COMMENTS & NOTES
1ST LT DONALD K. OAKES
ORGINAL 100TH PILOT
CREW #19 A/C #42-30080 "HIGH LIFE"
1ST LT DONALD K. OAKES P: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
F/O JOSEPH C. HARPER CP: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
2ND LT HIRAM E. HARRIS, JR. NAV: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
2ND LT HOWARD G. BALL BOM: POW 3 MAR 44 BERLIN
T/SGT GEORGE W. ELDER TTE: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
S/SGT NOLAN D. STEVENS WG: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
T/SGT JAMES P. SCOTT ROG: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
S/SGT LESLIE D. NADEAU BTG: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
S/SGT LEONARD P. GOYER WG: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
CPL VINCENT E. McGRATH TG: INT 17 AUG 43 REGENSBURG
HOWARD BALL'S PLACE ON CREW #19 WAS TAKEN BY 2ND LT LLOYD A. HAMMARLUND WHO WAS INTERNED WITH THE OTHERS.
THIS IS BELIEVED TO BE THE FIRST AMERICAN BOMBER TO LAND IN SWITZERLAND. IT WAS FOLLOWED BY OTHERS BEFORE THE WAR'S END.
LT OAKES STATEMENT FOLLOWS; "SOME TIME BEFORE REACHING THE TARGET A 20-MM SHELL EXPLODED IN THE NO #3 NACELLE,
CUTTING THE THROTTLE CABLE AND STARTING A HEAVY OIL LEAK. I THEN FEATHERED THE PROP. THE BTG ADVISED ME THERE
WAS A HEAVY OIL LEAK IN THE NO #2 ENGINE. THE PLANE COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH THE FORMATION AND I LANDED AT THE
NEAREST FIELD, WHEELS UP, ON THE BELLY. WE DID NOT HAVE TIME TO BURN THE PLANE AS IT WAS IMMEDIATELY
SURROUNDED BY SOLDIERS. MYSELF AND THE REST OF THE CREW WERE INTERNED."
On mission to Le Bourget AF at Paris on 10 July 1943, Harris and Howard Ball were both wounded. Ball's wounds required a lenghty stay in
hospital and was replaced on the crew by Lloyd Hammarlund. Upon release from the hospital, Ball flew with another crew and became a POW.
Special Orders, March 2, 1944 (http://www.americanswiss.org/andrews/Special%20Orders%20Bern.htm)
The Special Orders cut in Switzerland on 2 March 1944 designating seven U.S. Army officers to be exchanged against seven German aviators also interned in Switzerland.
Lst Lt. William Cantwell was a B-17 pilot of the 99th Bomb Group based in Tunisia. His plane was shot down on 1 October 1943 while on a mission to Regensburg, Germany. Only five of his plane’s ten-man crew parachuted out and landed safely in the Alps where they were picked up by Swiss soldiers.
Lst Lt. Donald Oakes piloted a B-17 of the 100th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. He landed at Dubendorf near Zurich on 17 August 1943 while on a mission to Regensburq, Germany. His was the first B-17 -- though not the first plane -- to land in Switzerland.
Lst Lt. Martin Andrews piloted a B-17 of the 306th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, who made a forced landing at Magadino, Switzerland while on a mission to Stuttgart on September 6, 1943.
lst Lt. Alva Geron, piloting a B-24flying out of Tunisia, was on a mission to Wiener Neustadt, Austria when he was forced to make a landing in a farmer's field at Thurnau, Switzerland on 13 August 1943. His was the first American plane to land in Switzerland.
Lst Lt. Sam Turner, piloting a B-17 of the 100th Bomb Group of the 8th AF, was on the same mission to Stuttgart as Andrews. He was forced to ditch in the Lake of Constance where his dead ball turret gunner went down with the plane.
2nd Lt. Robert Titus was a navigator of the 95th Bomb Group of the 8th AF. When his plane went down over France on the 6 September 1943 mission to Stuttgart, he parachuted safely down, evaded capture and crossed the French-Swiss border. Because he had walked into Switzerland, he was considered an "Evadee," not an "Internee," and could move freely around Switzerland.
2nd Lt. Stephen Rapport piloted a B-17 of the 390th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. He was on the same mission to Regensburg as Lt. Oakes, when battle damage forced him to make a crash landing in a farmer's field near Utzendorf, Switzerland.
