and hydraulic systems. He also cranked down some flaps and we were on a straight landing approach. To alert the tower we fired some red-red flares to indicate we had wounded on board. Captain English greased his bird to an excellent landing and rolled to a stop. We had no brakes. We were immediately surrounded by the emergency forces, the fire crash crews and the medics. Amazingly we landed at Hethel, Captain English's home base. He thought I was a hell of a navigator. He had no idea that when I suggested the runway ahead for landing that I did not know that it was Hethel. It was an available landing strip. However I never told him.
When we walked into the debriefing room, Col. Gibson exclaimed, "A Ghost, I saw that German fighter crash into you." Each time I have seen General Gibson since the end of the war he retells this story.
Sadly the 44th lost eleven crews on this mission. A terrible price to pay.
The mission made me a firm believer in the value of flak suits. The one I wore on this mission saved me from serious injury. I did pick up a minor wound and my second purple heart. This mission ended my short tour of duty as a briefing officer. On April 12, 1944, by orders of Col. Gibson, I became the 68th Squadron Commander.
I have given you a brief background of my combat flying experiences to demonstrate that I had been prepared flight wise, to assume this tremendous responsibility. At this point in time, I was the senior active pilot of the 68th. I was 24 years of age. Youthful leaders were not unusual in the military in wartime. George Jansen, my predecessor, was 23.
Now for some humor of this segment:
When my crew joined the 68th, the four officers of our crew, the four officers of Dave Alexander's crew and an unattached navigator were assigned a brand new Nissan hut as our barracks. It was one large room with a pot-belly stove in the center as our heat source. This hut also had a small private room just inside the front door. Entry to this room was off of the black out vestibule that served as our front door. The arrangement made it possible for the resident of this private room to enter and leave his quarters without those in the large room being aware. Heat for this small room was provided by a small stove with a chimney pipe thrn the top of the hut. This room was occupied by one of the squadron ground officers, Lt. Mike.
It was a Saturday night; there was a dance at the Officers' Club that night. We had all walked over to the club, some had a drink, and we all listened to the band for a time. Then we all drifted back to the hut. We were entertaining ourselves by talking, shooting the breeze. After some time we heard the door to the hut and to the private room open and close. Soon a feminine voice was heard. There was talking, giggling and laughter; all of this audible over our conversations. Finally one of our fly boys with high moral standards was offended by our neighbor's romantic endeavor. He said, "I'll fix that." With that he armed himselfwith a few Verry (sic) pistol flare cartridges and many .45 caliber shells. He went outside and shinnied (climbed) up the metal skin of the hut to our neighbor's chimney stack. He dropped into the chimney the Verry flares and the .45 ammo he had brought with him. Our righteous friend returned to the hut and said, "Now, let's see what happens." It wasn't long before we saw smoke curling into our large room from under the entry door. There was also lots of coughing, both male and female. Then the .45 shells began to fire. It sounded like someone with an amplified popcorn popper. Then the doors opening and banging. And then quiet.
Our party pooper spoiled a planned evening of romance for Lt. Mike. He never mentioned his spoiled evening to any of us, nor did we.