Mary Ruth Memories of Mobile...We Still Remember
Chapter Two - Goodluck Talisman or Tragic Jinx? - The Sagas of the Short Snorters
Order of the Short Snorters
A tradition prevalent among overseas air travelers of all nations from the late 1920s through the early 1940s, membership in the Grand Order of the Short Snorters, has long since disappeared and mostly faded from public memory. Although origins of the tradition are unclear, membership in this unofficial Order numbered in the millions during the early parts of World War II.
To become initiated into the Order, upon completion of a trans-oceanic air crossing, you first were required to give one dollar, each, to all members present. You then produced another dollar bill. You would sign this bill, which when counter-signed by a minimum of two members of the Order, became your membership card in the Order, your Short Snorter. Members of the Order, for brevity, were also referred to as Short Snorters. When you subsequently traveled to another country, you would take a currency bill of that country, have it signed by two Short Snorters present and tape it onto the end of the previous bill.As you traveled through a number of countries, your Short Snorter could become up to several feet long.
Your Short Snorter had to be in your possession at all times. Typically, the bill was rolled into a tight roll and carried in your pocket. Thereafter, whenever challenged by another member of the Order, you had two minutes to produce your Short Snorter.Failure to do so required that you either pay each member present one dollar or buy all a drink (a short snort, thus, the origin of the name of the Order). Over time, the Short Snorter bill came to be considered a good luck talisman. The good luck perhaps being you did not have to buy a round of drinks. Individuals soon came to be inseparable from their Short Snorters.
Senior officers and statesmen were honored to be members of the Order. Membership included such individuals as Lord Mountbatten, Generals Ira Eaker and Dwight Eisenhower, Prince Bernhart of the Netherlands, Wendell Wilkie, and Henry Luce, among others. It was the accepted custom to have other members sign your Short Snorter, similar to collecting autographs.All felt a comradeship with other members and readily signed Short Snorters of the lowest grades of enlisted men
In naming aircraft during World War II, pilots and crews displayed a variety of emotions. Some aircraft were named after wives, girl friends, wish-they-were girl friends, cartoon characters, public figures, states, hometowns, and similar sentimental images. Others were named soas to poke fun at or put down the enemy. Still others carried names and slogans, religious or good luck, that hopefully would provide protection from the enemy. It is not unexpected, therefore, that some planes carried the name Short Snorter, with the hope that the good luck talisman would provide protection from enemy fighters and flak, as well as from buying rounds at the bar.
How effective was the name? Did the presumed good luck extend to protection of the crews?Three B-17s in the 91st Bomb Group, all in the 401st Squadron, carried the name Short Snorter. Histories of these three bombers clearly demonstrate that the name on the nose provided no protection from the dangers of combat. The three aircraft had brief and tragic careers in the air war over Europe.
The 91st Bomb Group first was assigned to Kimbolton, a former RAF light bomber base, near Bedford, arriving on 3 October 1942. Runways at that base soon were found to be too weak to support heavy bombers. Living conditions abominable--cold Nissen huts and seas of mud. On the 13th of October, BG Newton Longfellow, 1st Bomb Wing (1BW) Commanding Officer, asked the 91st CO, Col Stanley T. Wray, to check out Bassingbourn, another RAF base, as a possible home for the 91st.This was a permanent heavy bomber base with solid runways, brick billets and administrative and repair buildings, central heating, and other amenities not found at newly constructed bases where most American bomber groups were stationed. Col Wray immediately saw Bassingbourn to be an ideal base for the 91st and simply moved the Group down the next day without first asking permission. Although placing him in hot water with his superiors, this decision earned Col Wray eternal gratitude of all men who served in the 91st for locating the Group at what came to be called the Country Club of the 8th Air Force.
During most of the time the three Short Snorters flew with the 91st Bomb Group, VIII Bomber Command, as it was then called, consisted of only six Heavy Bomb Groups. The 91st, 303rd, 305th, and 306th Groups, flying B-17s, comprised the 1st Bomb Wing (1BW).The 97th and 301st Groups flew with VIII Bomber Command from August to November 1942, but were transferred to the 12th Air Force in North Africa on 20 November 1942. The 1BW was organized into the 101st Provisional Combat Wing (PBCW), which included the 91st and 306th Groups, and the 102nd PBCW, formed by the 303rd and 305th Groups. The 2nd Bomb Wing (2BW) consisted of the 44th and 93rd Groups, which flew B-24s.
During the early days, August to November 1942, of flying combat over Europe, VIII BC experimented with a variety of formations to provide maximum protection from German fighters and control of the Strike Force. Availability of aircraft for given missions also resulted in day to day variation in the way the Strike Force was organized.
Beginning 6 December and continuing through mid February, a Javelin-down formation, developed by the 305th Group, was adapted as the standard Group formation. This consisted of three squadrons, Lead, Low and High, each comprised of two V-shaped three-plane Elements. The front plane of an Element was the Lead. The aircraft flying on the right wing of the Lead was the No. 2 plane; the No. 3 plane was on the left wing of the Lead bomber.
The Lead Element of the Lead Squadron was in front. The Second Element of the Lead Squadron flew slightly to the right or left of, depending upon the position of the sun, and below the Lead aircraft of the Lead Element. The Lead Element of the Low Squadron flew below, to the right or left of, and 320 feet behind the Lead aircraft of the Lead Squadron. The Second Element of the Low Squadron was to the right or left of and below the Lead Element. The High Squadron flew above, to the right or left of, and 320 feet behind the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. The Second Element of the High Squadron flew to the right or left of and above the Lead Element. The Group formation was echeloned right or left so that the Second (low) Element of the Low Squadron was toward the sun and the Second (high) Element of the High Squadron was away from the sun. This allowed the crewmen in the higher planes to look down on the other aircraft with less glare from the sun in their eyes.
During December 1942 and January to early February 1943, Groups comprising the Strike Force were also deployed in a Javelin-down formation. Typically, one PBCW would be designated to lead the Strike Force, with one of the Groups serving as PBCW and, in turn, Strike Force Lead. The second Group of the Lead PBCW would fly about one and one half miles behind and 100 feet above the top of the Lead Group. The other PBCW would follow the Lead Wing. The Lead Group of the trailing PBCW would fly one and one half miles behind and 100 feet above the last Group of the Lead CW. The last Group would fly another one and a half miles behind and 100 feet above the Group ahead of it. The Groups would be echeloned upward into the sun, i.e., with the following groups stair-stepped upward from the Lead Group, right or left, depending on the side from which the sun shone.
