A Soldier's Story - S/Sgt. Charles G. McMackin
Charles Garvey McMackin was the son of Charles B. and Elizabeth V. (Garvey) McMackin and brother of Dorothy McMackin. He was born in the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain in the city of Boston, Massachusetts on February 23, 1917 and lived with his family on Tower $treet. The McMackin family moved to Broadway Street in Chelsea, Massachusetts sometime around 1919. Still later, around 1925, Charles moved with his family to Revere, Massachusetts, a seaside town just north of Boston.
Charles was a good student, tall in stature and athletic. His favorite sports were tennis and ice hockey. He was good enough at tennis to participate in competitions at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Charles attended The Immaculate Conception Elementary School and graduated from Revere High School. After High School, Charles attended Middlesex Medical ScJ1ool for 2 years. Prior to enlisting he worked for the Forbes Lithograph Printing Company during the latter part of the Great Depression.
Like most young men of his generation, at that crucial period of our nation's history, Charles enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. In late January 1942, Charles said his goodbyes to family and friends and left for Army basic training, probably at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
After basic training, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps. and qualified for both bombardier and gunnery on the Consolidated B-24 Heavy Bomber. According to the 44th Bomber Group historian, Will Lundy, Charles trained in one of the first B-24 Bombers issued to the 44th BG. Will goes on to say; "At the time he was a corporal. He must have had some training prior to this to eventually be selected for combat as a bombardier. An enlisted man bombardier was quite rare in the earlier part of the war."
Charles was present at Barksdale in Louisiana in May 1942 for training. According to Webb C. Todd in his historical work entitled 68th Bomb Squadron of the 44th Bon1b Group, "the 68th Squadron was one of the first Squadrons to be assigned Liberators exclusively and much of the development of this type of aircraft was due to the suggestions made by the men of this Squadron. Practice bombs were dropped by enlisted bombardiers, M/Sgt. Crison, S/Sgt. Guilford, Sgt. Nealon, Sgt. Bloomfield, Sgt. McMackin and Sgt. Edmonson."
Charles shipped out with the ground echelon aboard the Queen Mary on September 5th, 1942 from New York City and arrived in Scotland on September 11th. After arriving in the European Theatre of Operations in the U.K., the outfit spent some time in Cheddington where they were indoctrinated to English customs and way of life. Eventually the 44th BG found its way to their home base in the small farming town of Shipdham, East Ang1ia near the city of Norwich, England. Their tour in the ETO started with diversionary flights to the European continent. With a few of missions behind him, "Charlie was credited with the destruction of a FW190 German fighter on January 27, 1943" according to Will Lundy's researcp.
Then on February 15th, 1943, Charles found himself and his crew members assigned to Mission #12. Earlier that morning, a reconnaissance flight found the German raiding ship "Togo" in Dunkirk harbor on the French coast. That afternoon, seventeen planes from the 44th BG were quickly mobilized including Charles' plane "Old No. 800" named "The Captain and his Kids" piloted by Captain Thomas R. Cramer (A/C serial no. 41-23800). Flak over the target was accurate and Charles' 'plane was hit in the #4 engine. This engine lost power and was feathered. The flak hit also damaged the bomb release mechanism, the plane's hydraulic system and the crew's oxygen_ supply system. Upon the return flight home, back over the channel, the B-24 formation was set upon by a wave of German FW190 fighter aircraft. As described in Will Lundy's historical work entitled "44th Bomber Group Roll of Honor and Casualties", "Three [German] FW 190s, reported as painted gray with yellow noses, attacked in a line from astern, from near nine 0 'clock. One of these enemy aircraft was claimed as destroyed by right waist gunner, Sgt. [Charles] McMackin. During these attacks, some small holes, either from 20-mm shells or machine guns bullets, developed in the intake manifold of #2 engine. Too, about this same time, a 20-mm shell entered the cockpit, bursting just aft of the pilot, Captain T. R. Cramer, who was protected by the armor plate seat. Two more 20-mm shells entered the waist position, one of which slightly wounded Sgt. MacCammond, a belly gunner." Mr. Lundy goes on to report; "A subsequent attack started a fire in #1 engine but this was extinguished temporarily, and #2 engine was feathered. About mid channel, near 8,000 feet altitude, the third attack by three FW 190s, also gray with yellow noses, occurred from 9 o'clock level. The left waist gunner returned fire at about 1,000 yards but the enemy aircraft continued to close until near 300 yards, and then broke off."
