Rosie's Riveters by Saul Levitt

Rosie's Riveters

By Sgt Saul Levitt

England — For newspapers, bigger victories in this war are a simple problem — you just use bigger type on page one. Like the American daylights raids on Berlin. In somebody's 20-volume history of the second World War, to be written in 1955, an aging crew chief like J E Woodard and a tail-gunner like Bill DeBlasio will find the Berlin raids rating a paragraph or two on page 963. For the men concerned with them only yesterday, they meant another evening return of tired, living men — or another ship sloping down to the limbo of "missing in action." 

Sometimes even a working airfield gets a sense of something special and enormous. On one field the crews had this feeling about the Berlin raids, when a certain plane came swinging low over the tower, home from Berlin, one late afternoon. 

The plane was Capt Robert Rosenthal's — Rosie's Riveters. Her crew came home to a sudden, unrestrained, crazy holiday greeting. It was a private party; nobody else was invited. It was their own hunk of bitter victory — for many were lost over Berlin, taking part of the Luftwaffe with them. 

But Rosie, the pilot, had completed his tour of duty. The sky was filled with flares — the armament men had given them two extra boxes before takeoff that morning. They threw the Fourth of July up at the cold gray sky; and the control tower, which is a grave and dignified institution at an airfield — something like the Supreme Court — came back with more flares. 

The crew's request to the pilot that morning, when they learned it was to be Berlin, had been for a "beautiful buzz job" coming in. The pilot gave it to them with his low swoop over the tower. It is said — though J E Woodard, the husky crew chief denies it — that big tears rolled down his face when Rosie's Riveters showed at last over the tower. Then the crew rode off in great style to the interrogation, each man on a jeep. All except T/Sgt Michael V Bocuzzi, the radio operator; he rode on the rear of a proud MP's motorcycle. 

Capt (then Lt) Rosenthal and his crew came overseas quietly enough last September. They brought with them their own crew name, to be duly inscribed on the nose of a Fort by some weary Joe who has seen all kinds of names tagged on to B-17s that can't answer back. 

The pilot was a quiet, inconspicuous young man of 26, who wore his visor cap clamped down on his head and walked with the shambling gait of a countryman, although he hailed from the Flatbush farmlands of Brooklyn, NY. With him was one of those typical American "mongrel" crews that the Army arranges so well — as if in conscious answer to the "racial unity" armies of Nazi Germany. Their backgrounds were German, Irish, Scotch, Italian and others, and their home places were scattered from the Eastern seaboard to the Far West. 

In Dyersburg, TN, Rosie had quietly canvassed his crew to find out how they felt about combat. No one backed out. Yet no one could possibly have wanted the combat they got in their first three days of flying in this theater. As S/Sgt Ray H Robinson, the ball-turret gunner from Arkansas City, KS, put it, "the first night after Bremen we were too scared to sleep, the second night after Marienburg we were too tired. The third night after Munster we were bushed — finished." 

Bremen was bad. On that one, the squadron lead crew, piloted by Capt (now Maj) Everett E Blakely, had hell smashed out of it. On the Operations blackboard Sgt Jennings wrote after all the plane numbers "severe battle damage." Marienburg, with only a few hours' sleep intervening, was one of the longest flights ever undertaken in this theater. And then came Munster, the very next morning. 

The haggard, griping crew of Rosie's Riveters went down to the Munster briefing that morning in the company of experienced crews — men who had been on the first Regensburg shuttle raid to Africa and on the "longest flight in the ETO," to Trondheim.

Late that afternoon, as fog settled over East Anglia, Rosie's Riveters came back alone — the drone of its two engines a mournful elegy for those men who had been to Regensburg and Trondheim. Careful landing procedure for formation was unnecessary. There was only the one plane coming in— actually half a plane — with two of its engines out. Thirteen planes had failed to return. The interrogation was very exclusive, like a consultation with a private physician. There was only the evidence of the dazed, battered men of Rosie's Riveters

It had been a ferocious and concentrated attack. One by one the planes of the group had gone down. Left alone, Lt Rosenthal had decided to go on with the bombing run. 

"Shall I drop them now, Rosie?" the bombardier kept asking, 

"Not yet."

"Now?"

"No."

"We're over Munster," Lt C J Milburn, the bombardier, finally said. 

"Now," said Lt Rosenthal.

Then they fought their way back from Munster to the French coast, enemy fighters queueing up on them. S/Sgt L F Darling of Sioux City, Iowa, crept up to the nose to help Lt Ronald C Bailey, the navigator, spot the landing field. At last came the landing. 

