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Group History

Crew #13 - L. C. Vansteenis - Page 1



 

by Earl V. Benham


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100th BG Photo Archives

CREW # 13

CAPT LOREN C. VAN STEENIS P CPT 7 MAY 44 BERLIN
LT JACK OGG CP CPT 13 JUL 44 MUNICH
LT HAROLD C. BECKER NAV KIA 7 MAY 44 BERLIN
CAPT LESTER TORBETT BOM WIA 7 MAY 44 BERLIN
SGT ARCHIE K. HOLLADAY TTE CPT 1 MAY 44 METZ, FR
SGT EARL V. BENHAM ROG CPT 1 MAY 44 METZ, FR
SGT ROBERT N. GOODMAN BTG CPT 24 MAY 44 BERLIN
SGT EDWARD C. BUTCHINO WG CPT 9 MAR 45 FRANKFURT
SGT JAMES L. YARNALL WG WIA 24 FEB 44 ROSTOCK
SGT WALTER A. SCHNEIDER TG CPT 7 MAY 44 BERLIN
SGT JOSEPH V. CLOTHIER WG CPT 7 MAY 44 BERLIN (Replaced Yarnall  after 24 Feb 44)

350TH SQDN. CREW, AS ABOVE, JOINED THE 1OOTH ON 13 OCT 1943. FLEW "HARD LUCK" FOR FIRST SEVENTEEN MISSIONS. (A/C 42-3413)

jb..CORRESPONDANCE WITH EARL BENHAM 1980--SAYS "SEVEN OF CREW FINISHED TOUR. NAV (H.C. BECKER) WAS KIA ON 7 MAY 44 (BERLIN) AFTER I FINISHED TOUR AND BOM AND WG WERE GROUNDED DUE TO WOUNDS.

Information on Crew 13 (All following data courtesy of Mr. Earl Benham)

We formed our crew at Moses Lake, Washington. We trained together as a crew in the U.S.A. prior to flying our B-17 to England. We Joined the 100th Bomb Group in England on October 13, 1943. We were assigned Airplane B-17 Model F. # 413 The name of this airplane was "Hard Luck".. We flew this B-17 until given a new model B-17 G. We called this one"Hard Luck 2" Crew members at the time of our first combat flight, were the original from Moses Lake Washington. Except our co-pilot Jack Ogg who joined the crew at the 100th base, replacing our original Co-pilot Bertrand McNeil.

Starting with us on our first combat flight. Crew members:

Pilot -- Loren C Van Steenis.
Co-pilot -- Jack Ogg
Navigator (killed In Action) -- Harold C. Becke
Bombardier (Wounded in Action) -- Lester D. Torbett
Flight Engineer -- Archie K. Holladay
Radio Operator -- Earl Benham
Asst. Radio Operator & Ball Turret -- Robert N. Goodman
Armorer Gunner (wounded in action) -- James L. Yarnall
Asst. Engineer -- Edward C. Butchino
Tail Gunner & Formation Observer -- Walter A.Schneider

Jim Yarnall
 was grounded because of wounds. Holladay and Benham finished their tours May 1st, 1944 with 28 combat missions each. Van Steenis finished on the next mission (May 7th 1944) with 28 combat missions. Schneider also finished on the May 7th mission with 28 combat missions.

On that flight tragedy struck, and the Navigator, Becker, was killed. The Bombardier Torbett was seriously wounded and grounded. Goodman finished his tour on May 24, 1944 with 28 Combat Missions. I am not certain when the rest of the crew finished. They were Jack Ogg, Edward Butchino, veteran crew members, all finished their missions and returned to the USA.

The crew was assigned the B-17F "Hard Luck" (23413 with fuselage letters ZR-J) She was delivered to the 100th on October 13th, 1943. This became one of the 100th's better-known planes. After setting an ETO record of 600 hours on her original engines (made by Studebaker) this venerable old ship was lost on the 14 Aug 1944 Ludwigshafen mission. All her crew (Donald Cielewich crew) bailed out and were taken prisoner, although it is thought some may have evaded. It was the 63rd combat mission for "Hard Luck"

A Group Lead

April 22, 1944: We were briefed to lead the Group. This time was to be a trip to Hamm, Germany -- Bombing altitude of 23,000 feet. We would carry ten 500 lb. demolition bombs.