A FORTRESS LOVED
THE LAST BOMBING MISSION
BY T/SGT JAMES P. SCOTT JR.
RADIO, OPERATOR, GUNNER
LT DONALD OAKES CREW
I supposed that most veterans have a war story hidden somewhere or could come up with one if it suited the occasion. Sometimes, all it takes to get one started is a pair of willing ears. I hope that your ears are willing to hear me out. I will set free a story that has been locked in memory for almost forty years, yet seems as fresh as the swirling mists of the English country side where it flourished. Never again will I see “High Life’s” beautiful outline etched against the early morning sky. Never again will she tell me that we are ready to go out once more. Never again will we wing away and come back for another journey tomorrow. For her, there will never be another tomorrow, she is now forever silent except when the pain of her battle scars return on bleak lonely nights. Then, her cries can only be heard by other runway ghosts, lumbering past in the wind. She was a magnificent Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress that the crew christened “High Life”. We had “High Life” and the pretty Miller logo with a girl sitting in a half-moon, painted on her nose. Everyone recognized this logo and it gave our Fortress personality. “High Life” flew with the 100th Bomb Group while stationed at Thrope Abbotts, England during World War II. Let me tell you about her last flight.
Early on Tuesday morning, 17 August 1943, the air crews finished breakfast and the Combat Crew Mess and groped their way through the eerie blackout to the briefing hut. Inside dozens of voices were heard chatting in rapid short bursts while trying to get a grip on the anxiety and dread that always haunted mission briefings. The group Commanding Officer, Colonel Neil B.”Chick” Harding and his briefing staff arrived about four o’clock. The crews sat in stunned silence when the curtain covering the huge wall map of Europe was pulled back. A red string stretched from England to Regensburg, Germany and then South over the Alps to Italy and across the Mediterranean to North Africa! The air crews saw something new and unnerving. “My gosh, we’ll never make it. Who dreamed this one up? I feel sick! This trip ought to count as two.” These remarks came from voices muffled by the strain of uncertainly. There was downcast disbelief and hushed attention as we listened to the briefing officers. Our target was the Messerschmitt 109 fighter factory at Regensburg, Germany. After bombing the target, the crews would fly to airdromes in North Africa. Fuel capacity was not sufficient to risk returning directly to England under combat conditions. At least that was what we were told.
The briefing staff stated that if the Me109 fighter factory could be pulverized it would be a major blow to the German Luftwaffe and one of the most important bombing missions of the war. There were about one hundred sixty Fortresses scheduled to bomb the Messerschmitt factory. The 100th Bomb Group would furnish twenty-one bombers, with Blakely and Kidd, piloting the lead Fortress, number 42-3393, named “Just-A-Snappin.” The briefing continued with S-2 (Intelligence) pointing out probable fighter and flak belts along the designated flight corridor for this mission. The crews knew from experience of other bombing missions that S-2, like some weathermen, did not always come up with an accurate forecast. Today’s prediction would turn out to be no exception. The briefing finally came to a close with the usual synchronizing of watches. The crews now headed for the trucks and jeeps that would take them to their assigned Fortresses. There was little said on the way to hardstand number five where “High Life” was parked. The aircrew losses were running about ten percent and we pondered the odds of making it back from a raid so deep in the Third Reich without fighter escort. We knew that our fighters, affectionately known as “Little Friends” would have to turn back for England just short of the German boarder. We also knew that before the day was over, we would most likely be locked in mortal combat with a blood-thirsty enemy defending the Fatherland. The mission to the Me-109 factory at Regensburg, Germany was the thirteenth mission for the crew of “High Life” except for our bombardier, Lt Lloyd A. Hammarlund. He replaced our original bombardier Lt Howard G. Ball who had been injured on the 10 July 1943 mission to Le Bourget Air Field (Paris) France.
On Aug 17. 1943 Lt Thomas E. Murphy, pilot of “Piccadilly Lily”, was the flight leader and “High Life” was flying on his left wing. Lt Col. Beirne Lay Jr., author of the book and movie “Twelve O’Clock High”, was the co-pilot and 8th AF observer in “Piccadilly Lily”. Our Flight was tail-end of the formation in the high squadron. This position was called “Tail-End Charlie” but better known as the “Coffin Corner” We flew on the 100th Bomb Group’s first bombing mission which was to Bremen, Germany on 25 June 1943. Since that date, we had averaged one bombing mission every four days. This had not been and easy task for the air crews and the toll was heavy. To illustrate, not one complete crew (ten men) of the original thirty-six air crews that made up the 100th Bomb Group, finished the required twenty-five missions. In some of the original crews, as many as nine members completed their tours but never all ten members. We were known through out the Eighth Air Force as “The Bloody Hundredth”.
