William R. Dewey
The Kassel Mission
(A very rough draft of my dad’s account)
by William R. Dewey
as told to Linda Alice Dewey
Copyright 2018 by Linda Alice Dewey, All Rights Reserved
“I see fighters! I see flak!” tail-gunner Monty Montanez shouted into the intercom as the clear blue sky around us exploded into puffs of gray smoke.
But it wasn’t flak.
“Bandits approaching 800 to 1200 yards at six o’clock low.”
From out of nowhere, heavily armored German fighters attacked from the rear. Their cannon shells, timed to burst into shrapnel, shook the plane. Later, I’d learn that the enemy fighters had come at us--thirty abreast, up from the clouds, wingtip to wingtip in waves, one hundred fifty total--and broke apart when they got to us.
Montanez shouted out sightings through the intercom as our B-24 began to shudder from a combination of all the machine guns opening up—Montanez’s twins guns, the top turret’s guns and both waist guns—as well as the direct hits we began taking as five enemy planes converged on our tail. Coming from our rear, they had to get the tail gunner with their 20 mm cannon and 30 mm machine guns before he got them. They pounded all they had into his turret, but Montanez stayed with it. “I got him!” he cried. The others peeled off and away.
All three gunners in back plus the top turret gunner began to call out fighter sightings into the intercom at once. I tried to hear what they said, but couldn’t understand them.
Johnson and Bartkow, our right and left waist gunners, were hit, knocking both of them down. But in a moment they were back up again, each facing a fighter directly out his waist window. They opened up, and both planes burst into orange balls of flame.
Now a second wave of fighters came at us from the rear. An FW-190’s cannon shell exploded so close, it blew open the right waist, obliterating the window and throwing Johnson to the floor. Starting out with the 445th on ground crew, he’d volunteered to become a gunner. Now he lay on the floor of the fuselage, seriously wounded.
Montanez, also wounded, bounced back and whaled into them, giving them all he had.
Bill Boykin, my copilot, called out all the action he could see taking place outside to the right and below. The ten planes in our squadron were at the highest level and furthest to the right of the four squadrons in our group of thirty-five B-24 bombers. On this 27th day of September, 1944 our group of thirty-five U.S. planes had separated from the rest of the bomber stream in an unplanned move. Now we were sitting ducks.
The length of a football field away from the rest of them, our 701st squadron was probably a thousand feet from the lowest left squadron of ten planes, flying in geese-formation—or trying to. Above and to the right of everything, in normal circumstances, the action would have been out my left window; but we had been turning to the right when the Luftwaffe hit us. Looking out and behind through his right window, Bill watched it all. There was a tendency of the higher squadrons to get out of position because as you go up, the air gets thinner, less dense, less drag on the plane. So we in the higher squadrons, and the higher elements of 3 planes in each element, found it difficult to hold position with the lower elements and squadrons. When we got hit, the lead squadron—the third level down--was below Boykin’s window. But he could really see the high right squadron, the 702nd, that got hit the worst. The heaviest losses. . Every single plane went down. The lead squadron and the low left squadron got it pretty bad, too. As the highest squadron to the right, we were hit last.
I couldn’t watch the action below. My left hand on the controls, my right on the throttles, I had to keep my eyes on the lead plane in our squadron and anticipate everything our leader would do.
Staying in formation was always tough. Every ripple of air current made the plane wallow in the sky. I was good at it, but now it was different. Cannon and machine gun hits and the firing of our own guns made the plane unsteady and unstable. I couldn’t see anything except Don Smith’s plane, our squadron leader, ahead of me over to my upper right, so I concentrated on where his left wing was. I was supposed to be slightly above him.
Ripping off his oxygen mask, Boykin yelled out the count as planes went down. “Another one’s going down. Now a fighter’s taking a dive. They’re going down all over the sky! Parachutes are opening—black ones, white ones. Oh man! One of ours just exploded in mid-air. Another one’s spiraling down.”
Suddenly the intercom from the waist and the tail went out, and I could only hear Charlie Craig calling out sightings from the top turret. Even with Boykin yelling next to me, I could understand Charlie. Later, I would learn that the tail had been hit. Shattered, it erupted into flames from leaking hydraulic fluid. Though he was wounded by Plexiglas fragments, Montanez left the tail, grabbed the extinguisher and put out the fire. Then, seeing Bartkow was down, he took over the left waist gun.
“Bandit at three o’clock low,” reported Charlie as a fighter pulled up next to us, just under our left wing. Charlie tried to lower his twin-50’s to site it. “I can’t get him!”
Charlie watched as the fighter stayed with us, so close he could look right into the cockpit and see the pilot’s oxygen mask, goggles and his instrument panel. He must have run out of ammunition by the time he worked his way up to our squadron, because this guy wasn’t shooting. We must have looked bad, because he just sat there, waiting for us to go down.
We’d been hit hard. I could tell by the increased shaking and vibration of our plane. I didn’t know the extent of the damage, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to control.
Charlie observed the fighter drop down to watch from about a hundred yards below us.
I wasn’t aware that we’d dropped out of position in our formation until I noticed the tail gunner of the next plane motion for me to get up and forward so he could get a bead on the German fighter hanging below our wing. I was supposed to be even and slightly above Smith’s left wing, but I’d dropped back and down as a result of the turmoil, and our wingtip clearance with Smith’s plane had increased to about ten yards. Since our best defense was tight formation, I tried my best to get back up with Don; but by the time I did, the ME-109 had dropped down out of range for Smith’s gunner, too.
Nobody in our plane saw what happened next. We heard about it later from others. On Channel C, other pilots had been calling over and over again for fighter support. (I had been listening to our group on Channel A one moment, then switched to the intercom to listen to our crew in the front of our plane.) Meanwhile, fifty miles southwest of us, the rest of the Second Air Division bomber stream and their fighter escort were on course. Hearing the 445th’s calls, a squadron from the 361st Fighter Group turned to come back to us. It took three minutes for them to respond—a deadly three minutes for us.
The attacking fighters pulled away from their B-24 Liberator turkey shoot to defend themselves against the intruders. Some, like the ME-109 that had been tailing us, had already run out of ammunition and were in trouble as they peeled off and away.
Those of us left in the air looked around. We were one of seven planes left.
Meanwhile, keeping our vibrating plane from lurching out of formation with the remaining planes occupied all my attention. We’d started out with thirty-five planes over Germany. Now we had a loose formation of seven. I stayed on the left wing of Don Smith who fell into formation on the left wing of the new lead. We tried to stay tight, our best defense in case we got attacked again, but at the rate we shuddered and shook, I didn’t know if we could hold together much longer.
I sent Boykin back to give me a full report on the situation in the rear of our plane, while I tried to stay in formation with what planes were still in the air.
At that point, I turned to Bill Boykin and asked him to go back and check on the crew. WE had no intercom between the front of the plane—the nose, the navigator, the nose gunner, the top turret gunner and the pilots. The two waist positions and the tail position were completely knocked out as far as communication.
“Bill, go back and check on the crew. WE have no communication in the back. It feels like it’s pretty bad back there.”
[“Roger.”] Bill, more tense than I’d ever seen him, disconnected his radio, got out of his seat and strapped on a portable oxygen mask and slithered down between the seats down into the bomb bay and through the bomb bay to the waist.
Ten long minutes after I sent him back, Boykin returned with a very disturbing report. Bill Boykin came back after a few minutes and reported, and he was severely shaken. His voice was shakey. He looked tense and worried and scared. Pale—usually ruddy faced, he was pale. He had a very rugged face and he was usually florid. It was pale. Boykin wasn’t cocky any more. Normally the cocky demeanor
Boykin said that they had no oxygen back there and there were huge holes in the right waist window and it was freezing back there. These guys were badly wounded, two of them on the floor. Monty Montanez was all bloody and was trying to take care of the other two guys as well as trying to take care of the aircraft that were hitting us. (Montanez Silver Star, purple heart)
“Bill, we’re in bad shape. All three gunners are wounded. Monty’s face is all bloody, Bartkow is down and bleeding, and so is Johnson.”
The nine-man crew of this four-engine B-24 Liberator designated “855-A-Able” consisted of pilot, co-pilot, navigator, nose gunner, engineer/top turret gunner, radio operator, two waist gunners and a tail gunner. One-third of my crew was down.
“As far as the plane goes, cold air is roaring through a huge hole just ahead of the right waist window,” Boykin reported. “The hits shredded our vertical tails and frayed the cables.”
No wonder I had trouble holding the shuddering plane together. The stabilizers comprising the front half of the twin tail sections were supposed to stay rigid and stationary; but now they’d been blasted full of holes, their sheet metal flapping in the wind. The elevators in the center of the tail section were in the same shape, and blasts had shattered the rudders.
“The cables look like they might not hold together,” Bill said. I already noticed that the controls felt loose and no longer worked well. Cables running through pulleys from the pilot’s and copilot’s controls to the rear of the plane operated all of the B-24’s aerodynamic controls.
It took a lot of muscle to fly a plane that was in good condition. The steering wheel pulled back and forward, operating the elevators. Foot pedals controlled the rudders and thus, the direction of the plane. When you made a turn, both the rudders and the ailerons had to be moved. My left arm is stronger today from pulling that wheel back and forward, while my right hand was on the four throttles, one knob that moved forward and back for each engine.
“And their oxygen is out.”
In transition training back in the States, they’d had our crew sit on two benches facing each other in a decompression chamber where they’d take all the oxygen out of the room, so we’d know what it was like to have anoxia. They turned off the oxygen till you almost passed out as a precaution, so we’d recognize the feeling and do something about it if the oxygen ever went out on a mission. Now—at 27,000 feet--it wouldn’t be hard to breathe, but they’d black out after fifteen minutes if we didn’t take immediate measures.
Outside, I watched through the co-pilot’s right window as 100-octane aviation fuel splashed out of a hole in the upper surface of the right wing just behind the Number Three inner engine. With every bump, we lost more fuel—but that wasn’t all. The Number Three engine controlled the hydraulic pumps for the landing gear and regulated the flaps that adjusted the rate of ascent or decline for take-offs and landings. The Germans knew it, and always tried to hit the tail gunner first, and then get the Number Three engine. Now, with ours hit, if we made it down safely, we’d have to prepare for a possible crash landing.
Even so, at this moment, all four engines performed beautifully.
“The electricity’s out back there,” Boykin continued. That meant none of the men in the rear had heat in their flying suits. You can get frostbite at anything over twenty thousand feet. For every thousand feet you go up, you drop two degrees Centigrade, so at twenty-thousand feet, you’ve lost forty degrees Centigrade. We were at 27,000 feet. We all wore electric suits. Forward of the waist everything was fine, but the back half of the plane had no electricity and no oxygen.
“The blood on their faces is all frozen.”
I said, “Why don’t you take some oxygen back. See if you can find some blankets or something to cover them with and go back and help Montanez take care of Bartkow and Johnson.”
Montanez was in the waist trying to help the other two guys and also keep an eye out for any enemy aircraft that would try to shoot down crippled planes. They loved to shoot crippled planes. If he had morphine or sulfa, usually they had a first aid kit back there. I’m sure he would have sprinkled some sulfa on their wounds. But there’s not much you could do at that altitude with the freezing air coming in. But they had no oxygen and that was tough.
So Medlock said, “Roger, Lieutenant. I’ll take care of it.” Immediately, he climbed out of the nose turret beneath us, which is difficult to get out of,
As we tried to stay in formation, each of the seven B-24’s still in the air plane battled its own internal problems. The planes were named by their pilots. Those of us left were Ubelhoer, Smith, Isom, Swofford, Mercer, Dewey, and Krivik .Many had lost one or two engines. Some fought fires. They had all kinds of problems and could hardly keep up.
The first thing I did after Boykin’s disastrous report was call the new group leader. Evidently our lead plane had gone down. Ubelhoer had been in the deputy lead position, right behind the first plane. Now he was the leader.
“Bourbon Red Leader, this is Wallet A-Able,” I called to him. “We’re falling apart at this speed. Can you slow down?”
“We’ll try,” Ubelhoer said. But he didn’t.
We are in a formation of seven planes. That’s all that are left of the thirty-five that dropped their bombs near Goettingen. It’s a very loose formation. Our plane is down in the lower left and behind the leader. Our plane is shaking and shuddering like it’s going to come apart.
We are just a few minutes away from the battle. I realized after ten to fifteen minutes with the formation that I realized that we couldn’t keep up with the others.
It’s obvious that we can’t keep up the 160 mph air speed pace. As the airplane commander, I made the decision that we couldn’t keep up the air speed because it will fall apart.
So I call “Bourbon Red Leader” and ask, “Can you slow it down to 155, please? Our plane is shuddering and shaking like it’s going to come apart. Over.”
He replied, ‘Over and out.”
Wallet A-Able shook and shuddered.
A minute later, I called him back. “Bourbon Red Leader, we can’t keep up and are dropping out.”
“Roger,” he replied, and we were on our own.
As soon as I broke away from formation, right after all the vibration from the gunfire stopped—from that point on, something came over me. I prayed the 23rd psalm and the 91st Psalm and this feeling immediately came over me. A feeling of being unafraid. Was too busy during the battle to be afraid. I was like a robot, almost like I was on automatic pilot. I was in complete peace and completely confident—none of the tense, white-knuckled feelings I normally had some of the time. But all tension left me. All my reaction was to keep flying the plane and keep in formation. Too much was happening to even think.
As a result of my prayer, I was very calm and in control, not fearful. I was concerned but not scared. All fear left me. I was not shaken. I think Bill was amazed I was as calm as I was. I was calm and in control the whole time. My voice was always calm and I was in complete control of the situation. I had dominion over it.
He treated me with a lot more respect afterwards.
When he came back after he had been appointed as a first pilot, he came back and thanked me. He appreciated my confidence in him, which showed that he respected my flying ability. But I didn’t do him any favors. He took the rest of my officers when I became a Lead Pilot and, sixty days after the Kassel Mission, their plane went down. They were all killed.
When I dropped out of formation, I cut our speed to one-fifty, pulling back the throttles and working the toggles controlling the rpm’s, then synchronizing the engines to balance at the new air speed. The throttle knobs moved forward and back, each on a shaft that came out of a rounded base.
I cut the manifold pressure back to thirty-five inches (less air and gasoline mixture going into the engines) and the propeller rpm down to 2100 or less to conserve fuel and started the letdown. The undercast was at about 3, 000 ft. and we were at 19000 feet. As we dropped down to 11,000 feet, we could take off our oxygen mask.
Both my feet were on the rudders, my gloved hands on the wheel. I could feel on these big sliding rudder pedals—through which you normally couldn’t feel anything—I felt all kinds of vibration, and through the wheel I could feel the vibration of the ailerons. The ailerons were okay, actually, but it was the elevator—the wheel controls the ailerons on the wings and the elevators on the tail surface up or down. The rudders, which are vertical are controlled by your feet. I felt a lot of shaking through both my hands and feet, which you would normally never feel. I locked the throttles in at that manifold pressure. If you did it any less than that, you could drop down precipitously. We wanted to maintain our airspeed at about 150-155, I didn’t want to slow down to a stall.
There’s always some turbulence, even without clouds. Above 3,000 feet, it was clear. There were no clouds. But there was turbulence. You just fly through it. You always have to be constantly on the controls because you can always have an updraft or a downdraft. Constantly correcting for what the air is doing—“constantly flying the plane.” I’m alone in the cockpit.
To synchronize the engines, you visually looked at the propellers and watched for a shadow that rotated one way or the other. You toggled back and forth on the four little shafts with two fingers, which controlled the pitch of the propellers and the rpm, to stop the shadow. (Each of the four engines had three propellers that moved at once on one toggle.) Then you looked at the other side and made that shadow stop.
Finally, you listened to the engines and evened out the roaring and surging between the pair on the left against the pair on the right. So I moved One and Two together against Three and Four, moving the pairs back and forth until they balanced themselves out and the surging roar became an even hum.
I trimmed the ailerons and rudders as best as I could by using trim tab controls to the left of the pilot’s seat. This relieved the pressure and effort on the pilot and copilot in flying the plane.
As soon as I dropped out of formation, new pinpoints appeared from the west.
Les Medlock, the nose gunner, called through the cockpit intercom, “Seven bandits at twelve o-clock low.”
Before anything more happened, the nose gunner, Les Medlock called out, “Six unknown at 12 o’clock low coming head-on!”
We braced for another attack.
They got closer, and Les came on the intercom again. “They’re Friendlies! P-38’s. Seven of them.” They came at us fast. We were going 150, and they were going 300. The twin-prop, twin-tailed fighters swept past under our left wing not more than 150 yards from us, each flashing a white star inside a blue circle on its side as they rushed to join the dogfight in the sky away from us.
