Brown's Clowns - The History of a B17 Bomber Crew Page 1

by Bud Vieth

What follows is a brief history of the World War II B-17 bomber crew led by Captain Gerald Brown of Los Angeles California. The crew was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group (351st Squadron) of the Eighth Air Force, and flew missions during the period August 1944 to March 1945. The 100th Bomb Group was located in the East Anglia section of England in Norfolk County near Diss at a base known as Thorpe Abbotts.

The original crew consisted of:
2d Lt. Gerald Brown, Los Angeles, California -Pilot.
2d Lt. Arthur Jacobson, Seattle, Washington -Co-pilot.
2d Lt. Ralph Bayer, Aberdeen, Washington -Navigator.
2d Lt. Joseph Dye, Washington, D.C. -Bombardier.
Sgt. Walter Peters, Chicago, Illinois -Flight Engineer and Gunner.
Sgt. Gifford D. Vieth, Davenport, Iowa -Radio Operator and Gunner.
Cpl. Roland Douglas, Peru, Indiana -Armorer and Ball Gunner.
Cpl. George Vogiatizis, San Francisco, California -- Asst. Radio Operator and Waist Gunner.
Cpl. Wayne Page, Merced, California -Asst. Engineer and Waist Gunner.
Cpl. Clarence Kellogg, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma -Tail Gunner.

The Brown crew, which referred to itself as "Brown's Clowns," was assembled at Ardmore Air Force Base in Oklahoma in April 1944. The crew was relatively youthful and as a result was the subject of a newspaper story in a base publication accompanied by a photograph of the crew.

On June 28, 1944, the Brown crew was dispatched from Kearney, Nebraska to England pursuant to the following order:

370.5-883 (195-S)
June 1944

SUBJECT: Movement Orders. Heavy Bombardment Crew Number FB-333-CJ-139 To Overseas Destination


P 2nd Lt (1024) Gerald Brown 0763931
CP 2nd Lt (1022) Arthur L. Jacobson 0768562
N 2nd Lt (1034) Ralph W. Bayer 0719545
B 2nd Lt (1035) Joseph J Dye 0752285
E Sgt (748) Walter R. Peters 36666943
R Sgt (757) Gifford D. Vieth 17153205
AG Cpl (611) Roland L. Douglas 35895660
CG Cpl (611) George Vogiatzis 39038584
CG Cpl (611) Wayne E. Page 39418943
CG Cpl (611) Clarence S. Kellogg 38397204

1. You are assigned to Shipment FB-333-CJ, as crew No. Fb-333-CJ-139, and to B-17 airplane number 42-98017, on aircraft project number 92766-R. You are shipped in accordance with the provisions of the movement order.

2. You are relieved from atchd unasgnd 271st AAF Base Unit (SB), this station, and WP via mil acft and / or rail to Grenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire, or such other Air Port of Embarkation as the CG, ATC, may direct, thence to the overseas destination of Shipment FB-333-CJ. Upon arrival at the Air Port of Embarkation, control of the above personnel is relinquished to the CG, ATC.

3. This is a PERMANENT change of station. You not be accompanied by dependents; neither will you be joined by dependents enroute to or at the Air Port of Embarkation. You will not discuss this movement except as may be necessary in the transportation of OFFICIAL business. You will not file safe arrival telegrams with commercial agencies while enroute and at domestic or overseas destinations.

4. You will use APO 16209-CJ- (Followed by the numeral ending of your shipment crew number, underlined in paragraph 1 above), c/o Postmaster, New York, New York. When arrival at final overseas destination, you will use the mailing address of the troops at that place. Advise your friends and relatives of you permanent APO by forwarding a completed V-Mail WD AGO Form 971; also notify the postal officer of the theater by forwarding a completed WD AGO Form 204.

The crew ferried a B-17 from Kearney to England, making the journey with overnight or longer stops in Manchester, New Hampshire, Goose Bay, Labrador, Reykjavik, Iceland, and Prestwick, Scotland. On July 23, 1944 the crew was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group.

The 100th Bomb Group

The 100th Bomb Group was described in the Foreword by Roger Freeman in the book Century Bombers as follows:

"The 100th Bombardment Group, Heavy, is probably the best known of all the United States Army Air Forces combat units of the Second World War, but rather through its sobriquet The Bloody Hundredth than its official designation. Fame follows close on infamy and that wartime label for the rumored 'hard luck outfit' of the 8th Air Force became allied with the image of the legions of Flying Fortresses fighting their way through the stratosphere against a determined enemy. For just as the Spitfire and the Battle of Britain has come to symbolize the Royal Air Force in the 1939-45 conflict, so the B-17's air battles tend to be the image which later generations of Americans bring to mind for their own nation's airmen of that war.

"... The Hundredth's combat history was remarkably eventful. Although the name Bloody Hundredth was undoubtedly resented by 100th Bomb Group personnel during hostilities, it has become an appellation of which veterans are proud, indicative now of the Hundredth's fighting spirit and resilience. A record that has fascinated many and led a band of English people to turn the Group's control tower at Thorpe Abbotts airfield into a museum recording that wartime experience."

In The Mighty Eighth, it is said : "As no news travels like bad news, the 100th's fortunes were soon known at other bases where  the Thorpe Abbotts group was often referred to  as a 'jinx outfit.' The course of events was to change the 'a' to 'the' and bring a telling epithet, known beyond the confines of the Eighth Air Forces."  (p.78)

The epithet, of course, was "The Bloody Hundredth."

Corporal George Vogiatizis

The crew which was assembled at Ardmore and flew to England included two waist gunners, Wayne Page and George Vogiatizis ("Vogie"). Upon arrival in England, the crew was informed that the Eighth Air Force had  ordered a reduction in crew sizes to nine, with only one  waist gunner per crew. Accordingly, Vogie was reassigned to the Ninth Air Force, where he flew in Martin B-26s. Not long afterward, the  Brown crew received word that Vogie had been shot down while on a mission with the Ninth Air Force, and he was later listed as killed in action.

The Brown Crew's Missions

Mission 1. August 4, 1944 - Hamburg, Germany.

Our first mission was against a synthetic oil production facility outside Hamburg, Germany. We experienced heavy flak. The entire crew was nervous and excited and thought the name of the plane to which we were assigned that day was quite appropriate: "Fools Rush In." There is more to tell about "Fools Rush In" later in this history -- see the text following the description of our Mission 21.

Mission 2. August 8, 1944 - Normandy.

Tactical mission in support of British and Canadian troops in Normandy -- St. Sylvain near Caen, France.

"Over St. Sylvain on August 8, the Hundredth, led by Jeffrey and Neal P. Scott, flew again in support of the  ground forces. The target was the Headquarters for the  battalions forming the nucleus of the enemy's defense.

"The operation in its larger scope was designed to  aid the attempt of the British and Canadians to crush the  hedge-hog defenses of the enemy in the Caen sector, which  held up a push to the south.

"The R.A.F. was slated to soften up five targets for an advance, after which the Eighth Air Force would attack prior to the final break through." Contrails, p. 84