We were leading most of the Eighth Air Force for this mission and had our Group Commander, Colonel Kelly with us. The Colonel was on his first mission with the group and was riding as observer in our plane. The Command pilot was our Squadron Commander, Major Bucky Elton.

Our co-pilot, Jack Ogg, rode in the tail, this bumped our regular tail gunner, S/Sgt Walter Schneider from the mission. Ogg was a young man of twenty-one and been our co-pilot since we joined the 100th.

There were no special problems on this flight, our fighter escort was good -- German fighters did not bother us. Flak over the target (Hamm) was extremely heavy, although I did not hear of anyone in our Group being seriously hurt.

We took off at 3 P.M. and landed at 9:30 P.M.-- a flight of six and one half hours. Our navigator performed a super job and I think he received special commendation for his efforts.

Colonel Kelly, our new Group Commander, tragically was killed one week later over the coast of France, as were most of the lead crew he was flying with. The target was V-weapon launching ramp at Sottevast.

The Day I Finished my Tour; with 28 Missions

May 1st, 1944 -- The impossible day, I finished the tour requirement of 28 missions. On this my final missions, we were briefed for an airfield near Metz, France.

Our escort was the best I had seen. We had P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s. Complete coverage to an from the target. In spite of this great protection four German fighters made a blazing attack, coming out of the sun and down through the formation. I could not understand how they were able to get through the tight escort undetected -- no damage to any of the planes near us that I heard off.

After hitting our target we headed for home, crossed the Channel safely and made our approach to land. The pilot asked the engineer and I if we would care to make a low pass over the field to celebrate competing our tours. (The flight engineer, T/Sgt Holladay and I had both finished) We both said, "land as safely as possible, no showing off." No need to temp fate anymore than was necessary. I have regretted slightly over the years we didn't put on a show of exuberance.

As we landed safely a fast thought entered my mind -- why did I make it through a tour when so many did not -- It was a great experience to feel it was over, no need to wonder why.

I remembered the initial briefing officer who had doubted any of us would complete the then required twenty-five missions -- I had completed twenty-eight combat missions. No credit to myself, I had a good crew and a lot of luck. It had been a long way from Moses Lake, Washington -- I called it "The fortunes of war," -- Unexplainable....

The last time I saw Van (Loen C. Van Steenis - crew pilot)

A man of cool nerves and logic. These were necessary attributes for combat flying. Van had the natural ability that helped bring our crew through our training and the combat tour. I flew all of my missions (28), except one with Van at the controls. He was with us from Moses Lake, Washington. Van was selected to fly non-combat for a General after he finished his tour. He asked me and the engineer ("Hap" Holladay) to go with him -- I gladly would have but the General had his engineer and radio man who stayed with him.

My only flight in England after completing my tour was to take Van to his new assignment. As we shook hands and said, "Hope to see you again." I thought, how little to say to a man who had taken us through so many rough missions. What could one say? It seemed impossible to say any more. Perhaps by then all of us had pushed emotions into the back of our minds. I don't even recall the field where we left him. No matter, I knew I would always remember him as a great pilot for our crew..

Leaving the 100th for The USA

Late July, 1944
Holladay (Archie K. Holladay - the Engineer) and I were called to Operations to sign our release papers. We were on our way to the United States of America.

One thing we noticed, there was no band assembled to give us a rousing send off. I wondered if many people knew, or cared if we left Thorpe Abbotts or stayed. I knew there were many assignments more important under consideration by those still actively engaged in the war...Holladay and I were "has beens" our days in the E.T.O. were over, at least for now. At the time we thought we might be coming back if the war lasted another year.

I packed my bags, getting ready to leave and wanted to take a few items as souvenirs. Some of the items I wanted to take were; British Helmet, Oxygen mask, Mae West life jacket that I had worn on every mission as we flew over water on them all, Flying boots, and Colt 45 pistol -- So many things I wanted to keep.

