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On Target – Page 3

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On Target
The WWII story of a B-17 Crew with the “Bloody Hundredth”
8th Air Force
by Charles E. (Chuck) Harris

Combat Missions

The following summary of our 29 missions has only passing reference to our indispensable enlisted gunners. As gunners their primary and vital duty was to protect our plane from enemy fighters. The radio operators/gunner and engineer/gunner had additional duties. Only under unusual circumstances did our gunners get much publicity, e.g., shooting down an enemy plane, being wounded, performing a heroic action, etc. this lack of publicity, however, does not minimize their invaluable service.

Mission #1, No-Ball site, March 19, 1944

Sunday, March 19 marked the beginning of our combat tour over Europe. For most of us our ended on August 5, 1944.

It was routine for pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and gunners to be briefed separately. In this briefing the day’s target, weather, commutations, formations, etc. were covered. The last item was a “time hack” in which everyone set his GI watch to the exact second. This was vital since all flight activities were programmed by the clock. After the briefings we returned to our respective lockers to pick up our chutes, oxygen masks, flight jackets, etc., then went by truck to our assigned plane 986 and were given number six position in the lead squadron. A good sport for our first combat flight.

Prior to describing our adventures over the following four and one half months, it may be helpful to describe how bombing missions were organized. In March 1944 the normal formation of the 100thconsisted of 21 planes – six in the lead squadron, six in the low squadron and nine in the high squadron. This formation, with a total of 189 50- caliber machine guns provided maximum firepower against German fighters.

A formation this large was somewhat unwieldy, especially for those in the nine-ship high squadron. (Formations were subsequently reduced to 18 and then to 12 planes as German fighter strength was essentially eliminated.) The lead squadron, with the lead crew, had primary responsibility for the mission. A senior officer, known as the command pilot, sat in the co-pilot’s seat of the lead plane. He was the commander of the formation staying in communication with other planes in the group and with leaders of the 13th Combat Wing (to which the 100th belonged). The 95th,100th, and 390th Groups constituted the 13th Wing.

The command pilot, normally as senior officer, made all basic decisions for the formation. It was an awesome responsibility. The lead plane’s pilot did most of the actual piloting, and was responsible for his plane and providing proper leadership for the formation. In many instances the decisions were mutually agreed upon by both pilots. The assigned co-pilot on the lead plane moved to the tail gunner position and became the formation officer. From his rear view he was able to provide the command pilot with a continuous report of what was going on behind. For our co-pilot, Lt. Manly Hall, it was a terrific disappointment when we became a lead crew. He had gone through months of training to pilot a plane not to sit as a rearward facing observer. Manly accepted the change with good grace.

Each plane in the formation had a navigator and bombardier. The lead navigator navigated for the entire formation; the lead bombardier triggered the bomb drop. Upon seeing the bombs drop from the lead plane, all other planes dropped their bombs. In effect this accomplished a concentrated drop of bombs. If the lead bombardier hit the target all other planes hit the target; if he missed all bombs missed. Although the lead navigator did the navigation for the entire formation, the navigator on each plane constantly monitored location so that if his plane was forced to leave the formation he could guide it safely home. The lead bombardiers and navigators were carefully chosen for their expertise and stability.

The further back a plane was in the formation the more difficult was the pilot’s job as the movements of planes ahead were magnified. The rear planes in the formation were know as “Tai l- in – Charlie” and, in addition to being difficult to fly, were also the most susceptible to enemy fighters coming in from the rear. This spot was normally assigned to the newer crews. As proficiency increased, crews moved forward on subsequent missions. Leading the squadron was an indication of prior success; assignment as a lead crew indicated a well-balanced and proven crew.

At the 100th’s reunion banquet in San Antonio – many years later – pictures were being taken of crews, leader, etc. When the M.C. called for the lead pilots to come forward for their photo, someone called out; “Oh those are the guys who couldn’t fly formation!” Maybe he had a point.

Back to March 19th. Since this was our first mission I concerned with properly moving into our assigned formation position. Fortunately, we found out that the established procedures made it relatively simple, at least in daylight and good weather. When favorable conditions were absent it became much more difficult and hazardous – especially during bad weather and assembly during darkness.

