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Forty Seconds Over Eisenach

The Return

The usual anxious apprehension is building within the scattered groups of ground crewmen aimlessly milling about the hangers of the 91st Bomb Group (Heavy) at Bassingbourn this clear Wednesday afternoon. Other men slowing are collecting around their assigned emergency vehicles, including the olive-drab ambulances with their fiery crosses of red in squares of white. It is a little after 1330 hours Double British Summer Time, 16 August 1944. The Group has a mission out over Germany. The bombers have been away from base for seven and one half hours. Returning planes should be coming into view any minute now.

Although ground crews typically “sweat out” arrival of their aircraft, there is no exceptional concern today. It has been almost a month since the Group has experienced serious losses on a mission. Back on the 20th of July, the 91st lost eight B-17s on a mission to Leipzig, seven to German fighters, one to flak. Since then the Group has flown 18 missions with a total loss of four aircraft, all to flak. Only a few German fighters now dare come up at the formations and these are dispersed easily by American fighter escorts.

Accordingly, the ground crews are not anticipating that their aircraft would be subject to unusual risk on today’s mission. This, in spite of the fact that the primary target was the Siebel aircraft factories at Halle, Germany, 20 miles northwest of Leipzig. The Leipzig area is infamous for its flak and fighter defenses, as the 91st discovered the hard way on the 20th of July. The Strike Force would have been well within the Leipzig Luftwaffe air defense coverage. Still, two recent missions to the synthetic oil plants at Merseburg, also in the Leipzig area, on the 28th and 29th of July did not incur losses.

The officers on the balcony of the control tower train their binoculars to the northeast. Several small black specks appear high up in the sky. Faint rumbling as from distant thunder begins to pulsate through the air. The specks slowly take on the familiar silhouettes of B-17 Flying Fortresses. The muffled reverberations increase to an undulating roar. The formation is rather ragged as the planes begin to orchestrate their landing promenade. Streaming red flares arc from one aircraft. Wounded are aboard. The pilot is requesting priority in landing. The bomber breaks out of the pattern, peels off and touches down at 1344 hours on the long No. 25 runway. Flaps down, the plane moves off the runway and shudders to a halt on the grass. An ambulance rushes alongside the fuselage.

Two crewmen are lifted carefully through the waist door and quickly put aboard the ambulance, which speeds off to the base hospital. The remaining aircraft resume their pirouetting ballet, three bombers peel off and, one at a time, come in for a landing on each turn of the downward dance.

The tires of the next plane send up puffs of black smoke from the macadam runway at 1357 hours. Others continue landing at less than one minute intervals. A late arriving B-17 fires off a red flare. It, too, has a wounded crewman aboard. The circular aerial drill is interrupted as the plane slips directly into the landing pattern and touches down at 1415 hours. Another ambulance chases the bomber down the runway to where it pulls off and stops. The injured airman is placed in the ambulance and rushed on his way to the hospital. The landing cycle continues.

Planes from the three Squadrons flying on today’s mission, the 323rd, 324th and 401st, are intermixed as they land and taxi to their respective dispersal points. One-by-one the hardstands of 323rd and 401st Squadrons fill. Eventually, all are occupied by their resident aircraft. Flight crews disembark and ground crews begin the cleaning up procedures. When the last plane touches down at 1422 hours and taxis to her hardstand in the 323rd area, there are still seven empty spaces in the 324th Squadron dispersal area. The 324th ground crews continue looking to the sky. Only deafening silence--no sign of approaching aircraft. It finally sinks in. The Group has returned. Seven of the twelve 324th planes that went over the continent this morning (another had aborted back to base while still over England) are missing, a 58% loss. There is a look of disbelief on the faces of the ground crews. How could so many planes be missing, all from the same squadron? Returning flight crews are equally grim-faced as they silently and hastily board jeeps and trucks to head for debriefing. The orphaned ground crews will have to wait an explanation as to the fate of their charges.

The Preparation

Field Order No. 473, outlining today’s mission to Halle arrived at Group Headquarters at 2345 hours last evening. The complex details of carrying out the mission began immediately. Ground crews were at their stations within a few minutes, preparing the bombers and running up the engines. Gas tanks were filled as the armorers loaded the planes with .50 caliber machine gun belts. Others brought the bombs, 1,000 pound M-44 general purpose bombs, five of each which were loaded onto the planes of the Lead Squadron. Ten, each, 500 pound M-17 incendiaries were placed aboard the High and Low Squadrons. Two aircraft of the High Squadron were loaded with “Nickels”, propaganda leaflets. The flight crews were awakened at 0215 hours for breakfast at 0300 hours and briefing at 0345. The crews were at stations (at their planes) at 0430 hours. After going through preflight checks and topping off the gas tanks, engines were started at 0530. The planes began taxiing at 0540 hours.

For today’s mission the 323rd was the Lead Squadron. LTC James F. Berry, flying as copilot with 1Lt Rexford T. Boggs’ crew in No. 632, was the Group Leader. The 324th Squadron was assigned the High Squadron, the 401st the Low Squadron.

Thirteen planes were put up by the 324th Squadron today.

Lead Element

Lead and Squadron Lead, No. 890, “Fearless Fosdick”; 1Lt Robert E. Crans, pilot. As Squadron Lead, Lt Crans had experienced crewmen aboard today, all with more than 15 missions to their credit.

No. 2 position, No. 515, “The Wild Hare”; 2Lt Edward L. Witty. Lt Witty was the regular copilot on Lt Crans’ crew. He had flown 13 prior missions, all as copilot. This was his first mission in the left seat, as command pilot. The remainder of the crewmen were the crew of 2Lt Elbert W. Weeks, who was in the copilot’s seat today to gain combat experience before taking his own crew out. Lt Weeks and his crew arrived at Bassingbourn the 4th of August. All, including Lt Weeks, were on their first combat mission. Lt Week’s regular copilot, 2Lt Gilbert B. Willis, was stood down today. Lt Willis will be killed while flying with Lt Weeks on 8 September.

No. 3 position, No. 000; 2Lt Reese W. Lindsay, Jr. Lt Lindsay, had flown 20 previous missions as copilot, all of them on 2Lt John L. Leslie’s crew. This is Lt Lindsay’s first mission as a command pilot. The copilot, 2Lt Albert J. Perry, also a first pilot, is on his fourth combat familiarization mission. Six of the other seven crewmen are members of Lt. Perry’s crew. This is their first combat mission. The crew arrived at Bassingbourn the 6th of August. Lt Perry’s copilot, 2Lt John E. Savage, is flying as copilot with Lt Leslie’s crew in the Second Element.

Lt Perry’s original crew consisted of 10 crewmen, including two waist gunners, Sgts Cleo H. Gates and Lewis C. Morgan. Since air crews now include only one waist gunner because of the decreased risk of encounters with German fighters, one waist gunner needed to be removed from the crew. There was also a disagreement between Lts Perry and Lindsay as to whether Lt Perry’s tail gunner, Sgt Leland K. Herron, should fly the mission. Finally, Sgt Morgan told the pilots he would take the tail position. He actually felt more comfortable knowing he had twin .50 caliber machine guns, as in the tail, rather than the single machine gun used by the waist gunners. He moved to the tail and Sgt Gates remained in the waist. This decision was to save Sgt Morgan’s life. Sgt Herron was stood down for this mission. Sgt Herron will be killed in action the 30th of November while flying as tail gunner on a mission to Zeitz with 2Lt Ralph E. Stolz’s crew in No. 742, “Pam.”

Lt Lindsay’s crew was scheduled to fly in No. 205, “The Ruptured Duck.” The bomb load placed aboard “The Ruptured Duck” during the night was discovered to be incorrect when checked by the bombardier prior to starting engines. The crew switched to a Spare, No. 000, provided by the 322nd Squadron for the mission.

Second Element

Element Lead and Deputy Squadron Lead, No. 126; 2Lt John (“Jack”) L. Leslie. Except for the copilot, Lt Savage, who was flying his first combat mission, this was an experienced crew. Lt Leslie had flown 22 previous missions, 21 of them as a first pilot. The bombardier, F/O Earl W. Donley, was on his sixteenth mission. The rest of the crew had flown at least 20 previous combat missions. The flight engineer, T/Sgt Joseph H. Godfrey, and the radio operator, T/Sgt James I. Middleton, had been promoted from S/Sgt yesterday. Lt Leslie and his crew were listed to fly on No. 033, “My Baby”, but the smoke marker/streamer bomb had not been placed in the bomb bay. Since they were Deputy Squadron lead, the crew had to switch to another Spare from the 322nd Squadron, No. 126, which had a smoke marker/streamer aboard.

No. 2, No. 613; F/O Louis C. Marpil. F/O Marpil was another copilot flying as a first pilot on this mission. He had flown 20 previous missions, most of them as a copilot with 2Lt Joe Bressol’s crew. This was his fourth mission as aircraft commander. Seven of the crew for today were originally in the crew of 2Lt George B. Gaines. Following their arrival at Bassingbourn on 17 July, Lt Gaines flew a number of practice missions with his crew over England. During this time he developed a cold. The Squadron CO insisted that he continue to fly practice missions. On one of the practice missions Lt Gaines’ ear drum ruptured. He was stood down from flying while the ear drum healed. Lt Gaines was assigned Assistant Operations Officer for the 324th Squadron. After his ear drum healed, he began flying again, usually as Squadron Lead. Lt Gaines continued as Assistant Operations Officer and flying combat missions through the end of the war. The rest of Lt Gaines’ crew was placed on flight status and started flying missions separately as fill-ins on a number of other crews. Yesterday, the seven crewmen flew together with F/O Marpil. All seven are back with him again today.

Most of F/O Marpil’s crewmen had flown at least three previous missions. The waist gunner, Sgt Clayton O. Tyson, was on his third mission. Both the ball turret gunner, S/Sgt Truely S. Ponder, and the tail gunner, Sgt Clem J. Pine, were on their second combat tours. Sgt Ponder had flown 25 missions with the 303rd Bomb Group, returning to the States in January 1944. Sgt Pine flew 25 missions with the 351st Bomb Group, also finishing in January 1944. Sgts Ponder and Pine originally had trained together in gunnery school. After completing their first combat tours, they ended up together again as instructors at Galveston Air Force Base in Texas. In July they volunteered for a second combat tour. This time they were assigned to Lt Gaines’ crew in advanced training, eventually ending up at Bassingbourn. This was their fourth mission with the 91st Group.

No. 613 carried only “Nickels” (propaganda leaflets) today, five XG 19 and five XG 20 containers.