In mid February 1943, configuration of the Strike Force was tightened up into a wedge formation. The second Group of the Lead PBCW flew to the left of the Lead Group, 100 feet below and 320 feet to the rear. The Lead Group of the other PBCW positioned itself 320 feet behind and 100 feet above the Strike Force Lead Group. The second Group of that PBCW was staggered another 320 feet behind and 100 feet above the first Group. The B-24s of the 2BW then formed up 320 feet behind and 100 feet below the second Group of the Lead PBCW.
The Short Snorters
No. 449, Short Snorter
Aircraft No. 41-24449, the original Short Snorter, was assigned to 401st Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group as part of the initial Squadron complement at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine in September 1942. She was flown overseas by 1Lt William D. Bloodgood, carrying eight other air crewmen and a ground crew passenger.
The 91st flew its first mission from Bassingbourn on 7 November, to the submarine pens at Brest. The 401st Squadron did not put up planes on the 7th.No. 449 flew her first mission the next day, to the German fighter airfield at Abbeville, France. This field later was to become home of the crack German Jagdgeschwader (JG) 26 fighter group, called the Abbeville Kids by the American bomber crews. The primary target on 8 November was the aircraft dispersal area to the east of town. For this mission, the 91st put up 12 bombers, five from the 401st Squadron. 1Lt William D. Bloodgood and his crew flew No. 449 in Low Squadron.
The 91st went to Abbeville alone. The 301st and 306th Bomb Groups, the only other Groups up on 8 November, went to Lille, France. When the 323rd Lead aircraft, No. 399, Man-O-War, with LTC Baskin R. Lawrence, who was leading the Group, aboard had to abort the mission, Cpt Haley W. Aycock, the 401st Squadron CO, flying in No. 431, The Saint, took over as Group Lead.
Weather conditions over England and above the Channel were clear, with a few cumulus clouds floating over the French coast and target.Two groups of 18 each, Spitfires, one group on each side of the 91st bomber formation, flew as escorts to and from the target. There was no fighter protection to the rear of the formation. Enemy fighters were not encountered on the way to the target. The 91st Group formation started receiving flak bursts about 10 miles east of Ault. Flak attacks continued on to the target and all the way to the coast on the route out.Although heavy in some places, most of the bursts were below and to the rear of the aircraft. Only sporadic hits were registered on the bombers.
No. 449 dropped on the target at 1159 hours from 21,000 feet. However, Lt Bloodgood banked No. 449 a little too soon in coming off the target resulting in an inaccurate release. No one was able to see if the bombs hit the target. Two of the ten 500 pound bombs also hung up and had to be returned to base.
Fourteen Me 109 German fighters attacked the 91st formation as it left the French coast on the way out. The enemy aircraft came in on the bombers from 0500 O'clock to 0700 O'clock low, most carrying the attack to within 800 yards of the bombers. None of the runs came from the sides or from the front. Cpt Aycock was hit in the left leg by a .30 caliber bullet at the beginning of the attack, thus became the first 401st casualty.
No. 449 received considerable damage from flak and from the fighter attacks. Shrapnel from exploding 88 mm anti-aircraft shells broke the window in front of Lt Bloodgood. Shrapnel also punctured the No. 1 gas tank. Three FW 190s pressed their attack to within 50 yards of No. 449. All four propellers were penetrated by machine gun bullets, while both wings had numerous .30 caliber bullet holes in them.A 20 mm cannon shell went through the No. 4 engine cowling. Another 20 mm shell exploded in the rear of the fuselage, hitting the VHF transmitter.Explosions tore away the elevator control cables and the auxiliary cables, leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage. The radio receiver was knocked out and the oxygen line to the radio compartment cut.
In spite of the severity of the damage, Lt Bloodgood brought No. 449 safely back to base, touching down at 1316 hours. The only injuries incurred by the crew were steel splinters in the faces of the bombardier, 1Lt William St. Chubb, and the radio operator, T/Sgt William H. Steele. Neither was seriously wounded. Lt Chubb was the regular bombardier on Lt Bloodgood's crew, but was manning a waist gun in place of Sgt T.J. Sams who was unable to fly on this mission. 2Lt Sparkling B. Anderson flew as bombardier in Lt Chubb's place.
Because of the extent of her damage, No. 449 would not be in the air again until 12 December. In the meantime, Lt Bloodgood and his crew were assigned to No. 527, The Sky Wolf, for a mission to St Nazaire on the 23rd of November.The Sky Wolf did not develop sufficient manifold pressure in the No. 2 engine to maintain air speed.During an early testing of the machine guns on a bomber flying above The Sky Wolf, a shell casing knocked out the windshield in front of the copilot, 2Lt Cecil R. Taber. Lt Bloodgood had to abort the mission while still over England and return to Bassingbourn.
On 12 December, No. 449 was repaired and appeared ready to fly again. For the mission to Romilly sur Seine Aerdrome, near Paris, most of Lt Bloodgood's crew were assigned to No. 449. At briefing, however, 1Lt Harold H. Beasley was told he, rather than Lt Bloodgood, was to fly as first pilot in aircraft No. 449. Lt Beasley had flown as copilot with Lt Bloodgood on the 8th of November and had taken most of Lt Bloodgood's crew in No. 447, Kickapoo, to Romilly on the 17th of November. Ten minutes before taxi time on the 12th the radio operator, T/Sgt William H. Steele, discovered that the back plate of his gun had been stolen. Lt Beasley sent him to armament to get another plate. However, it did not fit. Three minutes before taxi time Sgt Steele went back to get another one and met the plane at the taxi point. After No. 449 got into the air, it was discovered this plate would not work, either. Lt Beasley aborted and came directly back to base.