Another B-24 aircraft from the 6ih Squadron, flown by 1 st Lieutenant Rufus Oliphant, was already crippled by flak over the target and was attacked by the same German fighters. Lt. Oliphant's plane caught fire and crashed into the channel, mid way between France and England, killing all aboard. Will Lundy goes on to report; "A few moments later #1 engine again caught fire and began to burn. At this time Lt. Flynn, the bombardier, went out on the catwalk in the bomb bay and manually jettisoned the bombs. Then Lt. Flynn, Lt. Poole and T/Sgt. Crump also bailed out by way of the open bomb bay."
Another B-24, piloted by Lt. John H. Diehl, flew escort for Charles's plane to the southeast English coast where Capt. Cramer performed a crash landing in shallow water about 10 to 15 feet from the shore line, approximately one mile south of Ramsgate on the Sandwich flats in Kent. The aircraft was a total loss but the remainder of the crew, though banged up and slightly injured, survived the crash landing. Capt. Cramer was forced to perform this dangerous maneuver because of the extensive damage to his aircraft. After Lt. Flynn manually released the bomb payload into the channel, Capt. Cramer gave his crew the option of staying with the damaged plane for a crash landing or bailing out. Three of the crew (Flynn, Poole and Crump) elected to bailout but were killed in the attempt.
Charles, along with the remainder of the crew were grounded for a period of time to recover from their physical bumps and bruises and the psychological effects of the forced crash landing and finally to mourn the loss of their crew members who bailed out of the damaged aircraft. Only two bodies of the three airmen who bailed out were recovered and buried. Charles attended the funeral of Lieutenants Poole and Flynn.
While on leave I'm sure that Charles headed to the train depot for the short trip into the city of Norwich. He probably found his way to the Samson and Hercules Inn and made use of the dance hall there, as so many of the young service men did. Charles enjoyed dancing in his home town at Revere Beach and no doubt he would have enjoyed dancing in Norwich.
On July 29, 1943, Charles sat down at an airfield in Libya in North Africa and wrote his family yet another letter of his experiences. This time though, he described a bombing mission to his family - the very same Mission #12 as reported above by Will Lundy. In Charles' own words he writes:
CHARLES GARVEY McMACKIN
World War Diary
Written in Letter Form to his Mom
July 29, 1943
Somewhere in the Middle East
Dear Mother and Dad,
For quite some time now, I have been thinking about writing this letter to you. This is not like my usual letter, but a little different.
This letter will deal with a ship and its crew. How that ship flew and died, also how the crew flew and also died. The name of the ship was, "The Captain and His Kids," one of the best ships that ever gave battle to our foe.
The crew is as follows:
Pilot - Major Thomas Crammer (then Captain). This was one of the best pilots that ever flew a ship. He was a West Pointer, but a very fine soldier and man. There was nothing that he could not do with a plane.
Copilot - William Hughes 1st Lt. Known to all as "Doc," from Texas, but a fitting flying mate for our Captain. He was one of the best copilots that there was, never had to be told what to do - always a step ahead.
Navigator - 1st Lt. Poole. Here again, we were never lacking to get the best. Poole came from N.C. with that slow drawl that we all loved so much. One thing about him was that you never could lose him in the air.
Bombardier - 1st Lt. K. Flynn. Good old Kelly. There were not many like him. He comes from Omaha. He and I were after the same job, but we were very good friends, always helping each other out.
Engineer - T/Sgt. John Crump: Tops as an engineer and top gunner. John was a good old boy, had many funny ways, but always willing to help anyone out. He was swell to me.
Radio Operator - T/Sgt. Harry Hogan. Hogan and I had some very good times together. He was one of the best fellows that I ever met. Tops as a radio man and very cool under fire. He could call out the attacking planes just like a radio announcer.
Asst. Radio - Tom Fraley, S/Sgt. Old Tom did fly very long, for this high altitude did not agree with him. But he was very good while he was in there.
