Brown's Clowns - The History of a B17 Bomber Crew Page 4

by Bud Vieth

Mission 20, December 30. 1944 - Kassel, Germany

Bombed marshalling yards at Kassel for the third time. B-17 #209 again. Extensive cloud cover required bombing with Pathfinder.

The Germans had developed sophisticated radio aiming devices for their anti-aircraft guns. We tried for the first time to jam these devices by releasing billows of tinfoil chaff (called window).

"The whole of Thorpe Abbotts was now 'covered in rime frost' and even with six or seven blankets on their beds. 'the men still woke up freezing cold.' The latrines had 'frozen solid...' " Century Bombers , p. 170.

Mission 21, January 3, 1945 - Fulda, Germany .

Used old #209 again to bomb marshalling yards at Fulda. Bombed through cloud cover using Pathfinder.

The Story of the Century notes that our crew on this mission against Fulda included "Brown, Leo Kimball, navigator, E. A. Lentz, mickey operator, and W. H. Titley, bombardier" (p. 95)

Roland Douglas

The Mighty Eighth, p. 204. Twelve B-17s of the 100th Group went down. The Brown crew luckily did not participate in this mission. But Douglas did, with the Williams crew.

Recall that the first mission flown by the Brown crew (including Doug) was in "Fools Rush In." During the Hamburg raid on December 31, the Williams crew was flying in formation just below "Fools Rush In." On the bomb run, after releasing its bombs, "Fools Rush In" was hit by flak. The plane nosed down and crashed into the B-17 being flown by the Williams crew, including Doug. The Williams plane was cut in two, and both it and "Fools Rush In" went down in flames. Century Bombers, p. 171.

As tail gunner, Doug was in the severed rear section of the B-17 as it went down. He managed to bail out near the ground and landed safely. He was captured by the Germans.

Doug and fellow prisoners of war were placed in a boxcar and were being moved by train to a prison camp. Several days later, on January 3, this boxcar was in the marshalling yards at Fulda, when the 100th Group bombed those yards (our Mission 21). The guards would not let the prisoners out of the boxcars, so they dropped to the floor as bombs landed all over the place. Fortunately Doug's boxcar was not hit. Doug was ultimately freed by Allied troops in May, 1945.

Roland Douglas in 1944

Mission 22, January 7, 1944 - Cologne, Germany .

Another attack on marshalling yards. Very bad weather -- could not even see the other squadrons in our group. Bombed using mickey.

Mission 24, January 28, 1945 - Duisburg .

B-17 #400. Another marshalling yard. Very bad weather -- minus 65° F outside -- Vieth diary notes: "almost froze even with the heated suits."

Century Bombers notes that --

"For the next seven days, 'the weather had a field day and the ships sat on their tires as snow, sleet and rain alternated and filled the static pools, which spread into the roads. Everything leaked..."

"'...all the pipes were frozen. The huts are mighty cold.'

" '...According to our English friends this was the worst winter in five years.' " Century Bombers, p. 178.

Mission 22. January 7 1945 - Cologne Germany.

Another attack on marshalling yards. Very bad weather -- could not even see the other squadrons in our group. Bombed using mickey.

Mission 23. January 21. 1945 - Minim. Germany.

B-17G #400. Another marshalling yard. Very bad weather -- minus outside -- Vieth diary notes "almost froze even with the heated suit."

Century Bombers notes that -

"For the next seven days, 'the weather had a field day and the ships sat on their tires as snow, sleet and rain alternated and filled the static pools, which spread into the roads. Everything leaked ...'

"'... all the pipes were frozen. The huts are mighty cold.'

" '...According to our English friends this was the worst winter in five years."' Century Bombers, pa. 178.

Mission 24. January 28. 1945 - Germany.

B-17G #379. Bombed a bridge over Rhine River -- good visibility. Vieth diary notes, "Titley really plastered it again." According to Century Bombers, the bombs landed just as a train was crossing -- got both the train and the bridge (p. 178).

Mission 25. January 29. 1945 - Kassel Germany.

Bombed tank factory. B-17 #379.

"At 08.00 the following morning, the Hundredth, led by Major Cruver [command pilot] and Captain Gerald Brown, took off from Runway 10 and made its way to Kassel, where at 11.54 and 'despite the fact that all the radar equipment in the three lead ships became inoperative,' the majority of the planes released their 500 pound bombs on a tank factory with 'good results.'

"On their return, 'the lead navigators Carl Roesel and Julius Krepismann noted: 'Navigation results do not seem too good...' Later, the Hundredth was commended as being the only group in the entire Eighth Air Force to hit the primary target that day. The `report was subject to great discount..."' Century Bombers, p. 179.