On the 20th of December No. 449 was assigned to Cpt William R. Harris, who was flying as first pilot for Cpt John W. Eanes' crew this day. 2Lt Beman E. Smith, Cpt Eanes copilot, was in the right seat, as copilot. Again the Group went to Romilly sur Seine Aerodrome. For this mission the 101st PBCW led the Strike Force, with the 306th Bomb Group leading the 101st PCBW. The 306th was followed by the 91st, 305th and 303rd Groups, echeloned rearward and upward in that order.Twelve B-24s from the 44th Bomb Group of 2BW joined 60 B-17s of the 1BW that went over the continent.
No. 449 flew in the No. 2 position of the Lead Element of the Low Squadron. Weather over England and the continent was good. The Strike Force was subjected to only light and inaccurate flak five miles north of Dieppe, over the target and north of Paris. No. 449 incurred only minor flak damage to the fuselage.
Between 50 and 75 enemy aircraft, both Me 109s and FW 190s began harassing the bomber stream about 35 miles inland from the French coast.The attacks kept up on to the target and on the return, until the bombers were about 15 miles out over the Channel. German fighters peeled out of their formation four at a time to make a feint at the formation. These flights then split into groups of two and came barreling in on the bombers at 1100 O'clock or between 0100 O'clock and 0200 O'clock.
A 20 mm shell exploded in the cockpit of No. 449, shooting away the engine control and mixture control for the No. 4 engine and setting off two of the flares stored in the cockpit. The oil line to No. 4 engine also was cut. A number of small holes appeared in the air craft--two in the ball turret, one in the left horizontal stabilizer, four in the tail section, and one in the tail assembly. Large holes were blown in the nose and left wing just back of the No. 2 engine nacelle as well as three in the left wing. In spite of extensive damage from the fighter attacks, none of the crew was wounded. Cpt Harris and Lt Smith brought No. 449 safely back to base.
Two planes from the 401st went down--No. 432, Danellen with 1Lt Dan W. Corson's crew aboard (9 KIA, 1 POW) and No. 452, flown by 1Lt Robert S. English and his crew (3 KIA, 7 POW). Two others were badly damaged. A flak burst set the No. 3 engine on fire and released the landing gear of Cpt Ken Wallick's Lead plane, No. 512, Rose O'Day, causing her to drop behind the formation. 1Lt Bruce Barton, in No. 439, Chief Sly, and 1Lt James D. Baird, flying No. 483, Spirit of Alcohol, dropped back to provide protection for Rose O'Day.Both Rose O'Day and Chief Sly were hit hard by German fighters. Although Cpt Wallick was able to bring his aircraft back to Bassingbourn, the No. 3 propeller broke on landing, tearing away part of the engine cowling.Rose O'Day eventually was repaired and flew again. Lt Barton had to crash land Chief Sly in a pasture near Fletching, Sussex. Chief Sly was salvage.
The ground crew worked effectively the next few days and No. 449 was ready to fly again on the 30th of December. Lt Bloodgood was back aboard with his crew for a raid on the submarine pens at Lorient, France. Once again the 306th Group led the Strike Force with the 91st, 303rd and 305th echeloned upward in that order. Each 91st bomber carried two 2,000 pound bombs. It was hoped such large bombs might break through the thick concrete over the pens.
The 323rd Squadron led the Group for this mission. Maj Paul D. Brown, in No. 549, Stupen-Taket, was Group Lead. The 401st CO, Maj Edward P. Myers, was flying as copilot with Cpt Oscar D. O'Neill in No. 070, Invasion 2nd, as Squadron Leader. No. 449 flew in the No. 2 position of the Second Element, on the right wing of Cpt John W. Eanes in No. 447, Kickapoo.
Moderate, but generally inaccurate flak was encountered by the Strike Force from flak ships in the Channel and along the route to the beginning of the bomb run, the Initial Point (IP), at Dos Porden, and on into the target. Heavy flak rocked and tore into the bombers. Approximately 30 FW 190s charged the formation while over the target. Attacks came from all directions except the rear. Fighters lined up in front of the formation in two lines, one on each side of Stupen-Taket. They peeled off out in front and came charging through the formation.
During the fighter attacks, Invasion 2nd took a number of 20 mm cannon shells. Maj Myers, was hit in the femoral artery by cannon shell fragments and bled to death.The radio operator, T/Sgt Thomas B. Cottrell, was badly wounded in the left arm and left leg. The No. 4 engine was knocked out, the electrical system went out and there were numerous holes in the wings and fuselage.The ground crews had a lot of work to do before Invasion 2nd would be ready to fly again.
A head-on attack on No. 449 by FW 190s set the No. 3 engine on fire just as she cleared the target. The plane immediately started going down. About five minutes later, as she went out over the Atlantic, two chutes were observed to come from the aircraft just before Short Snorter exploded, the debris falling into the water. None of the ten crewmen survived.
No. 449 was credited with three missions.
No. 362, Short Snorter II
No. 42-5362 arrived at Bassingbourn in early January 1943 and immediately was pressed into service. She had not been test flown by the 91st before being sent on a mission on the 13th of January.
Cpt Oscar O'Neill's crew was assigned to No. 362 for this mission. Their regular plane, No. 070, Invasion 2nd, was still being repaired from damage incurred on the mission to Lorient on 30 December. No. 362 was not up to flying a combat mission. While still over England a series of technical failures occurred. The No. 1 engine started running rough as Cpt O'Neill took her above 20,000 feet.There was a leak in the right oxygen system, which was almost empty by the time they formed up. The oil temperature was too high in the No. 4 engine. The ball turret was leaking oil and the guns would not fire when tested. The intercom was in poor working condition making it difficult for the crew to communicate. And, the left waist and tail guns were not adjusted correctly.Cpt O'Neill had no choice but to abort the mission and return to base. Not a stellar start for No. 362. Most of the problems could have been avoided had she been test flown before being sent out on the mission.
On the 23rd of January, No. 362 again was put up. This time 1Lt Earl F. Riley's crew was aboard. As No. 362 moved above 15,000 feet oil temperature in No. 4 engine again became too high, 110 degrees C, 22 degrees above the upper limit. The No. 2 engine began vibrating and the Vicker's unit (that drove the ball turret) and oxygen system in the ball turret went out. Once more No. 362 aborted back to base.