Tunnel Gunner - S/Sgt. Lawson. Another Texas boy, but was not on the ball from the start. Hew as a good kid, but just not there. So after that last day, he was grounded and taken off combat.
Tail Gunner - S/Sgt. Dick Costillo. Known to us as "Little Dick," or "Coss." Just a kid, but always had a smile. I also had many a good times with him. There was no better tail gunner that ever flew in any ship.
Asst. Bombardier and Gunner. Your son...enough said!
I have now given you a short outline of the members of our crew. I shall now try to give you a little history of how we all flew together and how our ship went down and how we, that were left, lived to fly and fight on again. Some of us to go down again, and the rest to try to carry on for those that have fallen.
This crew, every member, was a little different from each other. That was in a way what makes it so good, for we were able to cancel each other's faults and make our ship one of the best that ever flew.
There was one member I almost forgot. That was S/Sgt. James MacCammond. He was a swell fellow, but did not look like a combat man. We all called him Miss MacCammond, for he had many funny ways. When he gets home, he hopes to be a minister. There was one good thing about him while he flew with us and that was that I always had someone to look after, for there was always something happening to him. I would worry so much about him when we were flying that I would forget my own worries.
As you know, I came over by boat and did not go on combat for a few months after I arrived over here. Our ship "Old 800," or the "Captain and His Kids," arrived over here sometime in October. It was good to see them. For this was the crew and ship that I had flown with back in the states, and hoped to be able to fly with again over here.
I went back on combat in December and it was good to be back and able to fly once more.
This ship and crew went on many missions during the next few months. We flew all over France, Holland, Belgium, and all the other occupied countries. We were also on the first mission that American heavy bombers bombed Germany on January 27, 1943.
Our ship was one of the leading ships in the group and one of the best. After our first raid on Germany, we went on quite a few more missions.
Then came the test of all good ships and crew. This came to us on February 15, 1943 over Dunkirk, France, about 3:45 in the afternoon.
We took off as usual, for this was just another mission to us. Little were we to know that before a few hours, it was going to live in our minds for the rest of time.
We went into the target at our usual height and it did not look too bad, for we had "Spits" above us for cover. On the bombing run, the flak was very heavy, knocked out our number four engine. But at the time I had little to worry about for we still had three more...that is for a few more seconds. For then flak knocked out our number one engine and before we knew it a "FW-190" had put a few 20 mm into our number two engine. They came out of nowhere, as usual.
With only one engine, we began to lose altitude very fast and started down. Eight FW190s came along just to make size of us but this was a crew that was going to go down very hard as they were to find out.
Old "Black Jack," and her crew, saw our plight and came down with us to help. This they did and also thanks to them, we were able to take a good toll of our foe. With their help at this time, it was a great factor in enabling us to make the English Coast.
On the way down things were happening too fast to remember very much, but these few things I do remember.
Old Gates, I heard his gun going and as the planes came in nearer, his guns seemed to go faster. I gave a look over my shoulder just in time to see him give a FW-190 a final burst and to see it break up into flames. It was not more than ten yards out. So you can see, that he was trying very hard for the kill. Old Gates also got another that day and almost in the same manner. He was sure there when the chips were down and it meant life or death.
MacCammond was on a well gun that day and the 20-mm were passing before him like flies. They put so many through our ship. He was very lucky for he was only hit a little in the leg. But he stood up under it very well.
Little Dick, in the tail, in the meantime was giving them H _ _ _, from where he was, and as usual doing a good job.
I do not know what was happening up front all this time, but we were still in the air, so they were doing a good job, as usual. Then the order came for us to bail out or ride the ship down with our captain.
It was a decision that meant life or death -- which would we do. I took one look over the side and said to myself, "It takes a brave man to jump."
So I told the rest of the boys that I was going to ride it down with the captain. All the rest in back said the same thing, but in our minds we all knew just what a risk that we were taking. Bur our belief in our captain and in our ship was still in us.
We hit the ground and we hit it very hard. It tore the whole bottom out of the ship. I was laying on the ground with two or three boys on top of me. For a few seconds we were all dazed, but then began to get out of the ship, for we knew that one of the engines was on fire and the ship may explode any moment.
When I got out, I ran to the front of the ship to see if I could help anyone. First I saw Doc, then the captain a few seconds later. Hogan's head appeared. I looked for the rest of the boys but was then told that they had bailed out. This was the first I knew that they had gone.