Within a minute they were by us. To this day, I don’t know which fighter group they came from, heroes flying into battle who saved the day.
“Good.” I replied. The relief was immense, but when you have an oxygen mask on, rubbing all over your face and your busy flying, you don’t do a lot of whooping and hollering.
At that point, I was calm but very concerned. We were still three hours into Europe. We had not reached friendly territory yet.
As soon as we saw the 3 foot diameter hole in the #3 engine, gasoline splashing out, that immediately brought up the question of whether the engine would continue to function and was the hydraulic pump damaged, which meant that the landing gear would not come down. (form into a dialogue) we didn’t talk too much on the radio intercom, because we dind’t want to share too much with anyone else. I only ripped off my mask when he was walking by me (Boykin).
We left the formation, I immediately turned our VHF radio to Channel D. We had four channels: A was intercommunication with our group, B was Command Channel, C was to communicate with our fighter cover, and D was for Distress. I identified myself immediately to air-sea rescue.
“Colgate, this is Wallet A-Able. We are in very bad condition. Our plane is shuddering and shaking like it’s going to come apart. I have three wounded on board. Please give me a heading to an emergency airfield. Over.”
Colgate came back immediately. “Wallet A-Able, give us a long count. Over.”
I replied, “Roger, Colgate. One-two-three-four—“ [to ten] then backwards to one] Over.”
“Roger,” Colgate said. “We’ll call back as soon as we have a heading for you.” Obviously, what Colgate was doing was triangulating exactly where I was and then giving me a heading.
In three minutes, Colgate called back and said, “Wallet A-Able, steer two-seven-five. Over.”
As Airplane Commander, I responded, “Roger, Colgate. Two-Seven-Five. Call back when?”
“Call back in fifteen minutes. Over.”
“Roger and out.”
I pushed a button on the control wheel, activating my throat mike, tuned it to the Distress Channel “D” and called air-sea rescue, code named “Colgate.”
“Colgate, this is 855-A Able of the 445th Bomb Group. Over”
A reassuringly strong voice answered. “Wallet A-Able, this is Colgate. Describe your situation.” Colgate came on immediately very loud and clear, as if they were right next to me. The man’s voice was very strong. They had planes in trouble day and night. I was concerned about whether the radio would work.
“Three are wounded. The plane’s badly damaged and in danger of going down. We need a course for an emergency field.”
“Wallet A-Able, give us a long count,” answered a voice at Colgate.
I began a slow forward count of one to ten, than a long backwards count. “Ten….. Nine... …,” down to one.
Within thirty seconds they triangulated a fix on my plane, and the voice from Colgate came back on. “Wallet A-Able, we have your position. Maintain a heading of …..” and he gave me a compass heading in degrees. “Report back every fifteen minutes.”
“Roger, Colgate, wilco.”
I flew the plane as we were breaking away from the formation. Now all I cared about was the plane I was flying. Six B-24’s disappeared ahead of us. We were still over the 8/10-9/10 under cast of clouds around 19,000 feet. I immediately cut back on the throttles and started a gradual letdown.
I was more calm than I’d ever been flying a B-24.
Now we were alone in the air.
Once I was headed on the course they gave me, I had to get help to the guys in the back. Now that we were vectored in by Colgate’s air-sea rescue, Navigator Herb Bailey’s skills were more needed down in the nose turret. Herb Bailey in the nose had been checked out as a gunner as well as a navigator. All of the officers were except the pilot and co-pilot. All the crew were also gunners. Bombardiers and navigators had all gone through gunnery school.
Medlock, our armament gunner was used to going back through the bombay and the waist to pull the pins on the bombs, arming them.
Right after the battle I saw the gasoline occasionally splash out whenever there was turbulence. “We’re losing some gasoline coming out of the right wing. We better check on our consumption and whether we can make it back. Or whether we have to make a forced landing in France. ” That’s when I called Charley Craig to make sure we had enough fuel to reach England.
I was concerned.
Charley reported back, ‘Fuel is adequate.”
I cut back to 35” manifold pressure, 2100 rpm and started the letdown.
There wasn’t much to say. We observed every once in a while that it was splashing out. We tried to keep it straight and level as best as we could so it wouldn’t come out more.
We had a regular compass, and then there was a directional compass that you could actually set. It was much easier to read. I kept that as much as possible on the course Colgate gave me every fifteen minutes. That was modified each time depending on our position after they took a bearing on us. It would have been 240 degrees basically southwest from…
Charley Craig was up in the top turret. I called Charley through the intercom. “Charley, check on the fuel consumption. You can see..the right wing…gasoline spilling out. Are we okay? Can we make it back to England on the fuel we have left?
Charley climbed down from the top turret and started to climb down and check the fuel situation. He checked the glass tubes he had in the right tank and the left tank. It was up to him to transfer fuel from one tank to the other.
In the meantime, I called our radio operator, John Ellson. “Please contact Tibenham and advise them that we are heading for an emergency airfield. Over.”
“Roger, Lieutenant, I’ll contact Tibenham,” Ellson said.
Everyone was doing their job. The radio operator was contacting the base, Charley Craig was checking the fuel, Bill Boykin was back in the waist and Herb Bailey was down at his navigator’s desk. He didn’t have much to do now, since I was flying on a heading given to me by Colgate.
I never got a report back from John Ellson. I’m sure he got through and got an acknowledgement of his call.
Charley came behind me and said, “Lieutenant, we have sufficient fuel.”
“Good, Charley. Roger.”
“Les,” I said to Medlock, “leave the nose and take oxygen back to the guys in the rear as necessary. See what you can do to take care of the wounded.
“Roger, Bill,” replied Medlock.
“Herb,” I said to Bailey, “take Les’s position in the nose.”
They switched positions and Medlock got extra oxygen bottles and blankets and took them back. He found both Bartkow and Johnson down on the cold metal floor, their blood frozen, frigid air roaring through the hole replacing the blasted right waist window. Medlock made several trips back and forth bringing more blankets and portable oxygen, covering up the wounded as best he could.
When Boykin came back [from his frequent trips back], he would tell me:
“Medlock has made his second trip with the oxygen bottles.”
“The tail section is still holding, but it looks pretty shakey.”
The cables are still holding, but every time they move through the pulleys, there’s a question mark.”As instructed, every fifteen minutes I called in to Colgate, giving them another long count. Each time they adjusted our course.
We were still about two hours into Germany. This mission was a maximum effort, 1200 American bombers flying deep penetration into enemy territory. The Second Air Division put up every plane it had, and the distinguished 445th—with the highest bombing accuracy record in the Eighth Air Force—led the entire division in accuracy on September 27.
We didn’t have forty flyable planes that day, but we did have thirty-nine. Two had to abort before take-off. A tire blew out on one. Another, flown by Al Frost, whom I knew through training school back in the states, had mechanical problems.
Al had made an emergency landing at Manston, the long RAF emergency strip on the edge of the English Coast at the White Cliffs of Dover just the day before. His bombardier had been beheaded.
In a few days Al, a short thin guy with a crooked nose, who almost flew this mission, too, would come into my nissen hut. Chances were, he would have been gunned down if he’d completed the mission with us, and he knew it.
“Bill, I’m turning in my wings,” he said. He’d had it. We’d all volunteered to fly, so we could do that and stay in the service doing something else. He’s the only one I know that resigned, but I can understand why he did.
So on September 27, the 445th BG had a total of thirty-seven B-24’s in the air leaving our base at Tibenham, England. Once we were airborne, two more began to have engine problems and turned back over France, leaving us with thirty-five at the beginning of the battle.
Now, returning alone, we gradually dropped down over France, which had been liberated a month earlier. We’d descended below 11,000 feet, and could remove our uncomfortable oxygen masks. Everyone made sure not to shave the day of a mission, because the masks moved around on our faces as we turned our heads, chafing our skin. It was a relief to get them off. From the point of leaving the formation, we began our gradual letdown. Within an hour we were down to 11,000 feet when we could take our oxygen masks off and we could yell to each other freely. About the time we got over friendly territory, we took them off.
Medlock told them they could take off their oxygen masks and no longer had to transport bottles back and forth. Herb Bailey took over in the nose, looking for enemy fighters. Medlock left the nose and stayed with the wounded.
As the airplane commander, I had some decisions to make. Should I try to find a friendly field in France and risk a crash landing there, or cross the English Channel and risk the danger of ditching in the water? In the best weather conditions, these four-engine planes didn’t float well anyway. With all our damage—especially the huge hole in the side of the fuselage—the ship would sink even faster. We all had our Mae West’s on and we could inflate those. Maybe there would be debris we could hang onto. This was late September, and the English Channel was always cold. It was twenty miles or so across the Channel, plus or minus. We would only be over water for ten minutes or so, but it was a crucial ten minutes. If we ditched, air-sea rescue might get to us. And they might not. On the other hand, with men badly wounded—judging from all the blood back there, they were critically injured—they might even be dying—they’d get much better medical attention in England. Ditching was never an option, but we could go down if we chose to move on to England.
If we landed in France, I would have to break away from Colgate’s heading, which was always directed toward an emergency field in England. We would have to look for an airfield on our own, navigating visually. I didn’t know if we were up to the task. Our navigator would have no way of identifying a field, especially one with a longer runway suitable for a four-engine plane. We might even have to land on expanded metal strips set up for our fighter jets in France. True, we had broken through the undercast and could see the ground now; but even so, finding a field posed an unknown danger. We knew that from past experience.
Earlier in September, we’d landed on a 2,700 foot grass field. Normally we had 6,000 feet of tarmac. On that mission to Hamm, Germany, [note: could not have been Hamm] we’d put on our oxygen masks as we crossed the Channel and began to rise above 11,000 feet. We had to ascend above 18,000 feet before hitting the European coast, where the worst concentration of flak guns would fire at us. Set to go off at a certain altitude, flak didn’t work over 18,000 feet.
We went through our routine checks. The gunners shot short rounds, testing their guns. Then Medlock went back to pull the pins, arming the bombs. Each bomb had a propeller that the pin stopped. Pulling the pins allowed the propellers, once in the air, to rotate until they stopped and were fully armed... The bomb would detonate when it struck the ground.
The plane began to pull to the left. I checked my instruments and gauges. The oil pressure on our Number Two engine showed zero. Outside my window, the left inboard engine rotated toward the cockpit. For some reason, it had no oil. Without lubrication, propellers were known to break off and come through the plane’s cockpit.
“Feather the engine, Bill,” I said to Boykin.
He reached above the windshield to push the Number Two or second inboard engine’s feathering button. The three propeller blades would ordinarily slowly turn so that their edges faced the wind and the prop would stop wind-milling.
“We’ve got big problems,” I said.
“Yeah, it looks bad.”
We had crossed the Channel and made landfall in Europe, but with only three engines, we couldn’t keep up with the group.
I called squadron leader, identifying our plane. “We’re dropping out of formation,” I said. “We’ve lost an engine, over.”
“Roger,” replied the leader. “And good luck.”
We broke away and dropped down to get off oxygen somewhere over Holland or Belgium. They really hurt. We loved taking off the masks. We’d already passed the enemy coast, so we weren’t in as much danger of getting hit with flak.
The lower altitude, although more risky, was worth it to get off oxygen and to find a place to drop our bombs. But first, Medlock had to disarm them. Standing on the catwalk in the cold bombay, he reached out and put a pin in each one—hard to do when the plane is vibrating. It would take at least five to ten minutes for him to do this. This kind of bomb was often found later in a field. A bomb squad would have to retrieve it, since there was always the danger it would go off.
We didn’t know if we were over enemy territory or not. Part of France was liberated, part wasn’t. We salvoed our bombs in an open field and circled over farmland, while Herb Bailey on his Gee Box—a little monitor screen where he could pick up coordinates of different locations—picked up the coordinates, and we headed for no other than newly liberated Paris.
On our approach at Le Bourget Airport, we faced new problems.
“The runway’s full of craters,” said Boykin. Our bombing attacks which had liberated Paris, had made it unusable.
I scanned the scene ahead of me—decimated tarmac, and C-47’s taking off on the only good spot left, a grass landing field about 2700 feet long.
“We’ll land on the grass strip,” I said. Normally a B-24 had to have anywhere from 3500 to 6000 feet to land. Four-engine planes were never supposed to land on grass, but it was all we had. “We’ve only got one shot at it.” You can’t abort a B-24 landing with only three engines. She’ll never get back up.
We didn’t have radio communication, but I had a radio operator. “John,” I said through the intercom to Elson, “fire the red flares.” He shot them, signaling an emergency situation.
We’d had three-engine training as a crew at Tonopah and by myself before that. The instructor would pull one engine, so that we would have to fly and land on three engines. The plane tended to pull toward the single remaining engine, and had to be trimmed with our trim tabs to counter it.
Trim tabs, small fins on the upper surface of ailerons, could be activated by wheels on either side of the pilot/copilot console. They would lift up on either the right or left wing aileron to compensate for the instability of the plane, to make it fly straight and level, especially when an engine was out. Good pilots always trimmed their planes so they didn't yaw or fly somewhat sidewise, even in good four-engine operation. I received compliments after I became a squadron lead pilot for always keeping my plane trimmed, with the needle and ball centered on autopilot when leading the squadron. .I guess some lead pilots just set the Minneapolis Honeywell C-3 autopilot and let the plane fly skewed.
In a three-engine landing, you released the trip tabs, and both pilot and copilot had to use heavy opposite rudder control to keep the plane straight on final approach.
“Bill, get on the rudders with me,” I said to my copilot. “Let’s keep this plane steady as we come in. We’ve got to drop it on the end of the field immediately. If we land halfway down, we’ll be in trouble.”
Fortunately, the bad prop had frozen and was no longer a danger. But the die was cast, and as we headed for this short grass strip, both Boykin and I pushed with all our might on the rudder pedals, because of the great yaw pulling to the left. We made a good landing on the first third of the field. I put on the brakes, and we skidded all the way to the end.
A jeep with a big “FOLLOW ME” sign came out to meet us, and we taxied off the landing strip and got into a six by six truck that took us right to downtown Paris and let us out, no questions asked. Here we were in the middle of Paris—unshaven, grubby, and in our flying clothes. But we didn’t care. Excited, we split up and explored the city that had been liberated just a week before.
Right away we heard gunfire somewhere away from us. There was still fighting in the streets, pockets of German resistance. Charlie Craig, the engineer and I walked around. I can remember standing in a beautiful park the length of a football field, when two or three four-door cars with “FFI” and “Maquis” spray-painted on white pulled on their sides pulled up across the park from us. The doors opened, and four men jumped out of each and ran into an apartment building, their sub-machine guns going off. We thought they were Germans, why did you stand in the open if you thought they were Germans? but we heard later that it was French underground going in and wiping out conservatives, communists and German collaborators. We stood and watched in amazement as this internal struggle went on, heard them chatter, and stayed away.
When it was over, we walked on toward the Palace of Versailles. We must have walked twenty miles that day and saw everything—Eiffel Tower, the Tuilleries Gardens, Palace of Versailles—all the sights. The town was without electricity, subways, and we saw very few automobiles except for military vehicles. When we got to the Eiffel Tower, we couldn’t get to the top because the elevators didn’t work.
As we walked all over Paris, we ran into Montanez, of all people.
DIALOGUEHe took us up to Pigalle—the red-light district, where he took us to a bistro where soldiers and women went up and down the stairs from the bar and restaurant area, the girls stripped to the waist. DIALOGUE Charlie and I had lunch?coffee ?you had no money with families—and children--while the women escorted their trade up and down the stairs.
We had landed at about noon. By the end of the day, we were tired and hungry. It was getting dark, and we had to find a place to sleep. We were on a main drag and went to a residential side street with a row of apartment buildings.
DIALOGUE We went to the door of an apartment. We had to stay someplace, and the door opened. A woman came, with a man standing behind her. I’d had a year of French DIALOGUE in high school, and I identified myself in English, and the man said DIALOGUE he was a veteran of WWI and had stayed behind in France. Here we are in this foreign city with fighting still going on in the streets, and we just happen to come upon this home of a WWI US veteran! DIALOGUE He’d stayed over and married this woman. DIALOGUEThey invited us in, gave us a room and gave us breakfast.
The next morning, Charlie and I headed back to a point where GI trucks came in and out, and thumbed? a lift heading back to the airfield, and got on a C-47 heading back to London.
Looking back, I realize that I should have given instructions for the whole crew to meet at a specific time and place, instead of letting everyone go the day before. I’d had great training and could pilot a B-24, but that part of the training—the duties and responsibilities of an aircraft commander—was missing. To some it was innate, but looking back, I should have known to be in control and could have given instructions and orders to meet at La Bourget at a certain time the next day.