On the 4th of February, No. 362 finally received her baptism of combat over Fortress Europe. For this mission, and those to come, she was assigned to 1Lt Beman E. Smith and his crew. Most of the men were from Cpt John W. Eanes' crew. Lt Smith had been copilot on Cpt Eanes crew. Cpt Eanes had flown as first pilot on the 6th and 30th of December and on the 27th of January.His crew, with Cpt John W. Harris filling in as first pilot for Cpt Eanes, flew in No. 449 on 20 December.After the 27 January mission, Cpt Eanes requested relief from flying as command pilot and was stood down.He was appointed Operations Officer for the 401st Squadron. From time to time afterwards Cpt Eanes flew as copilot of the 401st Lead aircraft. Cpt Eanes eventually transferred out of the 91st Bomb Group to qualify as a fighter pilot, ending the war flying P-38s. When Cpt Eanes left the crew, Lt Beman moved over to the left seat as first pilot. This was the first mission Lt Smith would fly as a command pilot.His copilot was 1Lt Robert W. Freihofer,
The primary target for the 4th was the marshalling yards at Hamm. The secondary target was the marshalling yards at Osnabruck. The 101st PCBW, with the 306th Group leading was in front of the 102nd PBCW, led by the 303rd Group on this mission. Lt Beman and No. 362 flew in the No. 2 position of the Second Element of the Low Squadron. No. 362 carried ten 500 pound bombs for her first delivery to Germany. Both the primary and secondary targets were clouded over so the Strike Force diverted to a target of opportunity, Emden.Here the bombers dropped through dense clouds and an effective smoke screen. Results of the bombing were not observed because of the visual obstruction.
This was a rough mission for the 91st Group.German fighters hit 91st formation when it was about 10 minutes from Emden. Between 15-20 fighters attacked the bombers on into the target. Fighters continued to pound the bombers on the way home until the aircraft were well out over the North Sea. Most of the attacks came from the rear. There also was heavy and very accurate flak over the target and at Vieland on the way out.
Two 323rd High Squadron bombers went down.No. 544, Pennsylvania Polka, with 1Lt Alan L. Burrows' crew, which had started out as Lead of the Second Element, was lagging behind the formation on the return when jumped by enemy aircraft. Pennsylvania Polka went down in the North Sea, taking all ten crewmen with her to the bottom. No. 589, Texas Bronco, which was on Lt Burrow's right wing, was hit by flak over the target and later by Me 109s and Me 110s. The pilot, 1Lt Eugene B. Ellis, crash-landed on the beach of Terschelling Island, Holland, where the crew destroyed the aircraft. The bombardier, 1Lt Marvin H. Beiseker, Jr., was killed in the air and the radio operator, S/Sgt Michael T. La Medica, died of wounds later in the day. The rest of the crew became POWs.
Over half of the returning 91st planes were severely damaged and five crewmen wounded. No. 362 incurred no damage from either flak or German fighters.
On the 14th, Lt Smith and crew were back in the air with No. 362. However, the mission was aborted before reaching the target owing to bad weather over the continent. Two days later Lt Smith took No. 362 out, this time with 2Lt John W. Wilson as his copilot. They started out as No. 2 in the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. Soon after crossing over onto the continent, No. 362 began experiencing mechanical problems. There was ice on the nose windows. The oxygen lines in the ball turret went out. The left tail gun would not fire. The driving spring in the right waist gun was weak and the ammo would not feed. The top turret guns froze up and the radio gun failed. Lt Smith aborted the mission and turned back to Bassingbourn, bringing his bomb load with him. Ground batteries fired a heavy flak barrage at No. 362 as she went over Barfleur. The bursts missed to the right and left of the tail.
Up to now No. 362 was experiencing a rather unproductive combat tour. Her first two mission attempts were aborted while still over England. Another abort occurred as she crossed onto the continent. One mission was recalled before the Strike Force reached the target. On the only mission she was able to complete, bombing results were of uncertain effectiveness. But, No. 362 had been hit neither by German fighters nor flak.
This was all to change on the 26th of February.On this day the primary target was harbor facilities at Bremen, with the port of Wilhelmshaven the alternate target. The 91st was joined by 42 B-17s from the 303rd, 305th and 306th Groups and by 6 B-24s from the 44th and 93rd Groups of the 2nd BW. The 102nd PBCW led the 1BW Strike Force, with the 305th Group in front.
Lt Smith's crew again was aboard No. 362. For this mission, 1Lt Thomas A. Strecker was copilot. T/Sgt Benjamin F. Ward was filling in for T/Sgt Norman L. Thompson as flight engineer and top turret gunner. Sgt Thompson, had injured his hands in a ground accident and could not wear his flight gloves, so was grounded for the mission. This injury was to save his life. No. 362 flew as No. 2 of the Second Element of the High Squadron.
The mission started out routinely with the crewmen up at 0230 hours for a quick breakfast to get to briefing at 0315 hours.Crews were at stations at 0730 hours and all aircraft were in the air by 0815. The weather was clear and from all indications it would be a routine mission. Not so.
The Strike Force was ten minutes late coming together as some of the Groups had difficulty in moving into their proper places in the formation. On the way across the North Sea, the Lead Navigator of the 305th Group forgot to check wind velocity. As a result, the entire Strike Force drifted several miles south of the briefed route, taking it over the German anti-aircraft positions on the Frisian Islands. A number of aircraft received flak damage from these batteries. No. 362 was not among them, however. The Strike Force was also flying well above the briefed altitude as it crossed the North Sea. Waiting German fighters intercepted the formation just off Vlieland Island in the Frisians.
No. 362 was reported turning back just before reaching the Islands, under control and apparently undamaged. Most likely Lt Smith was encountering more mechanical problems and was aborting back to base. Almost immediately after No. 362 left the formation, she was observed being pounced upon by five twin-engine Ju 88 enemy aircraft. There were no further observations. No. 362, along with all ten of her crew went to the bottom of the North Sea. The names of the crewmen are now inscribed upon the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemeteries at either Margraten, Netherlands or Madingley, England.
Thus ended the brief and tragic life of No. 362, along with Lt Smith and his crew.
No. 362 was credited with four missions, only one of which resulted in bombs being dropped on the target.