After looking around and at our ship, I thanked God that we were alive and unhurt, for it was through His grace and His grace alone, that we were all not dead. For there were not many that survived a crack-up like we just had and lived to tell.
That day we lost, we lost Crump, Poole, and Flynn. This was the first loss to our ship and we all felt very bad about it. They found Poole and Flynn, but as yet we still have no word about John Crump.
Thanks to these three that we were alive, for they had to drop the bombs by hand, for our systems were shot out. To this day, we do not know just why they bailed out, but maybe they thought that we would not make land and took their chances that way.
I was lucky that day for I went as a gunner. I had been riding as the bombardier for the last few trips, for Flynn had been grounded. That morning, he was ungrounded, so I went back once more to a waist gunner. It was very lucky that I had not bailed out also, for there were flak and 20 mm pieces in my chute. I would have been very surprised to have had it open and to see all the holes in it.
This, indeed, was a bad day for "Old 800," for she will fly no more. She had given all that she had and then just a little more. As I walked away from her, I looked over my shoulder at her and I could have cried. To see her laying there all broken up and almost pleading for us not to leave her there alone. I am very sure that she knew that she had done her job very well. To me there will never be another ship just like "Old 800."
It took about four days to get back to our station. Meantime, we stayed at an English field, and they treated us very well. But once again, we returned home, and all the boys were glad to see us as we were them.
We did not stay only one day, for they gave us a seven-day pass so that we could go out and forget things. While we were on that pass, we went too Poole's and Flynn's funeral.
When we came back off of pass, we were still grounded, for they did not want us to fly so soon. I was thankful for this. For as yet, I was not too eager to fly, but hoped that it would not be too long before I was eager once more. For to fly when one is not eager, is no good. For it is not only letting yourself down, but also the rest of the fellows.
Out of the 11 that flew that day, there are only three still flying. One (Lawson) was taken off combat and we think sent back home, but as yet, not sure. If he was sent home, good luck to him.
That leaves only "Doc Hughes," "Old Gates," and myself. All the others have gone down except, as I said, Lawson was taken off.
How each of those remaining guys that were left after "Old 800" went down is a story in itself. I shall some day be able to tell it, I hope.
This is just one example of how the boys over here fight for you back home. Each one over here is fighting for a purpose, but I think they can all come under one heading - that is for the loved ones that we have back there.
Notes from Historian for the 44th BG.
Charles G. McMackin was killed while flying the famous low-level raid on the Ploesti oil fields. At that time, he was a rare Sergeant bombardier - they normally were officers - flying for Capt. Rowland B. Houston, in the 68th Squadron of the 44th BG.
This crew had bombed their specific target (Blue) and were scrambling to get back into formation for protection. At that time, they were attacked by a German pilot of an ME 109, who managed to shoot them down, but not before the gunners also shot down the pilot, Steinmann. None of the nine crewmen survived and Charles was one of the three airmen's bodies not identified, unfortunately.
Notes from Claude W. Lundy
Charles was on the Queen Mary with me and all of the ground echelon enroute to England on Sept 5, 1942. At that time he was a Corporal. He must have had some training prior to this to eventually be selected for combat as a bombardier. Like I said earlier, an enlisted man bombardier was quite rare in the earlier part o the war and then was eliminated later on.
It will be difficult to obtain all of the missions that he flew at this time, however, I do know that he flew his 25th mission prior to Ploesti mission and was eligible for a return to the states. But his entire crew volunteered to fly this one knowing full well how difficult it would be as they also knew that if it was successful, it would do much to shorten the war. So they all participated and all were killed.
His remains were never identified as were two others from his crew, so his name is listed on the Wall or Plaque of the Missing at the American Cemetery at Florence, Italy. Two others from that crew were identified and are buried at the Ardennes Cemetery in Belgium.
Briefly, Charles was credited with the destruction of an FW 190 on January 27, 1943. He was wounded on 2/15/43. The combat echelon were assigned temporary duty in North Africa, Libya, departed England on 26 June 1943. The group flew about ten missions from that base, mostly aiding in the invasion of Sicily, one to Rome, Italy before Ploesti.