That the 100th is so much a part of history that we have become a "project" for an English schoolboy is both flattering and unsettling. This is a letter Bill Carleton, 351st Engineering Officer, received from Gary Lines. His thoughtful and reminiscent reply, spanning as it does, the years we were at Thorpe Abbotts.
I am a fifteen year old school boy studying for several education certificates. For my history course I have to do a project. Being interested in the 8th Air Force and only living one mile from Thorpe Abbotts airfield were the 100 B.G. were stationed during World War II, I have chosen to do my project on them.
While talking to Mr. and Draper one day they told me that a plane of your squadron, the 351st of the 100th, could have completed the most missions with the 100th. This plane was a B-17 called, "The All American Girl," and I wondered if you could tell me if this is true or not. Also I wonder if you could tell me the squadron markings on another B-17 of your squadron called "Piccadilly Lilly" and many missions this plane completed. If you can help me in these bits of information I would be very grateful and it would help me in my project a great deal.
(s) Gary Lines
Your letter arrived last Thursday requesting information on the "Bloody 100th." I must admit your letter sent me to the back-roads of my mind, to reminisce those events that took place so long ago in a friendly, but far away land. I was in the original cadre of the 100th which was formed in Boise, Idaho, in October of 1942. In April of 1943 we were assigned to the 8th Air Force in the United Kingdom. Our ultimate base was an R.A.F. field at Thorpe Abbotts between Norwich and Ipswich in East Angila. We had been assigned B-17’s and the flight crews flew to England, while the ground echelon, of which I was a part as a Squadron Engineering Officer, went on the Queen Elizabeth.
In April of 1943 the U-Boat menace was at its height, and of course there was some apprehension. I recall one lieutenant in our cabin who was particularly worried, and just before sailing from New York, we presented him with a clipping from the New York Times in which Admiral Land of the U.S. Maritime Commission stated that the battle of the Atlantic was won. When you read the article you found that we won the battle of the Atlantic because we were building them faster than they were sinking them and we were building them very fast.
The Elizabeth, because of her speed, ran without escort, and to further confound the enemy, she changed her course every three minutes. We went the southern route and it took us about eight day to reach Grenach, Scotland, were we went ashore by lighter. It was a beautiful morning when we landed and the green coast of Scotland was certainly one of the most beautiful sights had ever seen. We were met by the Red Cross, who had tea and crumpets, and then we proceeded by train through Glasgow to Thorpe Abbotts. The train moved slowly through Glasgow and evidently the people knew that we were newly arrived Americans. From the windows, the streets, and even the tops of buildings thousands of people were waving white handkerchiefs. It appeared that many were crying, but this silent demonstration was one of joy, not sorrow. To a young man from the Great Plains of South Dakota this was indeed an unforgettable sight.
When we arrived in England, the 8th Air Force and daylight bombing was in their infancy. There were many doubts if such a concept was feasible and some of the losses which had been sustained indicated it might not be. I believe there were only four Groups when we arrived. We formed the nucleus of what was later known as the 3rd Air Division. The 2nd Air Division was B-24’s and the 1st Air Division was B-17’s.
Our field was just a few miles from the old dirigible hanger at Pullham, which at one time I believe housed the R101. In any event, this big old hanger was known as "The Barn" and served as a welcome landmark to "home in on" whether we were returning from a mission or a local flight. To an American who is used to straight roads and distinctive landmarks such as railroads line or buildings, all of England from the air seemed confusingly alike.
Approximately 1500 men of the 100th, consisting of the ground and flight echelon, were aboard the Queen Elizabeth. I had originally wondered how we could all get on board the same ship, but this became rather academic because she carried 16,000 troops plus the crew. The officers slept I bunks three tiers high and stacked side by side, while the enlisted men were assigned two to a hammock for twelve hours on and twelve hours off, or should I say twelve hours in and twelve hours out. It is fortunate that neither of these great ships were lost, since it would have been a true catastrophe. As I recall, the lifeboats we only adequate to take care of 1500 to 1800.
Originally each squadron had ten to twelve planes, and at the start each B-17 carried ten men. Thus about 415 men flew across to join us in England as our original crews. We later added a base squadron for 3rd Echelon Engineering Maintenance and base support. The number of planes was increased to 18 and extra crews were added, so our final complement of men was close to 4,000.