On the plane back to England, I sat next to a fighter pilot who had all kinds of souvenirs. He had a German P-38 pearl-handled pistol, one of the most beautiful handguns ever made, and he bragged about having strafed about a bunch of civilians coming out of a church, killing all the Germans he could. He had a German helmet, an Iron cross and other really neat stuff.
I was appalled. Later, I’d hear about looting and civilians being purposely killed by our forces, but at this time, this fighter next to me was the worst example of the American Air Force I’d ever seen.
Still over land on this 27th day of September in 1944, checking in with Colgate every fifteen minutes, I had a decision to make.
[on Boykin]: He completely obeyed all my instructions and turned to me for the decision as to whether we should try to land in France or make it over the Channel. We might have to ditch, which is always extremely dangerous in a B-24 and there’s always a question as to whether those men could get out of the plane if it was sinking. And of course, with the great big hole in the waist window, it would sink like a rock. If at all possible, we wanted to try to land in France or make it across the Channel, even though it was only twenty or thirty minutes across, it was extremely dangerous.
Many of our 445th B-24’s did ditch, including Major Kreidler. Kreidler, as I understand it, ditched on the Gotha Mission. I have to verify that with him, but I think he got the Silver Star because he took over the plane when the pilot was killed or wounded, and they ditched in the Channel. I heard that but I gotta verify that. He was the airplane commander for the Gotha mission. He was the air commander for the group that day. We always had one of the squadron commanders or the group commander or the air executive officer flew as the air commander. It all happened in 3 to 5 minutes and it was over with. A burst of violent activity, and then it was the roar of the engines and vibration and shuddering, with the twin tails fluttering, of the plane.
I remembered what my mother had told me as I left Detroit at the door of my home, “No matter what situation you’re in, you’ll find the inner strength to meet the circumstances.”
made my decision and decided to risk the crossing. If we ditched in the channel, air-sea rescue might get to us. We all had our Mae West life jackets on, but this was late September, and the English Channel was cold. Too, the 20- mile wide??? English Channel wouldn’t take too long to cross.
But we still had the approach to the Channel ahead of us. The Germans had retreated from Southern France into central France toward Germany. Even towards the coast…the Germans were probably no longer picking up American prisoners, I guessed, since we had taken over France and occupied the entire Normandy peninsula. But at our low altitude, and at a slow speed at the end of our flight, this would be a crucial 10 minutes (over the Channel).
Ready to fall apart, the plane shook and shuddered the whole time, and 100-octane aviation gasoline spilled out the Number Three engine for the entire flight. As badly shattered as she was, somehow Wallet-A-Able held together. ready to fall apart at any time.
Ten miles an hour slower than normal air speed was about the slowest I could go without running into problems. We’d stall out at 100-110, and I didn’t want to get too low. Besides, we needed to take advantage of every minute in the air we had.
Air speed and ground speed are different. If you have a head wind you subtract the head wind. Meteorologist at the navigators’ briefing would give that information from weather planes in advance of the mission. They also sent out a secret radio jamming squadron out specially equipped to jam the German radios in advance of the formation, so they couldn’t pick up our radio intercom or communications. Radio operators were then briefed on the communications situation, the frequencies that would be used, etc. Look up the headwinds to see how fast they were really going.
Head winds on that day were strong. If you subtract the headwinds from the ground wind, like 85 from 160, you’ll see that we were really going slow. That’s why the German gunners could really zero in on us.
Having made the decision to go for the English Coast, I contacted Colgate once again. The first thing was to get communication between the crew of the cockpit, the waist and the tail, by sending someone back and forth in the plane. Medlock runs back and forth at this point. Several trips – 2 hours away from coast. With additional oxygen.
Bill Boykin made another trip back, but then it was pretty quiet. Every 15 minutes I called in. Everything stayed pretty constant.
I had a Jimmy Allen club when I was a kid. Every time a biplane went over, kids would run out and say, “Hi, Jimmy Allen.” Jimmy Allen was a radio program with High-Speed gasoline as the sponsor with a great jingle. Mid-thirties. I didn’t have any members, formed the club, and was the only member. They told us to form clubs, so I did.
My dad built me a beautiful workroom on Edinborough in Detroit. I had work bench and everything, but I was never any good at making anything. I had a beautiful Bakelight, the first form of plastic, very rigid, it cracked like glass--Radio and I listened to it on that. But I really wasn’t that enamored with flying like some guys when I got older, but I was when we lived in the apartment buildings on 99th street in Beverly Hills, Illinois. I would have been six. We lived there about two years. I made airplanes then after seeing some of those movies, out of cardboard. I’d throw them outside and let them go.
I always wanted to have a club. I wanted to belong.
In August of 1942, I waited on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Breton Drive in Detroit for the bus to take me down to my class at the stenotype commercial college.
Six weeks before, one of the students at stenotype enlisted in the Army and got to choose. He chose the ordinance dept. and came to the school and talked to us, including our teacher, and said he was going to an ordinance depot and would be a staff company clerk in the Army Ordinance Corps. Ordinance—bombs, ammunitions, armament of all kind.
I went home and said, “I think I’ll do the same thing.” My mother cried and my father had a fit. They didn’t want me to go into the service at all. This was 6 weeks before I was standing on the corner, when Mrs. Dunn picked me up in her car. In the meantime, I went down to the FBI office in Detroit, but learned I had to have a law degree. I didn’t have any college, so that answered that.
You would make a wonderful pilot in the Army Air Corps she said. She was in the blue volunteer civilian army recruiter uniform. She dropped me off at the corner of Washington Blvd and Grand River. I went to class, when I came home, I said, “I’m interested.” My friend, Jack Nylan, an old neighbor.
That had never occurred to me. Previously I’d gone to the Federal Bldg. in the FBI offices, thinking of being a G-Man, but when they told me I had to have a law degree to be an agent, that put that to rest.
After Mrs. Dunn talked to me, I talked to a neighbor who was a private pilot, and he took me out to City Airport for a ride in a single engine plane. He turned the controls over to me. I made a few turns, and he said I could make a great pilot.
Then, a week later, I went to the Federal Bldg in Detroit and found that I would have to take a college equivalency test and show a high school diploma and take the test to show 2 years college equivalency. I took the test with about 40 men in the room and only about 5 or 6 of us passed, including me, surprising me.
When I enlisted in the air force I had to get references from businessmen. A friend’s father had been a pilot in WWI and flew those biplanes. He said, “You’re going at a time when there’s a great need and a great number of cadets going through. You’ll have a better chance of getting through than in peace time.” Implying that they’d lower the standards for me. But I took it as encouraging, which shows what kind of self-esteem I had.
His daughter gave a me an ID bracelet before I went over. I never wrote her though, and after the War, took her out for one date and tried to kiss her. Rebuffed, I dumped her.
I didn’t think I was in that great physical shape, even though I had worked on the railroad, walking those 18 mile-long tracks a mile every day, walking between five and 0 miles a day, picking up cards for the railroad cars, for a year—4 hours walking and 4 at the desk every night on that job before I quit the railroad to go to school.
I was on the midnight shift. It took me until 4 p.m. to have the manifest ready for the DC 4 train to Chicago at 4 a.m. every day for shipment on to Kansas City, loaded with automotive parts for the production lines. I had to walk the track and list all the cars on that track, 75-80 cars, then go back inside and pull the way bills from their pigeon-hole shelf on the wall. Then I had to go and on a big board with the manifest form, using a #4 pencil, I wrote through 4 carbon copies manually making up this list (manifest) with the bills for each car neatly in o4rder and the manifest form, keeping one copy or two for our records, then go out to the caboose when the train came in and deliver to the conductor. Went to the teletype—I was on the leading edge because I could type—and teletype the list to Grand Rapids before the train got there. They had a man doing the same thing there.
My dad talked me out of being on the railroad all my life, and thought that being a male secretary like Andrew Carnegie who rose to be a steel magnate in the US. He spoke to people who thought being a male secretary to a CEO would be ideal—which is why I went to get machine shorthand in typing. I quit the railroad in May, and went to school in June, July and August. I would be called in to the RR sporadically on call on weekends during that time.
So I went to take my physical and passed with flying colors—the 6-3 physical, not the tough one.
In order to take these tests, I had gone to the recruiting sergeant. When I returned after the tests, they were going to put me on standby for 6 mos. I called that recruiting sergeant every 3 days and I guess I wore him out.
On Oct. 5, I was going to be 20, and would be drafted, so I went early. On Oct. 6, 1922, I went in. He called, “Okay Dewey, you’re going to go in as a private unassigned. And you’ll be in charge of four other recruits and will go to Ft. Custer, and go through the same program as all the induct4ees—draftees, no special treatment as a private unassigned.” I was classified as a private unassigned to go into the aviation cadet program, not necessarily a pilot. I was a volunteer, which gave me higher status, but would be with all the draftees. Most of those that passed the test would go in as aviation cadets when the opening was available in 6 mos. on reserve status, but I wanted to go in immediately and get it over with.
We were assigned to a day coach on the Michigan Central from the Michigan Central Station in Detroit full of draftees who were all drinking and celebrating their last day as civilians. By the time we got to Battle Creek, about a three hour trip, stopping at Ann Arbor and Jackson along the way, most of them were plastered. The five of us privates unassigned in a special category slated to be aviation cadets were pretty disgusted. We were from 18-24, the five of us. Privates Unassigned going into the aviation cadet program when it would open up for us.
Camp Custer was a major reception center for all inductees, whether volunteers or inductees. We got off the train, lined up and marched to a warehouse. We got our GI clothes and put all our gear into two big barracks bags, and were assigned to our quarters. They were really heavy, tied together. We had to wait in line—everything was hurry up and wait in the army. Finally got to our barracks and made our beds. It was tough, making the bed. We were so tired. Even that day, WE had to make it so that you could drop a penny on it so it would bounce. A stripe (PFC_ marched us to our barracks and told us how to do it.
We did have to go to reveille and assemble, but didn’t have much to do as we waited five to seven days. They made me the mail clerk for the barracks, so I got to hand out all the mail. I got the card the next day, I was the mail clerk and got the card from the draft board. Our uniforms were all wrinkled, and we looked like Sad Sack.
WE did get passes to go to Battle Creek. We had ankle top GI shoes all laced up, GI underwear and GI socks. We were all enamored that we were going to be officers and pilots, with wings and bars, and were in awe of anyone with a stripe—private, corporal—sergeant. My dad had been a sergeant in WWI, and I always looked up to him.
I got a card in the mail when I got to Camp Custer that I was going to be drafted. I went in Oct. 6, 1942. Greetings from the President of the United States it said. One day after my birthday. I would have been drafted, but I had already volunteered. Saw Mrs. Dunn when 19. Knew he had to do something to be a pilot. Had more of a chance if you volunteered. I knew what I wanted to be and was able to set my course if I volunteered—to a point.
At Battle Creek there was an army airfield nearby, and officers were on the street often times. We tried to get to places where we could went out of our way to find officers so we could salute them. We were green rookies, impressed with the military. My dad had shown me how to salute, and we thought we were pretty sharp, but we weren’t.
I was put in charge of the mailroom for the 5 days we were there.
After 5 days, we were put ton a train and shipped to Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. About Oct. 15 we arrived. When we dr4ove by the parade grounds, dust came up on the parade ground and it was hot and they were drilling, and the drill sergeants had a staff black and yellow, and they were calling out commands: “Rear arhsal, salute, left flank march, right flank march.” There must have been 200 men all drilling and dust coming up from their marching. It was great. We thought it was wonderful.
They took us to the barracks, which had been a civil war army post. It was a huge base. 50-100,000 men. At that time, the Air Force was part of the Army. It was run like an infantry post. Almost like regular army. Almost like West Point. The parade ground was huge with brick buildings on each side for the officers-permanent quarters. NCO’s – sergeants and up—had houses along the side. At the end of the parade ground was the beautiful imposing headquarters building with a veranda and columns. We could see hundreds of men drilling, going through manual of arms. And clouds of yellow dust coming up off the parade ground. It was hot, really hot.
Every barracks was a platoon with 48 men. I guess we had been there about a week, when a captain with a neat short coat came in. We thought it was so neat. He was coming to talk to us about the military. But instead, he came in to tell us about the importance of making sure we always took prophylactics when we went to town.
Jefferson Barracks is where it really got tough. We had a drill sergeant assigned living in our barracks. You had to stand reveille at attention and report and march to the mess hall in formation, eat and get back for a few minutes of rest for our 18 days of training. Our five guys were treated as a squad and were drilled every day on the hot parade grounds. When we got there they had an 18 day training for all air corps privates. Obstacle courses, guard duty, and we went to the firing range, we learned how to shoot not ony the WWI Einfield rifles but also Thompson machine guns and 45 calibre pistols. Target range was one of the programs. We also had all kind of details—work details—we were sent on, wether it was KP or shoveling sand by the RR tracks into trucks from piles of sand the hopper cars had left there, as well as drilling. WE were up at 5:45 was reveille, we had to be out and in our uniform for reveille. It was real army. We were given infield rifles, 1912 WWI rifles that we used when we went on parade every Saturday afternoon. They were huge, maybe 50-60,000 men in parade. Our platoon stood there in the hot sun for about 45 minutes before we started our march before the headquarters where the band was playing. Ambulances behind us as we stood at parade rest while we waited because guys kept passed out.
We were there from October to December.
We had to pass the five of u together as a squad, but we had a 35 year old who was really dragging, and worried us. Our squad passed our final inspection in front of headquarters and we were held up at the end of October and I was put on KP, getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was on the automatic dishwasher, I had to get the hot trays off of the automatic dishwasher, put them outside on a deck, then go outside and take them to another building next door. There was a blizzard, and I caught pneumonia and was put in sick bay the next morning at 6 a.m. for 2 weeks. They called Jefferson barracks” pneumonia gulch.” We were right in the Missisippi River valley, and it was either hot and humid or very cold and damp. There was always some kind of epidemic, everyone got sick. There were a thousands of native Americans there, and there was a spinal meningitis epidemic and a quarter of the native American detachment was quarantined. It was a cross-section of America there, and they brought every disease from every part of the country with them. Except that this was an exceptionally large army post. There were thousands of barracks.
In the next bed at the hospital, I met Ted Saunders. It was kind of nice, once I got over being really sick the first few days. A nice change from Army life. I looked up to him. A married guy. As a result of being in this second group or regiment of privates unassigned, waiting to go through the cadets, we had to go through a lot more parades.
I was sent to the huge base hospital. I turned out for sick call, the dr. examined me and put me in the hospital. Ted was in the bed next to me. I was there about 3 or 4 days and I was better. You got to kind of like the institution, we were treated well, food wasn’t bad at all, good routine. I started to play cards together. He was a couple of years older than I was and married. He was 24 or 25. We talked back and forth about our experience. He told me about his marriage and all of his romances, and we got to know each other pretty well. We’d get up and walk around. We did a lot of reading. Nurses were lieutenants so they were officers, so there wasn’t much flirting. We were in the holding pattern together. Married from Columbus Ohio. He became a bombardier and hated it.
“If I die, I want a Viking funeral,” Ted said one day. Vikings were always put in the middle of a fire. He had kind of a romantic warrior type of an attitude that I kind of liked. I respected him because he was older and more experienced, more mature than I was, and I kind of looked up to him. We went to nice restaurants on passes, into St. Louis, the main hotel there and into the top floor with glass all around, piano bar full of soldiers, one of the guys was playing the piano and singing, “Bless em all, the long and the short and thall. Bless all the sergeants and their bastard sons, ….get the rest. Lots of singing and we met some girls there. I never followed up on them.
I got a pass from Jefferson Barracks St Louis for a weekend to Chicago to meet my folks at the Palmer House, one of the better hotels there. My folks met me at the Chicago Railroad Station, and were so proud of me. They came to visit me again at Albuquerque later on. [photos]
Two of my railroad friends from Chicago met me at the railroad station. In 1937-38 I spent 2 weeks with my aunt and uncle and spent the whole 2 weeks at the Rock Island interlocking Tower with the Pennsylvania RR at 89th Street line. I got to know the towermen pretty well. One day I was there and 2 guys came up on bikes, and we got to talking and became friends. The two Russ’s met me at the railroad station to say hello.
I had spent a lot more time at Jefferson Barracks than others, so we had weekend passes. I got a pass to go into St. Louis, and Ted Saunders and I liked to go to nice restaurants and have other people wait on us rather than having to be the KP’s ourselves. We went to the top of a leading hotel in St. Louise. A guy at the top of Ft. Leonardwood, field artillery, played the piano. That’s the first time I heard “Bless them all, Bless them all” everyone gathered around the piano. It was kind of neat.