Rosie came down through the bomb bay to look over his crew. Darling was wounded and so was the other waist-gunner, S/Sgt J H Shaffer. As Rosie stepped out and went along in the ambulance with his wounded, he got a glimpse of something new — the torn-down skin of the right wing where a rocket shell looping from above had plowed between empty gas tanks, cutting a hole a foot across. 

Mike Bocuzzi, tumbling out white-faced, yelled: "I'm through flying these things. That's enough." 

"CJ," the bombardier, round-faced and amiable, a little quieter than Mike, didn't say anything but he thought: "'Well, if this is the way it is, they must get you sooner or later, but I'll go along until it catches up with me." 

Young Bill DeBlasio, the tail-gunner, wrote in his battle diary: "By the grace of God we were the only ship to come back. Our pilot brought us home safely." 

That was Munster, and it was five months more until Berlin. 

Mike Bocuzzi, who had yelled that he was going to quit, griped that way many more times — and never quit. T/Sgt C C Hall of Perry, FL, a pleasant guy with a sour puss, went on shooting down fighters that he was reluctant to claim. And Rosie, the pilot, went on making his laconic reports to interrogation officers when they tried to pump him. 

"The flak was meager," he would say, "We landed with our flaps out."

"Flaps out? Were you hit?"

"A little bit. But if you get back it's a milk run."

They flew to Bremen, Rostock, Brunswick. On the second Regensburg, the target area was snow-covered. Lt Bailey, the navigator, gave the crew a little running lecture on European history and geography. Here were the Alps. Over that way was Switzerland. Those long, wide lanes below were the "six-laned highways built by the Germans for this war." And here was where the Germans had broken through in an earlier war with France, in 1870. 

Before Rostock, Bocuzzi was tired and jumpy. Rosie came down to the line, put his arms around Mike's shoulders and said: "What's the matter, Mike? We' re all nervous. I'm always scared myself. What s the matter?" 

"Nothing," said Mike. In his battle diary, DeBlasio wrote darkly: "They better give us a rest and a few short raids. I am very tired now." 

The pep talks had mounted. "By this time we'd had 102 since Dyersburg," says Ray Robinson. "I counted them. Rosie always gave us a pep talk before a mission. After that he never spoke on a raid, except when he had to." 

For Berlin, the briefing was like all the others. But it was for Berlin, the "Big B," to be hit in daylight. Last August, as a gag, someone had put up the red ribbon across to Berlin, and no return route was indicated. Now it was no gag, and there was a return route. Through the briefing room came the shuffle of heavy boots. Cigarettes were lighted. As the pointer touched Berlin, Bocuzzi said to somebody: "Who got drunk last night and dreamed this one up?"

They went down to the line. Behind them were more than 20 raids. They dived into the ground crew's kitty of cigarettes in the tent. Bocuzzi borrowed a pencil from the ground crew. "No 12, this is, I owe you 12 pencils," Mike said. 

It was a cloudy day. Berlin could always be postponed, couldn't it? Couldn't it wait for tomorrow? They looked toward the tower where the flare might go up announcing "mission scrubbed." There was no flare, only the dull gray sky. 

A new navigator was along. Instead of Lt Bailey, riding the bike and looking like a professor with his navigator's brief case under his arm, there was a new man who had to be put at ease by Rosie. 

The co-pilot, Lt Winfrey (Pappy) Lewis of Houston, TX, came down and did his pre-mission job of checking equipment. Then he dived for the cot in the tent — a regular thing with him, this sack time before a mission. S/Sgt Marion J (Junior) Sheldon of Arkansas, who had replaced Darling, carefully hung his two rag dolls, "Blood" and "Guts," to the receiver of his gun. All the little things had been done, and pep talk No 103 took place — with Rosie's usual delivery: "You worry about your guns and let me worry about the plane." 

The only changes this time were that they got into the plane a little earlier than usual and the silence over the interphone after the take-off was greater than usual. Interphone discipline had always been strict, but this was quieter than it had ever been. "We were a shipload of nerves," says Ray Robinson. 

As they came over the German coast the clouds began to lighten. Moving into Germany, things were getting clearer. Pappy Lewis, the "bald eagle," looked over toward Rosie, beginning to sweat. 

"It was only 30 below," says Mike. "Not too cold." 

They got over the "Big B." It was clear below them, although smoke was already billowing high in the air. Flak was thick about them — "but not worse than Bremen," says DeBlasio. Nervousness disappeared with the first fighters.

"On this one," says Mike, "we didn't want them to get in close. The bombardier got one and so did the top turret. Rosie's Riveters made their turn past the target. 

