Excerpts from the publication |
Donald G. Potter.
This is the story of a Bomber Crew and (B-24) Liberator Bombers, during the last six months of World War II. It is dedicated to pilot Leslie Lee, who did the right things at the right times, and got us all home again. Lee died many years later, a respected educator in the state of Oregon. Of similar importance are the members of Lee's Crew, people who did what they were trained to do and did it well.
This narrative includes summaries of the philosophy and strategy used by the 8th Air Force in its drive to overwhelm Germany's control of the air. More than 50 years have passed and personal records are few; but while some memories have dimmed or been forgotten, many survive in crystal clarity.
The first section is written for B-24 Liberator fans and for anyone who asks, "What's a Liberator?"
The second section covers USAF training for bomber crews in the forties.
The third section covers the thirty-three missions of record flown by Lee's Crew, with some anecdotal material concerning other places we visited and personal activities of the crew during that period.
I was not able to get a complete listing of Stars and Stripes, the service daily newspaper, and some articles that I have used may not be exact, but most of them are close.
Many thanks to Don Wells, Dick Lynch,Lou Panico, Ken Hulbert, Wilma Lee, and Bud Snell for for personal information. I owe a great deal to the assistance of Will Lundy. When I needed help he always did his best, which was always better than I had hoped.
All errors, large and small, are mine. I plead advancing age, wavering memory, and other structural malfunctions as mitigating factors. DGP
This text focusses on an air crew: 67th Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. This writing was done more than fifty years after V.E. Day; thousands of other crews shared similar experiences, did their jobs without special recognition or fanfare, and made it home.
This is not a dramatic scenario but a simple report of events from start to finish.
As is true for almost any aircrew, the plane that got us there and got us back, the plane that sometimes took heavy damage and still flew, the plane that continued to run on the last fumes in the gas tank on the final landing approach was, for its time, the best damn airplane ever built ...
THE B-24 LIBERATOR
For those of you who have not had the privilege of flying in, or even meeting a Liberator, this may be helpful in giving you a feel for the aircraft. (Wing span: 135 feet), (Length: 83 feet), (Height: 32 feet).
The B-24 has four (1830-xx) engines, each delivering about 1200 horse power, capable of turning 2500 RPM at 6200 feet.
There were over 19,000 built, 10,000 by Consolidated and 9,000 by Ford, Douglas, and North American.
The Liberator carries a maximum bombload of over 8000 pounds; fully manned it carries a crew of ten men.
The Bombardier was located in the front, he also manned the nose guns.
The Navigator was also located in the nose compartment and would handle the nose guns when necessary.
The Flight Engineer normally worked the top turret guns, which was situated over the radio operator's desk.
The Belly Gunner operated the Ball Turret located under the the plane.
The Radio Operator was located on the right hand side just behind the cockpit, he also worked one side of the waist guns.
Two Waist Gunners protected the right and left sides of the craft.
The Pilot and Co-Pilot were just above and behind the nose space.
The Tail Gunner worked the gun turret at the tail.
A bomber crew's reason for existence is to do everything possible to destroy the assigned targets and return to home base with as little damage as possible. Each member has critical areas of responsibility; a slow or inept person may generate accidental emergencies which could result in life threatening situations. Dependence on each other's abilities to make correct decisions was paramount.
From America in the Air War [Time /Life Series,1982]
"The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was built in greater numbers than any other American plane of the war. From 1941 onward 18, 888 of these heavy bombers rolled off U.S. assembly lines in more than a dozen different models. Designed in 1939, the B-24 embodied all the technical advantages that had occurred since the debut of the Boeing B-17 in 1934. "It looked like a truck, it hauled big loads like a truck and it flew like a truck."
But, with an 8000 pound bombload and a 2100 mile range the ungainly, twin finned B-24 was an excellent truck. It had an eight foot high bomb bay that could hold as many as twelve 500 pound bombs stowed horizontally, the bomb bay doors were built into the sides of the fuselage and slide open from beneath like a roll top desk. A cat walk traversed the bomb bay to enable the crew to move about. The B-24's most distinctive feature was its 110 foot long, deceptively slender wing, which housed 18 tanks holding 2, 364* gallons of fuel and the main landing gear, which folded up between the engines. But its special high-lift airfoils lost their efficiency above 24,000 feet or when the planes were flown at the lower speeds often needed to keep formation. The result was an unstable, mushing progress--one flyer likened it to "a fat lady doing a ballet"-- that made the B-24 notoriously hard to handle. Most Liberator pilots and air crews took the challenge in stride, however. Said one,"We felt it was an accomplishment to fly it."
Despite the jokes about the Liberators' mulish behavior and the heroic action it took to get their attention, they were tough, strong, and never gave up. It is not suprising that most Liberator air crews both loved and hated their beasts.
The preparation of the B-24 and crew for a bombing mission required the assistance of specialist support crews. Different crews are responsible for oil supply, and gasoline. A crew chief was responsible for the mechanical systems of the aircraft, and a bomb supply crew moved the bombs from storage to the plane and loaded them.
In addition, there were six kinds of specialists that serviced the following;
Electrical Equipment.and Propellers.
In general, the ground crews working on the aircraft did not spend as many hours in overhaul and "tweaking-up" of the systems as the popular concept of a mechanic would suggest. In fact, when something went seriously wrong with engines, instruments or other mechanical parts, module or unit replacement was the order of the day. To repair, by break-down and re-build, would take too much time and keep many aircraft-out of mission-ready status.
With planes flying almost every day and many coming back battered and beaten each evening, the ground crews worked through each night to get them flight ready by morning.
The ground crews are the unsung heroes of the air war. They might bitch and moan over long hours, scant sleep, poor working conditions and the like, but they kept them in the air, sometimes under impossible conditions. "Keep your Crew Chief Happy" was S.O.P scrupulously observed by pilots and crews who wanted to fly.
In addition, there were early morning briefings. The briefing officer would cover basic mission information, altitudes, and directions. The flight path was seldom a straight line; a number of course changes might be made in order to avoid any heavily defended area before the IP was reached. IP stands for "Initial Point", the location on the map where the final bomb run begins.
From the IP. until the actual bomb release, the bombers were sitting ducks. Once the target was in view the bombardier took control of the plane, which was now slaved to the bomb sight. The bombardier flew the plane until the bomb-sight released the bombs, at which point the pilot took control of the aircraft, and "got the hell out of Dodge City" ... fast.
PROTECTIVE ARMAMENT: B-24 "Liberator"
NOSE TURRET: TWIN FIFTY CALIBER GUNS. (ABOUT 180 DEGREE SWEEP*)
TOP TURRET: TWIN FIFTY CALIBER, GUNS. (360 DEGREE SWEEP*)
WAIST GUNS: RIGHT AND LEFT SIDES. ONE FIFTY CALIBER GUN EACH SIDE. PROTECTIVE STOPS TO PREVENT GUNNERS FROM SHOOTING THEIR OWN WINGS OR TAIL.
TAIL GUNNER: TWIN FIFTY CALIBER GUNS. (ABOUT 170 DEGREE SWEEP*)
BALL TURRET: LOCATED UNDER THE BELLY OF THE PLANE, JUST FORWARD OF THE WAIST GUNNERS. (TWIN FIFTY CALIBER GUNS). WITH 360 DEGREE HORIZONTAL AND A 180 DEGREE SWEEP FROM NOSE TO TAIL
ADDITIONAL PROTECTION: RABBITS' FEET, LUCKY CHARMS, ST.CHRISTOPHER MEDALS, SPITBALLS, OFFENSIVE NOSE ART, ETC.