Ted Saunders was older, knew the ropes as far as girls were concerned, told me about all the girls he went out with. I learned a lot from him. He was probably 22 or 23. We got a pass to go home. Normal passes were overnight, and we had to be back by taps. I got a pass to go to Chicago, and my folks came from Detroit to Chicago, and they rented 2 rooms at the Palmer House, and my friends from the RR came to meet me there—would have been sometime in November. I was in my uniform.
I was in the hospital 2 weeks, and when I got out, the 4 guys I enlisted with had gone on to Nashville TN for classification as aviation cadets, but I was put in another hold pattern with another group of privates unassigned, and I was on hold until about December 15 or 20. I had completed my 18 days basic training and passed inspection and was ready to go. Then I had to wait for these next guys to finish and ship out with them.
They gave our detachment I had to wait for work assignments.
When we shipped out to Santa Ana Ca on a complete troop train all going to the army air force base. This time we were with peers.
I arrived at Los Angeles Union Station on Christmas Day, 1942. We were put on 6 x 6’s, large army trucks with tarps on the back and taken down to Santa Ana. A huge base, as big as Jefferson Barracks.
We were immediately had to resign as privates and were converted to aviation cadets, issued oor new uniforms, semi-officer uniforms, an upgrade from what we’d been wearing. We were issued caps with propeller and wings, the symbol of a cadet.
I became an aviation cadet with a new uniform but lost my rank. A cadet is the lowest rank in the military, and I had to give up my private status. A private can boss around a cadet--our uniforms were nicer than a private’s—almost at will.
We were told that as an aviation cadet, we were even lower than a private. An army private could order us around, and almost immediately went into classification to determine…a more rigorous tough physical, a 6-4. The original exam was a 6-3, the same as all the draftees. 6-4 was much more rigorous, depth perception, coordination, psychological and intelligence tests. I’d already taken the army general classification test where they rate your mathematical skills and so forth.
I almost flunked the eye exam. If I hadn’t had a very kind buck sergeant examining my eyes, they put a ruler on my eye, they had a card on a clip that they brought the card closer to my eyes, and at a certain point as it comes closer, it breaks, and you become cross eyes. Ruler in between my eyes. Letters on the clip that slid back and forth. He did it over and over until I finally memorized the letters. The letters were on the cards. He would start close to my eyes, and at a certain point I could pick it up. 3 or 4 rows of very small letters and numbers.
That was one of the many tests. Intelligence, math, coordination, depth perception where you had 2 posts on a string and way down it would-about 50 feet away, you had to get the sticks together with the strings. The sticks were in a shadow box. This would determine your ability to land a plane. I did very well.
Most of the guys wanted to be pilots, especially fighter pilots, but 95% wanted to be pilots. But they needed bombardiers, and navigators. My best friend at Jefferson Barracks, Ted Saunders, was very disappointed not to make pilot.
After that, we stayed together for six more weeks. The pipeline was full. They just didn’t have room for us yet, and they made us stay for 6 weeks, quarantined on base, not allowed to go into town. Pulled guard duty. Couldn’t put us on any other duty.
I was put into quarantine and couldn’t get off the base for 6 weeks. They didn’t give cadets KP and usual private duty. Guard duty and drilling, stood reveille and marched in parades but it was very boring. They didn’t have enough room at the next step in our training for us to go.
After that boring 6 weeks I went into pilot pre-flight, a 9 week program. We took planes apart, took meterology, aerodynamics, studied engines, basic stuff that pilots should know. We also had to learn Morse code, 18 wpm to receive and send. At that time, we went into LA on pass, LA was a very I never cared for LA, I thought it was a very poor city compared to Detroit and Chicago.
Holly wood was interesting. Another cadet and I went to the Hollywood Palladium. He had a date and I didn’t. And then another time, some Christian Scientists had me stay overnight at their home with another cadet. I guess I must have gone to church in Santa Ana once and met them and the next weekend I stayed overnight at their home.
Next morning, 4 pm there was a retreat parade. Retreat is when the flag comes down at the end of the day. A very pompous ceremony, detailed. There’s a very rigorous and strict procedure they go through.
One time, they had a shortage of people to pick oranges, gave us a day off to be trucked out to pick oranges to help out the ranchers who were short of men becaue of the war. It was an awful job. You got hot and uncomfortable and it was tedious—for 8 hours? Somebody’s got to do it, I guess, and it’s better than starving. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t starving.
We had a tactical officer in charge of our barracks, a captain, who was very chicken, terrible and unnecessarily mean to the cadets. After being in Los Angeles coming back for the retreat parade at 4 pm, standing for hours ad then marching, we were all tired. So then he’d have us GI the barracks—scru8b the floors, wet mop them, drop mop them. We always did that at Jefferson Barracks, but this captain did it just to spite us. His rank must have gone to his head—the power he had over the cadets. So Santa Ana was not a pleasant experience. At Jefferson Barracks—I had been in anticipation of becoming a cadet. Even though it was tough, I got sick, the duty assignments and training were rigorous—all those were kind of fun. I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy Santa Ana. I was glad to get through pre-flight.
Ground school would continue in Visalia in the afternoon.
We had to pass pre-flight tests, fairly easy, nobody failed, and We went by bus with my complete class—43-J, there were 11 classes a year, A-K. Visalia was a beautiful airport. The barracks were one-story, Spanish design, southwestern look, and everything was spic and span and clean. We were treated one step above Santa Ana. And now we would be flying. That was the real thrill of it all. We were getting close to being real pilots. I was put into one of the buildings with five other cadets.
We were shipped out to Visalia CA in the San Juaquin Valley, 250 miles N of San Francisco and NE of Bakersfield, at Sequoia Field, at the foot of Sequoia National Park. It was a country club. All of the primary flying fields were run by civilians. Had been a private flying school, converted to army. There were a couple of army personnel there, a skeleton officer staff, but mostly run by civilians w civilian instructors. The Army flying officers gave us the final check rides. So you had to pass the army at the very end. But up until then, the check pilots were all civilian. Civilian maintenance under Army authority over maintenance. They had the final say. Sub let or privatized mechanics.
For 4 ½ weeks you were underclassman, last 4 ½ weeks upper classman. Lower classmen did ground school in the morning, flew in the afternoon, and vice versa for the uppers. You were assigned to a civilian flying instructor with 4 other guys. 5 to one instructor. After 4-5-6 hours of dual open cockpit flying, you were to solo. I soloed and so did everyone else. But then you continued to fly with your instructor and got into more maneuvers, needle and ball—when you make your turn, you have tobe coordinated and use ailerons and rudder, if you do one or the other too much, the needle will show you’re in a turn, but the ball has to stay in the middle like in a level, the ball is in a little arc down below. The needle shows the degree of turn, and the ball indicated your stability. Very important to learn how to make turns, then more intricate maneuvers, spins, snap rolls, slow rolls, loops. You got into a spin by stalling yout. Stalling speed with a PT 22 Ryan airplane (the same company that built Lindbergh’s spirit of St. Louis). The Ryan wasn’t used very much in primary flying. It was a low wing open cockpt with a 65 hp kinner engine with a wooden propeller with a fixes blade.
Just south of Sequioa Field was another school at Tulare. At Tulare, they had Steerman bi-wing planes. That was the most common primary training plane used at that time. One other plane used at some of the flying schools was a PT-19 Fairchild. However, I liked the Ryan, the PT-22. It was a neat looking plane, and later on I found it had the advantage of not catching fire if you had a crack-up. Some of the other planes, if you cracked up, immediately caught fire. It had something to do with the position of the gas tanks.
We had to learn to fly a traffic pattern. You ahd to keep your head on a pivot because ther e were so many planes in the air before you climbed made a turn, or descended. In the traffic pattern, you got into the downwind leg , then you got into your base leg and made the final approach fro 500’. On the final approach separated the men from the boys. At what point do yu cut the engine. You had to bring the plane to stalling speed, about 65 mph just at the time the wheels touched. The idea was to make a 3 point landing. A landing wheel landing wasn’t acceptable, because you had a metal skid on the tail that would scrape. If you had a cross-wind (you always landed into the wind) because it gave you more lift. The lift is not from below, contrary to most peoples conception.l The lift actually comes from above, which creates a vacuum.
might be around 65 mph—I don’t remember the exact speed—if you continued to stall without popping the stick forward, you’d go into spin. Then you come out of it by –my biggest problem. I hated spins because you put your foot on the full opposite rudder. You had to wait for that to take effect. Whatever direction you’re going, then half the way around you pop the stick controlling the ailerons and elevators, causing the pin to stop spinning. My tendency was to pop the stick too soon, so the rudder didn’t slow down the spin. If you pop too soon, you kept spinning and could go down to the ground and crash. But the instructor always saved the day when I did that.
One of the four in our squad was a captain in the infantry going through as a student officer, so he had privileges that ordinary cadets didn’t have. He didn’t have to stand e reveille or assembly or stuff the cadets did. We didn’t resent it. We looked up to him, because he was an officer—what we wanted to be.
The other four guys in the squad, had already passed their 20 hours in the air dual and solo by a check pilot. 20% of the guys were washing out on their 20 hour check. Another 20% were washed out on their 40 hour check. I hadn’t had my 20 hour check yet. I accumulated 28 hours waiting for the check. It just wasn’t scheduled. I didn’t care for my plump, pompous instructor who claimed he was in the RAF. He just wasn’t – we just didn’t click. He didn’t give me the patience I thought I needed. He was impatient.
I was practicing doing elementary figure 8’s west of hwy. 99, the main highway long befor expr4essways between San Francisco and LA, we were supposed to fly east of 99. But there were planes all over the sky. There was another base south of us and they got into our area. They were biplanes. I wanted to get west of 99 which was against the rules, where I’d have no problem with other planes.
Elementary 8’s was a maneuver over a crossroad, with level wings over the crossroad. You were supposed to fly at 500’ elevation. It was a test of maintainging stability with crosswinds. You would make your loops, then level your wings for the cross over the crossroad.
I was doing pretty good on that until my engine stopped completely in the air. I had no place to go. Trees on 3 sides of the crossroad. Only one open field. You’re always supposed to land upwind, like a kite, get the wind underneath your wings. But the field was downwind, and as I got closer to the ground, I could see a 50’ wide dry irrigation ditch with a furrow on each side. They told me afterward that my flaps were pumped down forty degrees, which was right, and I made it over the first furrow but my wheels hit the second furrow, and the plane nosed over. My head hit the cowl and I was knocked out.
Some ranchers pulled me out and laid me down, pulling me some distance from the plane in case it caught fire. We waited a half hour for the ambulance. The medical officer took off his cap to help me, I leaned my head over and evidently I threw up. I guess I ruined the medical officer Lt. Roth’s good cap.
I was put in sick bay for a couple of days. After I felt better after 3 days, I was given 2 weeks sick leave to return home. So I went back to Detroit by train and was home for 2 weeks and came back. When I came back I was notified that I had to go to an accident inquiry board. The 3 air force pilots that were the inquiry board, grilled me and vclaimed I was buzzing, claimed I had a girlfriend I was buzzing, but I didn’t. All of the buildings at sequioia were stucco one story bldgs. I went outside and waited while the base engineering officer went in and reported.
He came out and said, “Dewey I saved your bacon.” He showed me the splines or grooves at the end of the prop shaft were turned 90 degrees which proved the engine had thrown a piston rod, and it was engine failure. Stopping the shaft quickly, but the prop wanted to keep turning, which made the 90 degree turn at the end. Proving it was engine failure not pilot failure. He gave me a picture of the plane nosed over, but we lost that later. Those planes cost 10,000, big money back then for a training plane. The plane was a total wreck.
This was an accident investigation board, it was a military investigation.
“ Thank you, I appreciate it captain.” I was so relieved. Then I went back to my barracks and waited around for re-assignment and after a couple of days was sent to Merced Army Air Force Hospital in Merced, Ca and there I was under observation. They couldn’t believe I didn’t have a fractured skull, after they got the results of the X-rays, I returned to flying status. The only injury I had was that it did break my teeth. After I was married, I had to have an abscess removed from my chin hitting the edge of the cockpit and had a root canal. I’d been sicker than a dog, It broke my brand new goggles that my folks had bought at Abercrombie & Fitch in NYC for me. I wore those instead of regulation but now they were a wreck.
I had to wait around again for two to three weeks, reported for assignment to the next class and was washed back from class 43J and I would have completed primary school in November. Maybe if that had happened I would have been shot down and killed. Who knows. But I was washed back 44A (January), and had a much better instructor.
Getting back on a horse after it has thrown you is always a problem. There was a certain amount of tension and concern when I got back in the cockpit. We went up and flew for about half an hour and then he had me solo, and the next day he went up with me and yelled at me through the gosport (he sat in the back cockpit and the student sat in front, and a rubber tube connected his mouthpiece to my ears through my helmet. It was a one way monologue. He had a stick, not a wheel. Your stick controlled your ailerons and your elevators. The pedals controlled the rudders. He would yell at me and hit my knees with the stick back and forth real fast. I was stupid and making dumb mistakes.
Especially with my spins, as usual I popped the stick too soon, before going a full half-turn. When we did various aerobatics, snap rolls, loops, I was reacting too soon, I wansn’t smoothly making my changes in the attitude of the plane, which way it’s slanting. He was criticizing my flying.
Get your head out of you’re a--, he yelled more than once. “Head up and locked” was a phrase they used all the way through. Your gear is up and locked when you take off if you have a plane with retractable landing gear. It means your head is up your ……well…and locked. Straighten up, fly right. Get with it, get on the ball, let’s do it. Among other expletives.
Every time he yelled at me, I tried to straighten up and do a better job. It didn’t make me more nervous or fumble, surprisingly. All instructors yelled. We needed to learn to wake up and function under pressure. Later this would be a skill I would appreciate when our lives were at risk.
He did this every time we went up. In primary, you had 65 hours of total time. Half was dual, with an instructor, and half was solo. I got credit for the flying hours but that didn’t mean a thing as far as the instructors and check rides went. SO I had more hours than most when I graduated. There were some excellent private pilots with lots of flying time, who were washed out. It was more about the flying instructor on the day of the test. If he got out of bed on the wrong side and you made a mistake, you were washed out. You really didn’t know. Great pilots got washed out. A lot of them became navigator-bombardiers.
I was scared stiff on my 20 hour check and on my 40 hour check. But neithr made me make a spin. Somebody must have been watching over me. They tested everything else, but not a spin. By then I knew how to do it, but I sure didn’t want to put myself into an emergency procedure even for that test.
For my check-ride, the 20 hour was easier than the 40 hour. I don’t think he asked me to do a spin on the first one. Then the final check ride was by an army lieutenant. If you passed the first 2, the last one after 65 hours (I had 80) was usually a slam-dunk. This was late summer of 1943. I was in class 44A. If I got all the way through, we were designated to graduate in January 1944. My first class, 43J would have graduated in November. But I started my pre-flight in March of 43 entering class 43J at Santa Ana.
Late summer, probably around Labor Day, I was shipped to Minter Field in Bakersfield Ca, Bakersfield – Basic flying school: flying formation—5 satellite fields—take-off’s and landings—practiced with own squadron of 3 (broke up into 4 squadrons—8 instructors_ 9 weeks, 4 in a small group. Flew BT 13’s—Bulte BT 013. Single prop. Instructor behind occasionally, solo, bigger plane 400 h engine—metal. Night flying first time –was scarey, could see the flames coming out of the engines. Some thought the plane was on fire when they first saw it. Civilian instructors through this point.jumping from a 65 hp engine to a 225hp engine. Instead of a fabric-covered plane, it was a metal covered Vultee BT (basic trainer) 13. Wider landing gear wheel base, fixed landing gear like the pT-22, wide wheel base that was an advantage, so yu didn’t have ground loops if you landed o the wheels (spinning around when you hit ground). It had lights, single engine, dual cockpit with a sliding canopy. Same program 65 hours of flying, except with an Army instructor five students to one instructor. Same process. 20 hour check, 40 hour check, final check. Washed out 20% at first check and another 20% washed out in 40 hour check. Few got through. This was a real army base again though.
In primary at Santa Ana, we had physical training which was very tough. We had a “pt” instructor there and at Sequioa field, every Saturday morning we had pt then had to run 3 miles around the base.
One time in Santa Ana, they had half the base in physical training, huge formation, and one of the instructors was Joe Demaggio was on a platform in front of all of us, about hundreds of us in our t-shirts,k shorts and gym shoes, brought in as a sergeant leading us in calistenics. He seemed kind of embarrassed. He was shy, and here he was in front of all these cadets, and he’d been promoted immediately to be a buck sergeant.
