COMMENTS & NOTES
Corporal Richard Blenz
Radar Counter Measures Repair and Maintenance
I was drafted in March 1943 after my first semester of college. Did basic and was sent to the A.S.T.P. program. A chance to get a college degree and a commission. Finished the first semester and was warned in a secret meeting held by the commander of the group, a tank colonel that if the air corps people in the college unit knew what was good for them they would flunk out and return to their original units. The army was going to dissolve the A.S.T.P. program after the next semester and the chance was excellent that everyone would be assigned to the infantry, regardless of their original organization. The colonel thought that this outcome would be a disaster for both the man and the Army considering the mental level of Air Corps people. That man probably saved a lot of lives because what he said did come true and word came to us later from town friends that many of our classmates ended up in the Battle of the Bulge and many were lost. I and several others had taken the Colonel at his word and deliberately failed the final exams fro the semester and were headed back to the Air Corps and in my case, Radio School at Truax Field, Madison Wisconsin. Spent four very cold winter months at Truax, was transferred to electronics school at Chanute Field, Rantool, Illinois. Graduated and transferred to Boca Raton, Fla. For the rest of a very hot summer in Radar School, very hush-hush. We could not take any materials for study out of the fence enclosed and guarded classroom buildings. Reward for graduation in September was promotion to Corporal. Got two weeks at home, much hurry and waiting until boarding the Queen Elizabeth for Thanksgiving week on the way to England 1944.
I arrived solo at the 100th BG after an uneventful voyage by Queen Elizabeth, a 12 day stay at Warrington, (I believe this was assignment/placement depot) and via a train trip from London on December 11, 1944 to Diss. I was told in London to count the stops the train made and to get off on the third stop. It was late at night and I found myself standing by the track looking across to a small railroad depot wit a t little single light and absolutely no one around. A notice by the telephone instructed me to call a number. Shortly a jeep picked me up and we headed out. The driver said that we were headed for the “Bloody Hundredth Bomb Group", it was a B-17 base and then very specifically warned me to not become acquainted in a friendly way with any combat people because if I did, I would suffer Psychologically when I lost them because of the high loss rate of combat crews in the 100th. Oh Boy! What did I just get into????????????
My job was to maintain, install, and repair damaged and faulty Radar Counter Measures (RCM) equipment in B-17's returning from missions. In each plane in a mission were two metal boxes on the starboard side of the radio room floor aft. Each had a switch and a light. The radio man had instructions to turn these on and then leave them alone. These were radar jamming transmitters which could blockade anti-aircraft gunnery radars operating on the ground. One of our jobs was to set the frequency of operation of all 72 transmitters, in a 36 plane mission, from a secret list give to us from the morning mission orientation meeting. Another job was to make sure all aircraft had as many boxes of "chaff" or 'window" as could be stuffed into a plane. These were bundles of tinfoil-backed strips of paper which when released into a planes slipstream would spread out over a wide area. This would sorely confuse the ground radars and hopefully direct the flak elsewhere. There were two other radar units in the radar shop. The first was the H2X (I think) which was the large unit with a rotating antenna occupying the ball turret area instead of the guns. These "Pathfinder” aircraft led the mission, once over the target, they were aided by the Nordon Bombsight when there was no cloud cover. The other radar service was Navigation, essentially consisting of the British "G Box". It was similar to our Loran system which is still operational in the U.S.
I was originally assigned to the 349th BS upon my arrival. By the end of December 1944, I was reassigned to the 350th BS. Our work covered all squadrons, the entire group. For me, the squadron designation was merely a place to sleep and clean up seeing that I spent 12-16 hours a day at the radar shop. As for problems that occurred in our shop, they were more of a political nature in that we had three Lieutenants, one each for the 3 types of radar but no one in overall command. The larger group, the H2X system people, was in half of the building behind a wall. Navigation and my Radar Counter Measure people were together on two sides of the remainder of the building. There was a cozy office area on our end of the building. We all got along famously until a fresh-from-the-states Lieutenant Singer arrived to replace the man heading the Navigational group. Singer had no experience in airborne radar and was a stickler for proper military chicken shit. He had his group ready to rebel because of interference with their work, about which he knew little. Our officer was set up with a desk, two telephones, one secure and one open, a cot for the nighttime CQ (Charge of Quarters), a coal burning stove on which things could be cooked or heated and a BC 348 general overage radio receiver we had gotten fro a wrecked aircraft. The receiver provided entertainment from German hilarious propaganda programs accompanied by good American music. Lt Singer took on look at the office and ordered that a fence be constructed across the office to keep people apart like most offices stateside were set up. We built the fence under objection. I asked to become permanent CQ in the shop and just lived there instead of in the Squadron Quonset Huts. I had a jeep and a trailer for our service needs and could go to mess and showers in style.
Shortly after the fence episode, of the Air Corps "Angles" arrived. What's that? The Inspecting General (I.G.) who was a sort of ombudsman for the non-commissioned people. He asked us if we had any problems other than salary and in a body we said "Lt Singer, no overall commander and the office fence". A week went by and one day a knock on our office door revealed a combat flight Captain. He said he had finished his combat tour and was waiting for transport home and had been ordered to find the radar shop and take command of it. He said he know nothing about radar and would sit around and stay out of our way. When he left he would be replaced by another similar person. Lt Singer was not around at the moment when the Captain asked me "where in the hell did this fence in the office come from?" I told him and he replied with an order to take it out NOW! And cut it up and burn it in our stove. The I.G. evidently had told him of all of this before he got to us. I happily did as I was told. The next day, Lt Singer came in, saw the fence mission, literally screamed about its removal and then was told by our new ranking commander that it was he who ordered it. Lt Singer fumed for while, stalked out of the place and we never saw him again. We understand he spent the rest of his time in the officers club.
My rank was Corporal, we were all under ranked. The reason was that radar was late in coming into the war, the powers-that-be did not really understand it and so our ranks were passed out to other services before our arrival. Once the table of Organization was set it could not be changed. We wanted higher rank mainly for the higher salary. The I.G. said that any increase would have to come out of the base commanders’ salary and of course that would not fly!
On January 10, 1945 a B-17 crashed into the Bomb Dump. That morning a companion and I was loading sand into my jeep trailer from a pile located half way between the bomb dump and the radar shop for some cement construction we were adding to the shop. A planes peculiar sound attracted my attention as it passed directly overhead. As it was disappearing behind a wooded copse, it exploded. We began to hear small explosions and smoke and realizing that this might be coming from the bomb dump we piled into the jeep and headed across the perimeter and all the runways for the opposite corner of the field. On the way a large explosion took place, evidently from a bomb in the plane. A half mile away it was like a brick wall hit you in the back of the head. I am sure glad I was never on the receiving end of a bomb delivery. It must have been absolute terror! I spent the rest of the day in town waiting for the base to disappear. It was the first and only time I was every AWOL from the army. The British firefighter people went in and cooled things off, now that is what I call bravery!
Incidentally, I did not always heed the warning I received that first night arriving at Thorpe Abbotts about not having friendships with Combat people and I did lose a couple of friends.