Our training had consistently emphasized the importance of flying in tight formation. The ideal was for the wings of the planes to be just a few feet apart. Experience over Europe had proven that groups flying a “loose” formation were far more likely to be attacked by German fighters than those flying tightly together. One need only put himself in the shoes of the German pilot deciding who to attack; that compact formation with it’s hundreds of guns, or a loose formation where individual planes could be singled out. This Sunday mission was predicted to be a “milk run.” The target was near the French Coast without either heave anti-aircraft or fighter protection and would be less than a four hour flight. The prediction was essentially correct. When we landed our whole crew breathed a big sigh of relief. It was certainly true for me. Mission #1 was behind us!. Since that day I have often wondered about, and sympathized with the first time crews who drew a dangerous and difficult target for their initial flight. Many did not survive. We were fortunate.

We soon learned that one element of a large formation can go unscathed without any enemy contact yet another may suffer casualties. On this March 19 mission Century Bombers mentions: “John Gibbon’s plane was hit by an 88mm shell which on exploding, tore our the whole floor and right side of the radio room. The radio operator was blown out. Many of their parachutes were rendered useless. Gibbons and his co-pilot managed to fly the plane back to England and made a remarkable landing at an RAF base.” John’s plane was flying in the high squadron behind us. The mission was a milk run, except for the John Gibbons crew. The same condition can occur with combat groups and wings.

My promotion to 1st Lieutenant came through this week. Actually, it was dated January 1944, before we left for oversea but only caught up with me now.

Mission #2, Berlin, March 22, 1944

On the 20th and 21st we flew practice missions. On the 20th, following our first mission, we found our that one of the engines on our 986 had to be replaced. Maybe I wore it our trying to fly a very tight formation on the Sunday mission. The plane’s mechanics were kind enough to refrain from blaming me.

Early in the morning of March 22, Sgt. Jennings of the 418th came into our BOQ, awakened each of us by what came to be a well known greeting: “Lt. Harris, your crew is flying today. Breakfast will be a 0430 hours with briefing at 0600 hours.” We all had similar call. Over the ensuing months this became routine. In recent letter, Jack Gaard, our original radio operator, wrote: “My second obsession was watching the little colored flags that flew on the roof of our squadron headquarters building: red for alert, yellow for standby, and white for stand-down. I could sleep fairly well if the last thing I saw before taps was the white flag fluttering in the breeze. If the red flag was flying, I didn’t sleep.”

This was our first early morning awakening. Those of us who had been called got dressed, pedaled over to the mess for the usual ersatz eggs, Spam, toast, and terrible coffee. There was usually very little chit-chat on theses mornings. Then to headquarters for briefing.

The briefings were always well organized. This particular morning Major Bowman, the 100th intelligence officer, gave the intelligence briefing, which was prefaced by the Sgt. Pulling the curtains from in front of the mission map. There was deafening silence as we saw where the mission tape stopped. Oranienburg (Berlin) – Big B. Just two weeks earlier the 100th had been decimated on “Destination Big B” – 15 of our planes and 150 fliers were lost and now the Bloody Hundredth was returning. The remainder of the briefing was routine except for the worried expressions of the fliers. The mission sheet showed that our crew would be flying in the high squadron.

Takeoff and assembly were without incident. Lloyd did a good job of guiding us to the assembly point. The weather was decent as the 8th Air Force turned east across the English Channel. When we entered France, American fighter planes circled us and stayed with us as headed toward Germany. Unfortunately, the long range P-51’s had not yet arrived in England and the limited ranges of the P-47’s and P-38″s did not permit them to accompany us into German. While with us, they were a very comforting sight. The entire formation climbed to about 20,000 feet. German fighters skirmished with the groups ahead of us but we were spared. It was a long and tiring trip to Berlin. Flying in the high squadron was far more difficult for Manly and me when compared with the “milk run” three days prior. We did our best to maintain close formation, but there were moments when we were out of formation.

As we approached Oranienburg the weather deteriorated. Although the lead plane was a PFF (Pathfinder) ship, the Oranienburg aircraft production center was obscured by heavy cloud cover. The alternate target, Berlin, was selected. Prior to and during the bomb run, German flak was heavy and accurate. There were black bursts all around us, many of which we could hear, which meant they were all too near. This was a real initiation to combat.

Moments after bombs away as the formation took evasive action there was a terrific boom, and our plane shuddered violently from a very near flak burst. The proximity was frightening. Manly called on the interphone to find out what happened in the rear. Not response.

An 88mm shell had entered out plane in the lower right of the waist section, proceeded through the floor armor on which S/Sgt Joe Blume was standing, then through his outstretched arms and body as he leaned over his 50 caliber guns. Either the shell or fragments had severed his oxygen hose just inches from his face; other fragments ripped into his flak jacket. Had the shell exploded upon contact with our plane, this story would have remained untold.