In basic, we had physical training. We went out to one of three satellite fields ina radius of 10 miles from the field, and we would go out to the field and fly from there, doing the same sort of deal with tick and rudder as before with a minimum amount of instruments. For the first time though, we flew at night with our lights on, had to take off and land at night and for the first time learned to fly formation. It was kind of neat, because we would march in our jumpsuits—our flying gear, assemble in front of the ready room office for the squadron. We would assemble and march in formation with the band playing three days a week. There were no parades. We did have to stand reveille, until we graduated. Then we had a parade and passed in review.
Bob Hope and his troupe including Dorothy Lamour came and performed. Some of the same guys were with me from Sequoia. I was kind of a Loner. I had time off and we went in to Bakersfield. We were too far from LA. I didn’t mix too much at Minter. I didn’t want to. I stayed around the base. We played basketball and handball. There’s always a show at the base theater. So there was plenty to do on base. I dind’t have any desire to go in. I stayed at a motel a few times just by myself. I dind’t meet any girls there.
I wrote letters to my folks and some of the model railroad friends in Chicago. Laundry was sent out.
My instructor at Minter field, a big tall lanky guy, thought that the fact that I had cracked up and started up again seemed to make a difference and I stood out from the others because of what I had been through. At Sequoia Field they called me “Crash” Dewey. I think I got a little special treatment because I had cracked up and very few cadets had that situation without washing out, or else because it was their fault. As I look back on it now, it was similar to the way the guys looked at me after the Kassel Mission.
We had one student officer going through with us who was a captain. I always wondered what happened to him. I have one picture of him. This was pilot flying school. You never knew until you graduated whether you were going to be a first pilot, co pilot, single engine or what kind of plane you’d fly. At the time we graduated, from Minter, you got to ask for single engine or multi-engine. I asked for multi- engine. We had a party with our instructors and with the squadron commander at the main hotel in Bakersfield. We had a party at the end, and it’s one of the two times in my life I got drunk with my instructors. They tell me I was pretty silly. Some people in the hotel laughed at me.
From there I was shipped by troop train to Marfa Army AF Base on the western edge of Texas. Marfa Texas—took the train to get there, in the Texas panhandle, mountains. Flew AT-17 dvanced Trainer Cessna bobcat UC-78. Fabric, but twin engine and seats now side-by-side, iinterior cockpit with instructor, solo, or another cadet as copilot. Navigational cross-country. Instructors were second lieutenants.
What a terrible place. Tar paper barracks, sand blowing all the time, terrible. Desolate. There were two classes of cadets that went through plus mechanics. We went to twin engine fabric covered At Advanced Trainer Cessna bobcats, but we called them pole cats. It wasn’t much of a plane, but it was twin engine. The engines were about the same size as the single engine in basic. We had a wheel now for our ailerons and elevators, and dual control side by side.
Instead of 5 to an instructor, there were two of us. I was teamed up with Edward Degeneres. He was a short guy about 5’ or 5’2 and played the bass viol. Freckle faced, red headed, a good guy and we got along well in the plane.
After we soloed, shot take offs an landings, then the two of us would fly together once the instructor took us up. Never did spins or aerobatics, we flew at night, formation, navigaton (learned that in basic, flying with maps on cross country trips. With the instructor we went on longer trips. Midland and maybe Alpine, not really long trips. Sand blew into the barracks all the time. You always had to shake sand out of your shoes. They got us ready for graduation. There were publicity pictures. A sergeant talked to me about my publicity. Told me “Hey, you’ve got to start blowing your own horn a little bit. Nobody else is gonna do it for you.” I guess I was too modest, a little self-defacing.
They sent out pictures of us so it could be in the newspaper, that Lt. William R Dewey graduated January 7, 1944. We did have a big formation march, when they pinned our wings and lieutenant bars on us. As planes got bigger, Bill got better, stronger. One of biggest days of his life was January 7, 1944 when he graduates from Advanced Flying School and gets his wings and is promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Full dress parade, stook in formation while wings are pinned on by the captain, group commander.
We had already bought our uniforms. As an enlisted man, everything was paid for. As an officer, you had to give up your benefits, and you had to buy your uniform, pay for your meals, but you had much better status. But rank had its privileges, and we were entitled to better quarters, and the officers’ club.
At the final graduation, Ann Southern’s husband, Bob Sterling, graduated at the same time. She came down for that.
After graduation, a group of us chartered a bus to Dallas and went home. Had a 7 day delay. I was sent to Albuquerque soon.
My folks had a reception for me, an open house. This was a big deal. My mother never looked down on me. She thought I’d make a great writer. At school, we had to write letters on the weekend. And my letter was usually chosen as the best. But my dad never thought much of me and I don’t blame him. I wasn’t a good mechanic, I wasn’t a good athlete, never went out for anything in high school. I never held a paper route, but did sell magazines door to door. My grades I nh.s. were B’s and C's. I did start a magazine and was the first editor of “Michigan Railfan” which is still going, and he printed it for me.
I was insignificant. My folks let my hair grow long until I was about 2 or 3, and one time my grandfather said to my mother, “WHEN are you gonna get that kid’s hair cut?”
I was always in awe of my grandfather because he was real gruff. I wish now I had talked to him about his railroad experience because he must have had story after story. He started as a fireman on the old Erie railroad; he became the roundhouse foreman on the Chicago Burlington and Quincy in the Western Ave. Roundhouse. He wielded a shotgun against the Pullman strikers. Then he became Master Mechanic and my dad and family moved from Chicago to Lincoln Nebraska. My dad talked about riding horseback out there. He was bashful around girls. He rode 20 miles on horseback to meet a girl who ended up being with a guy, had some tough experiences didn’t marry until he was 28.
My grandfather moved to being a salesman for a brake shoe company. They have to go on every car. Brake shoes when you’re coming down the mountains, they got worn out very quickly. It was a huge replacement business. Cast steel. My grandfather rose to Western Sales Manager for all the railroads in the west and east. Knew all the presidents of RR’s, belonged to 2 country clubs, a good golfer, but he was a rounder. A drinker. And the way they sold back then, all the rr presidents would come in for a rr convention, and my grandfather would get a room and they played poker all night. Got bootleg whiskey. I have a hunch that he didn’t treat my grandmother well.
When my dad came home from WWI, my mother’s best friend was his sister who was bent over from typhoid. She was crippled, he was tender to his sister, carrying her up and down the stairs, and they fell in love.
So my folks were impressed with me, having gone through pilot school, having cracked up and now came home as an officer. I had one date when I was home. She wouldn’t kiss me. She said, “You don’t like that kind of stuff do you?” So that was the end of that. I think her mother must have really talked to her, because her mother called mine, and said, “Whatever HAPPENED? I TOLD MY mother she wanted a platonic relationship. She gave me an ID bracelet with her name on the other side, like they all did. I think I wrote a few letters to her. I wrote letters to another girl I met through one of my model railroad friends. We had dinner together and she wrote beautiful letters. I went up to Port Huron and called on her while I was on leave that time. But nothing came of it. I never kissed Carolyn Godley. I had a couple of dates with her when I got home after the war. I took her to the dance at the university. But she wasn’t your type at all. She didn’t do anything for me. No chemistry, no spark.
All our old neighbors and friends from my life all came to this party. The Controller of JL Hudson Company was there. About 10 people there for another dinner party. My dad had drinks for the visitors. In the evening, just their close friends. They were proud of me.
And so I packed up to take the train to Albuquerque.
I checked into Kirtland field and was assigned to a captain, and my student officer mate was Warren Krowther. Just like advanced flying school in Marfa, there were only two of us assigned to an instructor. This captain was a no-nonsense professional, kind of stern. I don’t remember him being relaxed at all. Not up-tight, but a very disciplined guy.
We switched now to 4 engines, B-24 D’s, the real thing. Right off the bat we shot take offs and landings and all kinds of emergency situations. It’s a huge airplane compared to the AT-17, much bigger, more instruments a different feel. The Davis Wing design was very slim compared to the B-17 wing, consequently, it had different flying characteristics—was much more difficult to fly than the B-17. We flew daytime, night, three engine procedures, and some formation flying.
We took turns flying the left seat (first pilot), the instructor sat in the right. The co-mate sat behind or stood behind to watch. We always had a flight engineer with us too. He was the one who started the auxiliary putt-putt engine until all the engines started. Without that, we had no electricity. He transferred all the fuel from the wing tanks to the main tanks during flight. He always monitored that along with many other things.
Soon after we started flying, one of the planes had gone down in the mountains with the crew onboard, instructor included. We flew all over the mountain area searching. There were probably about 20 planes in the air at a time, some doing take-offs and landings and practicing instrument flying. They would put a plastic cover over the windshield, so that we had to fly blind. We had to keep our eyes open watching for other planes. No one was watching out for us. Instructors had their own briefings and we took whatever heading. We never found it. If it was ever found, I never knew about it. They usually would find the wreckage but I never heard about this one.
We had to land with 3 engines, and learn to fly in the air with two engines out—one side or the other or one on each and keep the plane on an even keel. If both engines were out on one side, you had a tremendous pull, pressure from the engines on the other side. You had to be heavy on the rudder pedals to keep it level. Sometimes both of you had to exert heavy force on the rudders to keep it level.
What was neat about landings and take-offs at Kirtland field was that the runway was on a plateau above the Albuquerque municipal airport, where they were training bombardiers in AT-11’s, and we could see them taking off and landing. At night, it was beautiful to look out on the whole city, which was west of us. All the twinkling lights down there were really neat.
Kirtland in Albuquerque—. First time in B-24’s, 4 engines. “Transition Training” with partner mainly B-24’s ½ da. Ground school, no formation flying, night flying, etc. Instructor was a captain. Went with his partner, Warren Crowther?, on cross- country trip. Stayed overnight in Kansas City, where Crowther lived. When they said goodbye, Crowther’s mother cried and cried. They went on to Alabama, then back to Albuquerque (Kirtland). Mother cried rightfully. Crowther would stay on at Kirtland to be an instructor and crash into a mountain and die. *As we leave each person in the movie, show in print how they would end in the war in one line –POW, survived, died how?
At one point, they fly over Detroit, but at 10,000 feet learning to navigate cross-country. Bill looks down at home, so close but so far, far away.
Had to land over a river—water threw off one’s depth perception—how high you are over the water
When my folks came out to visit me, my father talked to an airline pilot, who said that the B-24 student did a great job with their discipline in the landing pattern, in the flying discipline, keeping flying pattern, radio procedure.
Kirtland Field had the best officers club of any I experienced in the service. The fried oysters were wonderful, and we had our own bachelor’s officer’s quarters. I had a room all to myself. The room had a bed, chest of drawers a small desk and chair, small closet and a couple of lamps.
At every phase of our training we were underclassmen for the first 4 ½ weeks, the second part we were upperclassmen. Same here. As underclassmen, we normally had ground school in the morning and flew in the afternoon.
Warren was dark complected, medium build interesting guy. I laugh now, was another student pilot officer that graduated with us from Marfa TX was Al Bender , a full-blooded American Indian who claimed that his ancestor was Sitting Bull. He was married and lived off in married officers’ quarters.
After we were upperclassmen, we did more navigation, and we had one R O N (remain overnight) flight—a triangular course to Kansas City then to Selma Alabama. I flew into Kansas City on the first leg, or half of it, of our cross-country trip, and I had to bring it in over the Missouri River. This was very difficult. Landing at the edge of the water throws off your depth perception. I got it in okay. This was Warren’s home, and he invited me to spend it with him at his folks’ home. When we left, his mother cried. Warren said, “Oh Mother,” embarrassed.
We flew on to Selma Alabama, another B-24 transition base like Kirtland Field. We stayed overnight in the B O Q (Batchelor’s Officers’ Quarters) there. We flew back, then got into more navigation, continual takeoff’s and landings, night flying, formation flying then we graduated with a certificate about the middle of March.
They shipped me immediately out to Fresno CA. I got to Fresno, a pool where they assigned our crews.
In all of the recruiting films, they had always shown how carefully they would psychologically match the pilot to the crew. But it was nothing like that at all. I was Dewey, up there in the alphabet. I got Bill Boykin for a copilot, a rugged guy, a boxer with a ruddy complexion, blond receding hair, broken nose. He’d been a cavalryman with the PA National Guard after HS, where he had played football. They called him “Touchdown,” in high school. He’d just gotten married to Rinnie Boykin, whom I would meet later in our training.
The navigator was another B, Herb Bailey, a Jewish boy from New England with a mustache, slender, medium height. The bombardier was another B, John Becker, oldest of us all. I was the youngest on the crew at 21. Becker was taller, thin, black mustache.
All three of them liked to have a good time. I didn’t carouse.
Enlisted men: our aerial engineer was Charlie Craig from Southern Illinois, about 19, young, eager and respectful. He thought the best looking uniform was an officers’ jumpsuit with an overseas cap. He was a good engineer and really knew his stuff.
John Ellson, our radio operator, was also young, pimply faced, and got airsick every single time we went up. I don’t know why he wanted to fly, he was a volunteer, and I suppose being cooped up in the radio shack ;without a window in a B-24 with all those fumes could have caused it.
Les Medlock was the armorer, he armed the bombs and was our nose gunner. He was older, married, very quiet and very respectful. Very military, a buck sergeant when he came to us.
Reuben Montanez, our lower turret gunner, was dark complected, with a lot of teeth when he smiled, short and a little bit of an accent when he talked. Walt Bartkow was the other waist gunner and assistant armorer. Walt had been a paratrooper and broke his leg on his 16th jump. Thought he’d be safer in the air corps. That’s what he thought anyway. He had a brush cut, a good Catholic as was Montanez.
Bill Messer, the last member of the crew, was our tail gunner. Real short and had a hard time getting along with the enlisted men. He didn’t stay with our crew for long and went with another crew. He went with the 15th AF in Italy, sent us all a card, but that’s the last we ever heard from him. He stayed with us until we got overseas.
We got to meet each other. Then enlisted men and officers stayed in separate quarters. We had 5 days in Fresno while we waited shipment to replacement training unit and crew training in Tonopah, Nevada. We just waited around, playing cards, reading books, went to downtown Fresno.
All the enlisted men were buck sergeants who had graduated from their specialty schools, or would be buck sergeants and promoted as soon as we got to our next stop.
We were there for about 5 days. I went out with another pilot to a bar in downtown Fresno, picked up a few girls, went out a few times, no big deal. A lot of kissing. I don’t remember her name, but she wore purple lipstick.
A train took us to Las Vegas, and dropped our coach cars there, then we were picked up by another railroad. I was so tied up thinking about combat that I didn’t pay attention to the railroad experience at all. Surprising, but it shows a lot. Those railroads were built during the silver mining rush in the early 1900’s, and were the old tea kettle locomotives. In pretty bad shape. I wish I’d paid more attention. I remember walking through the train. Boykin was in the middle of a vicious poker game. I was a little shocked at the viciousness as they played for really big money. Lots of cursing, the stakes were really high. For me a dollar was enough, but there was a lot more than that in the pot. Bill Boykin was a really tough poker player. I watched for a few minutes, and went back to my seat.
That evening, we got off the train, were loaded onto trucks with all our gear in our B-4 bags covered with a tarp. As we got off the truck, it was dark, and we could look up on the side of the hill and there was a B-24 burning. The next morning we could see the lay of the land at Tonopah. The base was on a plateau surrounded on 3 sides by mountains. To the south was a dry lake. If you lost 2 or 3 engines on takeoff, you were liable to go into the mountain, and that’s what happened to that crew, apparently.
Tonopah was a terrible place after Kirtland Field. It was tarpaper buildings, sand blowing through the windows into your bed into your shoes, everything. The end of the world, it was an old mining town on its last legs. The silver mining had all but ended when the government bought it and put the base there, bringing Tonopah alive again with military activity and business.
We learned how to operate as a crew in Tonopah. We flew bombing practice, celestial navigation, gunnery practice with planes towing a target our gunners would shoot at. Ground school, flew in formation, night, takeoffs and landings, I trained Boykin on a B-24. He’d wanted to be a fighter pilot, and had graduated from single engine school, and had never been on a B-24 so I had to teach him how to be a B-24 copilot. He hated it.
We were there another 9 weeks. Nothing to do in Tonopah. My guys went in and gambled every night. It was just like you see in some of the westerns, there were 2 or 3 gambling houses. I went in one night with the other officers on my crew and gambled. Boykin borrowed from me. He paid me back though. He had to, because he was flying with me.