No. 3, No. 085, “Yankee Belle”; 1Lt John R. McCombs. This was another experienced crew. Lt McCombs had flown 17 previous missions, all but one as a first pilot. The remainder of the crew had flown at least 15 combat missions.

A Spare, flying in the rear or “diamond” position, No. 634, “Texas Chubby-The J’ville Jolter”; 2Lt Halsted Sherrill. No. 634 was a 322nd Squadron aircraft on loan to the 324th for this mission. Lt Sherrill was on his 19th mission. He had flown his first eight missions as a copilot with a number of different crews. Lt Shrerill was assigned his own crew on 28 July and had flown 10 missions as a first pilot. The ball turret gunner, Sgt Enrique T. Perez and the waist gunner, Sgt Joseph R. Morrison, were filling in for Sgts Joseph E. Radecki and Woodrow R. Cornett of Lt Sherrill’s regular crew. The latter two crewmen were recuperating from wounds received yesterday on the mission to Ostheim. Sgt Perez was on his 25th mission and Sgt Morrison, his 23rd. The remainder of the crew had flown at least eleven missions. Sgt Cornett will be killed when his flak-damaged plane, No. 988, “The B.T.O.”, crash-lands at Brussels-Evere Airfield while returning from another mission to Ostheim on 10 January 1945.

The navigator on today’s crew, 2Lt William M. Porter, had been navigator on 1Lt Richard W. Burch’s crew. Lt Burch and his crew arrived at Bassingbourn on the 7th of April. Almost as soon as they arrived, Lt Porter came down with a bad cold, accompanied by fits of coughing. Unable to shake the cold or cough, Lt Porter went on sick call. During the examination, the doctor discovered that as a result of his coughing, Lt Porter had developed a hernia that required surgery. He was operated on immediately and stood down from flying while recovering. In the meantime, Lt Burch’s crew began flying combat missions, with different navigators filling in for Lt Porter.

On their 12th mission, on 20 June, Lt Burch’s plane, No. 892, was hit by flak over Hamburg, exploding in midair. Only the tail gunner, Pvt Joseph A. Evers, escaped to become a POW. But for a simple cold and resulting complications, Lt Porter would have been aboard No. 892. Thus, the difference between death and life. But for Lt Porter’s cold, Cpt Harold I. Fox, the navigator on the 20th of June, would not have been aboard No. 892. The difference between life and death. Lt Porter returned to flight status the 20th of July and flew three missions as a fill-in. On the 28th he was assigned to Lt Sherrill’s crew. Today was his 12th mission.

Third Element

Lead, No. 012; 2Lt Vincent A. Fonke. Lt Fonke was on his eleventh mission, all but one as first pilot. The rest of the crew had flown between six and ten previous missions.

No. 2, No. 088, “Redwing”, on loan from the 322nd Squadron for this mission; 2Lt Royal E. Manville. Lt Manville had flown seven prior missions, four as a first pilot. The remainder of his crew had flown at least three combat missions. The navigator, 2Lt James Swaye, originally had been a bombardier on 2Lt Arthur L. Stevens’ crew that arrived at Bassingbourn mid June. At that time the 8th Air Force was short of navigators. Lt Swaye was replaced by 2Lt Thomas J. Scheurell on Lt Stevens’ crew and sent to navigator’s school in England. On 1 August, Lt Stevens and his crew, while flying in No. 879, were shot down by flak on the bomb run to the target at Chartres, France. The plane exploded in mid-air. Only the tail gunner, Sgt Lawrence E. Doyle, of the nine man crew survived. When finished with navigator’s school, Lt Swaye was assigned as navigator on Lt Manville’s crew.

No. 3, No. 673, “Lassie Come Home”, another “loaner” from the 322nd; 2Lt Leonard F. Figie. Lt Figie’s crew had flown six different aircraft the previous nine missions. The plane they flew yesterday, No. 151, “Shure Shot”, was badly damaged by flak and unable to fly today. Lt Figie’s crew had flown 12 previous missions. Except for the waist gunner, S/Sgt Walter Salo, and the togglier, S/Sgt Harlon B. Williams, this was Lt Figie’s regular crew. Sgt Salo was a member of 1Lt Joe Bilotta’s crew. Lt Bilotta already had finished his 35 missions. The remainder of his crew were scattered to other crews to finish up their required missions. This was Sgt Salo’s 34th mission. Sgt Morris M. Holmstad was Lt Figie’s regular waist gunner. He was stood down today that Sgt Salo might work towards his quota of 35 missions. A different bombardier/togglier has flown with Lt Figie on most of his missions. Today, Sgt Williams was flying as his togglier. Sgt Williams had been shot down earlier over France and had evaded capture, eventually making his way back to England. On another mission, Sgt Williams’ plane had been forced down in the Channel. The crew was picked up by an Air Sea Rescue boat and returned to Bassingbourn. Sgt Williams was flying his 25th mission.

“Lassie Come Home” is carrying only Nickels, five USG-48 and five XG-16 containers.

Fourth Element

Lead, No. 128, “Dear Becky”; 1Lt Freeman C. Beasley. “Dear Becky” was named after Lt Beasley’s wife, Becky. His was another experienced crew. Lt Beasely had flown 19 prior missions, all but one as a first pilot. The crew today had flown with Lt Beasley on most of his missions. Lt Beasley will be severely wounded in the head by shrapnel while flying “Dear Becky” to Ludvigshaven on 8 September and will not fly again.

No. 2, No. 333, “Wee Willie”, also on loan from the 322nd Squadron; 2Lt Lawrence N. Gaddis. Lt Gaddis had flown eight prior missions, six as a first pilot. The copilot, 2Lt Albert Raisin, arrived at Bassingbourn sometime earlier as a casual officer, rather than with a crew. He had been assigned to fly as tail gunner and formation coordinator on the Group Lead plane for five missions. This was his first mission as a copilot. The rest of Lt Gaddis’ crew had flown at least five combat missions.

No. 3, No. 996, “Boston Bombshell”, yet another plane on loan from the 322nd Squadron, the second plane from the 322nd to bear this name (the first, No. 898 was lost 22 February 1944 on a mission to Oschersleben); 2Lt John F. Dunlap, pilot. Lt Dunlap was flying his 19th combat mission, his first in the left seat. He had flown his 18 previous missions in the right seat, as copilot, on 1Lt William J. O’Brien’s crew. Except for the navigator, the rest of the men aboard were members of F/O John R. Lindahl’s crew, flying their first combat mission. This crew arrived at Bassingbourn the 6th of August. F/O Lindahl had flown one combat mission as copilot with Lt Sherrill’s crew on the 11th. F/O Lindahl was ill today and in the hospital. His crew was not on the original alert list for the mission.

Since F/O Lindahl’s crew had not yet been placed on combat alert, the navigator, 2Lt Adam Arakas, was given a pass to go into nearby Cambridge last evening. F/O Lindahl’s bombardier, 2Lt Joseph G. Weinstock, had been sent to London yesterday to have a pair of flight goggles made. After Lts Arakas and Weinstock had left base a shortage of crews necessitated use of F/O Lindahl’s crew for the mission. Lt Arakas became lost in the black-out and could not locate the bus station in time to go back to Bassingbourn last evening. He had to wait and take the train back this morning. Lt Weinstock’s goggles were not ready until too late to return to base last evening. Both arrived back at Bassingbourn after the aircraft had departed for Halle.

2Lt Hubert B. Carpenter, the bombardier on Lt Crans’ crew, who was also qualified as a navigator, was assigned to “Boston Bombshell” to fill in for Lt Arakas. This was Lt Carpenter’s eighth combat mission, his first as a navigator. There were two waist gunners on F/O Lindahl’s crew. Since only one waist gunner was needed, one, Sgt Leslie D. Algee, filled in as togglier in place of Lt Weinstock. Sgt John W. Barclay remained as the sole waist gunner. No. 027, “Hikin’ for Home” was originally assigned to Lt Dunlap’s crew for today’s mission. However, the correct bomb load had not been placed in the plane and the crew switched to “Boston Bombshell”.

The Mission

The Group aircraft moved out of their hardstands onto the taxiways at 0540 hours. The Group Lead bomber, No. 632, left the runway at 0545, with No. 890, Lead of the 324th, lifting off at 0546 hours. The Squadrons began forming up over the base. While trying to form up, Lt Manville became lost in the East Anglian overcast and could not find the 91st formation. Eventually he saw the 457th Bomb Group, of the 94th Combat Wing, from nearby Glatton Airbase, coming together for a mission to the Ju 88 fighter aircraft assembly plant at Schkeuditz, near Leipzig. Following standard operational procedures (“SOP”), Lt Manville formed up with the 457th rather than abort the mission. He moved “Red Wing” into the “diamond position” of the Number Four Element of the “Low Box” (as the 457th Group called the “Low Squadron” position in its formation) and flew on to Schkeuditz. The Low Box was led by Cpt Joseph F. Reilly.

Lt Sherrill, flying as the “Spare” with the Second Element, saw that Lt Manville’s space was not occupied. He moved his aircraft over into the No. 2 position of the Fourth Element to continue the mission. Shortly afterwards, Lt Gaddis, in “Wee Willie”, became ill and had to return to the base, touching down at 0810 hours, an hour and fifty minutes after taking off. The No. 2 position in the Fourth Element remained vacant.

The rest of the 91st planes finished forming up and the Group left the airbase at 0742 hours. It joined up with the 398th and 381st Groups to complete the 1st Combat Wing. The remaining Groups formed into three Combat Wings, the 41st, 40th and 94th. The 41st was the Lead Wing, followed by the 1st, 40th, and 94th, in that order. The 398th Group led the 1st Wing, with the 381st and 91st following. The Wings came together as the bomber stream left the English coast a few miles south of Ipswitch. The bombers headed out over the North Sea on a northeasterly course, crossing the Dutch coast 20 miles north of Amsterdam. The Strike Force then turned straight east for 125 miles, flying over the Zuider Zee, the rest of Holland and on into Germany to 25 miles northwest of Osnabruck. There the bomber stream made two “dog legs” to the southeast skirting to the east of Osnabruck. During this time the bombers gradually climbed to the briefed bombing altitude of 25,000 feet.

At 1002 hours, in the vicinity of Eisenach, an hour and eight minutes from the target, the P-51 fighter group escorting the 91st Group up to this point turned back. The fighter group that was to take over escorting the bombers on to the target had not yet appeared on the scene, leaving the 91st without fighter escort.

For most of the mission the 324th Squadron had been running into heavy prop wash from the 381st Group flying directly in front of the 91st. The planes were buffeted around in the sky. The pilots were unable to hold their positions in the formation. The Squadron began to loosen up and fall behind. Some of the pilots wanted to drop below the turbulence, but this was not possible if Group integrity was to be maintained.