Now the enemy coast was behind them. Over the interphone Rosie said: "Interphone discipline is now a sack of something." Voices broke in a frenzy of babbling, laughing noises. There was a hell of a squabble in the waist, and DeBlasio was refereeing between S/Sgt Jimmy Mack and Junior Sheldon. 

England again, after Munster, Bremen, Brunswick, Rostock, Stettin — and Berlin. After. unloading bombs on the map of Germany. After 103 pep talks by Capt Robert Rosenthal of Brooklyn and Brooklyn College. 

They buzzed the field. Down below were friends. Maj Blakely, the CO, was waving. The flares went up. It was private victory, but in this roaring excitement there was the knowledge of men who had not come back. In four raids on the "Big B," American bombers had dished it out, but they had taken it, too. 

At the interrogation Capt F E Callahan asked his questions, and the answers were, as usual, laconic. "We never get anything out of you," said Capt Callahan gloomily. The new navigator told most of the story. Somebody was always pushing over to shake Rosie's hand, and the navigator said complainingly: "I wish this guy weren't so popular, so we could get through."

Lt Col Kidd and Col Harding pulled Rosie aside to find out things. They found out little, and after he had downed a Scotch, Rosie asked politely: "Would it be all right if we had a couple of bottles of Scotch tonight at the barracks?"

It seemed very much OK.

One evening, a week later, they went to get decorations at the Officers' Club. There were Capt Rosenthal, Bill DeBlasio, Ray Robinson and Mike Bocuzzi. They sat quietly shoulder to shoulder dressed in Class As. Lt Gen Spaatz and Maj Gen Doolittle spoke. It was brief and to the point about the war. Jimmy Doolittle, answering a question, said in his resonant voice: "After all, it's not a matter of you and me going out, it's a question of winning the war." 

Rosie went out and walked down toward his hut in the dark. Capt. Putnam, a close and good friend, had gone down a few weeks before. This Berlin raid was a thing of the past; let its history be written elsewhere. And tomorrow was another day, another raid. 

At the Aero Club some mechanic got to the piano and played boogie woogie, and boys with '"Berlin" inscribed on their jackets tapped their feet to the music, standing around the piano. 

Over in the BOQ Ray Robinson found Rosie in the midst of a lot of clothes, with his B-4 bag open. Robinson shook his head and said pityingly: "Someone always has to pack your stuff. How on earth do you ever expect to get off on that leave tomorrow?" 

He packed Rosie's stuff carefully into the bag. "You won't need that," he said, throwing an extra suit of underwear to one side, after counting out the number he thought Rosie should need for the leave. And then he zipped the bag shut. "

Thanks, Ray," said Rosie.

"What train are you taking?"

"Early one, I guess."

"It's at 8 o'clock, so you better get out of the sack early — or do I have to come over and get you up? Good-night, Rosie." 

"Good-night, Ray," said Capt Rosenthal, settling into his sack. 

This story originally appeared in YANK, the Army weekly. 
This version was sourced from The Best From YANK The Army Weekly, selected by the editors of YANK, published by E P Dutton & Co, Inc; ©1945 by Franklin S Forsberg; pp 85-88.
The PDF of this article includes a captioned group portrait of the crew of Rosie's Riveters.

September 6, 1943-Lt William Freund-CP on Raunchy

September 6, 1943.

Excerpt from the manuscript Coffin Corner, by Christopher and William Freund:

It began very much like all the others.  Late in the afternoon of September 5, 1943, we knew there was going to be another mission the next day, and that it was going to be a big one.  It was quiet at the officer’s club and most of the guys went to bed at a very early hour.  I started to write a letter to Bev but couldn’t concentrate, so I put it aside and slept.

The wake-up call came shortly after midnight.  I felt cheated because they cut short a very deep and peaceful sleep.  Not fully awake, I uttered a short prayer and then, at Sam’s urging, quickly dressed.  We headed to the officer’s mess through another cold, damp, moonless English night for the usual breakfast of powdered eggs, spam and coffee.  Because of the very early call and the anticipation of a big mission, a subtle feeling of excitement existed as the men drank coffee and ate breakfast.

 As we ate, it was hard for the men in that room not to think that some us would not return for another meal; but our confidence, or arrogance, never allowed us to believe it would be us.  We knew this was going to be a deep penetration; the red line on the mission map would stab deeply into the heart of Nazi Germany.  After eating, we quietly headed to the briefing room to find out where.