That’s where I met Rinnie. She stayed at a hotel and Bill would go over to Goldfield where she was if he wasn’t in town gambling at night with Becker and Bailey.
Toward the end of our 9 weeks, they had a major simulated raid with two other /B-24 bases, and we met in formation and joined them. We rendezvoused with the other bases and went to San Francisco, were to simulate bombing LA, then come back, about a 7 or 8 hour mission. We had full gas.
On the second leg, from SF to LA, Boykin, Bailey and Becker said, “you got an engine running hot there. Let’s just drop out of formation and R O N someplace. “ They wanted to have a good time, and I wanted to get on their good side. We never should have done it. The engine wasn’t that bad.
We dropped out of formation at about 10000 and dropped down. Herb Bailey didn’t know where we were. We dropped down about 2000 feet, flew over a railroad track over a town. On the lumber yard roof it said STOCKTON. We found the air field, and landed at the Stockton advanced twin engine training base. A Jeep came out with a big “Follow Me” sign on it and pulled us over on the runway parking area for planes.
We parked the plane and went into Stockton. The entire crew, including enlisted men, went to a night club. We all drank, including me, the teetotaler. We went to a hotel, and the next day took off and landed at Fresno. We never did get to LA.
We stayed overnight in Fresno. They had a good time but I had a room of my own. I guess I was pretty stern.
When we got back to the base, as I landed, over the radio came a voice: “Lt. Dewey and officers, report to the base commander.” They sent a jeep out for us, and the four of us got into the jeep, took us to headquarters, and into the colonel’s office. The four of us saluted, stood at attention. “Lt Dewey and officers reporting, sir.”
He lit into us. “Do you realize how hard it is to keep these planes in the air? To turn crews out ready for combat?” He chewed us out, but I wrote it up that number 3 engine was overheating, so he couldn’t really nail me, but he knew that we were just horsing around. “If it ever happens again,” he said, “There will be an investigation and possibly a court martial. Don’t you ever pull a stunt like this again.”
It was bad enough to land at Stockton, but we had done it twice by landing in Fresno the second time. Amazing. I guess we were away from the base for 2 nights. Technically we weren’t AWOL. We were “forced down because of engine problems.” I never checked in and don’t know if they were looking for us. I checked in at the base in Stockton and Fresno, and I’m sure they communicated with Tonopah and let them know. But I didn’t.
Two girls followed us back from Fresno and the guys kept ‘dating” them, until one of the men finally turned himself in to a doctor sick bay with a venereal disease.
On or around June 6, we had a weekend pass at the end of our training. Orville Baker, a copilot for Beringer, another first pilot—I liked Orville. He and I hitchhiked from Tonopah on a huge over-the-road truck all the way to Bishop CA. At Bishop we found a fishing lodge after walking 18 miles up another 5000 feet and stayed overnight in beautiful country on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range in that valley. I don’t think we fished, but we walked back, and hitchhiked back.
While we were there, D-Day was taking place.
Then we were shipped out by train to San Francisco, n of SF, Hamilton Field across the Bridge from SF, and we thought we were going to the Pacific. WE were there about 3 days. Time enough for me to get a ride into San Francisco. I went to the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel, THE hotel at that time, rode a cable car. The next day we got orders to get on a train with 10-12 coaches and were shipped all the way across the US to Camp Miles Standish outside of Boston. The enlisted men were in one car, and I had a nice Pullman sleeper. The enlisted men were in berths 2 deep.
We went through Chicago and stayed a long time in the railroad yard. I wasn’t paying any attention to the railroad or the route, it could have been the Erie..at the first division point after Chicago, another pilot and I talked to the engineer and asked if we could ride in the engine, a Mikado 282, to the next division point. I can’t tell you anything more about the route.
It was hot, smoky, cinders flying, and a lot of fun. I got to blow the whistle at every crossing. I promised the engineer you’d write after combat, but I lost his address. Dressed in our khakis, we were black when we got off the train. Benham, Jim Benham, was the pilot. We were filthy. Jim talked in his sleep. While we were on the train, everyone would ask him questions while he was sleeping, and he would answer and carry on a conversation while he was fast asleep. Tall, lanky, curly brown hair with a big Adam’s apple. Easy to get along with. I liked guys that weren’t going to get me into trouble.
We got to Camp Miles Standish outside of Boston and put up in barracks. One day we played baseball, 5 against 5 on the blacktop road next to us a whole regiment of airborne came by, running in formation singing “airborne, airborne, airborne” and were probably the guys in gliders later on in the Arnheim invasion later in the war.
We were there until around July 1. Again we waited to get on shipboard. We wasted so much time. I could have been studying or taking courses. Other guys made good use of their time. They took correspondence courses, but most everyone played cards or walked around and did some physical training. We had one peter parade, where they forced officers and enlisted men get off the train and checked everyone for venereal diseases. The train pulled onto a siding (before getting to Boston). None of my crew—at that time—had vd.
We had physical exams at every new place we were stationed.
We were at Camp Miles Standish for a few days, and then we got our orders to board ship in a convoy to England. We got 3 day passes before leaving.
I went to the Boston airport, and because I was in uniform, I got priority over civilians and arrived at the Detroit City Airport. I called my folks from Boston and they met me at the airport and returned to Boston Sunday. We visited, no events, just an opportunity to be home with my mom and dad one more time. The last thing my mother said to me as she stood at the door saying good bye before Dad drove me to the airport was, “You’ll find the strength to meet any situation.” Those words would come back to me continuously, for I would find myself in perilous situations many times over the coming year.
Back in Boston, we boarded a small ship used to haul fruit from Central America, an old banana boat. The enlisted men in the hold were in 3-deep bunks. The officers had state rooms. My bunk mate was an infantry lieutenant, going over as a replacement after D-day, which had occurred 3 weeks earlier. Platoon leaders out of Fort Benning, “90-day wonders” with 3 month training were most expendable. You see all the officers in battle in Hollywood movies with insignia on their hats or helmets? We learned very quickly not to do that, as they were the first to pick off. He envied me, that I would be in the sky, where he would be on the ground, where it was a lot tougher.
I wasn’t good at writing anyone but my folks. I wrote the girl I went out with in Port Huron on one of my times back home. She wrote beautiful letters, had nice handwriting. I wrote my aunt Inez and answered her letters. I sent a couple of letters a week home. When I got back, I burned them all, wanting to move on and to have nothing left over.
We left port around July 7. It took about two weeks as we zig-zagged across the Atlantic. Maybe 20 ships protected by destroyer escorts with RCAF B-24’s occasionally overhead. It was comforting to see them chase the German subs away.
I had a state room with an infantry lieutenant who would be a platoon leader. He was a real nice guy. I could tell he really wished he’d be a pilot.
“I’d like to have had a chance to get into the Air Force,” he said.
I felt for him. Platoon leaders were the first to be picked off in battle. Officers’ mess was great. White table cloths, we dined with the ships officers, we had waiters wait on us, while the enlisted men down in the hold had to go through a line with trays. It was a banana boat, a freighter used to ship fruit from South America. It was an old ship, but clean and decent. And the water was calm as crystal for the entire 14 days we traveled. They had us go slowly because so many ships were coming in.
On the way over, my officers took a chess set from one of the chaplains on board, and we had chess matches all the way over. They were always taking each other’s queen. When you take someone’s queen, you take their mobility from them. They were always trading queens.
Boykin said, “I’m gonna stay in after my tour’s over.”
Bailey responded, “I’m going to try the business world.”
I thought I’d try to fly C-54’s and possibly fly with the commercial airlines. Becker, 26, older than the rest of us, didn’t have much to say.
Our executive officers at higher level when we got over there, were all older. Jimmy Stewart was well over age in his thirties and had to get a waiver to get into the service. He went through OCS at Fort Benning, GA, and from an enlisted man, became a second lt. We had the advantage of having wings in addition to our second lieutenant bars.
We disembarked in Liverpool, got into 6 x 6 GI trucks to a replacement depot village called Stone, where hundreds of air crews awaited the next step. We were there for about 3 days. I went with another officer to a play. The girls on the stage checked us out more than once. We sat up on the side in the special elevated seats in those booth areas up on the side. Very visible in our uniforms to the British actresses. They wanted to snag an American officer, but we didn’t go to the stage door when it was over. We went right back to the base at Stone outside of Liverpool, a big reception center.
After three days, we were shipped up to Black Pool and put on a B-24 to Cluntoe, Northern Ireland, a distance from Belfast. At Cluntoe, some of the GI’s mixed with the people there, but we spent 3 days flying, learning the RAF radio-telephone procedure, their markings, the trailer at the head of the runway that would give us the green flare to take off. We flew bombing training missions, learned how to fly formation, different from the states, and heard lectures from a first lieutenant that really snowed us but weren’t true. There was a lot of fog in England. He said he’d flown a lead ship to break it up. Pure fabrication for those of us who would listen wide-eyed and believe anything. But it was a good experience.
At Fresno, I was handed a paper on who crew was. Had been told they would be matched up psychologically, etc., but when he looks at the list, first 3 names are Bailey, Becker, Boykin…he looks down the row at other pilots, and they’ve pulled the crews alphabetically—no matching. They did have one meeting in Fresno, then didn’t see them again until Tonopah.
After Fresno, on their way to Tonopah, I didn’t see the guys at all. Not even on the train. Bill flags a ride down to meet and thank his teacher, Garrett Miller, (later writes and thanks from overseas.)
Tonopah—First day arrived on train, a B-24 had crashed into a mountain. B-24 crew training.
His officers were “rounders,” real partiers. Bill wasn’t at all. Overseas, one of them went after every woman he saw, they joked about it, even the Irish wash woman, who was really ugly.
Les Medlock was a good –operations engineer?
Radio engineer smelled, vomited before every mission. Went with him on every one.
When we are Tonopah, in our B.O.Q. (bachelors’ officers’ quarters) such as they were—tarpaper shacks—Bill Boykin, would have the radio on. He loved Dinah Shore’s music, and when she sang “It Had to be You,” he would say, “Sing it Dinah, sing it.”
I would have been reading or playing chess in one of our rooms. They were cut throat chess. We would trade queens at the drop of a hat, which is probably not a very good thing to do. You should protect your queen to the very end. We were rough and tough chess players, and Bill Boykin was a rugged guy. He looked like his face had been hit by a frying pan. It was flat, he had a broken nose and furrowed brow, and he was blond but almost bald. He probably weighed close to 200 pounds, but he wasn’t real tall, probably about my height (5’9”). But he was really built. He’d been a fullback in high school and the girls called him “Touchdown,” because I guess he was a good “scorer.” Herb Bailey always kidded him, called him “Touchdown.”
They were good friends. John Becker was a bit older. He was twenty-six, about the maximum age. He was the tallest of the three original officers. He had a long face. He was a dark-complected guy. Becker is kind of a German name, but he looked kind of Italian. He had a black mustache, dark eyebrows, brown eyes. He was “one of the boys.” He and Bailey and Becker lived it up. They loved to gamble and womanize.
I didn’t fit the mold at all. They didn’t fit my way of living at all. We did everything together. We had to.
You could buy drinks at the officer’s club but you couldn’t get beer in bottles, so we didn’t have them in the room.
I can’t remember the name of the town where his wife would stay. It’s still there, on the map, and that’s where we de-trained on the 6 x 6’s to downtown Tonopah, such as it was. All it was, was three or four gambling dens and a gas station and general store.
Boykin broke his nose playing football and fighting. He was a battler when he was a kid. As far as being a co-pilot I had no complaints. He was alert, was well-coordinated, flew good formation from the right seat. We had him land the B-24 from the right seat several times to be sure that in an emergency situation, he could take off and land.
Berringer and Orville came from Tonopah. After we finished all of our training, before we shipped out of Tonopah, I liked Orville—I guess I was sort of like Lester Smith and Alice—you liked people that were non-threatening to you. He’s just a nice, sweet guy. So Orville and I took off and went to Bishop, California. We hitchhiked our way on these over-the-road trucks, in the valley.
Berringer’s crew was shipped the same as ours to Cluntoe, North Ireland that were shipped that day, August 6, 1944 from Cluntoe NI, in the B-24, across the Irish Sea a down to Tibenham.
I looked down and saw the base, and thought, “My! This is a combat airbase, just like they told us it would be!” (Laughs) I was concerned, because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. For ten days, we went through training.
The main reason for sending us to Liverpool (Black Pool) to Cluntoe, North Ireland was to introduce us to the RAF radio-telephone procedure and their methods of operation, which were different than they were in the States in training. And we did some flying, landing using their procedures. The nomenclature was slightly different. WE had a couple of guys that had finished their tour that instructed us, and they gave us a lot of fluff.
We went to Stone, which was a big pool a kind of replacement pool of crews. When we landed at Liverpool, we were trucked up to Stone, which was outside of Liverpool. It was a huge replacement depot. We stayed there for four or five days. I did go into Liverpool and went to a play. We didn’t’ know we were going to be in the 445th until we landed at Tibenham.
At that time, I knew that Clark Gable was in the Air Force, but I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t know he was in the Second Air Division. All the movie stars—most of them were in the service. I didn’t pay attention to Jimmy Stewart, where he was. I was too busy with my own problems (laughs). So I didn’t know he had been in the 445th at Tibenham until after I got there.
On August 6, we flew in a B-24 to Tibenham, England home of 445th Heavy Bombardment Group. We got into another 6 x 6. Officers were dropped off at their nissen (quonset) metal huts. The truck driver took us to the 701st nissen headquarters. We were assigned to the 701st squadron. There were four squadrons, 700th, 701st, 702nd, 703rd, each with their own headquarfters huts, their own officers huts (pilots and copilots together, navigators and bombardiers in a separate hut, enlisted men in their own huts). That’s where I first met Captain Kleeman in our hut. He was almost through with his missions. He and his copilot were the only ones there. We had cots with a coal-burning stove in the middle of the hut for heat, My cot was right in a corner in a slot next to one of the two doors at one end of the hut. I believe there were six cots in our hut.
Kleeman hated the civilian workers there, always complained that they were always drinking tea, “typical government workers”. They were supposed to be keeping up the runway and repairing things. They rode in coal-powered, steam powered trucks. In his plane, if one of those coal-powered trucks was in front of his plane, he’d try to chase them off the runway. He said they were always stopping twice a day to drink their tea.
Kleeman would fly Glen Miller and his staff from London to Tibenham when they came to entertain our staff in early September. I had just flown a mission, had a splitting headache, and didn’t go.
We didn’t fly our first mission until the 16th of august. We had more ground school for pilots, navigators, bombardiers and gunners, and half a day, just like in training flying practice missions.
Even for practice missions, you were alerted by an NCO at 3 a.m. of your assignment for a practice mission. We knew usually the day before if we were flying practice, but got our flight orders, including time of briefing, time to report, our day’s schedule at that time. If we were flying combat, then we had to get up. For practice, usually over land, we had to report to our lockers for our gear (parachutes). Then as a crew we’d meet outside and we’d be taken to a hardstand where the plane was that we were assigned to. The hardstand was a circular pavement where the plane was stationed and serviced by the mechanics. The pilot and copilot would check out the plane externally, checking the rudders, props, to make sure everything was in order. An officer on the tower would shoot up a flare, signaling all planes to start engines.
First we would get instructions on where we were to be in formation. Most of the practice missions were single squadrons of 10 planes that was shown on the briefing note that we got at the briefing. They’d tell us where we’d be taking off, forming, and usually three destinations in a triangle then home. At our take-off time, and we all got into our plane, everybody had their checks to make on their equipment. Then we had a certain time to start engines, then a certain time to get into our proper place in takeoff (we were assigned a certain number for take-off). We didn’t get into formation until we got up in the air.
Once we were lined up on the taxi strip and swung onto the runway, and did our final checklist, flaps and rpm guided by the pitch of the propeller guided by toggle switches on the console by the four toggles, throttles locked with the full high rpm up there, we took off. A little van trailer striped black and white at the end of the runway had a traffic control operator who, every thirty seconds, gave us a large green light, which was the signal to go. As soon as we were off the ground and got our gear up and locked, and up to flying speed, then cut our flaps from 20 degrees to zero. We took off into the wind, the runways named by the degree from the north. Usually we took off over the North Sea. We didn’t go higher than 10,000 feet on practice missions, and would then home in with our radio direction finder for Buncher Six, the name of the radio beacon was assigned to. This was a ground antenna that would send out a radio signal to the group. Buncher Six was NW Tibenham and was the signal spot for the 445th BG. We fly toward Buncher Six, where the first plane that had taken off fifteen minutes before the rest of us, an old war-weary plane, striped like a zebra, circling around the buncher hut flying a certain color flare: red-red, or red-green or green-green—different every day. And then we would fly toward the flare. On bad weather days, our radio direction finder would find it, because when we were over it, the radio compass direction finder needle would begin turning counter-clockwise. The radio compass would be tuned into the Buncher frequency, and the compass was overhead so all of us could see it.