Left waist gunner S/Sgt Pete Zyskowski had also been hit by shell fragments, wounding him in the face. Fortunately his eyes had not been affected.

S/Sgt Ken Nowland, in the ball turret, sensed serious problems above and climbed our of his turret. Both waist gunner were lying on the floor. Ken raced forward through the open bomb bay into our pilot’s compartment. In the excitement, John Dimel had forgotten to close the bomb bay doors. Ken’s description of the damage was unclear.

I told manly to get to the back and let me know. Grabbing an oxygen bottle, he and Ken headed to the rear. Crossing the open bomb bay was a scary situation. The walkway was narrow with ropes on either side for support. Directly below was 25,000 feet of space. In the radio compartment T/Sgt Jack Gaard was sitting on his frequency meter for added flak protection, trying unsuccessfully to make radio contact.

Manly took a fast look around the waist section; our oxygen system had been destroyed. He attached and oxygen bottle to Blume’s mask: Sgt Nowland was giving first aid to Zyskowski. Unfortunately, the morphine bottle was empty.

As there were too few oxygen bottles to get us home, Manly rushed to me and screamed: “Hit the deck! The urgency of his voice left me little choice.

I pulled back the throttles, pushed the controls forward and we headed down from out 25,000 feet bombing altitude. Dimel realized the bomb bay doors were open and closed them. We found a cloud formation at about 3,000 feet. I decided to level out on top of the cloud deck. The clouds would give us cover if fighters attacked and at the same time would help conceal us from ground observation and fire. In the meantime the 100th formation, far above us, was disappearing into the distance due to their greater speed at high altitude. From the suburbs of Berlin our base at Thorpe Abbotts seemed far away, far away.

In the nose compartment our fast downward dive led Navigator Coartney to think our tail assembly might have been shot off and we were going a spin. He ripped off his flak jacket, put on his chute, and was ready to head for the escape hatch when saw my feet on the rudder pedals in the pilot’s compartment. Fortunately, Lloyd thought twice and poked his head up were he could see me. He realized we were under control and returned to his navigation station.

We knew that German anti-aircraft gunners needed about 30 seconds to home in on a plane so we stared zig-zagging across Europe changing course every half minute. We saw a few bursts of flak some distance away. For Navigator Lloyd it was a nightmare – he couldn’t see the ground because of the cloud cover and the continual course changes, he had no radio contact other than interphone.

A few minutes later, riding on the clouds, we were attacked by a small group of German fighters. When we say them coming Manly and I immediately took 986 into the clouds below us. We continued flying west on instruments for a few minutes then climbed very carefully our of the cloud cover. The fighters were nowhere to be seen. We can only speculate as to why they didn’t press their attack, and why they did not pick us up when we climbed out of the cloud cover. Perhaps they were low on fuel, student pilots, or out of ammunition – who knows?

When the cold cover started to dissipate we were over Western Germany approaching the Netherlands. We then flew much lower to evade any radar; we had only a general idea as to where we were. With the constant zig-zagging and cloud cover made navigation impossible. Fortunately, as we approached the North Sea we flew over one of the three Frisian Islands. Lloyd immediately identified our position and gave me the new heading to Thorpe Abbotts.

Although we had flown quite low since the clouds dissipated, when we reached the North Sea I decided to buzz it an elevation of perhaps 10 to 15 feet. Nothing could get under us, which would provide maximum protection. (many years later, Joe Blume told me that if he had not been wounded he would have dangled his feet out of the door and got them wet. Up in the nose John Dimel and Lloyd were probably keeping an eye out for any stray waves that might hit us.

Approaching England we had additional problems. Each 8th Air Force plane had a radio IFF frequency (Identify, friend or foe). This allowed allied forces to determine whether we were in fact and allied plane. Our IFF had been shot out. Would we be fired upon by British defense forces? Inasmuch as many English cities, including Norwich, were protected by barrage balloons with cables to the ground. Approaching land at our low altitude was hazardous. We had little choice but to gain altitude and take our chances. Lloyd guided me between the coastal cities.

A few minutes later we were home. As we approached the 100th airfield, we fired our red flares to indicate wounded aboard. We landed with incident and as we bought the plane to a stop ambulances were there to meet us. The medics took good care of Pete and Joe. They were taken to the Air Force hospital. It would be several weeks before they returned to duty.

