Missing In Action – Germany – Oct 7 – 1944
by Lawrence Rogers
On October 7th, 1944 we were awakened about 3 O’clock with the sad news of briefing; at 4:30 breakfast; at 3:45. Still half asleep, crew 30 climbed into a G.I. truck and rode about a half mile to the mess hall for a breakfast of powdered eggs, pancakes, dehydrated milk, coffee etc. Nobody was feeling up to par because the day before we had gone to Berlin, which was plenty rough. Chow finished, we rode to Gunners briefing room and drew our parachutes and A-3 Bags full of flying equipment. Into the briefing room we went and were checked off the list by the MP at the door. The big map was covered and everyone lit up a cigarette.
Everyone present, the door was locked and the officer drew the curtain and announced the target for the day, “Brux”, near Leipzig. We mentally groaned for it was a 9 hour haul with plenty of flak and fighter possibilities. 6 hours on oxygen and expected temperature of 40 below. I don’t remember much of the briefing except target time was about 13:00 and plenty of flak was expected. The MP1 was an Oil refinery and 1P was a Rock quarry.
With the usual “Good Luck” from the briefing officers we loaded our stuff on a truck and rode out to the hard stand where ship no. 531 called “SAD FLAK” by us was parked. She only had about 6 missions on her and we had put them on ourselves. Pulling our junk off the truck and putting it in the waist, we didn’t have much to say because always before a mission we were too busy with our thoughts and guns. I went out to the tent by the hard stand and started cleaning my guns which were to be my most treasured possessions during the next few hours. Cleaning consisted of oiling and the wiping every atom of oil, moisture, dirt etc. off of every part of the gun and assembly of the parts. While we did this while the ground crew was checking the ship and running up the engines.
Guns cleaned they were carried out to the ship and installed in their respective positions. My position was Ball Turret and I took pride in my ability to hold it down. When you are in the turret you are completely enclosed in a sphere approximately 3 feet in diameter which hangs just aft of the wings trailing edge. Your body is below the body of the plane and it is the most cramped position there is. Two twin 50 caliber Browning machine guns, a computing Sperry sight, 1150 rounds of ammo, complete oxygen equipment, Electrical and hydraulic driving systems and other items are crowded in with you.
After my guns were installed and worked by hand to my satisfaction, I climbed into the waist and started putting on my flying clothes. First a suit of summer underwear, then a winter suit, two pairs of heavy sox, then an electrically heated suit and a pair of flying coveralls. Heated shoes and fur lined boots. Silk scarf, heavy wool scarf, silk gloves, heated gloves, oxygen mask, parachute harness, Mae west, throat mike, headset. In my pockets we carried a money pouch with 2000 francs and maps, compass etc and an escape kit of food etc in case of a bailout. I also had a few pictures, billfold, 2 cigarettes, 1 lighter, 2 candy bars, 1 pack of gum, and a few odds and ends.
After climbing into all this it was a torture to even move. With everyone aboard the engines were started and run up and checked. Ships were moving by on the perimeter track and we fell in our place and taxied to the end of the runway. With a bomb load of 12 – 500 Lb. GPs and a maximum gas load we roared down the strip and into the air. Everyone’s heart was in our throat because one falter of an engine and we were goners. Every 30 seconds a B-17 took off. As soon as the wheels were up I cranked my ball turret down and folded myself inside and plugged in the interphone, Oxygen, and heated suit connection. Checking power, oxygen, interphone etc. I found them all in order. I turned on the power and spun the turret around to 12 O’clock and picked up the other ships and spotted the flares shot by the lead ship. We soon fell in formation with the others and circled Buncher 28 until the groups were all formed. I must have dozed off for the next I knew the bombardier called me for an Oxygen check. I put on my Oxygen mask and called out OK. By this time we were on course and over the Channel. Picking out a clear spot of water I test fired my guns which were OK. We were flying second element lead so I started sweeping the sky from 9 to 3 O’clock. Soon we picked up our fighter escort of P-51 and P-47’s. The next few hours were routine formation flying and fighter watch. Things pepped up, as we knew we were nearing the target. There was a slight under-cast and someone saw a few jerry fighters. Flak was sighted but none was close enough to worry us. The engines were smoking badly so I called the co-pilot and he checked them and said they were OK. We started on the bomb run and clouds of flak came up until the sky was black all over. It still wasn’t too close although it was getting there. A huge smoke screen covered the ground and the lead ship couldn’t pick up the target so we made a 360 and started another run. This time the flak was right in there but it seemed a miracle that no one got it. Plenty of ships must have been damaged but I never found out. This run was a dud also so we started another. It was different this time though as 2 ships just blew up bombs and all. I got a queer sick feeling watching those streams of smoke plunge down to earth 5 miles below. No chutes came out either which made it bad.