As the bombers approached Eisenach, flak bursts began appearing near the Lead plane of the 324th High Squadron. According to the flak chart Lt Crans had taped to his leg there should not have been flak batteries in this area. As he glanced down at the map to confirm the location, Lt Crans called to his navigator, 2Lt Carl R. Phifer, over the intercom and asked where the flak was coming from. At the same time Lt Phifer yelled--“Lead, Lead!” Lt Crans looked up and saw that Lt Boggs’ Group Lead aircraft was making a turn to the left. Lt Crans started chasing him, with the rest of the High Squadron attempting to follow. The 324th was on the outside of the turn and had a longer route to fly. In addition, the planes were continuing to encounter heavy prop wash. The combined effect prevented the High Squadron from keeping up with the rest of the Group during the turn. The Squadron dropped about one minute behind the Group formation.

Prior to the turn, some of the crewmen had observed a “gaggle” of German fighters, mostly new Model “D” long-nosed FW 190s, along with a few Me 109s, drifting back down alongside the bomber stream. The fighters appeared to be looking over the formations for a vulnerable Group to attack. The Germans soon disappeared beyond the rear of the 91st formation. Shortly thereafter the 324th Squadron tail gunners saw what they at first took to be the over-due American fighter escort approaching from out of the sun at 0600 O’clock level. It was immediately obvious, however, the German fighters were coming back at them.

Part of the enemy fighters were from Sturmstaffel (Assault Squadron) IV of Jagdgeschwader (JG) 3 stationed at an air base at Schongau. The Sturmstaffel had taken off midmorning and soon had the American Strike Force in sight. As they moved down alongside the bomber stream, the pilots saw there was no fighter escort with the 91st and noticed the High Squadron was lagging behind the rest of the Group. The fighters swung around and started their runs from out of the sun and from the rear.

While still out of range of the bomber’s machine guns, the fighters began lobbing 20 and 30 mm cannon shells with timed fuses into the 324th formation. Puffs of grayish white smoke from exploding shells suddenly appeared within the formation and shells began hitting the aircraft. The fighters caught up with the bombers and in flights of two, three and five abreast, barreled right into the 324th Squadron. A few of the fighters came in close up to and under the bombers. It appeared to the bomber crewmen the fighter pilots were setting their flaps briefly and “walking their rudders” (swinging the wings from side to side) while spraying cannon and machine gun fire into the underside of the bombers. It also seemed that just before stalling out, the fighter pilots throttled forward and went on through the formation, rolling over and downward through the Lead and Low Squadrons, firing wildly as they went.

The attacks were not as they seemed, however. The German pilots were understandably scared at coming in on a bomber formation with all the defensive guns. The “winking” of the gun nozzles on the bombers and the tracers arcing towards their aircraft made it clear to the pilots they were only seconds away from being dead. There was also the fear that the American fighter escorts would come swooping down on them. The pilots simply “hunkered” down behind their engines for protection and kept the throttle full forward as they charged into the formation. The American crewmen saw the fighters slamming into the prop wash of the bomber they were attacking, causing the fighters to slow down suddenly. The buffeting of the fighters in the prop wash gave the impression the pilots were “walking the rudder.” Younger, less experienced, pilots had particular trouble in holding their aircraft stable. As soon as they felt their fighter slowed by the prop wash, the German pilots nosed over, continuing at full throttle as they dropped through the lower Squadrons. The fighters kept on going--only one pass was made through the 91st formation. That one pass was disastrous.

Forty Seconds of Terror

The following records the estimated forty seconds it took for the German fighters to charge through the 324th Squadron formation. This was without doubt the longest 40 seconds experienced by the planes and crews of the 91st Bomb Group during the air war over Europe.

Lead Element
No. 890, “Fearless Fosdick”

The tail gunner, S/Sgt Patrick J. Walsh, saw German fighters coming in five abreast and fired at them so long he burned out his guns. The flight engineer, S/Sgt Russell W. Wilson, was able to fire off a few rounds at fighters attacking the higher, No. 2 Element before they broke down and under “Fearless Fosdick.” He did not see any hits. The radio operator, S/Sgt John B. Ackerson, also fired off a few ineffective rounds from his radio compartment gun at the downward fleeing fighters. Some of the fighters were giving off black smoke as they dived downward, suggesting they were on fire. It was discovered much later when interviewing former Luftwaffe pilots that such smoke was merely from the exhaust of the fighters as they throttled forward, not from fire within the aircraft.

No. 515, “The Wild Hare”

A FW 190 came in on “The Wild Hare”, spraying her with 20 mm cannon shells. Hits on the tail riddled the rudder fabric. A piece of tail fabric began flapping over the windows of the tail gunner, Sgt Joseph M. Albury. Sgt Albury reached out and tore away the canvas so he could see. By this time, the fighters were gone. Sgt Benjamin B. Benigno in the ball turret had seen the fighters coming in and was able to get off a few bursts. Even though he tried to hold his bursts short, as trained to do, Sgt. Benigno got swept up in the excitement and fired longer than he should. Fortunately, the overheated guns were not needed again on the mission.

No. 000

A FW-190 came directly in on the tail of No. 000. The Tail gunner, Sgt. Lewis C. Morgan, fired at the fighter causing it to flare up and away with its belly towards Sgt Morgan’s position. Sgt Morgan put a few rounds into the plane, but it rolled over and went on down through the formation.

No. 000 was raked by cannon fire all along the right wing from the tip to up next to the fuselage. The gas tank between the No. 3 and 4 engines caught fire, sending flames streaming 30 feet to the rear. No. 000 pulled up almost vertically and exploded about four seconds later. Only the tail section remained intact, slowly floating downward in a flat spin. The rest of the plane simply disintegrated into an orange and black cloud, spewing fragments of No. 000 over the sky. Sgt Morgan tried to go out through the opening where the tail was cut off, but became entangled in the shredded metal. He finally pulled free, kicked the tail hatch open and dropped out. By this time Sgt Morgan was only 600 feet above the ground. He pulled the rip cord and the chute opened. Sgt Morgan made two swings and hit the ground hard, breaking his left heel and leg. An old man gathering vegetables put Sgt Morgan in a cart and took him to a near-by town and to a place where there were Catholic Nuns. The Nuns bandaged his leg. The next day the military arrived and put him on a train. It was three weeks before Sgt Morgan was taken to a hospital and his broken leg set.

The remaining eight crew members were killed when No. 000 exploded.

Second Element
No. 126

The tail gunner, S/Sgt Louis Kos, called in a warning of fighters approaching from the rear. A few seconds later No. 126 took several cannon hits, setting the No. 4 engine on fire and starting a fire in the bomb bay. The waist gunner, S/Sgt Douglas Buntin, was badly wounded in the chest and face by cannon shells exploding inside the fuselage. Sgt Kos was also hit by cannon fire that tore a gaping wound in his chest and injured his face. Lt. Leslie called over the intercom for the radioman, T/Sgt James I. Middleton, to get back in the waist and man a gun. By the time he unhooked his oxygen system, plugged in a “walk-around” oxygen bottle, disconnected the intercom system, and got back to a waist gun, Sgt Middleton had time to fire off only a few ineffective rounds at the fighters roaring through the formation.

No. 126 was going down. Sgt Kos attempted to crawl from his tail position back into the fuselage. Although badly wounded himself, Sgt Buntin, went back to aid Sgt Kos. Neither had on his chute. At the same time the flight engineer, T/Sgt Joseph H. Godfrey, jumped down from the top turret and went into the cockpit. Lt Leslie yelled to the copilot, 2Lt John E. Savage, “It looks bad.” Lt Savage answered, “Yes.” Lt Leslie ordered the crew to “Get ready to jump.”

Lt Leslie told Sgt Godfrey that he was going to “ride the plane down” in an attempt to crash land since he had wounded aboard. Sgt Godfrey replied “I’m riding it down with you” (to help control the aircraft). Lt Leslie came back “No, you are not Godfrey. You are getting out.” Sgt Godfrey retorted “No sir, you’ve been good to us and I’m riding it down with you.”

The forward crewmen were putting on chutes and starting to bail out. The navigator, 2Lt Stanley Koss, had just dropped through the nose escape hatch. Lt Leslie called the bombardier, F/O Karl W. Donley, over the intercom and told him to “Come up and get Godfrey and push him out.” F/O Donley came up to the cockpit and took Sgt Godfrey down into the nose, shoved him out through the escape hatch and bailed out after him. Lt Savage followed F/O Donley to the nose and bailed out. Lt Leslie remained at the controls attempting to hold the plane level while the crew bailed out. The intercom was now out.

Almost as soon Lt Savage jumped, the plane exploded and broke in two. Sgts Buntin and Kos were still in the plane and were killed. Sgt Buntin forfeited his chance to bail out in an attempt to save Sgt Kos. Sgt Middleton, who was still in the waist of the aircraft, was knocked out by the explosion. When he regained consciousness, Sgt Middleton was floating in the air with his chute open. He landed in a field where several civilians held him until the military arrived and took him away. Lt Koss also landed safely, but was shot and killed by an elderly civilian. Lt Savage was not injured before he bailed out but he did not survive. It is not known how he died. Lt Leslie refused to bail out because he did not know if the crewmen were all out. Since the intercom was out he could not talk with them. Lt Leslie flew No. 126 until she exploded, sacrificing his life to save his crew.

Sgt Godfrey was banged up somewhat as he fell through a tree upon landing. Six or more civilians working in a nearby field came running towards him with pitchforks, apparently intent upon killing him. Before they got to him, a small girl about seven years old, stepped in front of Sgt Godfrey and held her arms out and told them to go back. They did. The girl then took Sgt Godfrey’s hand and walked with him toward an approaching military patrol that took him into custody. For saving his life, Sgt Godfrey gave the little girl the only thing he had that could show his gratitude, the chewing gum in the pockets of his flight suit.

No. 613

The flight engineer, Sgt Joseph B. Nealon, saw fighters approaching the Squadron from the rear and called over the intercom “Look at the P-47s.” The tail gunner, Sgt Clem J. Pine, yelled back, “Hell, those are FWs!” Almost immediately cannon fire from the German fighters started raking the plane, knocking out the No. 2 engine. The waist gunner, Sgt Clayton O. Tyson, was hit in the head and throat and killed by the first rounds slamming into the plane. The radio operator, Sgt Gerald J. Peters, was hit in the ankle and knocked to the floor of the radio room. Sgt Pine, in the tail, was firing at the on-coming fighters when a shell exploded in the tail compartment, shredding his chute, wounding him in the left thigh and throwing him back onto the tail wheel cover. He yelled out over the intercom “My God, I’ve had it.”