Due to our drastically reduced speed during our low level flight to England, we landed about an hour behind the formation. When we walked into the briefing room there was a gasp of surprise from those assembled there. We had already been listed at Missing in Action (MIA). Our S-2 friend Charlie Terry was especially elated. He seemed to have adopted our crew due to our family ties.

When crews arrived back from a mission the Red Cross girls always had a table of Scotch set up to help the crews relax. We were limited to two drinks, our reward for the day. Believe me they worked! The crew could never figure out how Lloyd Coartney – our teetotaler – managed to survive. Later during our separate interrogations there were plenty of questions as to what happened to us; fighters attacks, flak, observed plane losses, etc. The bombardiers and navigators submitted their flight logs, along with all pertinent information.

For this Berlin mission there were no 100th losses and no enemy planes were shot down. Our actual flight time had been over nine hours. We felt ourselves extremely luck not to be a statistic.

After completing the interrogation we all had three things on our minds: SSgt’s Blume and Zyskowski, food, and sleep. Our breakfast at 0500 hours had been our last meal and it was now about 1700 hours. Upon returning to our billets we told the others about our big adventure. Rehashing the day’s mission was always a big item. When we finally got to bed we all believed we were due a good night’s sleep. We had earned it! Another thing was certain – we were now playing in the big leagues.

At about 0500 the next morning I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Sgt Jennings; “Lt Harris, your crew is flying today. Breakfast will be at 0530 and briefing at 0615.” So much for that good night’s sleep. We had been naïve to think we had it coming.

Mission #3, Brunswick, March 23. 1944

After we awakened we looked at each other and thought: “Another mission today after that one yesterday?” We later realized that flying the next day after a bad mission was good psychology – get right back and fly another mission before the bad one gets to you.

S/Sgts Tirrell and Heathman would fly with us, replacement waist gunners. We were assigned to “Blivit,” one of the original b-17’s with quite a record of it’s own. Our 986 would be out for several days.

The target this day was an aviation plant in Brunswick, Germany. At the briefing we were told to expect some fighter opposition with moderate flak around Brunswick. Our assigned position was in the low squadron. As it turned out we did not see any fighters. The weather turned bad near the target. Although we had a PFF plane in the lead, the target could not be identified and the decision was made to bomb the secondary target, the center of Brunswick. This was successful.

On the way back to England, I did have qualms abut bombing the center of a city, but knew the Germans had been bombing English cities since 1939 and this was war.

The flight back to England was uneventful and there were no losses for the 100th. That night we were told we could go on a three-day pass the following day. There was little hesitation as to our destination – London. Other crews more senior than us were more than willing to give us lots of advice – train service, connections, where to go in London, etc. we could hardly wait.

It may be appropriate at this point to outline security requirements and records keeping. Our crew was extremely security conscious. We wrote little or nothing to our loved ones about missions. All mail was censored and we had not desire to be caught in a security violation. This also applied to conservation off base. Unlike many crews, none of us had a camera and to best of my knowledge no one kept a diary. Consequently most our 8th Air Force activities have been confined to our memories and miscellaneous publications. We were overly cautious in this matter. We have since learned that many of our friends returned to the States with substantial records, photographs and paraphernalia , all of which made the writing of memoirs much easier. One of the duties assigned to every officer was that of mail censor. Every letter leaving the base was read and censured. I can verify there was some very interesting reading! I would have preferred to have been relieved of this duty.

Back to our three-day pass. The train trip was fine, about two hours to Liverpool station. Upon arrival we hired a cat to Piccadilly Circus English cabs were a revelation. We soon found out that the cabbies knew every nook and corner of London. They all spoke English with a Cockney accent that was a little difficult to understand. The English cabs were always black, identical, comfortable, and with remarkable ability to turn on a dime. With the narrow width of most streets in London, it was apparent this maneuverability was necessary. Following prior advice given to us we stayed at Regent Palace Hotel near Piccadilly Circus. The hotel was obviously well equipped to handle Americans, or should I say put up with Americans.

On a personal note, my parents came from England and I had many relatives there. The next day I called my uncle in London. I was invited to tea that afternoon and was given instructions on how to get to their home using the Underground. I was on my own, but soon found that getting around London on the Underground, or tube as many called it, was and cheap. My relatives were more than a little curious about my activities. In response to one question I remember replying: “Well we saw Berlin before London. And from my Aunt, a most British comment, ” Oh Charles, you didn’t!” It was quite apparent they both were pleased and proud that their American nephew had come in uniform to see them. I was to visit them once more during our tour in England. During the V-1 and V-2 attacks on London. After we returned to the States my uncle was seriously injured and died shortly thereafter.

