by Jim Kendall
15 November 2000
This oral history interview is an assignment for History 180 “Introduction to Historical Archaeology,” a Northern Virginia Community College course. The purpose of the assignment is to expose the student to oral history, and the critical role it plays in historical archaeology. Known as “participant observation,” oral interviews can be as valuable as written documentation.
Oral sources provide first-hand accounts of past life ways. After all, these people have lived in the recent past. Carl Becker refers to this knowledge as the kind of history people “carry around in their heads.” The unique and personal perspectives of oral sources are often used to corroborate existing accounts, both oral and written. Many times, however, eyewitness accounts have not been previously documented. It is these accounts, told through oral interviews, that are particularly valuable to the historical archaeologist.
Refer to the original handout in Appendix A for the assignment guidelines and requirements.
Richard “Dickie” Lloyd Kendall was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia on 11 August 1923. Initially assigned to the United States Army Air Corp., his military career stretched 23 years. Among his numerous military decorations are the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Throughout his military career, he held numerous postings both domestically and abroad. His overseas assignments included tours of duty in Turkey, Italy, Iceland, and Japan. Master Sergeant Kendall retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 December 1967 and he spent 22 years working for the U.S. Postal Service beginning in 1968.
I interviewed Mr. Kendall at his home in Fredericksburg, Virginia on 12 November 2000. We spent several hours talking about his WWII experiences as a crewman on a B-17 Flying Fortress. While some of the information can be considered as general military knowledge, much of it is truly unique. For the sake of accuracy, Mr. Kendall agreed to a tape recording of the interview. What follows is a transcription of the interview.
Note: Responses to questions are not verbatim. They have been condensed and reworded for brevity and placed into an outline format for clarity.
TRANSCRIPTION OF TAPED INTERVIEW
When did you enlist in the military?
How old were you?
Were you a high school graduate?
What was your rank?
Entered service as a private, draftee.
How did you end up in the Army Air Corp?
Took an aptitude test (mechanically based) and scored high. The brightest students were put in the Air Corp. Others went into the Army.
Can you tell me about your training?
Basic training occurred in Miami, FL. Gunnery training was in Kingman, AZ. Duration approximately four months.
– Training consisted of several parts. Using shotguns loaded with bird shot, fired skeet from the back of a jeep driven around a range. It tested reflexes and ability to lead a target. Scores were based on number of skeet hit and speed in which they were hit. Learned how to identify allied and enemy (including Japanese) aircraft by studying silhouettes from different viewpoints. Looked at how the aircraft were built (e.g., canopy design, whether wings were sharp-pointed, blocked, or chopped). Purpose was to develop an instinct to determine if an aircraft was friendly or not. Classroom instruction to learn a little bit about everything concerning aircraft. Graduated to in-flight, live shooting of target aircraft being towed by other aircraft. Bullets were coated with colored ink that would leave marks when the target was hit. Each gunner had a different color for score keeping. The target was moving faster than the gunner’s aircraft and, therefore, had to be led by the gunner. Target aircraft were built sturdy and could be reused up to a point. Training rounds were .30 cal as compared to .50 cal for combat. Awarded gunner’s wings.
Did many trainees wash out?
Not sure how many trainees washed out or at what rate but everyone in my group graduated.
Where did you go next and for how long?
Engine and aircraft mechanical school in Amarillo, TX. Duration six months. Met a famous movie star out there, Grant Conley, and got his autograph. Schoolmates were from New York, Utah, Michigan, California, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. They called me the “Virginia Rebel” and thought I could kick a football well. Graduated in August 1943.
Did you ever see your classmates again?
Do you know what ever happened to them?
Never learned of their fates.
Where did you go next and for how long?
Sent to Avon Park, FL where my B-17 crew was formed. Duration three months. From then on we were together and never left each other. Our pilot was Lt. J.P. Rogers from North Carolina. Training consisted of flying missions over Cuba, many of them at night so the navigator could improve his skills. Not sure where the navigator and bombardier were initially trained.
When did you go to Europe?
Sailed from NY harbor in March 1944, destination unknown. Passed the coast of Florida a few days later. Arrived in Glasgow, Scotland April 1944 and boarded a train for our permanent airbase in England.
Did you go straight into combat or continue training?
Began intensive training.
– Underwent gunnery, bombing, and simulator (including gunnery practice) training.
– Practiced shooting at an aircraft sitting on the ground from an aircraft sitting on the ground.
– Began group training with other aircraft. Practiced formation (wingtip to wingtip) training.
For how long?
Then started flying missions. So many crews were being shot down that the need to fill in was immediate.