We had gathered in the same hall for each of our previous fifteen missions and the scene never changed.  Everything was the same until the large blue curtain was drawn back to expose the route we would take to the day’s target.

Our suspicions were proven correct –- we were headed deeper into Germany than ever before.  Today the attack would be against ball bearing factories near Stuttgart, Germany.

Stuttgart, Regensburg and Schweinfurt formed an almost perfect equilateral triangle in southeast Germany, with Schweinfurt on the top, Regensburg in the East and Stuttgart in the West.  Our group of fortresses would strike at Stuttgart, and another force would hit Regensburg.

Memories of the horrific August attack on Schweinfurt and Regensburg flooded the minds of the men who had flown that earlier mission – memories that brought fear that this mission might be a repeat of the ghastly air battle that filled the sky with burning planes and blood.  We knew that men sitting at this briefing, someone next to us, or in front or behind, flying to the same target, our buddies and friends, would die today.  Or if they were lucky enough to survive, might become prisoners of war.

The briefing covered everything the brass thought we needed to know about the mission.  We were told about the weather, flak and the quantity of German fighter resistance we might encounter.  Flak and fighters were very familiar to those of us who had been in combat, and we had learned from experience that intelligence estimates of both never proved very accurate.  Frankly, everything about these missions seemed to us to be a mammoth guessing game.

Still photos of the target flashed on the screen as the intelligence officer pointed out features around the target area that would help pinpoint our targets.  The 100th never dropped bombs through heavy under cast, which obscured our vision, because our leaders did not want to drop bombs in residential areas.  When unable to drop our bomb loads in these circumstances we would go to a secondary target or bring our payload back to England.  Only on our first mission did we bomb through clouds, but then we were very, very eager.

At the end of the briefing our chaplain led us in a prayer, then we were called to attention as Col. Harding and his staff marched from the room.  (I believe Col. Harding led the 100thon the mission.)  Sam [pilot], Morry [navigator] and the other pilots and navigators went to their briefing, and then trucks whisked us to our planes.  Take off was scheduled for 5:00 a.m. but was delayed until 5:30 a.m. for reasons never made clear to us.  It turned out to be a delay that made it possible for Raunchy to go on the mission.

When we arrived at our hardpan we were surprised to find the ground crew still working on Raunchy’s No. 3 engine, the inboard engine on the right wing.  Our crew chief told us they had spent most of the night replacing a bad fuel pump discovered during routine maintenance the day before.  They had recommended scratching Raunchy from the mission, but Bomber Command needed our plane and told them to finish the repair.  They had worked all night installing the new pump and they needed the extra half hour to finish the job.  Their work wasn’t tested until we’ve got the green flare to start our engines.  We cranked up numbers 1 and 2, and held our breath as No. 3 turned over.  She hesitated for a second but then caught and sounded great.  We then started No. 4 – and waited.  The powerful roar of those four 1200 h.p. Pratt and Whitney engines resounding through Raunchy was always somehow reassuring.

At approximately 5:20 a.m. we received the signal to pull out onto the perimeter taxi strip and almost simultaneously, twenty-three Flying Fortresses, appearing dark and ugly with their war paint and in the dim light of dawn, were on the taxi strip in a long line leading to the end of the runway.  Radio silence was in effect to prevent the Germans from picking up any information about our mission.  At 5:30 a.m. twin green flares pierced the sky above Thorpe Abbots’ control tower and the lead ship roared down the runway.  Then, at precisely fifteen-second intervals, the remaining ships followed, one by one.

Raunchy was the 15th plane to take off.  We were scheduled to fly No. 6 in the low squadron.  Coffin Corner once again.  But as we joined our squadron formation we noticed that there was no plane in the No. 3 spot.  Seconds clicked by and still no sign of No. 3.  So Sam, using standard procedure, pulled into the slot.  Minutes later, the tardy pilot broke radio silence and demanded that we fall back to No. 6.  But Sam would not relinquish the spot, nor would he break radio silence.  The other pilot finally, albeit reluctantly, settled into Coffin Corner.  At that time no one knew how lucky our switch of position would prove to be – for the other plane.

The weather was perfect, the sun high and the piercing blue sky cloudless.  Our wing settled into formation in record time.  The rendezvous with the other wings was accomplished without a hitch.  It was the largest battle force we had ever flown with, over 300 B-17s.  Those fortresses formed a magnificent site as we crossed the English coastline and started across the English Channel.

Five minutes out I gave the order for the men to test their guns.  This meant each man would fire a short burst to make certain our guns were working properly.  I also told them to keep a sharp eye out for enemy fighters.  (On the August raid, the fight had started at mid-channel and continued all the way to the Mediterranean.  That battle was brutal — and we were anticipating the same kind of resistance.)