For the crewmen up in the nose compartment, the first indication of anything wrong was when the plane started shuttering all over from exploding cannon shells and the aft gunners firing their .50 caliber machine guns. The navigator, 2Lt Elliot H. Winston, started to get up to man his gun when the nose was hit. The Plexiglas above the bombardier’s position blew out and several of the navigation maps were sucked up and out of the aircraft. As he looked out the side window, Lt Winston saw a German fighter hanging over the wing, so close he could see clearly the pilot’s face.

No. 613 started losing altitude rapidly. The oxygen system had been punctured and drained. F/O Marpil needed to get the plane down to where the crew could breath. As the aircraft started dropping, Sgt Pine, who had seen other B-17s in the formation exploding in the air, crawled into the rear of the fuselage. There he saw Sgt Tyson sprawled on the floor obviously dead and Sgt Peters lying on the floor of his compartment with a gaping hole in his leg. Sgt Pine could not tell if he were dead or alive. When he sensed the plane was dropping rapidly and saw that the No. 2 engine was dead, Sgt Pine assumed they were going down. After having seen what had happened to so many other aircraft, he figured he had best get out while there was still time to do so. Sgt Pine snapped on the spare chest chute the crew kept by the rear escape hatch, kicked open the door and bailed out.

F/O Marpil finally leveled off No. 613 at 14,000 feet. The windmilling No. 2 engine had to be feathered. The main gas tank to No. 4 engine was hit and that engine also stopped. Sgt Nealon pumped gas into the No. 4 tank and got the engine running again, although roughly. The aircraft was still under control. F/O Marpil then went back into the fuselage to check out the damage and to give aid to Sgt Peters. At about the same time, Sgt Ponder tried to come up out of the ball turret. He had difficulty in opening the hatch since Sgt Tyson’s body was lying on top of the turret. When he finally got out, Sgt Ponder saw that the back of Sgt Tyson’s head had been blown off. He noticed that Sgt Pine was gone and the escape hatch open so he assumed he had jumped. He then went forward to the radio compartment and gave Sgt Peters a morphine shot and filled his ankle wound with sulfa powder. After that he went back down into the turret in case any more fighters came through after them. None did.

F/O Marpil asked Lt Winston to plot a course back to England as he turned No. 613 away from the Strike Force and headed home alone.

No. 085, “Yankee Belle”

The German fighters barreled past “Yankee Belle”, firing as they went. Large puffs of whitish smoke from exploding 20 mm and 30 mm shells erupted all around the aircraft. Approximately 20 holes appeared in the aircraft and the hydraulic system was shot out. But, there was no major structural damage to the aircraft. The flight engineer, S/Sgt Donnell A. Connell, got off a few rounds at the fighters as they swept by his top turret, but he did not see any hits. The copilot, 2Lt Donald E. McKee, looked out his right window and saw a FW 190 floating off the right wing almost stalled out as he fired into Lt Leslie’s plane. The FW 190 was a beautifully polished robin blue color. It was so close Lt McKee could see the red rubber oxygen mask of the pilot. The plane rolled over and went down through the lower Squadrons.

Machine gun fire from the wildly firing crewmen in the B-17s in the formation was going in all directions. A .50 caliber bullet from another bomber came up through the nose compartment, severed the intercom cord of the navigator, 2Lt Charles D. Pfleagor, went on into the pilots compartment between the pedals of the copilot and lodged in the inverter box. Lt Pfleagor could not communicate over the intercom and was concerned that one of the pilots may have been hit. He handed a note up to Lt McKee in the cockpit asking “Are you still alive?” There was blood on the note from where Lt Pfleagor had scratched himself. Lt McKee thought the navigator had been wounded. None of the crew had been hit in the fighter attack.

“Yankee Belle” remained on course and at altitude.

Third Element
No. 012

When the crew of No. 012 was training back in the States Lt Fonke had tried out all crew positions to get a feel for what the crewman in each position had to deal with. The SOP was for the ball turret gunner to leave his chute on the floor of the fuselage next to the opening of the turret. There was not enough room for a chute in the already cramped turret and, anyway, the gunner had to come up into the fuselage to bail out. When trying out the ball turret, Lt Fonke felt there was room to wedge in a chest pack chute, if fastened only by one hook. He was afraid that the gunner, Sgt Charles S. Brudo, might be blown out of the turret without having a chance to get to his chute. Lt Fonke had asked Sgt Brudo to wear his chute in the turret at all times, which he did.

On this mission, as No. 012 reached 10,000 ft when heading for the coast, Lt Fonke told the crew over the intercom to “go onto oxygen and man your positions.” In his haste to get into the turret, Sgt Brudo forgot to put on his chute. The radio operator, Sgt Wendell Meenach, saw Sgt Brudo had not put on his chute. Knowing he always did, Sgt Meenach yelled, “Charlie, your chute” and tapped his chest. Sgt Brudo reached back for the chute, went down into the ball and snapped it on.

When the guns were test fired over the Channel, Sgt Willard M. Holden, the tail gunner, reported that the left tail gun was inoperative. Over the continent Sgt Brudo notice sparks coming from the fuse box in the ball turret. He lifted the lid and saw that a small label had fallen from the cover and was shorting out the fuses. He removed the label and test fired the guns to make certain they were still working. They were.

The first indication the cockpit crew had that they were under attack was the sudden appearance of puffs of grayish white smoke about the size of wash tubs all about the front of their plane. The crew had not seen these before, but knew they were not flak explosions. They were the 20 mm and 30 mm timed fuse cannon shells being fired into the formation. At the same time, Sgt Holden called over the intercom that fighters were coming in on the tail and that he was “firing at them.” By then fighters were barreling into the formation from the rear. Sgt Holden yelled out “Shoot at him! Shoot at him!”, his last words.

Almost immediately, 20 mm cannon shells started tearing apart No. 012. She was hit in the No. 2 engine, knocking it out, as well as in the right wing, between No. 3 and 4 engines and in the inboard wing tank. The right wing, along with the No. 4 engine, became engulfed in fire. Part of the elevator was shot off at the same time. Because of loss of the No. 2 engine and partial power from No. 4, combined with the reduced lift from the elevator, No. 012 nosed over and started dropping down. She hit some prop wash and made a one-turn spin. After dropping about 5,000 ft the combined efforts of Lt Fonke and the copilot, 2Lt Fred W. Van Sant, pulling back on the control columns leveled her off.

The tail gunner, Sgt Willard M. Holden, was killed by the first rounds of cannon fire that slammed into the plane. Sgt Brudo in the ball turret saw the fighters coming in from the rear and started firing at them. Cannon shells hit the turret and at the same time his guns jammed, either from the exploding cannon shells or from the previous short circuiting of the fuses. Sgt Brudo was wounded in the lower right leg, just above the ankle, in the crotch and in the left buttock. Another cannon shell hit the turret, knocking Sgt Brudo unconscious. When he came to, he saw he was floating free. Knowing he had to get his chute open, Sgt Brudo reached for the rip cord handle, but it was not there. Then he saw that his chute had already opened on its own and he was coming down with only one hook engaged. Although he did not know how the chute opened, Sgt Brudo was free of the aircraft and in his chute. Had it not been for Lt Fonke’s original request and for Sgt Meenach noticing he did not have his chute when he went into the turret, Sgt Brudo would have fallen 19,000 feet to his death. Such were the differences between dying and living.

Exploding cannon shells hit the waist guns and the gunner, Sgt William J. Weaver, in the face, knocking him down to the floor. He was blinded in both eyes and unable to get back on his feet. His intercom mike was blown off so that he could not communicate with Lt Fonke. Sgt Meenach looked out from the radio compartment and saw Sgt Weaver lying quietly on the floor, his face a mass of blood. He got on the intercom and told Lt Fonke that Sgt Weaver was dead.

Lt Fonke knew the plane was doomed. He rang the bail-out bell and yelled over the intercom for everyone to leave the ship. The top turret gunner, S/Sgt Raymond V. Prange (who had been promoted to S/Sgt the day before), navigator, 2Lt Robert W. Simcock, Jr., bombardier, 2Lt Herbert Carlson, and Lt Van Sant, in that order, left through the nose hatch. Sgt Meenach went out the waist door. As soon as he felt the crew had had time to clear the aircraft, Lt Fonke went into the nose and bailed out. Almost immediately No. 012 exploded, spewing wreckage all over the sky.

Sgt Weaver was still alive and in the plane when it blew. “It sounded like the whole world had blown up when she exploded.” He was knocked unconscious as No. 012 disintegrated into bits and pieces. When he came to, he still could not see because of the blood over his eyes, but could feel that he was floating down in his opened chute. He, too, did not know how his chute opened. Lt Simcock escaped injury during the fighter attack and explosion of the aircraft, but broke his ankle upon landing. He was near Sgt Brudo in the German hospital while his ankle was healing.

No. 634, “Texas Chubby-The J’ville Jolter”

Just before the German fighters started their attack, Lt Sherrill decided to try to get out of the prop wash by moving “Texas Chubby” down into the open No. 2 position in the Fourth Element. He asked the copilot, 2Lt Frank J. Gilligan, to take the controls since the position was on his side of the plane. As they were sliding into position, Lt Gilligan noticed the upper turret of the plane they were joining up on, was firing like mad. At the same time, the tail gunner, Sgt Chester W. Mis, called up on the intercom and said “Our fighter cover is h. . . . no they’re not!” It was the Germans. Then it sounded like rain on a roof as 20 mm shells began popping all over the place, throwing shards of steel into the skin of “Texas Chubby.”

“Texas Chubby” was hit immediately in a number of places by cannon fire. The instrument panel was shot to pieces, the engines started running away, the controls were “not there.” Lt Sherrill flipped on “George”, the autopilot--nothing. Cannon shells exploded in the top turret killing the gunner, Sgt Vernon E. Bauerline, who slumped down in the turret. The ball turret took several direct 20 mm cannon hits, killing S/Sgt Enrique T. Perez, whose body remained trapped in the turret. Both legs of the waist gunner, S/Sgt Joseph R. Morrison, were blown off by exploding shells. He did not have his chute on. The radio operator, S/Sgt Richard J. Munkwitz, went back to give Sgt Morrison aid and put an emergency chute on him and help him bail out.