– Would get up at 0300 or 0400 for the pre-flight briefing. After the briefing they would open a curtain to reveal a large map and go into detail about where we were going, when we were going, how long it was going to take, the whole nine yards. We went straight from the briefing room to a truck that took us straight to our airplane. We didn’t see anybody, meet anybody, or say anything. We took off at daybreak. There was no contact with any outside force.Sometimes we would wait in the plane two or three hours before takeoff. Sometimes we didn’t take off at all because the weather moved in. The mission would be scrubbed and we would go back to our barracks.
Did the crew ever exhibit anxiety about missions?
My crew didn’t outwardly appear nervous or apprehensive.
Were the crew members superstitious? Did they practice pre-mission rituals or carry good luck charms?
Didn’t notice any superstitions. We may have been too young to think about it.
Did you complete all of your missions with the same crew?
!No, one member returned home after seven or eight missions. He was permanently replaced with a crewman that came from a pool of aviators. The pool existed to supply, on a temporary or permanent basis, replacements to bomber crews. Some airmen from this pool would go from plane to plane on an as-needed basis.
How many missions did you fly?
Thirty-one missions. The standard was 25 missions before going over. Was changed to 30 missions upon arrival.
By our 25th or 26th mission the total was upped to 31. I believe the numbers increased because we were getting more fighter protection for longer distances. Wing tanks had been invented to increase fighter-flying distance. Fighters would drop their tanks when empty and have enough fuel in their regular tanks to return to base. Because the distance of fighter escorts was greater, the bombers could go deeper – to Berlin, and deeper – beyond Berlin, and deeper – all the way to Russia. We were part of the 100th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. We could see the other groups in the distance on bombing runs.
On a bombing run like Berlin, Bremen, and Schweinfurt (a tough target), we would see the other groups that had their individual targets but we all flew in together as one large group. The more aircraft, the more protection. Strength in numbers. We bombed as a group, never alone. Each group had 25-30 aircraft. There was always one lead navigator. We didn’t have to navigate. We followed him. His job was to lead us to the target. Each aircraft had its own navigator but his job was to get you home if you fell out of the group. Without him you wouldn’t know where you were.
On a target run, when the lead navigator dropped his bombs, we dropped our bombs. Individual navigators would often track the lead navigator to stagger the bombing. Timing was critical. We wouldn’t be hitting one target but several targets. Railroad stations, oil wells, airfields, and gun emplacements could all be targets in the same mission. Each navigator had his own target to zero in on.
We received reports back from the ball turret gunner on the success of our bombing runs. After the initial bombing run, don’t know what happened to the lead navigator. He probably headed back to England. Your own navigator would take you back because you wouldn’t go in the same direction after the bombing run. Groups would head off together. Our bombing runs included targets in France, Germany, Poland, and the Ploiesti Oil Fields (numerous times) in Romania.
Munich was a tougher target than Berlin because the flak was so heavy. We flew several missions over Yugoslavia but never bombed it. We dropped lots of supplies such as food and ammunition. It was nothing but a treetop approach; we went low, awfully low. We dropped what we had and got out of there.
Did you complete any missions in a single day?
Yes. Often a mission could be completed, including return, in a single day. On occasion we would fly two missions in a single day. These were called milk runs – bombing runs against lightly defended targets in France, just across the English Channel. However, some targets were so far away that we couldn’t return in a single day because fuel consumption was so great.
With greater fighter escort did you see more successful missions?
Fortresses had a lot of success bombing airfields and destroying planes on the ground. They were designed for strategic bombing. Fighter escort flew off our wings and out of distance of our guns. But even with fighter escort, the success of missions didn’t increase in terms of bombers coming back. They could keep the German fighters off our backs. However, the flak continued to knock out bombers. The German fighters wouldn’t come near our fighters unless they had to. They would wait off in the distance until a plane straggled out of the formation for some ungodly reason and they would pounce on them and that would be it. The few planes that made it through the flak often had engine trouble, shot wings, concussion damage, and bullet holes, and would fall out of formation. The German fighters would be waiting and they were GONE. It was best to just open the doors and bail out.
Tell me about Russia?
When going deep, we would use a pre-chosen country for refueling. For example, missions beyond Berlin required continuing on to Russia. The Russians provided fighter support but they didn’t have much of an air force. Their fighters would come out to meet us and escort us in. We would lay over in Russia, sometimes staying up to a week for the simple reason that the Germans knew we were there but they didn’t know when we were going to leave.
Were the Russians Friendly?
Yes. They liked posing for photos.
Did they have cameras?
No. We took the pictures.
What did the Russians look like?
They were short and had Asian features.
Yes, probably closer to Mongoloid. We observed 100-200 Russian women returning from the front in full battle gear. They appeared stocky in build.