Having paid this courtesy call I spent the rest of the three days with Manly, Lloyd and John. We found that the pubs were lots of fun and had good, though warm, beer. We visited the American Canteen, which we enjoyed. London restaurants were much different from those in America, especially the food – this was wartime. We soon got onto fish and chips routine and learned that Brussels sprouts were the main green vegetable. Salads, as we knew them, were not a part of their cuisine. Coffee, which was ersatz, was terrible and we soon became tea drinkers when we could not have beer. Sightseeing in London was great; there were such wonderful and beautiful historic places to see within a short distance of the hotel. We loved London.

Our three day pass was over all too quickly and we took the train back to Diss. This was to be the first of many trips to London and other English cities.

For the nest few days we flew practice missions and attended many briefings. The days went fast. The weather was not good during the end of March and some of the missions were aborted. Of course we were all ears as to what was happening. Our next mission we be in April.

Mission #4, Ludwigshaven, April 1, 1944

This turned out to be a relatively short mission (4 hours 45 minutes) due to bad weather over the Continent. Flying in bad weather can be as hair-raising as being under attack. It scary when planes in front or to the died disappear into the clouds and then reappears in quite different position. During bad weather the command pilot in the lead plane is face with difficult decisions. Often the formations would change alitutude in seach of better visibility. When the visibility continues to decrease with not propect of improvement the deciosion to abort is a prudent one. This mission was one of those.

If the weather remained bad upon returning to England, letting down through the clouds was difficult. Collisions wear not unknown. As we learned on latter missions, England was often covered with large cumulous clouds with open space between them, in such cases formations were broken into smaller element, each element spiraling down through an open space. For the pilots, this was fun, but for the crew probably a little scary.

The next few days were filled with practice missions. On these occasions we had the opportunity to get to know the ground crews better. They were a great bunch, dedicated and efficient. Their accomplishments could be unbelievable. A plane would return with extensive battle damage and by working all night the ground crew would often have it ready for a mission the following morning. It was quite obvious these that these personnel understood the dangers facing the air crews and always wondered whether their plane would return from a mission. Consequently they bent over backwards to compensate.

Two examples can perhaps demonstrate this maintenance accomplishment. The Air Force maintenance form for airplanes was Form A-1. in one corner was a square that was required to completed before every flight. An “X” meant the plane was grounded, a “/” meant that it was flyable, but with deficiencies, not marking other than the inspector’s initials indicated there were no deficiencies. In the States every plane I flew, without exception was on the “/.” Contrast this with the 100th where the “/” was the exception. Generally the square was empty except for the initials and all this done from a tent! We had great confidence and respect for our maintenance crews. Their dedication and accomplishments too often went unnoticed.

The second maintenance example is our loss of an engine over Erie, Pennsylvania on our way to England as discussed earlier on our way to England. We were rerouted to Rochester, New York for the engine replacement. With all of their staff and facilities it too seven days to replace the engine. Our ground crew at Thorpe Abbotts, working out of a tent often changed an engine over night. Much credit for this excellence must go to Major Rovengno, Group maintenance officer and Bill Clift the 418th Squadron Engineering Officer.

The first few days of April bought continued bad weather, not combat missions were flown. Joe Blume and Pete Zyskowski were still in the hospital.

Mission #5, Quackenbruk Airfield. April 8, 1944

S/Sgts Mack and Strang were now our waist gunners. This mission turned out to be another “milk run,” not significant enemy opposition. The targeted airfield was just over the Belgium line in Germany. Although we were unaware of it, this was essentially the beginning of the Air Force campaign to destroy German airfields in preparation for the pending invasion.

Focke Wolfe Aircraft Plant, Poland, April 9, 1944 (Easter Sunday)

This was to be one of the longest missions ever undertaken by the 8th Air Force. Briefing was at 0430 with takeoff prior to daylight. Sgts Mack and Strang were again with us. The weather became increasingly bad as we crossed the North Sea and the mission was aborted. As we returned in formation to Thorpe Abbotts the ceiling continued to lower. Our group initially broke up into squadron formation (six planes) and finally into three plane elements. We were flying off the right wing of the element leader as we entered the traffic pattern. At less than 500 feet the ceiling suddenly dropped to zero. The element leader had two choices, go lower and maybe fly into the ground or start climbing with zero visibility. He chose the later.