As the 351st Engineering Officer, I established my organization on the one mile perimeter strip on the north side of the base. The engineering office was a Nissen hut at the third dispersal point, right next to the local road which ran into Dickleburg. Only a few feet from the engineering hut were the William Taylor residence, and less than a half mile down the road was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Draper, their son William and their daughter Alda. The Drapers farmed the area on which the field was located, and they as well as Mrs. Taylor became my very good and dear friends.
All this closeness to the civilian population was new and strange to us. I recall the first Sunday we were at Thorpe Abbotts with our planes. Dozens, if not hundreds of people came down the little road to look at "The Fort," as they called it. They rode bicycles and I recall one woman even brought her baby in a pram. The road was only a few feet from the airplanes, and since we were also responsible for the security, the presence of so many people seemed precarious to us at first.
I should explain that in the United States the air bases had been in a remote area and literally thousands of acres were set aside as reservation, and this in turn, was fenced with woven wore and barbed wire on top. To get on the base everyone including military personnel, need to have and identification, and to get near the airplanes it was sometimes necessary to have a second pass.
If thought the Sunday kibitzers were unusual, I must admit I was downright flabbergasted by the little house which sat on, not next to, the concrete dispersal point No. 2. Due to some bureaucratic red tape, the British Government evidently was not able to secure this particular home prior to the construction of the field. Consequently, they left the home where it was, but paved the area immediately in front of the house with concrete and ended up with a large semicircle.
There was also the distressing fact that our Group suffered extremely heavy losses. I believe it was Munster from which we had only one plane return. That particular ship was flown by Lt. Rosenthal; it had all the controls blown out and he landed the plane using the automatic pilot. I think there were only three men aboard at the time. The succeeding day we had additional heavy losses and as a result we were taken out off combat operations for several days to replenish the crews and planes. All of them made our Canadian neighbor, in the small house, suspect as she was extremely friendly and had day to day contact, both with the flight and ground crews.
As I start to tell you about your Yankee neighbors, thoughts flood my mind, some funny and some sad. It is easier to remember the former and I recall an embarrassing incident in the fall of ‘43. As there were many emergencies, and since much of our work was done at night, I oftentimes slept in the engineering shack, or as it was known, "on the line." It was a tradition that no one in the U.S. Army wore pajamas, much less a night gown, and I think that most of the troops slept "Army Style" with a complete lack of night garments. On this particular morning it was about 4:30. With the British summertime, the sun had risen and I was lying on the cot thinking about getting up, when I heard the heavy drone of a fighter plane buzzing the field. My first thought was that those darn U.S. fighter pilots we trying to wake us up, but immediately realized no fighter pilot, no matter how crazy, would be buzzing our field at 4:30 in the morning. As I started to get out of bed, the first 500-pound bomb went off on the runway in front of us and blew both doors open on the engineering shack. As the door opened, I went through it just in time for the second bomb to speed me on my way our across the freshly cut stubble. Suddenly I realized that the plane had gone and I was a couple of hundred feet from the engineering shack in broad daylight naked as a jay bird. It had taken me only a few seconds to reach this point, but it took considerably longer to pick my way back with my bare feet on the sharp stubble. Some of the enlisted men, who had been working on the plane and had jumped in the ditches, coyly remarked as the Captain’s health and the condition of his feet.