“Texas Chubby” pitched up and then dropped off on her right wing. As the aircraft went down, she just missed another B-17 going down with fire streaming from the engines. Lt Sherrill hit Lt Gilligan and said “Look at that poor bastard.” Lt Gilligan looked out at their No. 3 engine which, too, was trailing fire behind the wing and said “Forget him, look at us.” Lt Sherrill then said, “I guess it’s time to go, we can’t do a damn thing about it” and rang the bail-out bell.

The navigator, 2Lt William M. Porter, was hit in the head by shrapnel from the first exploding shells, filling his oxygen mask with blood. When, Lt Sherrill, rang the bail-out bell and told the crew over the intercom to “leave the plane”, Lt Porter took off his face mask, buckled on his chest pack chute and started making his way to the nose escape hatch. Because of his wounds and lack of oxygen, Lt Porter became disoriented and tried to open the hatch with the regular handle, rather than the emergency handle.

In the meantime, Lt Gilligan moved down between the seats and looked forward. He saw Lt Porter fumbling at the escape hatch door. Lt Gilligan crawled forward to the door, pulled the emergency handle and Lt Porter tumbled out. The bombardier, 2Lt Nicholas J. Weber, had his chute on and was turning around to move to the escape hatch. He did not leave the aircraft.

Lt Porter landed on the side of a high garden fence and slid to the ground. Had he hit the top of the fence he most likely would have been severely injured, if not killed. An elderly couple who lived in the house came out as other civilians started running into the garden yelling “Chicago gangster” at Lt Porter. This name was given by the Germans to American bomber crewmen who were creating so much devastation and death in the German cities. The elderly couple told the gathering

crowd that Lt Porter was their prisoner and to leave him alone. The woman went to get water to wash off Lt Porter’s facial wounds. Lt Porter told her not to bother. The blood had clotted and he was afraid his face would start bleeding again. The couple took care of Lt Porter until the authorities came for him. While waiting, they explained as best they could in German that they had a son who was a prisoner of war in England. He had written them to say that he had plenty of food and clothing and comfortable living conditions. Protecting Lt Porter was one way the German couple could reciprocate for the treatment their son was receiving.

Lt Gilligan had gone back to the cockpit and stooped down to retrieve his chute from between the seats. He looked up to see Lt Sherrill standing over him. Lt Sherrill said “Are you still here?” Then everything became chaos-noise, flashes, flying debris. The next thing Lt Gilligan knew it was quiet. He thought he was dead. He saw blue, green, blue, green, blue. . . . . Then he realized he was alive and tumbling end over end, seeing sky, vegetation, sky, vegetation, sky. He still had his chute in his hands. He snapped it on and pulled the rip cord. As he floated down over a small village, he saw Home Guards and Hitler Youth running to where he would land in a farmer’s field. He was taken prisoner and held at the farm. Sgt Munkwitz, who also had been blown free when “Texas Chubby” exploded, and Lt Porter were brought in later. All three were held at the farm until the military came to take them away.

When the order to bail out had come over the intercom, the tail gunner, Sgt Chester W. Mis, started to go back into the fuselage to bail out the side hatch. Just then “Texas Chubby” exploded, throwing Sgt Mis out of the plane. Although the front half of the plane disintegrated completely from the exploding bombs, the tail section remained intact and was floating down slowly. Sgt Mis was also floating down bumping up against the tail section. He was afraid to pull his rip cord, fearing his chute would become entangled in the tail and drag him down. Sgt Mis finally realized that if he did not do something, he was going to be killed anyway. He pushed against the floating tail section causing him to drift far enough away to open his chute safely.

“Texas Chubby” made about four spins before exploding in a fiery ball. Lts Sherrill and Weber and Sgt Morrison did not escape the plane when it exploded.

No. 673, “Lassie Come Home”

Sgt John F. Wallaszek, tail gunner, was the first crewman in “Lassie Come Home” to spot the German fighters coming at the formation from the rear. Their cannons were blinking as the aircraft lobbed timed shells into the formation. At about the same time, the ball turret gunner, Sgt Frederick D. Baldwin, warned Sgt Wallaszek that fighters were coming at him. Almost immediately the tail position was hit by cannon shells, wounding Sgt Wallaszek over the right eye and throwing him back into the fuselage. As he tried to crawl back into his position, the next flight of fighters fired into the tail wounding him in the left leg. Sgt Wallaszek saw the interior of “Lassie Come Home” was a fiery inferno and knew it was time to get out. Although blinded by blood flowing down over his eyes, Sgt Wallaszek made it to the escape hatch under the tail and bailed out. Sgt Wallaszek was shot and wounded again in the right arm by angry civilians while coming down, but landed without further injury.

The first pass of the fighters created havoc within “Lassie Come Home.” The ball turret gunner, Sgt Frederick D. Baldwin, radio operator, Sgt Edmund J. Mikolaitis, and copilot, 2Lt Dale W. Whitson, were all killed by 20 mm cannon shells exploding in the plane. Sgt Baldwin was partially blown from the turret by a 20 mm cannon shell. His body was hanging half out, flopping in the wind. Lt Whitson’s body was thrown forward onto the control column by the force of the shells hitting him in the back. Sgt Mikolaitis was lying on the floor near the radio compartment which was a blazing caldron of fire from burning oxygen. The exploding shells engulfed the interior of the plane in flames and set the left wing of “Lassie Come Home” afire.

The waist gunner, S/Sgt Walter Salo, was hit by exploding shrapnel from the 20 mm cannon shells. At the same time he saw that the ball turret was no longer turning and that the Sgt Mikolaitis was dead. He looked back towards the tail just in time to see Sgt Wallaszek bail out through the tail hatch. Upon seeing the left wing on fire and the fire in the radio room, Sgt Salo moved to the waist escape hatch, snapped on his chest pack chute, pushed open the door and tumbled out.

In the nose, the togglier, Sgt Harlon B. Williams, saw a fighter going by the plane. Sgt Williams grabbed the right nose machine gun and fired at the attacking aircraft, which exploded in front of “Lassie Come Home.” Just as the other crewmen started shouting “You got him”, the intercom went dead and cannon shells began exploding in the nose compartment, the first directly behind Sgt Williams. Sgt Williams was hit several places in the head and left leg by shell fragments. The navigator, 2Lt Frederick Seible was also hit in the legs. He yelled out “They got me.” Almost immediately, and before Sgt Williams could get the first aid kit and move back to help Lt Seible, more 20 mm cannon shells came into the nose, killing Lt Seible. Sgt Williams could see the oxygen system was on fire and knew the plane was doomed. He first started to drag Lt Seible to the nose hatch. Upon realizing he was dead, Sgt Williams dropped Lt Seible’s body and moved on back to the escape hatch.

When it became obvious to the flight engineer, T/Sgt Walter L. Carpenter, “Lassie Come Home” was going to explode any second, he dropped down from the top turret and went into the cockpit. By then Lt Figie knew the plane was out of control and there was nothing more he could do. He and Sgt Carpenter went down through the fiery inferno into the nose, opened the escape hatch, both being burned in the process, and fell out. Sgt Williams arrived at the hatch a few seconds later, attached his chute and bailed out. There were flames on his chute harness, but the straps held and he descended safely.

The crew had barely left the plane when the plane exploded in an orange and black cloud. Sgt Williams was knocked unconscious by the explosion, but suffered no more injuries upon landing. Sgt Salo free-fell for some time before pulling the rip cord to open his chute. He and Sgt Wallaszek floated downward about 50 yards apart. Chunks of the “Lassie Come Home”, including the engines and parts of the wings fell down around them. As they neared the ground, civilian workers in the fields shot at them, wounding Sgt Wallaszek in the right arm. After they had landed a German soldier home on leave ran to them and kept the civilians way from Sgts Salo and Wallaszek.

Fourth Element
No. 128, “Dear Becky”

Lt Beasley came over the intercom to warn the crewmen of “Dear Becky” that there were “bandits” in the area and the fighter escort had not shown up. A minute later, S/Sgt Walter H. Keirsey III, in the tail, spotted a large number FW 190s and Me 109s closing in on the Squadron from the rear. He yelled out “Here they come and they ain’t ours!” Cannon shells were screaming around both sides of the plane, converging about 50 feet ahead of “Dear Becky” where they exploded in whitish puffs that looked like popcorn. Sgt Keirsey and S/Sgt Alvin P. Desisto, in the ball turret, began firing at two planes that were attacking “Dear Becky.” Sgt Keirsey’s plane, a FW 190, blew apart in the air, while the Me 109 that Sgt Desisto fired into went down, exploding upon hitting the ground. The flight engineer, S/Sgt William M. O’Neal, fired a burst into a Me 109, but the plane went on through the formation.

Fighters continued flashing past “Dear Becky” on both sides. Others slowly passed alongside the plane as they fired at aircraft up ahead. One FW 190 was close in on the left side, at “eyeball level” with Lt Beasley, but none of the gunners saw him. The fighter was a highly polished light blue color. A long-nosed FW 190 flew alongside on the right side of “Dear Becky” not more than 70 yards away. The pilot was looking straight ahead, apparently intent on the B-17 at which he was firing. The pilot’s oxygen mask was a pretty reddish orange color. Sgt Jack M. Alford was on the right waist gun. He fired a long burst into the FW 190 and the plane exploded. He kept firing at other fighters going by, none of which were more than 200 yards away. He then began firing on another FW 190 that keeled over, plunged to the ground and exploded. A Me 109 came in on the left wing and peeled out too fast for Sgt Alford to lock on him. A P-51, the fighter escort had now arrived, dived straight down between “Dear Becky” and the Group Lead plane, “Fearless Fosdick.” The pilot was so intent on getting the Me 109 he barely missed the two bombers.

The radio operator, S/Sgt Robert M. Boice, left his position to go back into the fuselage to man the other waist gun, but the action was over before he could unhook from his oxygen and intercom, plug in the “walk-around” oxygen bottle and get back to the waist gun.

The damage was done. A right wing tank was hit and began spewing fuel out behind the wing. Apparently the shell broke apart inside the tank without exploding! Parts of the shell were recovered later from the tank during repairs. The exhaust on the No. 2 engine was hit, knocking out the supercharger and causing the prop to run away, which slowed the plane so much she could not maintain her place in the formation. “Dear Becky” dropped about 600-800 yards behind the rest of the Squadron. Realizing he could not stay in formation, Lt Beasley told the bombardier, 2Lt Bruce D. Pardue, to jettison the bombs, which he did, near Kassel.

“Dear Becky” struggled to stay with the formation for protection.