After a long delay due to local weather conditions, “High Life” lined up for an instrument take-off with her belly full of 250 pound incendiary bombs. “High Life” responded like an eager beaver to every demand made by our expert pilots, Lt Donald Oakes and Lt Joe Harper, as she raced down the runway and thundered into the thick cloud draped skies. The mission was on! After what seemed like a lifetime of flying through one cloud layer after another, we assembled in our assigned tail-end position behind a massive air armada that stretched for miles across England! This giant air armada was now formed up according to the mission plan. It left the coast of England and headed across the channel. ‘High Life’s” Crew, fun loving on the ground and in the English pubs was a serious and deadly team in the air. Were well trained, experienced, confident, and determined to reach the target, bomb it and return back to our home base. We intended to make a graveyard in the air for any German fighter pilot that tried to stop us. We manned our assigned battle stations, doubled checked our equipment to include test firing our machine guns and kept a sharp eye out for enemy activity as we crossed the English Channel and headed over occupied Europe. I glanced at my watch and it was ten o’clock. It had now been eight hours since we had been rousted out of bed at two in the morning.
The enemy fighters in countless numbers, swarmed on us about the time that we crossed into Germany south of Aachen. The savage fighter attacks came from all around us. The fighters came at us like jackals taking after the next meal and wanting to satisfy their hunger quickly. It is difficult to describe how terrifying it was to watch the German fighters, in pairs and in foursomes, come swooping in toward our formation with their wings blinking like Christmas lights as the dreadful 20mm cannons were fired. Internally, I felt like an old man whose nerves had become petrified. This feeling was short-lived as a fight came whizzing through our flight. As this German pilot rolled by “High Life”, I could feel his arrogant eyeballs dancing across my frozen face. It was an unforgettable experience. Heroes in air battles are made in one split second or made legendary by some deed of self-sacrifice, or by a latent ability to rise to an extraordinary unforeseen event. Then again, there are those of us in battle who did our work without the fleeting chance or glory ever coming our way. And so it was with the crew of “High Life.” There would never be headlines or curtain calls for us and we wanted none. To give you a better picture of this savage air battle, let’s take a look at some excerpts from Lt Col. Beirne Lay’s report to the Commanding Officer, 100th Bomb Group, dated August 25, 1943: “It was 1042 hours over Europe that I looked out of my co-pilots window after a short lull and saw two whole squadrons, 12 Me-109’s and 11 FW 190’s climbing parallel to us. The first squadron had reached our level and was pulling ahead to turn into us and the second squadron was not far behind. Over the inter-phone came reports of an equal number of enemy aircraft deploying on the other side. Swinging their yellow noses around in a wide u-turn, the 12 ship squadron of Me-109 came in from 12-2 o’clock in pairs and in fours and the main event was on. A shining object sailed past over our right wing. I recognized it as a main exit door. Seconds later, a dark object came hurtling through our formation, barely mission several props. It was a man, clasping his knees to his head, revolving in a triple summersault. I didn’t see his chute open. Our airplane was endangered by various debris. Emergency hatched, exit doors, prematurely opened parachutes, bodies, and assorted fragments of B-17’s and Hun fighters breezed past us in the slipstream. On we flew through the strewn wake of a desperate air battle where disintegrating aircraft were commonplace, Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and still no letup in the attacks. The fighters queued up like a breadline and let us have it. Each second of time had a canon shell in it. After we had been under constant attack for a solid hour, it appeared that the 100th Bomb Group was faced with annihilation. Seven of our group had been shot down, the sky was still mottled with rising fighters and it was only 1120 hours, with the target-time was still 35 minutes away.”