No. 337, Short Snorter III
No. 42-5337 also arrived at the 91st in early January, but was not sent out on a mission until the 14th of February. 1Lt Earl F. Riley and his crew were aboard for her initial mission. As noted earlier, the entire Strike Force was called back because of poor weather conditions over the continent. No. 337 brought back her bombs. She was back up again on the 16th of February, with 1Lt John W. Carroll's crew. After reaching 23,000 feet while forming up, the ball turret heating unit was discovered not working. With an air temperature of -33 F, the ball turret gunner, S/Sgt Robert H. Ade, became unconscious because of the cold. Lt Carroll had to abort and return to Bassingbourn while still over England.
On the 26th of February, No. 337 was assigned to 2Lt Nathan F. Lindsey and his crew as their primary plane. Lt Lindsey had flown as copilot with Lt Smith in No. 362, Short Snorter II, on the recalled mission of the 14th.Once again No. 337 experienced mechanical problems while still over England. The electric suits of both waist gunners went out. That of the left waist gunner, S/Sgt Nick A. Criscito, caught on fire. Lt Lindsey turned back an hour and ten minutes after take-off, bringing his bomb load back to Bassingbourn. No. 337 seemed to be falling into the same pattern as that of No. 362 in respect to not making it to the target. Sometime after this mission and after No. 362 went down, No. 337 acquired the name Short Snorter III.
On the next to last day of February, No. 337 finally completed a mission, an easy one. Lt Lindsey and his crew were with her once more, this time flying as No. 2 in the Second Element of the Lead Squadron. The target was the submarine base at Brest, France. Eighteen aircraft from the 91st joined up with 45 B-17s from the 303rd, 305th and 306th Groups in 1BW, along with 15 B-24s from the 44th and 93rd Groups of 2BW. The 101st PBCW was in the lead, with the 102nd PBCW following in the upper arm of the wedge. The 306th Group led the Strike Force.
The 91st planes arrived at the Wing assembly point on time and formed up on the Lead Group. Cloud cover over the briefed route was 10/10 until about 40 miles from Brest. When the formation broke from the clouds it was north of the briefed course.Because of this, the Strike Force missed the rendezvous with its Spitfire fighter cover. The Lead Group also had to set a new course for the bomb run, to begin from the south of Brest. The formation went over the target on a NNE direction and dropped at 1456 hours from 24,000 feet. Flak was intense, but inaccurate, at the target. The Strike Force went off the target and on out to the coast on the course it should have taken coming in. As the bomber stream approached the French coast, it picked up the fighter escort which accompanied it back across the Channel. Only four FW 190s and two Me 109s approached the Strike Force and these came no closer than 1,000 yards to the bombers.
The electrical suit of the tail gunner, S/Sgt Anthony J. Roy, malfunctioned and his left hand became frost-bitten. But, No. 337 suffered no damage from flak.Her first completed mission was essentially a milk run.
Not so the next mission. The mission to the marshalling yards at Hamm, Germany on the 4th of March was one of the most dramatic missions the 91st Bomb Group flew during the entire air war. The 102nd PBCW led the Strike Force on this mission, with the 303rd Group flying as the Lead. The 101st PBCW, comprised of the 306th, as Lead, and 91st Bomb Groups, followed the 102nd. Maj Paul L. Fishburne, the 22-year old Commanding Officer of the 322nd Squadron, led the 91st. Lt Lindsey and No. 337 were No. 2 in the Lead Element of the Low Squadron.
The Strike Force took off at 0800 hours, formed on schedule and headed out over the North Sea. The groups encountered heavy, 10/10, cloud cover consisting of three layers between 13,000 and 17,000 feet. Above these was another layer of crystal clouds extending from 21,500 to 26,000 feet. Visibility soon dropped to less than 1,000 yards. When it appeared conditions would not improve, the 102nd PBCW diverted south, where it
encountered clear skies and dropped on Rotterdam, the secondary target. The 306th aborted back to England. Because radio silence was maintained on the mission, Maj Fishburne was unaware that the other groups had left and the 91st was going on alone.
Earlier, at briefing, the 91st weather officer, Maj Lawrence A., Sunshine, Atwell had told the crews there would be dense clouds over the North Sea, but that conditions should improve as they approached the continent and would be clear over the target. As Sunshine had predicted, the lower cloud layers diminished to about 5/10 cover near the coast. Maj Fishburne continued on course, assuming the other groups were up ahead of him in the soup and that the Strike Force was progressing as briefed.
As the 91st crossed over onto the continent, the skies cleared, revealing no bombers or contrails up ahead.Maj Fishburne called his tail gunner, S/Sgt Thomas J. Hansbury, and asked how many planes were still in the formation. Sgt Hansbury replied, Sixteen. Maj Fishburne then realized the 91st was all alone and heading over the continent with only 16 aircraft. It was the policy of higher headquarters that small groups of unescorted bombers not go deep into enemy territory. Maj Fishburne had to make a decision as to whether to abort back to base or go on to the target with his small force. Although he would have been justified in turning back, Maj Fishburne made the decision to continue on to the target. His orders had been to bomb the target. He assumed, correctly, the target would be clear. Irrespective of what the other groups had done, Maj Fishburne followed the last orders of which he was aware. The 91st continued on to Hamm.
With Bomb Groups scattering in different directions, German air defense was confused briefly. Fighters did not attack the 91st formation until it was 30 minutes from the target. Then all hell broke lose. Approximately 175 fighters came at the formation for the next hour. FW 190s, Me 109s, Me 110s, and Ju 88s attacked the bombers singly and two or three in line, abreast or in trail. The attacks were mostly between 1000 O'clock and 0200 O'clock low and high. The enemy aircraft concentrated on individual bombers rather than the formation in general.
Anti-aircraft batteries threw up shells at intervals along the route all the way in and back out. Flak over the target was especially intense and relatively accurate.In spite of the vicious fighter attacks and flak over the target, the 91st dropped on the target with most bombs hitting the aiming point. A highly accurate bit of bombing.