Suddenly as if by magic our ship woke up with a bang. Harry says over the intercom that we had only 60 gallons left in no. 4 and less in the others. I mentally figured “60 gallons per engine and 600 miles to go. Impossible!” I have never had such a feeling as came over me then. A quick discussion was held and all tanks were checked and the navigator started figuring ETA’s to Allied territory. Al called the lead ship and received orders to pull out of formation and throw it out meaning toss everything overboard. The formation made the third run without us. We dumped our bombs in a field and I looked back at the other ships now several miles away just in time to see two contrails come from way up high and arrow through the formation. Jet propelled jobs. Two more 17’s went down in flames and I got sick again. The jets didn’t come back like the cowards they are.
I climbed out of the turret and started tossing flak suits, guns, ammo and anything not absolutely necessary overboard. Kicked off the waist door and for an hour I was so busy I don’t remember much of what happened. We must have rejoined the group for I remember seeing other ships outside.
Bruce and Ray seemed too scared to move. They just stood around with their chutes on. I went out back and tossed Rays guns and ammo etc out of the tail and came back to the waist and plugged in the intercom to find out what was happening. We had left the formation and headed for Brussels on a course given to us by the lead ship. No.4 engine was feathered and its gas was transferred to the others. We were letting down too. The Oxygen system was empty. So far we had suffered no battle damage. There just wasn’t any gas. Where it went I would probably never know.
Fred the Navigator was hopelessly lost. This was only his second mission and he had flown the first one the day before so he was really in a muddle. Wes the Bombardier was about halfway flak happy so he wasn’t much use. To top it all off we only had navigation maps covering the route in and out and none of the territory we were now over. All we could do was keep on our present heading and pray we could make the front lines before having to bail out. An under-cast didn’t help things out at all. We had our chutes on and stood by ready to go if Al said to. No. 4 started wind milling and we dropped through the clouds. Ice started forming on the wings. All the gauges said 0, no gas. We were virtually in a glide with the engines idling. Somehow we got below the clouds and I spotted an airfield off at 3 O’clock and called it out to Al. Our ETA was up so Fred said that must be the one we’re to land on. So we made a turn and Al said to go into the radio room and prepare for a crash landing. The last words I heard him say was “If there are Jerry’s there don’t tell them sons of —- nothing”. I went forward and we arranged all our flight equipment against the bulkhead to act as cushions. Fred and Wes came back and we closed the door and Gunn leaned his back against it. I lay down under the command set next to the side of the ship. Bruce was almost on top of me. For about 5 minutes we waited for the big bump. All at once all hell broke loose. Someone was shooting at us on the ground. I looked out the window and the air was filled with a web of tracer and puffs of small flak. We were being riddled with holes. I could hear them going off all through the ship like firecrackers. We were about 50 feet up and I could see several 20mm emplacements really throwing up a screen of steel. The engines opened up and we made a turn and limped back upstairs a little and the noise eased off a little. A good glance at the field told me we couldn’t land there anyway. It was a maze of bomb craters. I later learned we were almost on the ground before they started shooting so they had us cold. But somehow we made it and Al decided to try an open field nearby. This was filled with Glider poles, which are like telephone poles setup every few feet to stop invasion Gliders from landing. We were still very low and the engines were cutting out N0.2 was windmilling already. No more gas.