We had been under constant brutal fighter attacks for the past hour and a half and both sides were bleeding badly. During the onslaught, “High Life” had suffered severe damage to the number two engine and then received a direct hit to the number three engine from a Me-109 fighter. With two engines dead and one of them windmilling, our effective power was reduced far below normal. The pilots struggled vainly to keep up with the formation; but in spite of all their skill, “High Life” began to drop behind. Don Oakes instructed the bombardier to drop the bomb load in an effort to stay with the formation. The bombs were jettisoned over a forest thought to be somewhere in the vicinity of Heilbronn, Germany. The gap continued to increase even with the bomb load gone. Our Fortress could not catch up with the formation and Oakes decided to pull away. Under such circumstances it was the pilots’ duty and privilege to use his own best judgment as to what action would be the safest and best for the crew. Oakes ordered the crew to prepare to bail out. However, before Oakes had to make the final decision to sound the bailout alarm, our top-notch navigator, Hiram Harris, who knew our position at all times, advised our pilot that Switzerland was only about thirty or forty minutes away. Oakes decide that we should make a run for Switzerland and swung “High Life” on a course Harris had plotted. We prayed “High Life” could maintain sufficient altitude for us to make Switzerland rather than be forced to bailout over enemy territory. Fortunately, the German Fighters did not come in for the kill….probably due to lack of fuel or just plain good luck bestowed upon us from above. One lone German fighter followed us for a time, firing cannon rounds at us, hoping for a hit while staying our of range of our fifty-caliber machine guns. Bursts of bullets spewed from George Elder’s top turret toward this lone fighter. This put him on notice that we were still full of fight. Apparently he was convinced and disappeared without engaging us further. It was another stroke of good luck and a timely one at that. We were having onboard problems. The top turret had started to malfunction; Leonard Gayer’s tail guns were out of ammunition; and the waist guns, manned by Noland Stevens and Vincent McGrath had only a limited supply. Leslie Nadeau, who had been in the ball turret, was now able to leave the cramped position. Nadeau had watched the two engines die and had kept the pilots informed of the situation while engaging fighters boiling up from below. I was the radio operator-gunner crew member. About this time things had settled down a bit and I was able to leave my machine gun and sit down at the radio desk. Repeated efforts to contact England failed. I reported the situation to the pilot and got permission to send out an emergency message. The following message was decided on and pecked out on the radio keys: “SOS SOS SOS HIGH LIFE 180”. This message was repeated several times as the subzero cold cramped Morse code sending ability. There was no acknowledgment of our SOS. The name of our Fortress was well known back at home base since we were one of the original air crews in the 100th Bomb Group. “High Life” was the only airplane in World War II that had been named after a very popular American product and her Miller logo was easily recognized and remembered. I knew that if the SOS message did get picked up in England, it would tell them that “High Life” was out of formation and flying on a course of 180 degrees. I never found out if this last message was received by anyone in England.
Our crippled Fortress was now down to about ten thousand feet as we came in sight of Lake Constance (Bodensee) off in the distance. We continued to lose altitude as we neared the lake. Suddenly a barrage of flak appeared all around us. The bursting flak shells, plus the dreadful sound of shrapnel hitting “High Life” played a horrible tune on our eardrums. We learned later that Friedrechshafen, Germany, which we were passing over, was the location of a training station for German anti-aircraft gunners. Each battery used different colored smoke to aid in scoring. The sky was filled with bursting shells displaying every color of the rainbow, but we failed to see any beauty in this deadly display of fireworks. The pilots took evasive action to spoil the gunners’ aim which caused “High Life” to act like a leaf being tossed by the wind. The shelling must have e come from a beginner’s class since our Fortress survived the onslaught and the crew was not hurt. We made it safely across the lake without further incident. The pilots looked for a flat piece of land and spotted an open field except for a lone farmer lading hay. Oakes told us to prepare for a landing. The landing gear would not go down so we cranked the wheels down manually, only to discover that a tire had been ruined by flak. Hastily, we cranked the wheels up and assumed our crash positions. I prayed and silently cursed the Germans as our Fortress was making the approach for a crash landing. When the pilots brought “High Life” in for a wheels-up belly landing, there was a terrifying shock from the initial impact, together with the awful sound of tearing, ripping and crushing metal. The fuselage filed with dust, dirt and debris before shuddering to a stop. We scrambled out of the various exits and welcomed the feel of good old Mother Earth under our feet. We were shaken up but not hurt, and we considered ourselves lucky just to be alive. Suddenly, Swiss soldiers, in battle dress and armed with rifles, appeared from out of nowhere and surrounded us. The Swiss officer in charge told us in flawless English: “For you, the war is over. You are in Switzerland.”