No. 996, “Boston Bombshell”

The navigator, 2Lt Hubert B. Carpenter, was working on the mission log as the action began to unfold. The togglier, Sgt Leslie D. Algee, yelled at him that he thought he saw fighters. Lt Carpenter told him to keep his eye on them and went back to working on the log. At that instant the plane’s guns started firing and there were explosions all over the aircraft as “Boston Bombshell” was raked from one end to the other by cannon fire. The left wing was set ablaze between the No. 1 and 2 engines. “Boston Bombshell” immediately started spinning downward. Sgt Algee, raised up out of his seat to leave the aircraft. Lt Carpenter grabbed his chest pack chute, snapped it on and held onto the brace above the nose hatch to steady himself as he moved to the opening. There he saw Lt Dunlap lying in the catwalk apparently unconscious. Just then Lt Dunlap came to and told Lt Carpenter to open the escape hatch. Lt Carpenter kicked it open and jumped.

As he left the plane, Lt Carpenter looked up and saw the No. 1 and 2 engines were now on fire. Although, he could not see No. 3 and 4 engines from where he was falling, they, too, were afire. In fact the entire aircraft was a mass of flames. Almost immediately thereafter, “Boston Bombshell” blew up. Pieces of plane fell around Lt Carpenter as he floated earthward. After a few seconds of floating, he pulled the ripcord--a little too soon as he suffered a terrific jolt when the canopy opened. He saw some woods off to the side of his line of descent and tried slipping the chute to head towards them. This resulted in the chute swinging rather wildly. Lt Carpenter hit the ground hard on a down swing, so hard that the force of hitting the ground burst the muscle fascia in his right leg. He started running towards the woods, but a German soldier yelled for him to halt. Lt Carpenter stopped, put his hands up and began his eight plus months as a POW.

Lt Dunlap bailed out just after Lt Carpenter and although with head wounds, survived to become a POW. Years later, Lt Dunlap was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. In the process of examining his brain to diagnose the problem, the doctors observed a small piece of shrapnel in the brain. It had been lodged there all those years. Had it gone a fraction of an inch farther into the brain, Lt Dunlap would have been killed.

Eyewitness accounts from another aircraft indicated at least four other chutes appeared from the plane, but all were ablaze. Three crewmen apparently were trapped in the aircraft or had been killed during the fighter attacks. Only Lts Carpenter and Dunlap survived.

The Downward Dive

At the end of their runs on the High Squadron, most of the German fighters rolled over and dived downward through the Lead and Low Squadrons. Since the High Squadron was above and lagging behind the other two Squadrons, tail gunners and top turret gunners of the Lead and Low Squadrons were first to be aware as to what was coming at them. Tail gunners in particular had a ring-side view of the action above and behind them. Most witnessed fighters attacking the High Squadron and saw B-17s simply disappear into boiling black and orange clouds. This increased their sense of sinking foreboding as they saw the fighters wheeling over and plunging down upon them.

The Lead Squadron

1Lt David R. Hettema, flying No. 887, “Old Battle Ax”, in the No. 3 position of the Lead Element, had a first inkling of what was taking place when his crew started screaming over the intercom that fighters were coming at them from above. He was helpless to do anything other than hold his place in the formation so as to provide maximum protection against the enemy aircraft. One element of three German fighters came in on “Old Battle Ax” at 0500 O’clock. The top turret gunner, S/Sgt William L. Lothian, fired a continuous burst at the second FW 190 in the element from 600 yards out until it went behind the tail. As the enemy aircraft broke away at 0700 O’clock, Sgt Lothian opened fire again. Smoke was pouring from the engine as the fighter nosed over and went straight down. No one else in “The Old Battle Ax” was able to fire at the fighter.

Two FW 190s came at 1Lt L C Basinger’s plane, No. 234, “Bomber Dear”, flying Lead of the Second Element. They dived down from above and behind the aircraft, leveling off slightly below “Bomber Dear” as they made their attack. S/Sgt Clifford O. Delgado, in the ball turret, fired 300-350 rounds into one FW 190 as it went to the left side of the bomber. The fighter banked to the right, going directly under the plane, and started spewing smoke from the engine. The pilot bailed out about 150 yards from “Bomber Dear” as his plane went down. In the tail, S/Sgt Howard D. Van Cleave had been watching as the fighters came in on the unsuspecting High Squadron and then rolled down on the his Lead Squadron. One of the FW 190s came directly at Sgt Van Cleave’s position, firing its 20 mm cannon into the plane. He saw holes appearing in the tail and fuselage of “Bomber Dear”. Sgt Van Cleave began firing at the fighter as soon as it came into range. He could see his tracers bouncing off the armor plate of the FW 190 as it kept coming closer and closer. He didn’t think he could stop him before the fighter took him out. The German plane came in so close Sgt Van Cleave could see the eyes and facial features of the pilot. All of a sudden the fighter simply disintegrated in front of him. Saved! This was Sgt Van Cleave’s 35th and final mission.

Two Me 109s came in at the No. 3 plane, No. 116, “Hi Ho Silver”, in the Second Element, with 1Lt William I. Eblen in the left seat. The first fighter came directly at the tail position from 0600 O’clock level. The tail gunner, S/Sgt Charles D. Forcum, opened fire on the attacking Me 109 at 600 yards, firing about 400 rounds at him as he closed in on “Hi Ho Silver.” Smoke began streaming from the cockpit and the prop stopped dead when the fighter was about 75 yards from the tail of “Hi Ho Silver.” The cowling ripped off and the fighter immediately dropped under the bomber and went into a straight-down dive. Thirty seconds later another Me 109 attacking though the Fourth Element flying off to the left of, and now a little higher than, the Second Element suddenly swerved in at “Hi Ho Silver” from 0700 O’clock high. The top turret gunner, T/Sgt James B. Anderson, engaged the approaching fighter at around 700 yards, firing 500 rounds in one long burst. The Me 109 began to burn around the cowling and then exploded when about 350 yards from the bomber.

Three FW 190s came at the Lead aircraft of the Third Element, No. 909, “Nine-O-Nine”, flown by 1Lt William H. Dietrich. One orange colored FW 190 came in at 0530 O’clock, from behind the No. 2 plane in the formation. At 400 yards out, the tail gunner, S/Sgt Carl W. Kaese, began firing, continuing to do so until the enemy aircraft fell off at 150 yards and went down below “Nine-O-Nine”, trailing black smoke as it dropped. Another FW 190 came in on “Nine-O-Nine” from slightly below the left wingman. The waist gunner, S/Sgt Richard D. Hallberg, pressed his trigger as soon as the enemy aircraft came into range, firing 150 rounds as it passed alongside the bomber. The fighter then went into a nose dive for about 1,000 feet, tried to pull up, burst into flames, flipped over on his back and exploded. A third FW 190 came at the aircraft from 0600 O’clock level, veering off to the left as it approached “Nine-O-Nine”. The top turret gunner, T/Sgt Gaines C. Luther, started firing when the fighter was about 800 yards away. When about 200 yards out, the FW 190 started smoking, stalled out and fell off, dropped about 500 yards and blew up.

The flak barrage that had come up at the 324th Squadron also hit the No. 3 plane of the Third Element, No. 083, “Happy Valley Express”, with 1Lt Hubert F. Donahue’s crew aboard. There were minor hits in the nose, the right wing and right wing tanks, including the outside Tokyo tank, which began leaking fuel. At about the same time a Me 109 came in over the tail and dropped off in front of the nose. None of the gunners could get off shots at him for fear of hitting other bombers in the tight formation.

Flak going through the nose caused a minor wound on the right first finger of the Bombardier, 2Lt Alan G. Hillman. Lt Hillman will be killed in action, along with the top turret gunner, S/Sgt George G. Turner, while flying with 1Lt Cecil G. McConnell’s crew on a mission to Cologne on 6 January. The Radio Operator, S/Sgt John N. Cardiff, will also be killed in the air on a mission to Frankfurt the 6th of November, with Cpt William E. Reid’s Lead crew.

Two Me 109s and a FW 190 came in on No. 579, “Betty Lou’s Buggy”, in the No. 2 position of the Fourth Element, with 1Lt W. Reese Mullins’ (“Moon Mullins”, after a popular cartoon character of the day) crew aboard. The fighters dived down on “Betty Lou’s Buggy” firing 20 mm cannon shells into the aircraft as they bore down upon her. Both the No. 3 and 4 engines were knocked out and the No. 2 engine hit, which thereafter was able to pull only about one half power. The Tail Gunner, S/Sgt Mabry D. Barker, the waist gunner, S/Sgt Robert D. Loomis, and the ball turret gunner, S/Sgt Kenneth L. Blackburn, all got off shots at the fighters, but did not score any hits. A 20 mm cannon shell hit the tail gun position knocking Sgt Barker off his seat. Fragments went through his right leg leaving a hole the size of a silver dollar. He quickly pulled himself back onto his seat in case other enemy aircraft came at them. None did.

At the same time, splinters from a shell that hit the top turret gun sight cut a crease along side of the backward facing T/Sgt Carl A. Dickson. Although a superficial wound, blood flowed down over his face as from a “stuck pig.” The radio operator, T/Sgt James B. Knaub, hooked on a walk-around oxygen bottle and went to the tail gun position and dragged Sgt Barker back into the fuselage to administer to him. He cut loose Sgt Barker’s pant leg, put on a bandage and went to give him a morphine shot. There was no morphine syrettes in any of the first aid kits on board the aircraft! Most likely someone had stolen them for the morphine.

“Betty Lou’s Buggy” was now flying on only one and a half engines. Lt Mullins had the Bombardier, F/O Orville G. Chaney, jettison the bombs as they continued on with the Strike Force alone, under and north of the 91st formation.

1Lt Arvin O. Basnight’s plane, No. 298, “White Cargo”, flying Lead of the Fourth Element also was hit by flak just as the fighters came down through the formation. Two engines were knocked out. Lt Basnight struggled to hold his position in the formation. At almost the same time a FW 190 dived down on “White Cargo” from 0700 O’clock high and flattened out along the left side of the bomber. Lt Basnight lifted the left wing so that the ball turret gunner, S/Sgt Odell A. Davis, could line up on the fighter. Sgt Davis fired off about 60 rounds, observing pieces of the right wing fly off as the fighter banked to the right and went into a dive under “White Cargo.” In spite of loss of power, Lt Basnight was able to keep “White Cargo” in formation to the target.

The Low Squadron

By the time the diving German aircraft had reached the 401st Low Squadron, they were dispersed, flying wildly and unable to sight in on the bombers. Few Low Squadron aircraft sustained fighter damage.

1Lt Robert R. Goldsmith, pilot of No. 293, “Sunkist Sue”, in the No. 3 position of the Lead Element, looked up and saw three planes in the High Squadron blow up. At about the same time he saw a FW 190 flying along the left side of “Sunkist Sue”, so close he could see distinctly the face of the pilot. All the gunners were firing away at the plane, but none seemed to be hitting it. The FW 190 rolled over and went straight down and out.