But, the Group paid a price. Four bombers were lost from the formation of 16 aircraft.No. 549, Stupen-Taket of the 323rd was hit by the flak barrage and exploded in mid air, the debris coming down about 8 km NE of Dulmen (8 KIA, 2 POW). A 322nd Squadron aircraft, No. 512, Rose O'Day (7 KIA, 3 POW), was shot down by German fighters and crashed in the North Sea off Texel Island, Holland. Two 324th aircraft, No. 370 (9 KIA, 1 POW) and No. 464, Excalibur (3 KIA, the other 7 crewmen rescued by Air Sea Rescue and returned to Bassingbourn) were also hit by German fighters and ditched in the North Sea. A 401st crewmen, S/Sgt Edward N. Yelle, radio operator on Cpt O'Neill's No. 070, Invasion 2nd, was killed in the air. No. 337 came through all the action nearly unscathed. There were only two, 3-inch holes in the right wing and a rip in the right tail elevator fabric.
Photo reconnaissance flights three days after the attack revealed almost all bombs had fallen on target. Cpt Tex McCrary of the European Theater of Operations News Service, who had flown on several other missions and perused numerous strike photos, flew the mission with Cpt O'Neill. Cpt McCrary and the photo interpreters, concluded the Hamm strike to be the most perfect they had observed to date.
Still, the Generals at higher headquarters were more than a little upset that Maj Fishburne had continued on alone with such a small force. On the other hand, that he took the 91st on to the target with excellent bombing results, while the other groups diverted from the briefed mission, could not be overlooked. Somewhat reluctantly, Maj Fishburne was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). However, Maj Fishburne was reduced in rank to Captain and transferred to the 351st Bomb Group at Polebrook. There he was assigned as CO of the 509th Squadron and promoted back to Major. The 91st Bomb Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for its accomplishments on the 4th, the first Bomb Group to be so designated. So as not to encourage other groups to go it alone deep into enemy territory, the DUC award was not made known until two years following the end of the war!
When the strike results of the Hamm raid were reported to Churchill and Roosevelt, previous skepticism regarding the soundness of high altitude precision daylight bombing of strongly defended targets without fighter cover weakened.The 4 March mission by the 91st Bomb Group has been credited with being a major factor in the decision to continue daylight bombing.
The next mission No. 337 and Lt Lindsey flew, to the submarine pens at Lorient, France on the 6th was a milk run.They flew in the No. 2 position in the Second Element of the Low Squadron. The bombardier, 2Lt Albert Dobsa, dropped their five 1,000 pound bombs on target. Flak over the target was moderately heavy, but inaccurate. No German fighter fired on the 91st formation.One FW 190 dived down through the formation, behind the No. 2 bomber, No. 339, Man-O-War, in the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. The fighter had just taken on a plane in the leading 306th Group and was simply diving to escape rather than attack the 91st. No. 337 incurred no damage on the mission.
On the 8th of March, the target for the 91st Bomb Group was the marshalling yards at Rennes, France. Lt Lindsey and his crew were stood down for this mission. 1Lt Harold H. Beasley's crew took No. 337 out. They flew No. 3 in the Second Element of the Lead Squadron.
Two minutes after the Spitfire fighter cover left the Strike Force at Collience, France, 20 enemy aircraft attacked the bombers.German fighters kept up the attack for 38 minutes, until Spitfire fighter cover resumed near St. Lo on the way out. Both FW 190s and Me 109s attacked the aircraft singly from between 1000 O'clock and 0200 O'clock. Only slight and inaccurate flak came up at the 91st formation. The heaviest flak concentrations were fired at the following 306th Bomb Group. No. 337 received no damage and dropped her ten 500 pounders on target.
Lt Lindsey and crew were back aboard No. 337 for the mission to the marshalling yards at Rouen, France on the 12th.They flew No. 2 in the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. The Strike Force had good Spitfire fighter protection from the time it started over the Channel, all the way to and from the target. German fighters made only a few feeble passes at the formation. None was effective. There was light inaccurate flak over the target and along the route out. No. 337 dropped her five 1,000 pound bombs on the target and returned to Bassingbourn with no damage. Another milk run.
The next mission the 91st flew, on the 13th was pure confusion. The primary target was the locomotive depots at Amiens, France, the alternate, marshalling yards at nearby Abbeville. The 102nd PBCW was in lead of the 101st PBCW, with the 305th Bomb Group leading the Strike Force. The 91st was flying Lead of the 101st PBCW, with the 306th assigned to fly high on its right.
The Lead Squadron was composed of two Elements from the 324th Squadron and one from the 323rd Squadron. Cpt Robert K. Morgan was in the Lead aircraft, No. 485, Memphis Belle.Cpt Bruce D. Barton, in No. 139, Chief Sly II, led the five bombers in the High Squadron. Cpt Oscar D. O'Neill, in No. 070, Invasion 2nd, led the five aircraft in the Low Squadron. No. 337 flew No. 2 in the Second Element of the Low Squadron.
When the Strike Force formed up over England, the 306th Group insisted on flying at the altitude and position in the formation assigned to the 91st Group. It was with difficulty that the 91st was able to edge the 306th out of its position and to form up correctly. Then, while going over the Channel, the 305th Lead Group took the Strike Force to the west of the briefed route, crossing over Dieppe rather than Cayeux. When it reached the IP, the 91st was to execute a right turn to make the bomb run over the target. As the 91st started its turn, the pilots saw the 306th Group flying to their right at the same altitude, 23,000 feet, preventing them from turning onto the IP and making a run to the target. The 91st formation scattered like a flushed covey of quail as Squadron Leads maneuvered to miss the 306th planes.
In the confusion, Cpt O'Neill, popped his plane upward to avoid the 306th bombers. He continued up and over the 306th formation and went on to the primary target.Six aircraft went with him.These included the four other planes of the 401st Low Squadron, one from the Lead Squadron, No. 639, The Careful Virgin, with 1Lt Charles R. Giauque at the controls and No. 178, The Old Standby and Cpt Kenneth K. Wallick from the High Squadron.The seven planes dropped forty-two 1,000 pound bombs on Amiens from 24,500 feet, but most likely missed the aiming point because of the quick change in altitude while on the bomb run.