We were cruising at 24,000 feet but the sky was so clear the French landscape far below was vivid with color and dotted with small towns and villages.  We were halfway to the target and still had no contact with enemy fighters.  We could see a few ME-109s high above our formation but they seemed reluctant to fight.  Sam’s said, “What’s going on Bill?  What kind of surprise are they planning for us?”  By this point of the August mission many B-17s and German fighters had been destroyed and nearly every German fighter was in the battle.

That mission was plain horror — but today, as we crossed the French countryside, still no combat.  It was beginning to make us a bit nervous.  What was their plan?  When would they attack?  Had they perfected a new defensive weapon?  We kept getting closer and closer to Stuttgart and everything was going much too smoothly.  We were left to wonder and wait.  We had been in the air for over two hours.

Finally, Boswell [bombardier] announced that we were approaching Stuttgart, but a thick cover of clouds hid the city from our view.  It was decided that we would hit whatever target we could find, and had begun looking for something to hit.   The tension of the mission, the lack of fighters, and concern about what the German’s were up to began to build to almost unbearable levels.  But almost as soon as the words were out of Boswell’s mouth the sky turned black with the smoke of flak.  It began to explode all around us.  The flak was so heavy I couldn’t understand how we had not been hit.  A couple of fortresses from other groups were hit and went down around us.  We were just leaving the Stuttgart area and apparently heading for a second target when Smithy shouted into the intercom, “Fighters, 12 o’clock high!”  Then, being more descriptive, he added, “a lot of em!”

I looked up to a scene I had seen many times before.  Screaming from above I saw about ten Me-109s flying wing tip to wing tip in a medium dive, the leading edge of their wings were deep red with the fire flashes from their guns.  With their speed and ours, the rate of closure had to be 500 mph.  It was only couple of seconds from the moment I first saw them when everything around me exploded.

It’s almost impossible to describe my feelings at that moment.  For a few seconds everything was chaos.  The cockpit was a complete mess and filled with thick, acrid smoke.  Hydraulic fluid was everywhere.  I looked at my chest pack resting on the floor under my seat — it was saturated and floating in the fluid.  Tremendous wind was blowing from the nose, through the navigator and bombardier compartment, out the hatch behind Sam’s seat and out through the bomb bay.  Our bomb bay doors were open because we had begun our bomb run when we were hit, but our hydraulic system had failed and the landing gears had gone down.  Maps, papers, bailout oxygen bottles and everything else that wasn’t tied down was caught in a terrific air blast and blown out of the airplane.

Sam had pressed the bailout button but fortunately it didn’t work.  He was in shock and mumbling, “Billy I’m hit,” over and over.  There was a large and growing circle of fresh blood staining his Air Corps uniform shirt on his chest, directly over his heart.  The control column in front of his seat was shattered.  I was flying Raunchy but couldn’t see through the windshield because hydraulic fluid had been forced between the double panes of glass.  I couldn’t see where we were flying or what was in front of us.  I could see the squadron but only through the side window.  We were rapidly falling behind.  I could see down into the navigator’s compartment through what was left of the shattered instrument panel.

Everything was frantic, and a hundred thoughts were running through my head.  But I had to deal with one crisis at a time.  First, we had to be able to defend ourselves against the onslaught of German fighters.  Because a lowered landing gear was a sign of surrender, I ordered the crew not to fire at German fighters until the wheels were up.  I wasn’t aware at that point that the intercom system was not functioning.

While I was trying to survey the damage and keep Raunchy in the air, Smithy [top turret gunner and engineer] was hanging in the open bomb bay, 24,000 feet above the earth, manually cranking the bomb bay doors closed.  I told him to crank the gears up, too.  Amidst all the chaos, with Raunchy pitching to and fro, and with the wind blowing powerfully through the plane from the shattered nose, Smithy stood above the open bomb bay doors and cranked them up, and then made sure the landing gear was retracted.  At that moment, Smitty saved our lives and saved Raunchy.  It was one of the bravest and heroic acts I had ever witnessed.  Thornton [waist gunner] came up from the waist to help crank up the gear.

Weinberg had jettisoned our bomb load before Smitty had closed the doors, then came up to the cockpit and was standing just behind me.  He said of the bombs, “They aught to leave quite a scar on the black forest.”   His left eye was badly damaged and seemed to be hanging down on his cheek.  Blood covered his face and clothes.

“Lieutenant,” he said, “Buzz is hurt real bad.  He’s lost an eye and his arm is badly mangled.”