Following that experience, I quickly ascertained that what I needed was a "deep" foxhole. I dug one next to Engineering’s back door and later used it on several occasions. I must mention one of the other times I used the foxhole, which by had the same status as a close friend. It was about ten or eleven o’clock in the morning and we had heavy cloud cover with possibly a 400 or 500 feet ceiling. Takeoff time for us was 6:00 a.m. so our planes had been gone for several hours and was not due back until early afternoon. I was working on my desk when I heard a prop runaway on an aircraft overhead. The speed of an aircraft engine is determined both by the throttle and the pitch of the propeller. The flatter the pitch, the less the load and the faster it would run. When it runs away it means that it is out of control, and unless quickly corrected, will disintegrate and possibly cause the plane to crash. As soon as I heard the high pitch sound, I put the typewriter on the floor, ran to the door and jumped into the foxhole. The noise overhead was getting closer and closer and I correctly surmised that the airplane was in a flat spin, that is, it was out of control, flying in a circle. Suddenly I heard a swoosh of air and I immediately thought that the plane had dropped its bombs. I am as deep in the foxhole as you can get when there was a heavy thud about 25 to 30 feet away. Meanwhile, the airplane kept getting closer and it broke out of the clouds and crashed on the air field in from of me coming to as stop right next to the light trailer at the end of the runway. When things quieted down, I looked out and the airplane was a P-51. Right across the road behind us was the front turret of a B-24. What had happened was the commanding officer of another Group was monitoring his squadron and the wing of his airplane had hit the front turret on a B-24 knocking it off. The Colonel was able to bail out when his airplane went into the spin, but the officer in the turret was not as lucky. He landed a couple hundred feet up the road near our sentry.
The collision of airborne aircraft was a constant hazard due to the thousands of airplanes concentrated in a relatively small area, plus the weather and at times the traumatic conditions of the flight. I recall that in the winter of 1944 we heard the telltale noise of runaway engines again and took cover. It was about nine o’clock in the morning and we had a low ceiling our planes were our on a mission. Suddenly out of the sky loomed a B-17 in dive of about 45 degrees angle. The sentry at our bomb dump heard it and ran from his post only seconds before it crashed into the dump. It had on board two 2,000 pound bombs which exploded with "a hell of a roar" throwing debris all the way across the field. Unfortunately, this concussion set off other bombs, and we had a pyrotechnic display for the next two days. The field was closed, and although we were able to get our planes back in, we were off operations for a day or two.
I think that in two years of combat operations we had a stand-down only three times. Once was for the large losses at Munster; and then we lost the bomb dump; and the third time was the 300th mission party.
Our 300the mission party was a gala affair to which all of the brass and all of the civilians in the surrounding community were invited. An English carnival was set up on the field and we had and American barbecue, including beef on a spit right on the airfield. Three bands were brought in and there were dances in the hanger, the non-com’s club and the officer’s club. Official contact was made with the other allied groups and special invitations were issued to the ATS, the WRENS and WAAFS. General Doolittle and General Spaatz were on hand, as were many dignitaries. Depending upon your point of view, the party was either a smashing success or a disgrace to motherhood and the flag. The principal casualties were on chaplain, who resigned, and an investigation which gave us a clean bill of health.
You asked in particular about two of our planes, "The All American Girl" and "Piccadilly Lilly." I have included a xerox picture of these planes, both of which were in our original cadre, and both of which were subsequently lost. In fact of our original planes and crews, we had only one crew out of the twelve to finish and that Lt. Dye who flew "Going Jessie," which was parked in front of the engineering shack. While there were other individuals from the original cadre that finished, his was the only crew.
Piccadilly Lilly was flown by Lt. Murphy, who I believe was and airline pilot. He was an excellent pilot and you will note from the picture they had completed fifteen missions, had shot down eight Nazi war planes, and had been on two diversion missions. These were shown on the plane as a "sitting duck" or decoy. Each bomb indicated one combat mission and Piccadilly Lilly was lost before the 25th mission, which would have completed their tour. Lt Baker, our Operations Officer and a close friend, was flying with Lt. Murphy the day they failed to return.
A replacement for Lt. Murphy was, Lt. Flak and Piccadilly Lilly No2. Since he had red hair he was known as Pinky and everything Murphy was, Pinky wasn’t. He was a pilot who burned up engines and one time returned with only one engine operating normally. On another occasion he failed to pick the plane off the ground and ran right off the end of the runway and across the ditch into the mud, bombs and all. That was the end of Piccadilly Lily No. 2, but Pinky did live to complete his tour and be sent back to the States, much to the relief of the Engineering Department.
"The All American Girl" was the Statue of Liberty rather than a pin-up. I am not sure if this airplane held the record, but it certainly held the record at the 100th Bombardment Group. The number of missions completed stretched from the nose way back to the tail, and I would judge it was in the 60’s when she was lost…subsequently her and her crew were both lost on a deep penetration into Germany.