In the Second Element, Cpt William H. Arthur, pilot of the Lead aircraft, No. 069, “Round Trip Topsy”, looked back up through his top window and saw a FW 190 almost stalled out under Jack Leslie’s plane, No. 126, pumping 20 mm cannon shells into the bomber at point-blank range. Lt Leslie’s plane rolled over and exploded. It was not until years later that Cpt Arthur would learn his friend, Jack, had been killed in his plane.

A Me 109 that had been hit by a P-51 almost collided with No. 552, “The Peacemaker”, flown by 1Lt Harry E Garner’s crew in the No. 3 position of the Second Element. Other German fighters passed by on the left side of “The Peacemaker”, their cannons blazing away, but without hitting Lt Garner’s plane.

In the Third Element, the Lead bomber, No. 504, “Times A-Wastin’”, with 1Lt Joseph R. Lyons’ crew aboard, came under attack by a FW 190 that plunged down from 0700 O’clock high. The tail gunner, Sgt Burdette E. Conner, began firing short bursts at the approaching fighter at 400 yards, continuing to do so until it was 200 yards away. The FW 190 flipped over on its back and Sgt Conner fired a long burst into the belly. The plane started wobbling crazily and seemed to be out of control as it dropped away and out of sight. At about the same time, Sgt Conner saw a ball turret from one of the bombers that had exploded in the High Squadron go sailing downward. He could see the gunner trapped inside the falling turret.

No. 851, “Qualified Quail”, flown by 1Lt Gregory E. Good’s crew in the No. 3 position of the Third Element, was not so lucky. She already had been hit hard by flak bursts as well as by fighters coming down through the formation. The No. 2 engine was knocked out. Shortly afterwards a FW 190 came directly at the tail gun position, with flaps down to slow his speed to that of “Qualified Quail”, all the while firing 20 mm cannon shells into the wings of fuselage and the bomber. The tail gunner, Sgt Clarence W. Koeller, Jr., reported the fighter attack over the intercom and started firing at the enemy aircraft at 300 yards. Lt Good called out to Sgt Koeller to “Stay with him.” Sgt Koeller could see the tracers bouncing ineffectively off the armor plate of the fighter. A 20 mm cannon shell hit about two feet from Sgt Koeller, knocking out his oxygen connection. He looked down to reconnect the oxygen and when he looked back up, the fighter was only 200 yards away. Sgt Koeller fired off another burst as the FW 190 went into a straight-down dive. He yelled out “I got him; he’s going down.” As he looked backwards for more German fighters, Sgt Koeller saw a crewman from another bomber go down past the tail with his chute on fire.

At the same time Sgt Koeller was engaging his fighter, three other FW 190s came in at “Qualified Quail” from 0500 O’clock low. The ball turret gunner, Sgt Harry G. Hoskins, began firing at the leading fighter when it was about 400 yards away. The plane started trailing black smoke, banked to the left and went back out of the formation at 0600 O’clock. The other two FW 190s banked to the right and went on through the Squadron.

Just before the fighters came at the Low Squadron, the engineer and top turret gunner of “Qualified Quail”, Sgt Herman S. Boncquet, had finished transferring gas into the inboard left wing tank, completely filling it. The radio operator, Sgt Truman H. Palmer, called up on the intercom to say an amplifier in the radio room had gone out. Sgt Boncquet came down out of the top turret and went into the radio compartment to replace the amplifier. He was sitting on the floor making the switch when Sgt Palmer leaned over and tapped Sgt Boncquet on the shoulder to tell him fighters were coming at them. At that very moment a 20 mm cannon shell hit the support post of the ba11 turret, exploding and showering the radio compartment with fragments. The skin of the fuselage next to where Sgt Palmer had been sitting was riddled with holes. He would have been killed had he not ducked down to warn of the fighters. Such was the margin of death and life. Sgt Boncquet went back up into his turret, and swung the twin .50s to the rear. The German fighters were long gone.

Two Me 109s came in on No. 984, “Sherrie’s Cherries”, flying Lead of the Fourth Element with 1Lt Harold A. Packard Jr. as command pilot. The first fighter, coming in from 0730 O’clock high, was engaged by the tail gunner, S/Sgt Nelson Richardson, when 800 yards out. Sgt Richardson gave him two short bursts and saw tracers entering at the root of the right wing. He then fired off a long burst, continuing to fire until the right wing and fuselage of the fighter just back of the pilot were engulfed in flames. The Me 109 went down.

The second Me 109 came in from 0800 O’clock high and was taken on by the top turret gunner, T/Sgt Oliver G. Sanders, Jr. Sgt Sanders started firing a continuous burst at 400 yards. He could see his tracers entering the fuselage between the engine and cockpit. At about 200 yards the fighter winged over to the left and the pilot bailed out.

2Lt Wilbert W. Chouinard’s crew was flying No. 308, “Stinky”, in the No. 2 position in the Fourth Element. “Stinky” was hit by one of the Me 109s, that fired on her on its way to “Sherries’ Cherries.” An engine on the right wing was knocked out. None of the gunners were able to engage the fighter as it went by.

After going through the Low Squadron, the German fighters dived away from the pursuing American fighter escort and headed back to their bases. A FW 190, flown by Feldwebel (“Warrent Officer”) Oscar Boesch, was hit in the left aileron, the undercarriage and in the 30 mm ammunition depot. Because of the damaged aileron, FW Boesch had to maintain an air speed of 220 km/hr to keep his plane stable. However, he could not land at this speed with his wheels down. FW Boesch put his FW 190 down in a wheels-up landing to slow his speed down. He landed on a grass air strip at Koehten, rather than on his paved airbase, so as to avoid catching fire and blowing up. FW Boesch was credited with downing one 324th bomber, most likely “Lassie Come Home.” The action was too fast and furious for the German fighters to remember which bomber they took out.

On to the Target

Since he was in the very front of the 324th High Squadron and facing forward, Lt Crans saw none of the action taking place behind him. The fighters all broke downward without going past the Squadron Lead. However, his tail gunner, S/Sgt Patrick J. Walsh, had a full view of what transpired. Sgt Walsh simply blabbered incoherently over the intercom as he attempted to describe what he saw. Lt Crans yelled over the Squadron radio for the Squadron to “Close up, close up!” By this time there was no Squadron left to “close up.”

When the action was all over, there were only three 324th planes left at altitude, Lt Crans’ Lead aircraft, No. 890, “Fearless Fosdick”, and No. 515, “The Wild Hare”, of the Lead Element and No.085, “Yankee Belle”, of the Second Element. Lt McCombs moved “Yankee Belle” over into the No. 3 position on the left wing of Lt Crans’ aircraft. The three planes continued on in formation to the target.

Lt Beasley in No. 128, “Dear Becky”, could not maintain air speed and dropped down below the three planes remaining at altitude. Lt Beasley continued on to the target since he had the strike camera in his plane. He gained a little altitude as “Dear Becky” went over the target in an attempt to keep away from the flak.

In the other Squadrons, two of the 24 planes had to drop out of the formation. One of these was No. 851, “Qualified Quail”, in the Low Squadron. With one engine out and another losing power, Lt Good could not keep up with the formation. The Bombardier, 2Lt Owen G. Cooper, who had taken over the navigation duties when the assigned navigator became confused by all the action, salvoed the bombs at 1035 hours, 35 minutes before the target. This lightened the plane sufficiently that they could keep up with the Squadron, but remained several thousand feet below the rest of the planes as they flew on to the target. The oxygen system had been shot out, so the crew had to use walk-around bottles.

Forty-five minutes after the Me 109 and FW 190 fighters left and about 20 minutes before the target, the 91st formation was attacked by the recently deployed Me 163 rocket powered fighter. Several crewmen in the Group observed the bat-shaped fighter streak up through the formation to about 60,000 feet, leaving behind a trail of white smoke. At that altitude the engine cut out, all its fuel having been expended. The fighter banked over and swooped down on the bombers.

After it went down through the 91st formation, the Me 163 leveled off behind Lt Mullins’ plane, No. 579, “Betty Lou’s Buggy”, which was flying alone, well below the rest of the bombers. The rocket fighter began firing on the tail of “Betty Lou’s Buggy” as it came in on the bomber, but it missed. It then banked to the right and glided along just out of the range of the bomber’s .50 caliber machine guns for about two minutes. Sgt Blackburn in the ball turret asked Lt Mullins to dip the left wing of “Betty Lou’s Buggy” so that maybe he could get off a burst at the Me 163 with his twin fifties. Just then Lt Chaney, who had moved up from his Bombardier’s position to man the top turret after Sgt Dickson had been wounded, told Sgt Blackburn to hold his fire. A P-51 was diving on the Me 163. The German rocket fighter nosed over and dived straight down, the P-51 in pursuit. The American fighter hit the Me 163 causing it to continue on straight down into the ground. The pilot did not bail out. Although Me 163s had been in the air in July, today was the first recorded encounter of this new fighter by bombers of the 8th Air Force.

Except for “Betty Lou’s Buggy”, the rest of the Lead aircraft dropped on the target at 1110 hours from 25,000 feet. When No. 298, “White Cargo”, went over the target, none of the bombs fell. Flak had damaged the bomb release. Only two of the bombs from No. 083, “Happy Valley Express”, dropped on the target. Lt Hillman was able to toggle the remaining three bombs four minutes later. No. 851, “Qualified Quail”, which had salvoed her

bombs before the IP, was the only aircraft in the Low Squadron that did not drop on the target. The rest of the bombers released their M-17 incendiaries at 1110 hours at 24,500 feet.

The three remaining bombers in the High Squadron also dropped their bombs at 1110 hours, from 25,000 feet.

The Trip Home

Because of the damage incurred by the fighters, “The Wild Hare” could not maintain position with Lt Crans’ after they left the target. Lt Witty therefore dropped down and joined up with the Low Squadron for the trip back to Bassingbourn.

When the fighters had departed, F/O Marpil’s plane, No. 613, was out of formation and losing altitude. The togglier, S/Sgt Claude Carr, jettisoned the leaflet containers and F/O Marpil turned away to head back for England alone. There was an 80-90% cloud cover making it impossible to pick up any ground reference points. Since many of the maps were gone, Lt Winston was unable to set a precise course back to Bassingbourn. F/O Marpil asked him to pick some sort of a course that would get them to the North Sea where they could figure out the direction to take back to England. Lt Winston gave him the best estimate he could come up with and they headed home.