We hurriedly discussed several options.  We refused to even consider finding a spot in Germany to land, admitting surrender, so we had to figure out what to do next.  We knew we couldn’t survive long…a crippled B-17 surrounded by a horde of bloodthirsty German fighter pilots.  Sam was in serious pain, so we considered giving him some morphine, but concluded that we needed him as alert as possible.  He was just going to have to tough it out.

We thought about hitting the deck, heading for England and just going down fighting, but decided that, while noble, wasn’t very smart.  We knew we had to help Buzz, and discussed the possibility of dropping him out and letting him parachute to German soil but Morry said he would never make it alive.

He said, “Bill, fly 220 and maybe we can reach Switzerland.”  We hoped if we could get that far we could get to Swiss soil and then get Buzz to a hospital.  Morry left to check on the rest of the crew, but was back in a couple of minutes with tragic news that rocked me to the core.

“Bill, Joe [ball turret gunner] is dead,” he announced.  “I opened the ball turret and it looks as though he took two exploding 20 mm shells.”  Then Morry went back to help Buzz.

Joe’s death stunned me, but there wasn’t time to grieve.  Our intercom was completely gone so I couldn’t communicate with the crew to get their assessment of battle damage suffered in the original onslaught by German fighters.  At that moment I noticed that both Sam’s and my oxygen tubes and radio headsets and microphones, which ran up the front of our uniforms, were completely severed about 12 inches below our chins.  How that happened, unless a piece of shrapnel flew through the cockpit just inches in front of us, I have no idea.  We should have been cut in two.

All this action took place in a very few minutes.  I was fighting desperately to keep Raunchy close to our group, but that too was a losing battle.  With Raunchy in such bad condition and because we had no oxygen, I slid away from the rest of the group and started a quick descent toward breathable air, the stuff we needed to stay alive.

It was obvious that I would have to make a major decision.  Try to make it back to England, and hope Buzz could hang on, or head for Switzerland, a supposedly neutral country about 100 kilometers south of Stuttgart, as Morry had suggested.  I just couldn’t gamble with Buzz’s life and, reluctantly, took Morry’s advice and headed down and south – Switzerland it would be.

We were suddenly alone and in very dangerous German skies.  Looking out the side window I realized that the German fighter pilots knew we were badly hurt, and they were already planning to add another kill to their credit.  An Me-109 was coming at us from 2 o’clock level, all his guns showing the telltale red flame.  Instinctively, I started to pull Raunchy away from the fighter, but in that moment God performed a small miracle for us.  My mind flashed back to a poster I had seen hanging on many of the walls in the training camps and all the B-17 bases we had been at those previous few months.  The poster showed an American fighter plane with an enemy fighter attacking at 2 o’clock.  The words on the poster: “Turn into him!”  Only a second had passed, so I immediately turned Raunchy into the fighter and the Me-109 instantly passed over the top of us.  For a moment Raunchy was no longer the target of that particular German pilot.  If we had flown away from him, our underside would have been exposed for a prolonged period of time…long enough for him to blow us out of the sky.

That miracle saved our lives for the moment, but there was fighter action all around us.  I guess they call it “evasive action,” but I did things with Raunchy that bombers were not supposed to do.  Constantly losing altitude, every time I saw fighter, I’d turn toward him.  When they approached from two different directions, I had God direct me.  I knew we were a sitting duck and I also knew that no single fortress could survive an attack from multiple fighters for very long.

I estimated that there were at least three Me-110s and several Me-109s using us for target practice.  I could hear our guns firing, but I had a weird sensation that I was all alone and the battle was between all those German fighters and me.  Yet not once did I have any doubt about Raunchy’s ability to perform.  Even as bullets tore through her skin and pieces were ripped off her, she handled magnificently.  Everything around me seemed to be in the background.  I was consumed by only one thing at this point –- survival.

The Me-110s had one huge advantage.  They could stay out of range of our 50 caliber guns and fire exploding 20 mm shells at us.  These were ripping Raunchy apart an inch at a time.  An ME-110 sat off our tail just out of range of Weir’s [tail gunner] 50 calibers.  All he could do was sit and watch as pieces of Raunchy’s rudder and elevators were blown off.  Fuel was leaking from our wings; one spark and we would have been a fireball.  Thinking there was no way we would survive, Weir placed his 45 caliber side arm on a ledge next to him, vowing to kill himself if the damage continued to the point where Raunchy was no longer controllable.

I had no way of determining our altitude, but I guess that at about 11,000 feet we caught a break that possibly changed the tide of our private little battle with the German fighter group.