Once the squadron leader or group leader arrived, the zebra plane would leave back for Tibenham. The squadron or group leader replaced the zebra plane going around in circles waiting for the rest of the group to come together. When it was just a squadron, on a practice mission, we had to find our place in the formation as we circled Buncher Six. As soon as you got close to him, you could see the big letters on the side of the plane. We each had letters of the alphabet on our sides. Our diagram would tell us where each of these planes should be in the ten-ship squadron.
They’d found that the 10-ship squadron was more efficient than 12-ships. An element was 2 or 3 planes, flying in a triangle at the same elevation. The lead element would have a right wing plane and a left wing plane, with the squadron leader in the middle. Underneath and slightly behind was the slot element, with another slot leader, a left wing and a right wing plane. Then there would be a high right element of 2 planes, one ahead of the other, the leader slightly above the lead element, and his right wing slightly above him and slightly behind. We were all supposed to keep wing clearance, so if one plane was hit in combat, both planes wouldn’t go up. The low left element of two planes was just the opposite to the left at the slightly lower elevation of the slot element, but clear of it.
The problem was, when you made a turn, it was like crack the whip. The inner element had a tendency to override. The outside element had to speed up. Every thousand feet up, the air had less drag on us.
Colonel Jones would take off in a P-47 and watch us forming with a clipboard, rating the pilots and made notes on who was good formation and who wasn’t in these training missions. Because I flew good formation, I became an element leader, and eventually a squadron leader. If you’re flying formation, it’s up to you to keep your place right in formation, as the pilot. The tendency was to fly ahead and then pull back on the throttle, and pull back. You had to anticipate the move of the leader, if he went ahead a little, you had to do that. If he pulled back, you had to also. For eight hours we had to keep at full attention. In clouds, we had to trust our instruments, look at the instruments and back at the leader to keep out of getting vertigo. Flying formation through the clouds or at night was a challenge to say the least. Add to that flak and bombing runs later on, and we had our work cut out for us.
I finished my service at Tibenham with a Superior, top rating, as an officer overall.
It took a long time to get 40 planes off and landing them took a long time. It was a tremendously complicated operation.
On August 16, 1944, the sergeant woke me up for my first real mission. “Briefing at 3 a.m. 2700 gallons of gas.” That was a clue on how long we would be going. This was the max for our fuel capacity. It would be a long mission. And it wouldn’t be practice. France was 2500 gallons. We had to be going to Germany.
There were 14 groups in the Second Air Division, four combat wings each. There were 3 divisions in the 8th AF, two were B-17’s, one was B-24’s. By this time, the second Air Division was the only all-B-24 Division. We had 14 groups, four combat wings in the second. Each wing had 3 different groups with their own air fields under them. One group was all black B-24’s, night flyers that dropped men and materials behind enemy lines. For a maximum effort, every group sent out 40 planes. Each airfield had 60-65 planes. Getting 40 ready overnight from the day’s decimation of the day before, was an effort.
Today would be a maximum effort. Our plane’s name was a code name, Wallet 855 A-Able. Every plane had a different letter of the alphabet. 855 was the last 3 digits of the plane’s serial number. The plane was built in 1942 at the Ford Willow Run plant, a B-24 J. Which came after the B-24 H models, which were painted with green camouflage. The paint slowed the plane down and didn’t give them an advantage. So this J plane was shiny silver. Every squadron had a code name. Wallet was the 701st. Displease was for another. B-24’s would go all the way up to L’s and M’s that had all kinds of improvements, including hydraulic steering. Wonderful. But this was all at the end of the war. Better seats. Smoother. I’m way ahead of myself.
We got dressed and went to mess hall for breakfast in the dark, then to briefing. It was a long path to the mess hall. There wasn’t much talking. I never ate much breakfast. I should have, but I didn’t. Then we went to the main auditorium, briefing room, where all the crews were and the ground personnel. About 350-400 people in the room. This was my first real briefing. If you’ve seen the war movies, it happened just like in the movies. They raised the curtain and the red thread curved over the North Sea and Hogel Land by Holland that was filled with flak guns to bomb the Junkers (pronounce “Yunkers”) Aircraft factory. We’d have to be at 18,000 by the time we hit landfall. At low altitude, they’d have been able to knock us out of the sky. The higher the altitude, the less accurate was the flak.
The intelligence officer came out to tell us what we could expect on flak, enemy opposition, the exact target, a munitions plant. Then the meteorologist officer gave us the weather briefing. Then the air commander gave us the basic information on where we would be in the bomber stream and where our wing and our group would be in the formation and the times we were scheduled to be on target. There would be a wing rally point, a division rally point, time at the enemy coast, time for the initial bombing run, group rally point, and withdrawal, and ETA for our return.
After that, we broke up into our specialties. Pilots and copilots stayed in the briefing room. Everyone else broke up to group briefings—navigators, bombardiers, gunners, radio operators all went to different school rooms.
We went to our lockers in the Ready Room, a whole building full of lockers, where all the crews went to get our electric flying suits. We took off our electric flying suits, gloves and helmets and were issued our parachutes at a separate building along with our Mae West life jackets that we wore over our flying jackets. I had a back pack parachute. Some of the others would get chest packs that they couldn’t wear when they were shooting or trying to navigate or see the bombing target, because they got in the way.
We assembled as a crew outside the ready room and waited for a 6 x 6, got in the truck that took us to our hardstand, the concrete pad where the plane set, waiting. Martin Geiszler, a second lieutenant with combat experience, would be my copilot.
“How many missions have you flown, Martin?”
“Six, Bill. Most with my regular crew.”
“Well, we’ve got a good crew for you here.” I sounded confident, but I was scared.
Tense, I asked Charley, “Hand me my flak suit, Charlie. I’m gonna put it on.” It’s heavy, looks like an umpire’s chest protector, but much heavier because it was full of lead.
“Bill, you wanna wait to put that on until we get close to enemy territory,” Geiszler said. “We don’t put that on until we get close to the coast it’s too heavy.”
Charlie sat back down.
Geiszler and I checked out the plane on the exterior. “Everything looks good, Bill.”
We all got in and went to our positions, checking our equipment. Charlie Craig, our aerial engineer, checked all the valves to make sure they were working, and got the auxiliary engine, the “putt-putt” started to generate the electricity until the engines would start. The gunners checked their guns and Les Medlock checked the bombs to make sure they were all locked in place. Bailey got his navigational equipment together. Les Medlock would toggle the bombs when the squadron leader would drop his bombs with a signal flare, so we didn’t need a bombardier. We had a 9-man crew. We had five gunners—tail, two at the waists, a nose gunner and Charlie Craig would double as a top turret gunner.
I could hear John Elson, our radio operator, checking in with base to be sure we had radio contact. “This is radio Elson on Wallet A-Able on Bourbon Red. Radio check, please.” Bourbon Red was the code name for our 701st Squadron.
I checked the wheel, making sure the elevators worked. We went through our pre-flight check, and checked all the instruments. We watched the mechanic on the ground with his fire extinguisher for the signal, a circle with his arm, forefinger pointing to our engines. We started the engine that controlled our electricity, #2 first. Then on the same left side, we started #1, the outside engine. Then came #3 and #4.
We waited for our time, designated in time, to have the chocks pulled from under the wheels and taxied out and got into proper order behind the ship ahead of us. The group leader would be ahead of us, followed by his wingmen, the plane that would fly on each side of him. I was tense, concentrating on watching the ground controller for our signal as we swung onto the runway and put the brakes on. 2700 gallons of gas and a full load of 500 pound bombs, all our ammunition and 9 men meant that we were heavy. We’d never flown with a full load of bombs and gas like that. It would take more power than I’d ever experienced to get us off the ground.
Holding onto the brakes, I gave it full throttle and revved our engines to high speed, then I let go of the brakes and we started down the runway, the little house at the end marking our ……..at 100 mph, we could pull back on the wheel, lifting the elevators, and we went up…and over the house.
“Gear up.” I said to the copilot. He hit the lever right away, and the gear came up hydraulically and locked, the light came on, showing it was locked in place.
“Flaps up,” I said. Geiszler, the copilot, raised the flap lever from 20 degrees to zero.
We were right in line with the plane that had taken off ahead of us. We hit his prop wash, causing turbulence. Prop wash could and did sometimes flip the plane over on its back, so it took both of us to hold the plane on course. It was still dark, so we used instruments to keep us on course. We didn’t fly with our lights on, so we couldn’t see the plane just ahead of us. Usually we went up through clouds to our forming altitude over the North Sea anywhere form 8-11000 feet.
Once we got to the assigned altitude, we turned to the left back toward England and Buncher Six, the radio beacon located on the ground northwest of Norwich. We watched for the zebra forming aircraft firing flares a certain color for that morning. We were one of the wing crews, by that time, the group leader and squadron leader were there and the zebra plane took off. It was my job to find our place in the forming circle of planes. Our group had a black tail with a white horizontal stripe. We could see the letters on the tail identifying our squadron. We knew who would be our element leader (the leader of our triangle of three planes). We formed up, flying in a circle and aimed way ahead of the position we wanted, we brought ourselves in, slowed down to stay in position as it cracked the whip from the center of the circle, and tried not to collide with anyone else. The group assembled, and at the designated time, our group had a place in the bomber stream, and we had a place in our wing with the 389th BG and the 453rd, based nearby. The group leader’s command pilot spotted those groups by their tail markings, the lead plane headed out in the direction of the wing formation, and we fell behind the other two. Each group had about 40 planes to put up (some would abort for various reasons) so there were 100-120 planes in our wing formation.
I thought this was the way all of them would be. It was a deep penetration, long-range mission, four hours in and four out. We had to fly over enemy territory. Climbing steadily so that we’d hit the enemy coast at over 18,000 feet, we went through our checks.
Out over the North Sea, climbing in formation,
I called to every position. They knew it was time to report any problems with their oxygen or flying suits or any of their responsibilities. “Okay, check in. Radio? Okay?”
Gunners, test your guns.
Their 50 calibre guns opened up, twin 50’s on the nose, tail and top turrets, 2 50’s on either side of the waist shook the whole plane. A short burst from each so we wouldn’t waste any ammunition.
Since we were flying formation, we were at the mercy of the lead plane. If he made a mistake and flew us over Helgoland, a little island before you hit the mainland, loaded with hundreds of flak guns, we were in for it. They knocked down a lot of our 8th AF, and even 445th planes over time.
We took turns, Geiszler and I, flying a half hour or then turning it over to the other one. Flying formation was tough. It took physical strength and constant concentration and alertness.
We got fighter support, our “little friends,” P-47 Thunderbolts and P-38’s twin-engine, twin-fuselaged Lightnings flew two by two, one paid behind at an angle behind the other. They’d go to the front of the formation and then come back. One group of fighters would follow us all the way in, when we got to Germany, another group took over, and a third group took us back home, because their fuel didn’t last long. Before D-Day they didn’t follow us all the way in. The Gotha Mission the previous February, taught us with a profound loss that we had to have fighter cover all the way in. We lost a lot of planes that day.
Still gaining altitude at the coast of Holland, climbing, it was a clear day once the sun came up. We flew to our Initial Point of the bomb run. Initial Point was half of the mission. The lead crew used a bomb site. Normally a bomb run is anywhere for 5 minutes. In this case, we were far to the south of our target, Dessau. We were to bomb Junkers aircraft factory there. When we swung onto our bombing run and turned North, we hit a 100 mph head wind, slowing us up. We found ourselves right above a railroad track with flat cars on every siding with huge flak guns on them. Normal flak guns 88 mm. These had 150 mm. These guys were good. This bomb run took almost 45 minutes and they pounded us all the way in. Our airspeed was 150-160 mph, and with a headwind, we were about 50-60 mph. It was a clear day, and they had an easy target. At first they sent up chaff, aluminum strips in a box that the gunners would throw out of the waist, and fake out their radar scope on the flak that was 1000 feet below us. Fine on a cloudy day. But that day, it was clear as could be, and they sure could tell the difference between us and the flak. Plus, sometimes they had German planes out in front radioing in our altitude.
For fifteen minutes, they had us right in their beads. A huge black cloud, exploded right next to our wing, brilliant in the middle, stones peppering our plane. Another exploded below us, more above us and to the sides. It seemed like hours before we saw the lead plane drop its load with a flare and we dropped ours. One plane whose captain transferred from the training command was hit and so was the plane next to him, and they came together and collided. The planes around them slow-rolled, the men ending up on the ceiling of their plane, but they got that one back under control. Another plane missed the target altogether.
Results: excellent. That meant that the bombs fell within a thousand foot circle. Excellent. But we lost two planes from our group that day.
By the fourth mission, we’d switched around some of the guys. A good tail gunner was essential. Fighters always got him first, because he’d be the one that would have it easiest to get the fighters, who always approached from the rear. Montanez switched with him and took the tail. Then we got Johnson on the fifth mission and put him in the nose. Monty would become an incredible gunner, as were Bartkow and Johnson and Medlock.
I thought this mission, our first, was standard—that they all would be that bad. But they wouldn’t be. Until later that year.
But those gunners at Dessau were good. They had us in their 55 mm sites. We threw out chaff—little piece of metal to draw the flak away from the actual planes. Captain Carlisle and another from our group collided into each on the bomb run over Dessau. One of them was hit, and rolled into another. Baynham’s plane rolled over on its back and flew upside down, the men sitting on the roof. We didn’t have seatbelts then. He did a good job of getting it back over. Four-engine airplanes aren’t supposed to roll. Planes would always be named after their pilot. A co-pilot name Martin Geisler flew with me that day. He would fly in another plane in September and not have the kind of luck we had that day.
On the bomb run, the squadron lead bombardier takes over for the pilot. The tighter the formation, the closer the planes are together. The lead plane drops its bombs and all the planes behind it drop theirs when they see those go.
We went to Magdaburg six times. That was a horrible place to go. Worse than Berlin. They really had flak gunners there. Charlie Craig, my gunner, would remember Magdaburg for decades.
When we landed and taxied to the hardstand and got out of the plane, Walt Bartkow, our waist gunner said, “I’ve never worked my rosary so fast.” We looked the plane over. It was full of holes. We watched as the ground crew got to work. Tomorrow, it would be ready to fly, all the holes patched.
Bombing results: excellent. The 445th flew 36 planes that day over the target and lost 2 on the bomb run. The two that came together. We had bombed form 22,800 feet, and it took us 7 hours and 40 minutes from take off to touch-down. Almost eight hours.
I wouldn’t fly, A-Able for a long time. When I would one day sit in that seat again, it would remind me of this horrible day over Dessau. If I were superstitious, I would have taken that as a warning. But I wasn’t, and we just flew.
Next mission, Becker would be the bombardier.
We didn’t fly another mission for nine days, until August 25.
The officers’ mess was at the other end of the mess hall from the enlisted men. We were in a separate room, but we ate the same food from the same kitchen. The mess hall had no screens, but we had no flies. But we always had marmalade and the bees loved marmalade. We had whole wheat bran bread. But no milk. Did I love it when I’d go home and have a glass of ice cold milk straight from my mother’s refrigerator!
I was never a big breakfast eater, but on the days we had missions, I would.
“What’s for dinner?” we’d ask the guys coming out.
“Shit on a shingle,” they’d answer and we’d all groan. We hated chipped beef, and that’s what it was.
When we were cadets going through pilot training, they were so strong on physical training. Once we got our bars, there were not requirements at all. It was up to us individually to stay in shape. The guys who were in shape would end up better than those of us who didn’t, especially if the ended up on the ground, trying for an escape, in Germany like so many of us would later on in the war.
We went to movies every night. We’d get first run movies. All kinds of them. Some days we’d play touch football. We’d go over to the firing range to skeet shoot any time we wanted, and they’d give us 25 clay pigeons. They didn’t make us cover our ears then. They didn’t in the plane, either. They should have. I’m getting 10% disability for the loss of hearing I’d suffer during my ten months on the base.
I probably went into London about twenty times during the time I was there. We saw stage plays, all the sights, went out to eat at the good restaurants. We stayed not far from Eisenhower’s headquarters at the officer’s quarters. Very low cost and an okay place to stay. They didn’t have showers; you had to take a bath.
The showers at Tibenham were terrible. Cold, outside and a few streams of water coming at you.