Soon afterward, as he was spinning around in his turret, Sgt Ponder, obviously sensitized to approaching fighters, saw a fighter coming in on No. 613. He fired at the approaching aircraft with his twin .50 caliber’s, missing the plane. The pilot wagged his wings, exposing the RAF markings, to show he was a Spitfire as he moved on in under No. 613 to provide protection for awhile.

As No. 613 approached the coast, the route Lt Winston had selected unfortunately took them right over the port city of Bremen at 14,800 feet--almost on top of the noses of the anti-aircraft guns! There they came under intense anti-aircraft fire from the city defenses. The plane was hit in a number of places, knocking out several of the instruments and wounding Sgt Ponder in the face and hands. Even with all her damage, No. 613 remained in the air.

They made it across the North Sea, crossing onto land near Boreham. There F/O Marpil saw an emergency landing strip and headed for it--no electrical system, no hydraulics. As they approached the airfield the remaining three engines all cut out. F/O Marpil made a perfect dead-stick landing on the grass, narrowly missing a hanger as the plane rolled to a stop. The crew, except for Sgt Peters, who could not walk, unloaded, hitting the ground running. No. 613 was salvaged.

Lt Beasley could not keep up with the rest of the 91st formation on the way back. No. 128,“Dear Becky”, slowly dropped behind the other bombers, which were out of sight by the time she reached the Dutch coast. After calculating their rate of fuel consumption and amount left, Lt Beasley was not certain “Dear Becky” could make it across the North Sea. He had Sgt Boice radio Air Sea Rescue to be alert for them. Air Sea Rescue also gave Lt Beasley coordinates to an emergency field just beyond the English coast. Lt Beasley had all the rear crew come forward into the radio compartment to trim the plane. This allowed him to make an additional 20 MPH, ensuring that “Dear Becky” would make it back to Bassingbourn. Lt Beasley asked the navigator, 2Lt Charles R. Bright, to chart a course straight in to the base. This he did and “Dear Becky” landed without further incident. She was riddled with holes, had a 20 mm cannon shell in the No. 4 gas tank, a severed spar in the left wing and a 20 mm cannon shell hole in the rear of the No. 2 engine. In spite of her damage, “Dear Becky” was back in the air again for the next mission on the 24th of August. Once again, Lt Beasley’s crew was aboard.

As No. 851, “Qualified Quail”, approached Halle, the oxygen ran out, necessitating that Lt Good drop down even lower. He no longer could stay with the Squadron. He asked Lt Cooper to plot a course back to England as they headed back alone. Two P-51s came along side providing protection from enemy fighters until they ran short of fuel and had to break away. About 10 minutes out of Bassingbourn Lt Good had to feather the faltering engine. “Qualified Quail” landed without incident. When repairing “Qualified Quail” later that night, the ground crew found an unexploded dud 20 mm cannon shell in the left inboard wing tank. Had the shell exploded, “Qualified Quail” would have gone up, along with her crew, in a fiery inferno, the frivolous margin of death and life.

Because of the loss of power from two engines, Lt Basnight eventually had to take No. 298, “White Cargo”, out of the formation and drop down to the deck to avoid further fighter attacks. He asked the Navigator, 2Lt Benjamin Badman, to figure out where they were and plot a course back to Bassingbourn. This Lt Badman did. The togglier, T/Sgt Phillip R. Taylor, was able to jettison two bombs half an hour beyond the target and the remaining three, ten minutes later. They headed on back alone, tossing out the guns, ammo and anything else loose to lighten the aircraft. “White Cargo” came back across the North Sea 400 feet off the water, landing safely at Bassingbourn at 1412 hours.

Although she turned back early, No. 579, “Betty Lou’s Buggy”, approched Bassingbourn just the rest of the Group arrived. With reduced power it was a slow, but safe trip back.

No. 088, “Redwing”

While the 91st Bomb Group was encountering German fighters and flak on the way to and from Halle, Lt Manville’s crew and No. 088, “Redwing”, also were having a rough time. Lt Manville, flying in the diamond position of the last element of the Low Box of the 457th Bomb Group, ran into very heavy flak about half way between the IP (Torgau, E-NE of Leipzig) and the target at Schkeuditz. “Redwing” was hit several times during the next 20 minutes. The No. 2 engine was knocked out and the radio operator, Sgt Ellwood F. Saxton, seriously wounded in the buttocks. The intercom box in the radio compartment was hit, knocking out communications within the plane. The ball turret gunner, Sgt Gareth H. Tanner, came up out of his turret, put on a walk-about oxygen bottle and put sulfur powder in Sgt Saxton’s wounds. The navigator, 2Lt James Swaye, also went to the aid of Sgt Saxton, giving him a shot of morphine. Sgt Saxton lost consciousness and did not come to until he was in the hospital back in Bassingbourn. Sgt Tanner then went into the cockpit to tell Lt Manville what had happened. “Redwing” dropped her ten M-17 incendiary bombs on the target, as did the planes of the 457th Group, at 1121 hours from 24,500 feet. Because his aircraft was flying on three engines, Lt Manville could not keep up with the 457th formation and had to make the trip back alone. “Redwing” landed safely at Bassingbourn at 1415 hours.

The Aftermath

This obviously has been a bad day for the 91st Bomb Group. One of the worst during the past 21 months and 10 days, during which time the Group has flown 216 combat missions. Six of thirty-six aircraft sent over Germany were lost and one was left as salvage on the airbase at Boreham. Three of the four new crews that were on the mission were lost. Thirty-one crewmen were killed. Twenty-five became prisoners of war. All losses were from the 324th Squadron.

Needless to say there is a sense of desolation in the 91st Bomb Group billets this evening. The remaining crews of the 324th Squadron are especially depressed. 1Lt Billy D. Richardson, bombardier for Lt Basinger’s 323rd Squadron crew, who flew today on No. 234, “Bomber Dear”, went upstairs to the 324th billet that evening to try to find a friend. The room that held 15-20 crewmen was deserted, save for a solitary officer, sitting on his footlocker crying.

There are other bad days still to come. Of the 30 planes that returned to Bassingbourn today, 11 eventually will be shot down, three others will be destroyed when they crash-land in England and four more will be so badly battle-damaged they will be placed in salvage. Seventy-one crewmen flying on these planes will be killed. Fifty will become prisoners of war.

One of the 13 planes that flew with the 324th Squadron today will survive the war. “Fearless Fosdick”, with 1Lt Charles C. Whitesell’s crew aboard will be shot down 21 November; four of the nine crewmen will be killed, the others becoming POWs. “The Wild Hare”, flown by 1Lt Robert J. Flint, will be shot down 26 November 1944; five of the nine crewmen being killed, four becoming POWs. “Dear Becky” will also go down on 26 November with the copilot, 2Lt Richard E. Prunty, being killed; the remaining eight crewmen, including the pilot, 1Lt Adolph P. Miller, Jr., will become POWs. “Yankee Belle”, with 1Lt George F. Miller’s crew aboard, will crash-land in Germany after being hit by flak over Berlin on 3 February 1945; all nine crewmen will survive to become POWs. “Wee Willie” will be shot down on 8 April 1945. The sole survivor of the nine man crew, the pilot, 1Lt Robert E. Fuller, will become a POW. Only “Redwing” will endure the war to be recycled for her aluminum.

The thirty 91st Group crews who returned today will be more fortunate. Three will be lost--Lt Chouinard’s crew (2 November, 7 KIA, including Lt Chouinard, and 2 POW), Lt Faris (2 November, 3 KIA, 6 POW) and Lt McConnell and his crew (6 January, 4 KIA, 5 POW). Three other crewmen who flew today will be killed in action and three will become POWs.

New bombers will arrive from Prestwich, Scotland tomorrow to replace those lost today. Replacements for the crews also will begin moving in to the 324th Squadron tomorrow. Four crews will transfer from the other three squadrons--from the 401st, Cpt William H. Arthur’s crew; from the 322nd, 1Lt Gordon M. Browne and his crew; from the 323rd, the crews of, 1Lt Arnold J. O’Toole and 2Lt Robert J. Flint. On the 26th of November Lt Flint and his crew will be shot down on a mission to Altenbeken. Only Lt Flint and three others of the eight crewmen aboard will survive to become POWs. On the 19th of August, three newly arriving crews will be assigned to the 324th, those of 2Lt Hooper R. Maplesden, 2Lt William V. Laws and 2Lt Thomas C. Martin. Lt Law’s copilot, 2Lt Bernard Goldstein, will be killed in action while flying with 2Lt Ralph E. Stolz on 11 November. The rest of the new crewmen will survive the war. The 324th Squadron will put up 12 planes for the next mission on the 24th of August. The war will go on.

But, this is today. Lt Richardson hesitates, then quietly backs out the door and slowly retraces his steps down the stairs. The solitary 324th Squadron officer is left alone with his grief in the empty, darkening billet. It was a long 40 seconds over Eisenach.

George B. Gaine’s crew, photographed while in advanced crew training at Alexandria, LA, before being assigned to the 91st Bomb Group. Left to right. Front row: 2Lt George B. Gaines, pilot; 2Lt J C Bowlen, copilot; 2Lt Elliot Winston, navigator; 2Lt Mando A. Cavaleri, bombardier. Back row: Sgt Joseph B. Nealon, flight engineer; Sgt Gerald J. Peters, radio; S/Sgt Truley S. Ponder, ball turret; Sgt Clayton O. Tyson, waist gunner; Sgt Clem J. Pine, tail gunner; unknown waist gunner removed from the crew when arrived in England. Lt Gaines broke an ear drum and was stood down from flying. Lt Cavaleri was removed from the crew soon after arriving at Bassingbourn to bcome a lead bombardier; he was killed in action over Berlin on 3 February 1945. The rest of the crew flew with F/O Louis C. Marpil on 16 August 1944 on a mission to Halle. Sgt Tyson was killed on this mission. (Elliot Winston)

Vincent A. Fonke crew. Left to right. Front row: 2Lt Vincent A. Fonke, pilot; 2Lt Fred W. Vansant, copilot; 2Lt Herbert Carlson, bombardier; 2Lt Robert W. Simcock, navigator. Back row: S/Sgt Raymond Prange, flight engineer; S/Sgt Wendell Meenach, radio; Sgt Charles S. Brudo, ball turret; Sgt William J. Weaver, waist gunner; Sgt Willard M. Holden, tail gunner; Sgt Mike Kelly, waist gunner (removed from crew). Sgt Holden was killed when No. 012 was shot down on 16 August 1944. (Vincent Fonke)

Copyright © 2001 - Lowell L. Getz

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