Lt. Arthur L. Jacobson

Jake was with the Brown crew from its beginning at Ardmore, Oklahoma. He was an excellent pilot and loved flying. The good soldier that he was, Jake went along with the crew's decision to become a lead crew which, as noted previously, meant that he would thereafter fly missions in the tail gun position supervising the formations following the lead plane. Jake flew 25 missions with the Brown crew. On February 3, 1945 the 100th Bomb Group was assigned to lead the Third Division on a major raid against Berlin. The Russians were now 35 miles from Berlin. The Brown crew was not scheduled for this mission -- the 100th Group lead crew was to be that of pilot John Ernst. Members of the Brown crew and the Ernst crew had been friends from the days in Ardmore and had trained together and flown together throughout their service with the 100th Group. On February 3 the co-pilot of the Ernst crew was disabled, and Jake volunteered to fly the mission with the Ernst crew. The command pilot was Major Robert Rosenthal, a legend in the 100th Bomb Group. The Ernst lead crew was assigned B-17 #379, the same Pathfinder ship that the Brown crew had flown on Missions 12, 13, 17, 22, and 24. (#379 had been repaired after its wing was damaged during the landing on our Christmas Eve mission, Mission 17.) The February 3 mission to Berlin is described in Flying Fortress (pp. 221-22) as follows:

"The flak had proved to be murderously accurate over Berlin that day--'a beautiful day,' as Rosenthal would later recall it. He was of course referring only to the clear weather. The plane shuddered under the impact of the flak and the air filled with the noises of ripping metal. No. 1 engine spouted flame, a great white sheet spilling into the air stream behind the wing; the fabric-covered aileron shriveled, exposing the graceful metallic structure. The plane bounced again under another hit. The pilot, Captain John Ernst, continued with the run, his eyes darting toward Rosenthal, who mentally weighed the possibility of their continuing against the other possibility of a mid-air explosion before they made it.

"They kept going and bombardier Lieutenant E. Lockhart zeroed in on the Erkner factory and the bombs fell from the blazing Fortress; the rest of the group dropped on the leader. Then Rosenthal pushed the alarm bell signaling 'Abandon ship," and ordered Ernst to supervise the bail-out. He then informed Lyster that they were leaving the formation. Another hit set the bomb bay on fire and the middle of the B-17 was an uncontrollable mass of flame. In making his exit Ernst had dropped through the still open bomb bay. He caught his leg on a jagged edge, cutting it so badly that it had to be amputated.

 "The B-17 had now descended to about a thousand feet. Rosenthal, certain that all who were able had leaped from the plane, put it on autopilot and, adjusting his chute harness, left the flight deck. The nearest exit was the forward emergency door just below and in front of the pilot's compartment. Rosenthal squeezed down toward the door, and as he did saw that a man still remained in the ship. He would never know that man's identity, for he had been decapitated."

 Ten of the men aboard reached the ground safely -- three (including Rosenthal) picked up by the Russians and the others, including Jake, captured by the Germans. The book Flying Fortress indicates that one of the airmen captured by the Germans was lynched by civilians, although there is no mention of this fact in the more recent bookCentury Bombers.

Jake's description of his ordeal was most interesting: "Feb. 3 - Bailed out at about 25,000 ft. after several large swigs of pure oxygen. Counted slowly to 30 and looked down to see I was still plenty high so remained falling and checked altitude every few seconds. Saw the ground approaching rapidly so pulled the chord. Chute opened and I found myself very close to the ground and drifting backwards. Touched ground before I had time to face forward and then fell on my back. I had a hell of a time spilling my chute and then took off the harness. I spotted a haystack and started for it. Hit the dirt when a few bullets bounced off the ground near me. Looked around and saw a farmer with a gun about a half of a mile away. Every time I raised my head he would shoot. I then surrendered when he raised his hand and stopped shooting. I then stood up with my arms in the air and he walked towards me. The farmer told me to pick up my chute and told me to start walking towards his house, about a half mile away. Was completely out of wind when I reached his farm and was then searched for any weapons. I was allowed to take off my muddy flying clothes and started to scrape the mud off my hands and face. The farmer's whole damn family soon crowded around me and seemed to be pleased that I was an American and not a Limey or Russian. Washed and smoked Jerry's cigarettes after being told to put mine back because I only had two in the pack I pulled out. Drank a couple of cups of fresh milk. Was then marched to the nearby village about 3 km away."

While in custody, Jake ran into Roland Douglas, who, as noted before, had been captured after bailing out on the New Year's Eve mission to Hamburg. Jake remained in custody until he was liberated by the 14th Armored Division on April 29, 1945.