As we started climbing we were three of many planes in the “soup.” All of the 100th’s 21 planes were in it as well as uncounted ones from nearby groups. I was flying as close as I could off the right wing of our leader when he disappeared. A few seconds later I heard a yell on the interphone. It was Lloyd in the nose of the plane. We had passed behind the tail of our leader, just a few feet from our nose. Lloyd though it was inches. I never saw the plane, the clouds were so dense. It was a close call. There was nothing to do but continue climbing alone. Finally at several thousand feet we broke out into the sunshine. There were single planes and small formations everywhere. All of East Anglia was “socked in”, Air Force for dense fog. We were instructed to fly to northern England and land at any field we could find. In about a half hour the weather broke up and we finally saw the ground. As usual Lloyd knew where we were. We landed at an RAF field. There had been plenty of prayers in our plane that morning, and not just because it was Easter. Later that afternoon we cleared to fly home. Because we had not entered the combat zone we were not credited with a mission.

From what we later learned our 13th Combat Wing, with perhaps 50 or so planes had not suffered a single casualty as all climbed out of that soup and headed for northern England. Our wing was just one of several facing the same conditions. Did someone have a hand on our shoulders that Easter Sunday? We have often wondered. Sgt Zyskowski returned from the hospital just prior to this Easter Sunday mission but did not fly the mission.

Mission #6, Rheims, France, April 10, 1944

Sgts Zyskowski and Blume re-joined us for this mission. When we all attended the mission briefing, it appeared this on would be easy. Rheims, well known for its magnificent cathedral, was northeast of Paris; not a long flight and we would have fighter cover. This would be far different from flying into Germany and for a change the weather was beautiful.

We were enjoying a good mission as we headed toward our target. Our supporting fighter planes, “Little Friends” were with us. However, as we passed north of Paris a large group of German fighters attacked. The general monotony of flying was interrupted by the call of “bandits”, the code word for enemy fighters. Our gunners began firing. We were under heavy fighter attack. I knew we had been badly hit when our plane shook and engine #1 “ran away” which meant the engine was our of control. Manly and I quickly “feathered” the engine which stopped it’s rotation. We adjusted the propeller pitch so it would not windmill. Engine #2 had also been hit and lost power. Engines #1 and #2 were on the left wing. We were now flying on two engines and could not maintain formation. I soon learned that Pete Zyskowski, our right waist gunner and Joe Oyler, our tail gunner had both been wounded. Both of Joe’s legs and arms had been hit by direct cannon fire into his rear gun position. His condition would be serious, for Pete his condition was not serious. This was Pete’s second Purple Heart in only two mission. Fortunately his wounds were less serious than Joe’s.

We fell out of formation and turned back to England. There was not other option. It was a lonely feeling as we slowly lost altitude because of our engine problems. German fighters did not attack us again. Flying alone we could have been sitting ducks. Manly and I worked on #2 engine and determined that it could only offset it’s own wind resistance. All usable power was from the two right engines (#3 and #4 engines), a very unbalanced flying condition existed. Our speed was much less than the normal 150 mph and it required both of us on the controls to maintain controlled flight. Later we learned the 100th had destroyed two German fighters and damaged a third. Our plane, 986, was the only seriously damaged 100th plane.

A few minutes after leaving the formation, John Dimel called on the interphone and recommended we jettison our bombs to reduce weight making the plane more flyable. We were over open French country and I agreed. The reduce weight helped considerably and our return to England was without further difficulties. Lloyd continually monito9red our position and gave me the proper headings to Thorpe Abbotts. Manly and I decided that we should institute a “dry run” landing procedure at a safe altitude. At 5,000 feet we started through the normal landing procedures. Everything was relatively normal until we lowered the landing flaps for a theoretical landing. Only the flaps on the right side (the good engines side) came down. This created a situation where the planed rolled to the left. It took the combined strength of Manly and I to maintain control. When Manly hit the switch to bring the flaps back up, it didn’t operate, the control was obviously damaged. I yelled at T/Sgt Norm Howden, the engineer to retract the flap manually, a excruciatingly slow procedure. As Norm slowly retracted the flaps we regained stable flight.