I also think of Frank Valesh and his plane, "Hang the Expense." One day Big Frank and two other officers thought it would be just ducky to take two Red Cross girls for a ride in the big bird. In fact, they didn’t see any reason why one of the girls couldn’t take the plane off the ground, although not officially, of course. In the excitement of her maiden flight, they neglected to lock the tail wheel for the run down the runway. Consequently, the airplane set up a serious vibration at speed above 60 mph. Rather than lift the tail off the ground, they evidently tried to take off and this was not possible at speeds below 125 mph. Rather than takeoff, they left runway and crossed the field heading toward Draper’s meadow. On the way, the right wing hooked the pyramidal tent, which housed our bomb sight repair units, and much to the surprise of the Sergeant, he was suddenly standing outdoors without having taken a step. The plane continued into the meadow and the right wing struck a large tree and the tree won. However, the airplane continued on and the left wing struck another tree right near the No 1 engine. This tree also won and the unhappy five some were now driving an airplane without any wings, but with plenty of gas and at full throttle. They were headed straight toward Draper’s barn and it subsequently struck the barn, killed the bull and then caught on fire. By this time, I think all five of them had abandoned the flight deck and were on their way out the back door. Amazingly enough, the bull was the only casualty. The Colonel arrived on the scene just in time to see it go up in smoke, but he could still read the name on the airplane, "Hang the Expense."
There was a corollary to this story which was of considerable concern both to the Colonel and to me. With Mr. Draper’s permission, we kept a lot of aircraft parts, including fires, batteries and generators, in Mr. Draper’s barn. We kept them there for two reasons. One was, we were short of space, and secondly, and perhaps the most important, these parts were above and beyond our authorized inventory. We had not been in combat more than two weeks or three weeks before we were able to determine that the chair borne Colonels in Washington didn’t know very much about how many parts and pieces it was going to take to keep our airplanes flyable. To get these regulations changed, it would take longer than the war was to last, so we did the next best thing: we increased our inventory by what is known as "midnight requisition" and we kept the overage in this barn. Fortunately the barn was brick and the part that was destroyed held the bull and not the batteries. There were hundreds of people around, including the fire trucks and the inspectors, but no one opened the door at the far end.
I have included a series of pictures of a crash which occurred directly east of Draper’s home and right near our two-story Control Tower. It was on January 31, 1945, and the planes were returning to the base with their bombs, due to cloud cover over the Continent. The cloud cover was also over the British Isles, and this particular aircraft broke out of the clouds headed directly for the control tower. To avoid crashing into the control tower, he banked to the right and crashed into two of our pyramidal tents which housed our maintenance crews. Fortunately God was with us, because these ten men were at squadron headquarters for pay formation as it being the day of the month. The only occupant in the tent was our black cat named Jack, who evidently escaped injury, but did not return for two weeks.
The plane itself belly-landed, slid across the little public road that ran next to our tents and stopped in the field. The plane was on fire, but it was possible for all of the crewmen to escape with no serious injury. The plane burned for possibly twenty or thirty minutes and then the bombs exploded. Although that area of the base had been evacuated, we were not able to get the airplanes out, and three other aircraft were so badly damaged that they had to be destroyed`…
At the time of the explosion, there was another minor miracle. An American serviceman was driving a couple of English Red Cross girls onto the base. He was refused entry to the base due to the evacuation and on his own decided to ignore the orders of the Military Police and drive on the public road which actually right next to the burning airplane. He had to stop his weapons carrier to push a propeller and debris off the road so he could continue. While he was bending over to perform this function, the bombs exploded and blew him into a ditch of water. It also blew the roof off the weapons carrier, but the two girls escaped injury, although there was evidence of shrapnel strikes all over the vehicle. An explosion of this nature had a mushroom effect, and evidently they were so close to the explosion that they were in the little umbrella where the concussion passed over them, and they were fortunate enough not to have been struck by the flying shrapnel and debris…the bombs dug a crater several feet deep.
…A ground crash occurred June 21, 1944. Due to a wind change, they used the short runway which actually ran down hill. It was too short for our returning aircraft and one of them failed to make the turn in time, whereas two others crashed into it. Again we were lucky and not one was killed and it became known as the "Grand Slam."