“High Life” was the first B-17 Flying Fortress to land in Switzerland. My watch indicated that is was almost twelve o’clock. I caught a final glimpse of “High Life” as the Swiss soldiers took us away. She still retained her beauty and personality, lying there mortally wounded in her shallow grave that she scooped out during the crash landing. “High Life’s” image became blurred by tear droplets that had squeezed themselves free from my eyelids. She was no longer in focus but “High Life” will forever be locked in my memory.
James P. Scott Jr.
An Internee in Switzerland
James P. Scott Jr.
"You lucky son-of-a-gun!" I heard this expression countless times during WWII after August 17, 1943. That was the day High Life's crew crash-landed in Duebendorf, Switzerland, and became internees.
After we landed and crawled out of our plane, soldiers took us to some Swiss Air Force cadet barracks. There we were placed in separate rooms, searched and interrogated. Fortunately I had eaten the radio codes, which were printed on rice paper, to make them easy for digestion. During the next few days we heard a lot about The Hague and Geneva Conventions and the rules of warfare and how we fitted into those rules. I hardly listened. It was all over my head, and I was more concerned about my Mother and how she would react to the "Missing in Action" letter the War Department would send.
After the initial processing at Duebendorf, we left on August 20 and went to our first billets in the small village of Macolin. We stayed in a small hotel, the "Bellevue." On the next day we were joined by a crew from the 390th and another from the 93rd. Now there were thirty of us.
We felt like monkeys in zoo as hundreds of local citizens paraded by on weekends to see "those American flyers." Everyone seemed to want to take our pictures, talk to us, or just look. It was a strange experience. Fortunately our Swiss guards were good to us.
It was not long before representatives from the U.S. Military Attache's office in Bern arrived. We were given pep talks and advised of rules and regulations about what we were expected to do. Sandwiched in with all of this, we were given absolute orders not to attempt to escape. I was never tempted to try this anyway: Switzerland was completely surrounded by the enemy and enemy occupied territory.
As the intensity of the U.S. daylight bombing of German targets increased, more and more crippled aircraft sought sanctuary in Switzerland. Soon we outgrew the space in Macolin and had to move. On November 1, 1943 under the watchful eyes of our ever present Swiss Army guards, we entrained for a new home, in Adelboden. This small village, deep in the heart of the Bernese Mountians, was surrounded by lofty Alpine peaks covered with snow all year around.
Adleboden was ideal for the purpose. Only one small road led into the village, which made keeping us corralled much easier for the Swiss Army. Soon there were several hundred of us and we were no longer a novelty.We had a great deal of freedom within the village and it outskirts. We were encouraged by the American Attache to buy skiing equipment and participate in local sports. We had various educational opportunities including language instruction.
For food we had Swiss Army rations. Although it took some doing to get accustomed to black bread, a smelly cheese, and acorn coffee for breakfast, we knew our life was superior to what we might have had in a German prison. Even so, the snow covered mountains soon seemed to be prisons walls. The sun appeared late and disappeared early, providing short days and long nights and promise of nothing new for tomorrow.
On September 6, 1943, a crippled plane called "Raunchy" and piloted by the 100th's Sam Turner ditched in Lake Constance about a mile from the Swiss border. In a battle with German soldiers, Joseph Moloney was killed.
Before September had passed, thirteen other crews members were killed and a mass military funeral was held in a beautiful old church at Bad Ragaz. I was selected to be one of the pall bearers. Each coffin was draped with the Stars and Stripes. After a moving ceremony reflecting on the realities of savage warfare, we lifted the fourteen coffins and began the slow procession.
As we moved along the few blocks to the ceremony, my hands felt wet. I looked down. What I had felt was blood that had seeped out of the coffin and ran along the American Flag to my hands. I looked around. The hands of other pall bearers were glistening red. We looked at each other. We knew we could not let what was happening detract from the honor and dignity of the occasion. We kept quiet, marched along, and finally came to the cemetery. There with gentleness and poise we laid our comrades to rest.
On October 5, 1944, in the company of some British soldiers who were also being released, I left Switzerland. To hide the fact that I was and American, I had to pretend I was a British First Lieutenant. I must have made a fair Brit because I got out.
When we crossed into France I left my British friends and reported to the U.S. Forces. Soon I was back in England and on my way home.
Lucky? Yes, I was lucky. I could have been in one of those wooden coffins.