The rest of the Lead Squadron turned to the left and dropped on the alternate target, Abbeville. The remaining four planes in the High Squadron scattered. Three, No. 139, Chief Sly II, Cpt Bruce D. Barton, No. 453, The Bearded Beauty-Mizpah, 1Lt John T. Hardin and No. 497, Mizpah II, Cpt Robert B. Campbell, dropped near Porix; No. 454, Motsie, 1Lt William D. Beasley, south of Aimes; and No. 481, Hell's Angels, 1Lt James D. Baird, in a field somewhere in France.
German fighters did not come up at the Strike Force and there was no flak over either target. Moderate, but inaccurate flak was encountered as the bomber stream went back over Dnieppe on the way out. No. 337 received only a small hole in the nose. However, there were several mechanical problems during the mission.A spark plug failed in the No. 4 engine. The supercharger on the No. 2 engine ran away and the regulator leaked oil. The controls froze, requiring the combined efforts of Lt Lindsey and copilot, 2Lt George Slivkoff, to fly the aircraft.In spite of these problems, the crew kept the plane in formation and landed safely at Bassingbourn.
The next mission, on the 18th to the submarine pens and docks at Vegesak, on the outskirts of Bremen, Germany, was an important one for VIII Bomber Command. This was the first mission on which the AFCE (Automatic Flight Control Equipment, autopilot) bombing system was employed. Up to then the bombardier had given maneuver instructions to the pilot on the bomb run. This proved to be ineffective in lining up accurately on the aiming point.To increase accuracy, the autopilot was connected directly to the Norden bomb sight. The bombardier actually flew the bomber as he adjusted the bomb sight on the bomb run. The pilot turned the plane over to the bombardier at the start of the bomb run, resuming control of the aircraft at bombs away.
For this mission, the 101st PBCW was first in the Strike Force, with the 91st Group leading. The 102nd PBCW followed. Lt Lindsey flew No. 337 on the right wing of the Lead Element of the High Squadron. The Germans were up in force on the 18th, starting their attacks just east of Heliogland Island as the Strike Force came in over the North Sea. The fighters continued their attacks to the target and on the way out, until the bombers were 50 miles clear of the German coast. At least 60 enemy aircraft came at the formation. More than half were FW 190s, with Me 109s, Me 110s, and Ju 88s also harassing the bomber stream.
Three minutes before the target, a Me 109 came in on No. 337 from 0200 O'clock high, approaching to within 250 yards before breaking away at 0500 O'clock. The left waist gunner, S/Sgt Alvin T. Shippang, began firing short bursts at the diving enemy aircraft while 1,000 yards out, continuing to do so as it broke away.The Me 109 spun downward, burst into flames and exploded at about 10,000 feet.
Six minutes after bombs away, a FW 190 dived down on No. 337 from 0200 O'clock high. The top turret gunner, T/Sgt Sebastian Scavello, fired 50 rounds into the aircraft when it was 800 yards away. The German fighter dived past the right wing of the bomber and went straight on down into the ground.
Three minutes later another FW 190 passed No. 337 at 0130 O'clock level. The ball turret gunner, S/Sgt Joseph A. Rekas, put 50 rounds into the fighter as it passed from 800 to 400 yards away. He whirled the ball turret and fired two more bursts into the fleeing aircraft.The plane dived downward, with parts starting to fly off the fuselage around 20,000 feet. The enemy aircraft went down to the ground.
None of the three fighters scored hits on No. 337.Neither was there any damage from the intense, accurate flak barrage over the target. The only problem No. 337 experienced was failure of the No. 3 engine generator.
No. 337 did not fly the next three missions on the 22nd, 28th and 31st of March. Lt Lindsey's crew flew No. 437, Franks Nightmare, to Rouen, France on the 28th and was in the same aircraft on a mission to Rotterdam the 31st. The latter mission was recalled from over the continent without dropping because of poor weather conditions at the target.
No. 337 and Lt Lindsey's crew were back in the air again the 4th of April for a mission to the Renault auto works at the edge of Paris. They flew No. 3 in the Lead Element of the Low Squadron. The 102nd PBCW led the Strike Force, with the 305th the Lead Group. The 91st brought up the rear of the 101st PBCW. No enemy aircraft came at the bomber stream on the way in, but the bombers encountered moderately heavy and accurate flak over the target. On the way out, Germans fighters put in an appearance, first hitting the formation about five miles beyond the target. At least 60 enemy aircraft, both Me 109s and FW 190s, attacked the Strike Force, continuing the harassment until ten miles off the French coast.
Eight minutes after bombs away, a FW 190 came at No. 337 from 0600 O'clock high. The tail gunner, S/Sgt Anthony J. Roy, began firing when the enemy aircraft was 600 yards out. At about 500 yards, the ring cowling came off and at 400 yards, part of the wing flipped away. The aircraft broke straight down when 350 yards out. At that time two more FW 190s appeared to be heading for No. 337.Sgt Roy had to switch his attention to these aircraft in case they attack pressed their attack on No. 337.They did not.
Eight minutes later, yet another FW 190 dived at No. 337, this time from 0600 O'clock high. The radio operator, T/Sgt Lawrence J. Brandenburg, engaged him with the radio compartment gun at 600 yards. He put approximately 50 rounds into the enemy aircraft by the time it was 300 yards away. The fighter began to burn violently, went into a dive and exploded a few hundred yards below and behind the bomber. Both wings were blown off.
Neither fighter scored a hit on No. 337. There were no more fighter attacks.Lt Lindsey brought her back to Bassingbourn with no damage save for a few punctures from empty cartridge cases from other bombers flying above No. 337.
Another wild mission was flown the next day. This time the bombers went to the Erla works, an aircraft and engine repair facility two miles south of Antwerp, Belgium.The facility was turning out 10-20 repaired German fighters per week. Since it was a short run across the Channel to Antwerp, the crews were able to sleep in. Briefing was at 0700 hours with the first aircraft lifting off at 1230 hours.
The 101st PBCW, with the 306th Group leading, led the 1BW on this mission. The 102nd PBCW trailed the 101st. No. 337 and Lt Lindsey flew No. 3 in the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. The Combat Wings came together on time and formed up correctly. On leaving the assembly point, the Strike Force strayed too far south. This was overcorrected on the flight over the Channel, resulting in the formation passing over the coast about three miles north of where briefed.