Speaking of luck, one of the luckiest people I know was an English workman who was driving a truck on the perimeter strip and evidently not paying too much attention to the to the taxiing aircraft. In fact, he drove his truck right into one of the propellers, which subsequently cut the steering wheel off in his hand. When he regained his composure, which was several minutes later, we marched over to the Adjutant’s office and demanded a new truck. Major Utley offered him a deal. We would get him a new truck and he would get us a new $10,000 propeller and a $15,000 engine. The case was closed.
The efficiency of Scotland Yard was brought home to us one fine day, along with some penalties for our Perimeter Defense Squadron. The Air Echelon, including the maintenance crews, were a close knit group, and felt themselves a cut or two above the ground defense people. Thus it was with considerable relish that they repeated the misfortune which befell these soldiers who were camped in the woods on the eastern end of our line. They actually lived in this area and their purpose was to protect us against marauding aircraft. As I indicated previously, many of us were worried against the possible danger they presented to our welfare since they were not necessarily crack shots and some of our men were not overly impressed with their judgment. Some of the lineman undoubtedly knew that the defense crew was from time to time filching chickens. These were subsequently cooked over an open fire and undoubtedly were delicious. However, as to be expected, the farmer (Not Draper), complained to the police. Of course our heroes knew nothing about the missing chickens, but then Scotland Yard was called in with a bloodhound. Lo and behold, the smart dog took off on a trot and led these modern day Sherlock Holmeses right to the spot where the feathers and chicken bones were buried. It was a dark day for our protectors, but a triumph for British justice.
I have included two pictures which might be considered somewhat historic and which were taken over Berlin on March 2. 1945. The bomb burst can be seen in the lower center. The reason this is a historic picture in that the 100th Bombardment Group was the first Group in the American Air Corps to have bombers over Berlin. Like many things in war, this was a rather dubious honor brought about by a series so mistakes.
General Doolittle had been the first American crew over Tokyo, and then latter on the first bombing mission over Rome. He wanted to complete his career by also being the first over Berlin. The mission had gone forward on March 2nd and the bomber train was extended over Europe when the mission when the mission was scrubbed due to bad weather. The 100th Bomb Group did not receive the message to return to base and went on in and bombed Berlin without General Doolittle. Of course, no one could say anything too much but it did take a little bit of the snap out of the General’s salute of congratulations.
I think it is wonderful that you have this historic project on a part of history which occurred right where you live. All wars are senseless, and yet, World War II was unavoidable. We gained victory not through superior intellect, but rather through the will to win and the belief that we were in the right. Like all human endeavors, the war was fraught with frustration, and at times saddled with stupidity, but the love of man and the love of country brought forth accomplishments and sacrifices beyond man’s own comprehension. The 100th Bomb Group was known throughout the land not because we were superhuman, but rather that we were human. Our fame and notoriety spread not just because of Regensburg or Berlin or the Russian mission, but because of our losses, and yes, even because of our faux pas. We were famous, and to some of the new flyers, infamous both for what we did and what we gave. Mighty as were with our 70 to 80 bombers, and our 4.000 men, we were but a small fraction of the total force ultimately applied against the Axis powers. We contributed our part and it was our knowledge and belief that others were making an even greater sacrifice that assured us of ultimate victory.
When victory came, the 100th was assigned many mundane chores, such as flying French prisoners of war out of Austria to Paris, transferring troops from the United Kingdom to Casablanca, where they continued on to the China-Burma-India Theater, acting as moving vans for fighter groups going to Germany, establishing our own bases at Stuttgart which we kept until October of 1945, and flying food drops into Holland. All these things were important, but the food drops into Holland meant the most. The people there were starving and Germans had promised us a corridor to fly across the country unmolested at low level. We loaded up our food in the bomb bays and came across Amsterdam at roof top level. I remember a little boy looking up and trying to race us on his bicycle. As we approached the target area, the Dutch had arranged stones to say "thank you" in large letters just as we crossed the field. There were planes ahead of us who had made drops and people were running across the target area to get food, unmindful of the fact that they could be knocked to Kingdom Come with a can of spam…
William A. Carleton