There remained no choices, we must land with two engines and no flaps. I advised the control tower of our situation. Norm fired red flares to indicate casualties aboard. Having never landed a plane in this condition and afraid of a stall and came in a little too fast. We touched down, Manly and I hit the brakes and we skidded off the runway and came to a stop without further damage. Not a pretty landing. After coming to a complete stop, Manly and I just sat there. We were out of it! The next thing I remember is Bill Clift, 418th Engineering Officer, standing between us, shutting down our two engines. That brought us both back to the real world. The ambulances began arriving. As we went back through the bomb bay to the rear compartments the medics were gently lifting Pete and Joe from the plane. We took their hands, patted them on the shoulders and mumbled words of regret. That would be the last time we say Sgt Oyler as he was returned to the States. Pete came back to the 100th several day later.

Upon arrival at debriefing, Manly, John, and I quickly downed our two Scotches. When we went into the briefing room, Captain Terry was there to greet us. “What are you guys trying to do, be another Rosie Rosenthal?” I may have replied, “God forbid,” because no none would want to duplicate Rosie’s record. Rosie Riveters was the only plane our 16 to return home on the mission to Munster on October 10, 1943 and that was just the beginning of Rosie’s exploits. As of this date he had completed over 40 missions and was still flying. He was already a legend. For us, however, returning home alone twice in six missions was out of the norm and we hoped our bad luck was behind us.

That night we were given very welcome news. “You are all going to the Flak Shaks for a week’s rest.” For readers unfamiliar with Flak Shaks (rest homes), they were beautiful private homes or estates in England given over to the Red Cross for officers and enlisted men who were deemed to be in need of Rest and Recreation. (R & R) Then promised to be luxurious and easy living for a few days. Our Flag Shak was a beautiful old home (Standbrige Earls in Romsey near Winchester in the south of England not far from Southampton. It was owned but the publisher, Hutchinson. I remember a plaque in the sunroom showing it was built around 1066 – more than four hundred years before Columbus discovered America. One of the many luxuries we enjoyed was being awakened each morning by an English butler with the greeting “wake-y, wake-y” who then handed us a cup of hot chocolate. After military life this was living. During our week stay we visited the magnificent Winchester Cathedral and other historic spots in the area. I even played a little tennis.

The enlisted men’s Flak Shak was at Walhampton, also near Southampon and apparently comparable to the officer’s. At the end of our stay we returned by train to Diss. (A few years ago Grant Fuller, the executive vice president of the 100th Association and I were “re-fighting the war.” Grant mentioned that his crew went to the Flak Shak after 25 missions. “Chuck, did you guys get to a Flak Shak?,” Grant asked. “We sure did, after sic missions,” I replied. “I can’t believe it.” A startled Grand answered.

The next few days at Thorpe Abbotts were more of the usual routine – practice flights and briefings. With Sgts Oyler and Zyskowski still in the hospital during this period. When he reported back he told me he just couldn’t fly again. On his last two missions he received tow Purple Hearts and two hospital stays. In his mind the next mission he would be hit in the head, and that would be the end.

I did my best to convince him otherwise, as I didn’t want him to look back later and regret his actions. I got nowhere and talked with Pete’s Chaplain. The chaplain talked to Pete but was unable to reverse his fatalistic belief. We knew Pete was no coward, it was simply that he could not overcome his mental block. Manly, John, Lloyd and I talked it over and decided that I should ask that Pete be transferred from flight status. Chaplain Phillips also agreed. Shortly thereafter his transfer orders were written and he left Thorpe Abbotts.

April 19, 1944

Colonel Robert H. Kelly arrived and took command of the 100th Bomb Group.

Mission #7, Frederickshaven, April 24, 1944

S/Sgt John Rybak, waist gunner and S/Sgt Art Tirrell, tail gunner joined our crew as replacements for Joe Oyler and Pete Zyskowski. This mission to the south of Germany on the Swiss border would be our next to longest flight. (9 hours 30 minutes) We were assigned to the 100th’s B Group and led the second element of the high squadron. As we crossed into France our fighter escort met us stayed the entire trip. This was a great comfort. Our wing formation at times as well behind schedule and up to 25 miles off-course but there were no adverse effects. The weather was good and we had a great view of the Alps and Lake Constance. Without doubt our most beautiful trip. Frederickshaven is on the northeast shore of the lake. According to Century Bomber: “Finding the target obscured by heavy smoke as majority of the Group’s planes attacked a piston works at Neckarsulm.” After bombs away, we returned to England without incident.