Soon after crossing onto the continent approximately 75 German fighters began a vigorous attack on the bomber stream. The fighters concentrated on the lead 306th Group. The attacks were made from head on, apparently with the intent of disrupting the bomb run. After attacking the 306th, most of the fighters flew over or under the 91st formation to attack the trailing groups.
Four 306th planes went down over the target.In addition, the lead aircraft was hit hard. Aboard were LTC James W. Wilson, flying as Group Lead, and BG Frank A. Armstrong, CO of the 101st PBCW, monitoring how well LTC Wilson handled the job of Wing Lead. Because of all the confusion of planes falling from the formation, the viciousness of the German attacks and hits upon the Lead aircraft, the 306th Group drifted to the right. The bombers flew directly under, 1,000 feet below, and in front of the 91st just as the two Groups started the bomb run.
Even with all the confusion, the 306th lead bombardier, 1Lt Frank D. Yaussi, was able to put his bombs on the target.Unfortunately, none of the other 306th bombardiers was able to drop on his smoke streamer and missed the target. The 91st bombardiers had to delay dropping for 3-5 seconds so as not to hit the 306th Group bombers below them. They, too, missed the target. And, none of the bombs from the following 102nd PBCW hit the target. Most of the bombs fell on populated areas, including the town of Mortsel, where 943 civilians were killed and more than 1,300 injured. The tactics of the German fighter command had served their purpose.Only Lt Yaussi's bombs had hit the target and the Americans suffered a political embarrassment. The Belgium government later filed a protest over the inaccurate bombing by the Americans which resulted in the loss of so many civilian lives.
No. 337 made it through all the fighter attacks with no damage. One FW 190 broke off an attack on a straggling B-17 and turned on No. 337 from 10 O'clock low and then flew level to the bomber as it went by on the left side.The navigator, 2Lt Rocco J. Maiorca, fired on him with the left nose gun. He observed hits at 300 yards out. When only 100 yards away, and alongside, parts of the cockpit cover flew off and the enemy aircraft fell end over end as it went to the ground.The German fighter had not fired on No. 337 as it went by. Lt Lindsey brought his aircraft back to Bassingbourn with no battle damage.
No. 337 seemed to be settling into an effective routine.There had been no serious mechanical problems for several missions now. The ground crew was doing its job and the aircraft was performing well.She had been subject to very little flak damage and only modest harassment from German fighters. All seemed to be going well for Lt Lindsey's crew and No. 337. Unfortunately, this was not to continue.
The next mission on the 17th of April, was one of the worst days of the war for the 91st Bomb Group. On the 17th, the Strike Force was organized into two wedges, with the 91st leading the Lead 101st PBCW, the 306th flying below and a Composite Group, formed by bombers from the 91st and 306th Groups, on top of the wedge. The 102nd PBCW formed a similar wedge that followed the 101st.Lt Lindsey and No. 337 were No. 3 in the Lead Element of the Low Squadron of the Composite Group.
Six of the 29 bombers that went over the continent were shot down. All six were from the 401st Squadron. Only two 401st planes returned from this mission. No. 337 was not one of them.
The flight path took the bombers to the northeast out over the North Sea, over the East Frisian Islands and on into Germany west of Wilhelmshaven and Oldensburg. The IP was at Wildeshausen, five minutes from the target.As soon as the 91st passed over the East Frisian Islands, moderately heavy and accurate, flak came up into the formation. When the planes passed beyond the range of these anti-aircraft guns, German fighters appeared. Me 109s and FW 190s attacked the formation all the way into the target. Me 110 twin-engine fighters stood out beyond the range of the bombers' machine guns and lobbed 20 and 30 mm cannon shells into the formation.
No. 337 made it through the fighter attack and flak over the target without being hit. On the way out to the coast, however, she was hit by fighters that inflicted heavy damage.Still, No. 337 remained in formation. At about 1326 hours, as the aircraft passed 3 miles east of Emden, No. 337 took direct flak hits that knocked out the No. 3 engine and set the No. 4 engine afire.Lt. Lindsey, feathered No. 3 engine. Almost immediately afterward another anti-aircraft shell burst into the cockpit killing both Lt Lindsey and the copilot, 2Lt George Slivkoff. Other flak hits smashed into the aircraft. No. 337 began slowly circling downward in the direction of Norden and the North Sea.
The bombardier, 2Lt Albert Dobsa, was hit in the stomach by one of the flak bursts. The navigator, 2Lt Rocco J. Maiorca, was uninjured. Lt Dobsa sensing the plane was out of control went up into the cockpit to see what was wrong. There he saw both pilots dead in their seats. He looked back into the fuselage and saw crewmen lying on the floor, also apparently dead. Lt Dobsa knew it was time to bail out and went back down into the nose. Lt Maiorca was standing above the nose hatch, hesitating to jump. Lt Dobsa simply pushed him out the hatch and dropped through after him. Lt Dobsa came down in the shallow water on the Frisian Islands beach where he was captured immediately by German troops. Lt Maiorca drifted about a mile out to sea off the Frisian Islands from where he swam ashore. He was in thewater three hours andwas captured byGerman troops upon reaching the shore. No. 337 went on out to sea where she crashed, taking the rest of the crew with her to a cold watery grave. She received credit for ten missions.
So ended the brief careers of the Short Snorters. A total of 56 crewmen flew at least one mission on the three bombers. Twenty- eight crewmen were killed when the three Short Snorters went down and two became POWs. Three crewmen who flew in the aircraft subsequently were killed in action, 14 others were shot down and became POWs. One crewman was so badly wounded he had to transfer to ground duties. Eighty-five per cent casualties.
No other plane in the 91st Group was to bear the name Short Snorter.
Short Snorter bill of S/Sgt James M. Bechtel, 324th Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group. Sgt Bechtel signed the bill along the left margin. Three other Short Snorters countersigned the bill below his name.Sgt Bechtel was killed in action on 28 March 1943 while flying as a fill-in on 1Lt John A. Coen's crew (see page 138). (Guy Bechtel)
Section of the Wall of the Missing, the American Cemetery at Madingley, near Cambridge, England. More than 5,000 names of airmen whose remains were never recovered are recorded on the wall. This section includes the name of 1Lt Beman E. Smith, pilot of No. 336, Short Snorter II, when she was shot down on 26 February 1943. (Author)
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