Holladay and I may have said goodbyes to some, I really can't recall that we did. By this time we not very sentimental. We were leaving a place that was to be dismantled -- we didn't know it then but this was our last view of it, as we knew it, during our combat tour. The experiences we had at Thorpe Abbotts were and are overwhelming. Later, much later, we realized how many fond memories of the people we had known there....

Leaving England

I arose early the first morning at sea and went out on deck. The cool ocean air was very invigorating. I noticed we were well out into the North Atlantic; England was disappearing into the misty horizon. There was a brief feeling of nostalgia, perhaps more of a longing to return. I though of the many people I had known, some only briefly, of the devastation of war, and what I had seen of it. I was hoping it would never have to be duplicated and yet I knew this was not over. Not yet. On this morning I thought of our crew, the men of Crew #13. The morning seemed to me to be the ending of our start from Moses Lake, Washington. Would I ever see any of them again? In my estimation the war could not have been won without the efforts of such men. The Air Force is composed of many men of such caliber.. For this reason a man could be proud to have had some part in it.

In Conclusion

When reviewing the description of these missions, you must be reminded of the terrible destructive forces involved. We faced an eneny who started the war with vast destructive forces and we retaliated with even greater force, leading to the final conclusion of the war.

The men flying combat were faced with vastly different situations, some with tragic results for many of them. These experiences were unlike any these young men had ever faced or imagined -- yet they faced them. Time has and will continue to dim many of the emotions of those difficult days. Future generations will have only dim memories of these instances. Many will be forgotten or unknown as they dim into the background of life. Some literature, such as this, must remain for verification and to maintain an aspect of history and enable many to view these events, if only in retrospect...Maybe they will wonder about them -- maybe remember...

MISSION LOG OF CREW # 13 (Van STENNIS) FROM THE DIARY OF EARL BENHAM (ROG)

THE FLIGHTS OF CREW #13 NOVEMBER 1943 THROUGH MAY 1944
(
A brief description of each flight from my diary written at the time. Earl Benham)

Nov 1943(day not listed..pw)
Our first intended mission was scrubbed just before take off.

Nov 5th 1943
Briefed for Gelsenkerken (Gilsenkirchen), Germany. We flew as spare. Bomb load, eight 500 lb. demos. Runaway supercharger at take off. Oxygen leak at 20,000 ft. We returned to base. No mission credit.

Nov 7th 1943
Briefed for Duren, Germany. Bomb load Demos and incendiaries.. At bombs away nine bombs failed to release from bomb racks. Torbett and Yarnel released them over the Channel on the way to base.

Nov 16th 1943
B
riefed for Rujkan, Norway. Bomb load, five 1000 lb demos. Target 60 miles west of Olso, Norway. A hydro electric plant also used for development of heavy water used for development of atomic bomb..Target destroyed. I sent strike report to base, giving results.

Nov 19th 1943
B
riefed for Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Bomb load Demos. Took off in cloudy weather, target overcast. Mission led by pathfinder.

Nov 26th 1943
B
riefed for airfield at Paris, France. Bomb load twelve 500 lb Demos. Target overcast, we were ordered to return to base without dropping bombs. We could not bomb France blind.. Flak heavy over target, not many enemy fighters in area..We landed at base with full bomb load.

Nov 29th 1943
Briefed for Bremen, Germany. Several enemy fighters.... we had good escort of P-47s Ten FW-190s made head on passes.

Nov 30th 1943
Briefed for Solingen, Germany. Our pilot passed out at 18,000 ft...We descended to lower altitude to revive him. Salvoed bombs in Channel. Returned to base.

Dec 10th 1943
Briefed for Emden, Germany..Bombs were incendiaries. .We flew as spares. No place to fill in. Dropped bombs in Channel and returned to base. No mission credit.

Dec 14th 1943
Briefed for Berlin, Germany. Mission scrubbed before take off. Returned to briefing room and were briefed for Kiel, Germany. This mission also scrubbed half hour before take off.

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