Mission #8, Brunswick, April 26, 1944

We led the low squadron for this mission. During the five weeks of combat missions we had moved to “tail-end-Charlie” to squadron leader. That was encouraging.

The primary target was a motor transport depot. The target was switched to the City of Brunswick, with no reason given. This was our second time to Brunswick. Again no appreciable opposition and no planes were lost. Flight time was 7 hours and 45 minutes.

Mission #9, No-Ball, April 27, 1944

Our first mission today was an early morning mission in which we were assigned the lead of the second element in the high squadron. There were no losses and the group “creamed” the target. We wouldn’t know until we landed that we would fly a second mission in the afternoon. This would be the first double mission for the 100th.

Mission #10, Airfield at Thionville, France, April 27, 1944 (Afternoon Mission)

Happy birthday Chuck! Your special present from the 100th for your 27th birthday will be the opportunity to fly a second mission today!

In this second mission we led the low squadron. Several crews who had flown the morning mission were assigned to the second mission. Due to bad visibility the primary target was switched to the airfield at Le Culot. Near Le Culot we lost one plane that was flying in the squadron ahead of us. Bombing results were again excellent. Mission time was 6 hours and 30 minutes, which meant we had 11hours 30 minutes hours of flying time that day.

April 28, 1944

This mission which our crew did not fly, was to a missile site on the Cherbourg Peninsula. It should have been an easy one. Colonel Kelly was the command pilot for the mission, his first. Unfortunately the group made a second run over the target in an attempt to achieve better bombing results. This gave the Germans a better opportunity to adjust their anti-aircraft fire. The lead plane with Colonel Kelly received tow direct hits. From, Century Bombers: “The plane received two direct hits… Without warning the plane disintegrated without exploding… The 100th Group Navigator and friend, Joe “Bubbles” Payne was one of those killed.

Colonel Kelly had been our commanding officer for only eight days. Lt Colonel Bennett became the acting CO.

Mission #11, City of Berlin, April 29, 1944

The 100th flew as the high group in the 4th B Combat Wing. Our crew led the high squadron flying plane 011. There was some confusion among the wings during assembly over England. After adjustments were made the respective wings proceeded to Germany in the proper position.

This turned our to be one those missions where your position in the long stream of planes determined whether it was a good or bad mission. For once the 100th was in the correct position. The various wings became widely scattered, providing lucrative targets for the Luftwaffe. Whereas the 100th was not attacked, several other groups were decimated. From Century bombers: “No fighters were encountered by the 100th, although the other half of the 4th Combat Wing, in which we were flying, lost 20 Fortresses. Total of the day was 63 bombers down.”

This was one of the very worst days for the 8th Air Force, yet for the 100th it was a long normal mission. Our flight log show that we were in the air nine hours. The bomb run was made at an altitude of 26,700 feet. The 100th suffered no casualties.

Mission #12, (Classified), May 1, 1944

This was to be our first group lead, with Major Fuller (our squadron commander). After the April 29 mission we were told that our next mission would be as the group lead. On April 30 we received some indoctrination concerning lead crew responsibilities and functions. I have always believed that our promotion to lead crew reflected faith in our entire crew. Lloyd as navigator and John as bombardier. As a crew we had performed well and that was obviously recognized by group leaders. I am quite sure that our difficult missions of March 22 and April 10 did not go unrecognized.

…I remember very little about this mission. Century Bomber indicates that attacks were against enemy railway centers, and marshalling yards as a part of the pre-invasion plan.

S/Sgt John Ryback flew today as our left waist gunner, and Pvt Platkin filled in as our ball turret operator. Sgt Ryback would be with us for the remainder of our missions.

Our S-2, Major Red bowman wrote. “Pre-invasion practice today. Groups took off at 0400, assembled in combat wing formations and went down and simulated bombing the English coast in line abreast practically. Then they returned descended to 12,000 feet, reassembled and took off for a No-Ball site, Wizernes. Heavy overcast prevented bombing, so they brought their bombs back – six 1000lb. General purposes. We were ready for them when they got back with another mission this time, Saaguemines marshalling yard. Target was cloud covered and they took C objective instead.”

So much for our first lead. We had now flown six missions in seven days.

May 5, 1944

On this date, Lt. Colonel Thomas Jeffrey arrived to become the new commanding officer. His presence became apparent in a very short time as he instituted very significant changes. Discipline was reinstated, hours for respective clubs were reduced, etc. We flew practice missions practically every day we weren’t on a mission. Formations improved appreciably and morale began to climb.