We suddenly dropped into cloud cover that was about 500 feet thick.  It was very light, and the fighter pilots could see us, but just barely.  I played hide and seek with them for about 10 minutes, and then we ran out of our hiding place.  But then, strangely, the fighters pulled away and, while flying along with us, stayed about a mile away.  I should have known why.  Suddenly, the sky around us turned black with smoke from flak.  Morry, who was standing behind me said, “Flak school.”  According to his maps, there was a German flak school located near Frederickshaven, and we were flying right over it.  The barrage only lasted a couple of minutes, but I wondered how many more wounds Raunchy could tolerate.

The fighters, only three were still with us, came back at us but then I spotted a large body of water directly ahead of us.

“Evasive action be damned,” I said to myself, and pushed the nose down and headed straight for the lake, picking up speed in the dive.  In seconds we were over the blue-gray waters of the Boden Cie (Lake Constance, on the German-Swiss border).  At that moment, in a gesture worthy of pilots in any army, the three German fighters pulled ahead of us in formation, and dipped their wings in an apparent salute.  We could do no less, and I responded in-kind, though Raunchy did the maneuver quite reluctantly.  She was too badly hurt to make any unnecessary moves.

I saw a fairly large city at the west end of the lake and decided we could land somewhere close, hopefully near people who could help us.  We looked for a place to land but we were only a couple of hundred feet off the water and could see only hills and distant mountains.  Sam, who had determined that his wound was not serious, took command of his ship again.  He told me to turn around and head for the east end of the lake.  Then we changed seats so he could finish the mission.  He made the decision that our safest bet was to ditch Raunchy in the middle of the lake.  Past the east shore of the lake he made a 180-degree turn and began his landing approach.  The crew was ordered to the radio room and to take the necessary precautions for a water landing.  Maloney’s body would remain in his turret and go down with Raunchy.

We passed over the eastern shore of the Boden Cie at an altitude I would guess to be at about 200 feet.  Sam pulled all four throttles back to stop and locked them in place.  We were only going to have one chance to make this landing and it had to be perfect.  Our air speed must have been very high because Raunchy seemed reluctant to get closer to the water, but Sam was in control and knew exactly what he had to do.  One error here and we would all come to an end in a watery grave.  Once again, God was with us, because the lake had just enough chop to help Sam’s depth perception.  Almost half way down the center of the lake, Raunchy finally begin to settle toward what would be her final resting place.  I felt remarkably calm and unafraid, even though I knew that I might die sometime during the next 60 seconds.

With part of the Plexiglas nose of our plane blown away, Raunchy was somewhat like a drinking straw.  If Sam plunged that open end into the water, we would go straight to the bottom.  If the tail hit too hard it would push the nose down, and the result would be the same.  This had to be the best landing Sam ever made, and, though I was very happy for his many hours of flying time in fortresses, I knew he had never done anything like this before.

Finally, Raunchy settled into the water, and waves cascaded over the top of the plane.  I sat calmly in the seat behind the broken control column, thinking only that we had made a bad landing and were headed for the bottom.  But it was not yet our time.  Raunchysuddenly came to the surface, shedding water like a submarine breaking on top.  I looked over to congratulate Sam, but all I saw were the bottom of his shoes as he went out the side cockpit window and into the water that had almost claimed our lives.

I figured I had better get moving too, so I started to climb out the window on the left side, but my parachute harness was caught on the pilot’s seat.  I slid back into the cockpit and took off my harness.  I decided that I had better try to climb up on top of Raunchy since I was a very poor swimmer.  I turned around and started out the window with my back toward the bottom.  All I needed was a handhold above the window so I could pull myself out.  Thanks to one of the German fighter pilots, or perhaps flak, there was a hole the size of a softball just where it was needed.  In seconds I was on top of the plane walking toward the wings.

Someone had pulled the lever to release our life rafts, but when I reached them the panels were stuck in half open position.  Luckily they released easily, and I soon had both rafts inflated and in the water.  The radio room hatch was open, and Morry and Smithy were pushing the guys out.  We soon had almost everyone in the rafts.  Seven of our men had battle injuries, with Buzz the most serious. And Joe was still inside the ball turret.

We were congratulating ourselves that we were still alive when we heard a plaintiff cry from Sam.  He was from Florida and a good swimmer, but he was tiring.  One of our rafts was paddled over to him and he was hauled aboard.