Do you remember what part of Russia you were in?
No. Perhaps near the Black Sea. After refueling in Russia, we would fly over the mountains of Romania or Bulgaria to Italy. We wanted to keep the Germans guessing as to where we were. Our strategy was constantly changing. We sometimes flew at 30,000 ft. Other times at 20,000 ft., or treetop level. In Italy there was an American airbase used for refueling. Depending on the weather and the overall situation, we would lay over again for four to six days and then fly back to England.
Did you have fighter support back to England?
There was no fighter escort on the return trip. We were definitely on our own. The Italian-based aircraft had their own targets in Bulgaria and Sicily and were fighting their own war so they couldn’t provide fighter escort to English-based units. We used their facilities and nothing else. They didn’t have any concrete runways. They had steel mats.
The Germans knew where we were and they knew we were going to have to leave. They knew we were away from our home base and that we would have to return to it. Somewhere along the line they would be waiting for us and would pick us up. We weren’t flying into flak so the Germans had an open field day with us. The only protection we had was each other. Each plane would fly right next to his buddy and we would get as tight as possible. We almost built a solid wall around us. When a fighter came in there might be six to eight fortresses firing back. Every German attack would come out of the sun so we couldn’t see them. I was a top turret gunner. I wasn’t much of a shot and didn’t down any enemy aircraft myself. In general, we didn’t have much success in downing fighters.
What was the name of your aircraft?
Our first fortress was named “Roger’s Raiders.”
Can you tell me about being shot down?
On our 10th mission we were shot down after raiding Berlin and had to ditch in the North Sea. Two engines were knocked out by enemy fire and a third later went out. We flew on only one engine, barely staying airborne, until we reached the coastline. The crew was ordered to assume crash positions in the tail of the aircraft. Our tail gunner was injured during the landing but we all managed to get into a small rubber raft. A plane from the British Air/Sea Rescue Service attempted to drop a larger raft to us but it got dark and they had to abort. We waited all night thinking we might drift to the enemy shore.
The next morning a Danish fishing boat spotted us and we were taken aboard. Her hull was of a double-walled design with enough space for a person to stand. Via a hidden doorway, we entered this area and stood there for about a day.
The Danish radioed the British and the next day a Coastal Command lifeboat carrier dropped a motor-powered boat to us. I had some experience with marine craft and was able to get the motors running. We set course for home taking turns steering the boat but ran into rough seas and had to bail all night. Finally we were picked up by a British launch. Three Thunderbolts appeared and strafed our lifeboat to sink it, then circled overhead until we reached Scotland.
Our tail gunner was sent home as a result of his injuries. Stars and Stripes newspaper ran an article about the rescue but, for security reasons, did not mention the Danish fishing boat.
We named our next flying fort “Fools Rush In.” We completed our remaining missions in the aircraft.
Did you support the D-Day Landing?
Yes. On that day we had a milk run. As far as the eye could see the Channel was filled with boats, thousands of them. An unbelievable site.
Did you fraternize with the locals?
We didn’t see much of the English people. Most of the men were gone. They were in North Africa. We didn’t get a chance to meet the English pilots that were defending England. I did get a chance to go inside some of the English aircraft, including bombers, while they were on the field.
Did you go on leave?
There was no such thing as leave although on occasion we got a pass to London. It was like any other city except that it was in rubble. Buzz bombs were always striking. You could go for a visit and two or three weeks later visit the same block and it would be in rubble. In the evening me and my buddy Brooks would stand back in a corner and wait for the buzz bombs to come by. They always came, especially at the edge of dark. You could hear them and all at once the engine would cut off and they would drop out of the sky. They made a thump, thump, thump, sound. Shelters were everywhere if you were lucky enough to get in. I give the British credit for one thing, it was women and children first and then men if space was available. Each bomb shelter had a guard at the door to enforce the rule.
Did you have to worry about spies while on leave?
The only nationalities I saw on the streets were British and American. Terrorism was virtually non-existent.
Espionage wasn’t really a problem in London but you still kept you mouth shut everywhere you went. For example, if you mentioned that your navigator was in the hospital with sinus trouble and the Germans picked up on it they might pinpoint when you were going to fly or how high you were going to fly. They had amazing ways of getting information.
Were your letters home censored?
Yes, but I don’t know why. Didn’t have anything blocked out of my letters. Most letters went through the way intended.
Were the letters you received from home censored?
How did you mail them? Did you need stamps?
They were given to the pilot and he made sure they were mailed. We received very few letters and sent very few.
What happened after you rotated back to the States?
Two months after returning I received orders to report for B-29 training. I was going to be sent to the Pacific Theater. The atomic bombing of Japan changed that.