A piece of Flak had come up trough the upper hatch and shattered Bruce’s earphone and cut his face. A big hole 3 feet across was in the wing alongside the window. Several more were further out. All at once things started popping again. I could hear the popping of the guns on the ground and the blam-blam as the 20mm’s went off in the ship. They got louder and one came straight up through the floor and hit Bruce in the head and exploded. I was blinded and stunned by the blast. For some time I don’t remember much of what happened after that. Smoke was all over. I became conscious a few seconds before we hit. Bruce was a horrible sight. His head was in shreds. Blood was all over everything and I probably would have had it too only I had my turret Flak helmet on, and it was riddled. I was so scared I must have been out of my head. All of this had happened in about 5 minutes.
I remember looking out the window again and seeing trees go by and a Silo and a Barn. Then it seemed as if a million tons of weight was pushing me forward into the bulkhead and I couldn’t breath. I saw stars and blackness. Vaguely I remember the awful pressure was suddenly released and I was turning over and over, bouncing along the ground I guess. The noise was so terrific I cannot describe it. The next thing I remember must have been some time later. I was almost smothered to death and couldn’t see except for a blur. Everything was so still and quiet it scared me. Somehow I sat up and my mouth, nose, eyes and ears were so packed with dirt and blood it took a while before I could see or take a breath. My right arm wouldn’t work much and my right leg was numb. My Mae West had inflated and it was under my chute harness and almost crushed my ribs (it had broken 4 of them). I unlocked my harness and got out of it and looked around. I was lying on some grass about 50 feet from the wreckage of what had been our ship. It now looked like a big ball of crumpled dural, props and wings. The engines were strung out for about 600 yards along with parts and equipment.
Bruce was about 10 feet away and it made me violently ill to see him. No one else was in sight and not a sound to be heard! I tried to move but my body seemed to be somewhere else or at least that’s the only way I can explain the feeling I had. I looked at my hands and they were there and so was the rest of me except I couldn’t see my right foot. It just wasn’t there. Boy if I was scared before I was really scared now. I turned over and saw my foot, which was folded up on the outside of my leg so that the toe touched the knee. I had my GI shoes on which I had changed before we started down. I grabbed my foot and yanked it back in place and passed out again for a few seconds. I found I could use my arms again and feeling came back all over and pain. I yelled for someone and only heard someone groan so I knew someone else was alive. I took off my shoe and harness and my leg was swelling badly. A cut on my head was bleeding a lot so I couldn’t see much. I was so glad I was alive nothing mattered. About an hour passed before someone came. A kid of about 11 with wooden shoes came running up and I learned I was in Holland about 3 miles from the front lines. Shells were whistling over-head. Soon about 50 more civilians arrived and pulled Wes, Vic and Fred out of the wreckage. They were alive and in sort of bad shape. They dressed our wounds. The Jerry’s arrived about 15 minutes later with all sorts of guns. I thought they were going to shoot us. The civilians cleared out and the soldiers loaded the 4 of us on a truck and hauled us into the town of Breda. 4 months later I learned to Al, Harry and Mac. Bruce and Gunn were killed. Gunn was killed in the crash /Harry, Al, and Mac bailed out!
S/Sgt Lawrence Rogers
Ball Turret gunner for crew 30
B-17 “SAD FLACK”
Aircraft # 531, Buncher 28
Mission to Brux
Here is a list from Rogers book of the crew on SAD FLACK on this fateful day.
Albert W. Grigg
Victor V. Lockard
JV Mc Donald
Harry L. Moulder
Ralph E. Westerburg
Shirley Broussard (KIA)
Ray H. Gunn (KIA)
Here is a list of servicemen from Stalag Luft I, North compound III, Block 8, room 10.
“Limpy” Lawrence M. Rogers
“Hat” George L. Petty
“Bill” Wm H. Wiest
“Caud” Robert E. Otis
“Curley” Eugene N. Schwerdtfeger
“Mike” Edward D. Meckly
“Spad” Jack D. Spadofino
“Hank” Henry X. Metz
“Owl” Francis J. Miller
“Mac” David E. Mcneely
“Wally” Walter V. Youngas
“Nick” Russell Nicolaison
“Tex” Cecil C. Mcgraw
“Bill” William G. Sebert
“Ollie” Roy P. Yetter
“Bug” Robert R. Owen
“Mousie” Fred C. Warfle
“Cowboy” Robert L. Mouring
“Matt” Matthew G. Streit
“Bob” Robert A. Woehlke
“Trib” John F. Tribby