We saw a relatively small wooded fishing boat not too far away and started to paddled toward them, but a strange sound stopped us and we turned just in time to watch as Raunchy shivered almost imperceptible and suddenly silently, slowly slipped beneath the waves.  She had carried us through battle, and waited just long enough for all of us to get out and in the rafts before gently sinking beneath the surface.  Her passing left a void in our hearts and there were tears in all our eyes.  She had been our fortress, our protector, for all our sixteen missions.  She was one of us, and all of the sudden, she was gone.  I already missed her.

When we turned back to the fishing boat, the two terrified fishermen were frantically trying to distance themselves from us.  No matter, a second later a motor launch, flying the Swiss flag, pulled alongside us and took us aboard.  They even salvaged the two rafts.

Before we could get underway another launch, flying the German Swastika, came to within 50 feet of us, circled around and headed north back to Germany.  If they had arrived before the Swiss, we would have been prisoners of war in Germany!

But it wasn’t to be.  The Swiss boat took up a heading south toward a town on the Swiss shore.  As we approached the dock, we saw hundreds of people lined up on shore to watch this strange event.  We were about to dock at Romanshorn.  It was 10:00 a.m., September 6, 1943.

SQUADRON COMMANDERS

 

 

349th Bomb Squadron:

Maj William Veal          Original CO- October 1943

Lt Col John Bennett     November 1943 toFebruary 1944

Lt Col Sam Barr           February 1944 to April 18, 1944

Maj Sumner Reeder       April 19, 1944 to July 19, 1944

Lt Col Sam Barr            July 20, 1944 to Jan 18, 1945 (move to HQ)

Maj Charles A. Martin   January 19, 1945 to May 1945

Maj John S. Robinson    June 1945 -Sept 25. 1945

Capt Denzel Naar           Sept 26, 1945

 

350th Bomb Squadron

Maj Gale "Buck" Cleven     Original CO- October 8, 1943 (shot down POW)

Maj Albert "Bucky" Elton   October 9, 1943 to April 1944

Capt Jack Swartout              Interim CO April 1944

Maj Maurice J. Fitzgerald  May 1944  to  May 24, 1944 (shot down POW

Maj Robert Rosenthal        May 24, 1944 to Sept 10, 1944 (injured in crash landing)

Maj Maurice F. Youngs     September 11, 1944- October 1944

Lt Col David Lyster           October 1944 to May 31, 1945

Maj Charles E. Robbs        June 1, 1945

      

351st  Bomb Squadron)

Lt Col. John B."Jack" Kidd    December 1942 - June 9, 1943

Lt Col. Ollie Turner              June 10, 1943 to June 13, 1944  

Lt Col Channing Eberson     June 14, 1944 to December 28, 1944

Lt Col Harry Cruver           January 3,  1945 to July 30, 1945

Maj John Milling                 August 1, 1945 till leaving base.

 

418th Bomb Squadron

Maj Robert E. Flesher          Original CO-October 29, 1942 to June 14, 1943

Maj John C. Egan                June 14, 1943 to October 10, 1943-Shot Down, POW

Maj Ev Blakely                    October 1943 to April 18, 1944

Maj Magee Fuller                April 19, 1944 to July 20, 1944(Shot Down, POW)

Maj Joseph L. Zeller            July 21, 1944 to October 20, 1944

Lt Col John B. Wallace        October 21, 1944 to  November 30,1944     

Lt Col Robert  Rosenthal      December 1, 1944 to  Feb 3, 1945  (Shot down POW)

Maj John S. Robinson          Feb 4, 1945 to April 26, 1944 ?

Maj Robert Stivers                Still to be determined

Maj Robert W. Staples         April 27, 1945 to July 31, 1945

Maj Robert W. Hensey        August 1, 1945 to September 12, 1945

Maj John P. Gibbons            Sept 12, 1945 to Sept 25, 1945

1st Lt Jessie Wofford              Sept 26, 1945

Contrails, My War Record

Link to online version of CONTRAILS, MY WAR RECORD

 

 

Tech Sgt Chancy Finfrock-ROG on Lt Dawson Crew

 

Chancy Albert Finfrock

 

Dedicated to the Memory of

Tech. Sgt.

Chancy Albert Finfrock

Radioman/Gunner

on

B-17 ‘Flying Fortresses’

The European Campaign -World War II

       350th Squadron * 100th Bomb Group    

3rd Air Division

13th Combat Wing 

of the  

 8th Army Air Force 

The ‘Bloody Hundredth’ - Operating out of 

Thorpe Abbotts Air Base, Station 139

a tiny hamlet, twenty miles south of Norwich,

near Diss, County Norfolk (East Anglia), England