Our second mission would be the air bases at Wismar, Germany. All of my missions would be into Germany. We put 44 planes over the target that day, no planes lost, no flak, results excellent. We bombed the runways, hangars and tried to get their planes. Single engine fighters and twin-engine bombers from the Blitz on England. I remember how the war broke out in 1939, and nothing really happened for about 8 weeks. But then all hell broke loose, and those same planes we bombed that day took out a lot of Brits in the Blitz.
Right after my fifth mission, around September 15th or 16th,[note: must be Sept 13, Ulm, as next operational mission was Sept 21 for group] was the mission we would abort and end up landing in Paris.
On September 26, we flew to Hamm Germany and bombed the railroad marshalling yards with excellent results. Only 20 planes though, were over the target. No flak and no fighters.
The 445th hadn’t been hit by fighters since the horrible Gotha Mission of February 24th, a repeat mission from the day before when they missed the target. They hadn’t seen any fighters the day before. Too bad, because when they went back, the fighters found the group. We lost 13 planes that day, but I was in airplane commander’s (transition) school in February, and didn’t hear about Gotha until we got to Tibenham.
Everybody talked about it. We’d walk by a guy, and someone else would say, “THAT guy flew the Gotha Mission.”
They talked about how every plane that day came back with damage on them. “Those fighters were savage,” they said. “It was our toughest mission.” They lost more planes on that mission than any other up until then. We looked up to the guys who flew that day.
In June, 1944, our base commander, Colonel Jones, had been called down to Pinetree, the code name for Eighth Air Force Headquarters to have lunch with General Jimmy Doolittle. The 445th was to be honored for its top bombing accuracy results for the previous quarter. We were the best of the best for that quarter.
Colonel Bill Jones, our base commander, was easy-going, not a strict disciplinarian.
In the movies, it shows the air commander flying the plane in the left seat. That never happened. The commander of the day always sat in the copilot’s seat. Sometimes the copilot would ride as an observer, but he had no duties. The air commander had too much to do and couldn’t fly the plane, too. He was in constant communication with all the other groups in our wing, then with all the other wing commanders in the second air division, then with ground base and all the other divisions in the 8th.
Jones wasn’t real military. We weren’t forced to show up for awards, so I never did. Every time you flew for five missions, you got the air medal, then an oak leaf cluster for every five missions thereafter, and you could have shown up to have it pinned on you, but I never did. I’d go over to headquarters later and pick it up.
Either Colonel Jones or one of the top brass was always on the mission and at the briefing. The group air commander that ran the mission for that day would always give a talk at the briefing.
He wasn’t an outgoing, garrulous guy. He was quiet. At the officers mess, he’d sit with his peers, joining in the conversation. Don McCoy, on his staff, had come over from the States with Jimmy Stewart and the original group, along with Major Kreidler, my original squadron commander and Major Maurice Casey, another squadron commander. Casey would give me my final rating when I left the base. Superior.
I didn’t go over to the Officer’s Club, the bar and recreational facility with fireplace, lounge chairs, pool tables, piano and card table, that often. Jimmy Stewart, I’d hear later, was at the club playing the piano with his cronies, singing “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.”
They had a dance every Saturday night, and bussed in local girls form the Norwich area.
Jimmy Stewart, as a squadron commander, at one time led the second Air Division on a mission. There’s a huge painting on the wall of a museum in London, possibly the RAF museum in London, with the 703rd squadron and his plane leading the second air division earlier in 1944. Just after D-Day, he was promoted to Wing headquarters at Hethel. He actually flew 16 missions as an air commander before he went to Hethel.
Our wing was comprised of the 445th, 389th and 453rd Bombardment Groups. Hethel, home of the 389th, was a little further away to the northwest. Hethel was wing headquarters, and that’s where had Stewart ended up when I got there.
First, he went to the 453rd BG as Group Operations Officer at Old Buckenem, then moved up to Wing Headquarters at Hethel. Wing headquarters was located in a separate building from the 389th headquarters building. It was actually in an English squire’s house.
Before his arrival, they had flown down to North Africa several times, and flew the horrible Ploesti raid, one of the most infamous in all of WWII but he wasn’t with them yet. It was to knock out the major refineries in Hungary, making aviation and transportation gasoline. And the 15th Air Force took over when the Allies moved into Italy. They joined the 8th AF in bombing Germany. Usually they bombed Southern Germany, Hungary and Austria, while we bombed Central, Eastern and Northern Germany.
The 453rd was just to the west of us. All of the wing markings in the Second Combat Wing had a black tail and a white stripe. The 445th’s strips were horizontal. The 453rd’s was diagonal, and the 389th was vertical.
I don’t even remember what I did the night before the Kassel Mission. It would be the last night most of the group would ever be in Tibenham ever again. Early September, it was just a normal night. All those nights kind of run together. I probably just sacked out. I’d sit up in bed and read railroad books and “Trains” Magazine. I was still more of a railroad buff than airplanes. Of course, Lindbergh went across in 1927, and everyone was interested in airplanes and movies about WWI. My folks took me to see the silent movie, “Wings,” all about World War I and all the dog fights they had with Germans, the Red Baron and all that. Those guys didn’t live very long.
Captain Kleeman in my hut would finish his tour with me. He flew Captain Glen Miller and his key officers from London to Tibenham in his plane. Glen Miller was concerned because buzz bombs came into London. So he had moved the whole band outside of London. A week later, a buzz bomb landed right on the old location in London.
Miller himself flew with an experienced pilot when it went down. It’s believed that an RAF bomber salvoed its bombs onto Glenn Miller’s Norseman. They thought they hit a plane, and Miller’s was going the other way that night. It was a freak accident. There’s no corroboration that this happened, but it might have.
Kleeman’s plane was the Sweetest Rose of Texas, in my opinion, the best nose art in the entire 8th AF on the right side. It was Arnold Nass’s wife, Mary Rose. Carlton Kleeman didn’t have a girlfriend at the time, so he let Arnold have it painted.
Kleeman had a distinguished air about him. The highest ranking officer in our hut. His copilot, who left the Sweetest Rose later for--Arnold Nass --as a first lieutenant. Everyone else was a second lt., including me. Everyone said you had to be a pilot to get promoted. It was a pilot’s air force. Easier for a pilot to get promoted than navigator, bombardier or co-pilot. Co pilots did become pilots. Bill Boykin would. Arnold Nass. C.P. Chima, when everyone in the 91st got shot down in 42-43, was asked to be a pilot. He’d never landed one by himself (B-17) and he’d only taken off once. They gave him 3 or 4 practice missions, then he was on missions.
Bill Boykin would later come back to tell me, “Bill, you don’t know how lucky you are to have such a good crew.”
Miller was very military, very strict, and all his staff officers called him ‘Sir.’ That surprised Kleeman. He wasn’t artistically loose.
Kleeman didn’t like the working civilians on our base. A couple of trucks were coal-fired steam fired dump trucks. The Englishmen took a half hour tea break in the morning and half a cup at night. Whenever they’d be on the runway, he’d take joy out of giving them a scare when he was going by.
At that time, Stars and Stripes came out every day. They had a comic strip, Terry and the Pilots. Terry was a captain and his co-pilot always called him, “Mo-Capitan.” Bill Boykin, a tough street kid, picked that up and always called Kleeman “Mo-Capitan.”
Boykin told Herb Bailey that the girls in high school called Bill Mr. Touchdown. A ruddy face, very thinning hair, built like a bull, his face was scarred.
Other squadrons didn’t segregate according to specialty. Boykin, me, Kleeman and his co-pilot and two others were in our hut. His copilot had a mustache with low boots he always kept shiny. He made snide remarks about his pilot. That must have been difficult for Kleeman.
Arnold Nass had trouble getting his manifold up over Iceland and barely made it back. Nass took over Kleeman’s plane. Kleeman became a squadron lead pilot and flew lead planes with radar equipment on board.
There’s another small rose on that painting, representing Nass’s daughter. Kleeman finished his tour and moved out, transferred out in the middle of September. He flew one mission after Glen Miller. The concert with Miller was just before the KM. Miller died two months later, in December.
Swofford flew the Sweetest Rose on 9-27. It was one of only four that would make it back.
At first, the RAF planes, with the P-38 twin-fuselage twin-engines defended us and P-47 thunderbolts, a terrific airplane called the “Jug”, a terrific airplane with a huge engine. But it wasn’t as maneuverable as the later P-51. The 47 had cannons like the Fochewolfs in the nose. Those who flew them loved the 47’s.
Colonel Jones or one of the air executives would fly the P-47 on every B-24 practice mission, with a clipboard strapped to their knees where the regular fighter pilots strapped maps to their knees and monitor and write down what each pilot in training would do.
After the Kassel Mission, when they ran out of pilots, I’d flown eight missions so I was an experienced pilot. We flew a couple of missions after that, then were sent to the flak home for R & R. We didn’t need it then. We needed it right after. We went to Southport, then came back by train to Tibenham. Because I was a good formation pilot, I was quickly promoted to an element leader. When I got there, the group was flying ten-plane squadrons. I was promoted to squadron lead, but I had to be checked out by the new squadron commander.
AC Tracey was a captain bucking for a promotion. He really wanted to be a major. I had a bad hangover the day I was checked out. One of the only hangovers I ever got pie-eyed. The night before I’d had a whole lot of shots of scotch and was sick that night, naturally, and that’s the morning I had to fly on a checkout as a squadron lead pilot. I had 16 shots. I can remember a little bit about walking home between the other two guys, going back and forth in the slot. I was alerted that morning we were flying a practice mission. I had no idea we were flying a checkout with the captain.
We had a dog robber, a term the English had for an enlisted man charged for cleaning up the officer’s quarters. He was a private, an older guy. “Old John” we called him.
That morning, Old John said to me, “Bill, I’m really surprised at you.” I was pretty sick. I guess I threw up in my bed and everything else.
Bill Mitchell, our bombardier, said that I was white as a sheet that day. That was the first time we flew together.
August C. (‘A.C.’) Tracey was as nervous as a cat, from the time he got in the plane, yelling at me, “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that.” Which contributed to my torment and problem on landing. It was a 10-ship practice mission, and a lot of the new guys, new pilots, were getting practice flying with me in formation.
Of course, our landing procedure was to fly all 10 ships in your squadron right over the runway and they’d peel off one by one. The left wing on my lead element would be the first. The idea was to make as tight a spiral as possible and come out just as tight with the runway as you could, and come down in the first third of the runway.
As we finished our two-hour or so practice flight, and I had a sick headache the whole time, flying over the field, our left wing peeled off, then I peeled off to land behind him, the second of 10, with 8 behind me. Our runways were being repaired by the RAF, so we landed on one of the runways already repaired.
As I came in, a strong crosswind from the right wing had me. I was crabbing to the right instead of lined up straight as I was coming in. Before it hit the ground, I should have kicked it around to land straight. I was crabbed to the right. We started to skid to the left about half way down and off the runway.
It was always raining, so it was always mud off the runway.
Before the practice mission had started, we broke up into our specialties as we always did. The pilots were in the main briefing room. At the pilots’ briefing Col. Jones talked to all 20 pilots and co-pilots.
“If you ever get off the runway, don’t try to use your engines to get out." Wait for the Monster (*wrecker) to come and pull you out.’
Well. Once we ran off the runway, I used the engines, trying to get the plane to move. Then, I looked out my pilots’ window. There was Col. Jones in his staff car. He got up, and ran his end across his throat in a “Cut it” gesture.
I thought that was the end of my flying career. That was my first flight of any kind as a squadron leader. A very inauspicious beginning.
He never said anything. I don’t remember Tracey ranting, but he never said much to me when I’d see him after that. This reflected on him, and I hadn’t helped his chances of getting a promotion that day.
That was in early Nov. of 44.
Wing crews flew a lot more than lead crews. Once we were lead, we only had to fly 30 missions instead of 35 and flew only once a week. They stretched it out, and we flew practice missions every day or every other day they didn’t fly regular missions.
When Kleeman moved into our hut with his new co-pilot, he was a lead pilot with a different co-pilot once he had a lead crew.
Nass stayed with the Sweetest Rose, which didn’t have radar equipment. Nass finished up his tour just before the Kassel Mission. I think the reason they gave him that plane was because of the attachment with the nose art. I flew a different plane every day, and flew the Sweetest Rose once. I wish I had the information on 855-A-Able that he has on the Sweetest Rose.
Those Pratt and Whitney engines from my hometown were beautiful engines. The B-17 had bad engines compared. The Wright Cyclone engines did not stand next to the Pratt and Whitney’s. Even though the B-24 had that slim Davis wing that made it wobble around, the engines were better. The B-17 was a lot easier with those wide wings. You fought the B-24 at 20,000 feet and above. It had a tendency to wallow, tipping from side to side, as you flew and you had to fight that. We really wallowed at 24,000.
Someone said that the B-17 was more forgiving, and I guess it was. But look at the beating my plane took. According to all the publicity, the 17’s are the only ones that got beaten up like that and got back, but that’s not true. The B-24 had a huge fuselage that could be used for cargo or as a bomber. Lots of private people had B-17’s, owned them, but who would want to own a 24 as a private plane. The B-17 came out in the mid-30’s and the 24 came out in the late 30’s. The 24 was a utility plane, shaped more like a box.
The Willow Run expressway from Detroit to Ypsilanti was built to get the people who built the planes to their work location faster. One of the first expressways in the United States. Thousands of people worked on those planes.
They say the B-24 was excellent on sub patrol over the Atlantic because it could fly longer and faster, though not as high as a B-17. It could hold bigger gas tanks. I never ran out of gas but some of the guys did.
Regardless of what others said about them, it was a good airplane.
I loved the Liberators.
On September 27, 1944, the sergeant came around at 3 a.m. to wake the crew for the 4 a.m. briefing. Only pilots and co-pilots were in our hut, bombardiers and navigators shared huts with different crews. At that time, there were either four or six of us in our hut. I can’t remember. We got dressed and went to the mess hall. I had a piece of toast, a glass of juice and coffee—my usual fare for the days I would fly. In the dark, we went to the main briefing hall for a regular briefing.
Our target would be the Henschel Engine plants in Kassel Germany. The First and Third [B-17] Divisions would fly to two different targets.
Weather would be 9/10 to 10/10 undercast. Our route would be the northern route over the North Sea, through Holland, missing Helgoland—that little island that was loaded with flak guns. We’d be at 18,000 feet by the time we reached the enemy coast, to avoid flak. It would be a regular mission. No different than any other. All I’d have to do is find my element leader after take-off, and proceed to fly on his wing, wherever he took me. Herb Bailey, our navigator, once we were up, would look at his watch and write down when we hit a check point. The groups would meet at a wing rally point, then there would be a division rally point at a certain time, all joining in the bomber stream, one ahead of the other heading for Germany. There would be over 1000 B-17’s and B-24’s on the mission that day.
Once we were up in the air, everything went according to plan, until we went straight and the others went to the right. Then we were in trouble.
We made a 200 degree turn to the left to go toward Gottingen, our secondary target. We were just followers then, we were in the ranks. Later I’d hear that other pilots called to our group leader saying we were off-course. The reply?
“Stay in formation. We’ll bomb as a group,” which was unusual. Normally you’d bomb as a squadron—peel off and bomb one squadron at a time. So we made the turn with my element leader, Don Smith, and Les Medlock toggled our bombs when the lead plane dropped its smoke flare signal as it released its bombs. We didn’t have a bombardier. John Becker had been taken away from us and was flying with Golden on September 27, unfortunately for him. He would not survive the day.
Charley Craig came down every twenty minutes or half hour or so to change the gasoline tanks from one to the next or whatever was required. Charley didn’t give me a report unless I asked for one. (How did that sound?) Obviously, we had sufficient fuel. He did his job without my interrupting him asking him for reports.
He [Boykin] would come back and take his seat and occasionally I would have him take the controls and we shared the controls for the three hours from the point when we left the formation. And occasionally I would ask him to go back and check again, about every twenty minutes to half an hour and give me a report on what the situation was, and how Medlock was making out bringing the portable O2 bottles/cans back and forth.
Bill Boykin went back every 15 or 20 minutes, the men were more comfortable now. Oxygen masks were always a problem, especially when you’ve got portable oxygen. So they were slightly more comfortable than they were with their masks on. They could breathe easier.
Bill said they were moaning and groaning and in pain. Even in the loud plan, he could hear them.
Medlock cared for the wounded, along with Montanez, who was still in shock. He was shaken up. Medlock and whenever Boykin went back, he would try to make them more comfortable. Montanez sat back and tried to rest, because he was wounded also.
Once we got over friendly territory, I discussed with him [Boykin] the options we had. If we think that the plane will stay together, what were our chances of staying together? If these men are wounded as badly as we think—they may be dying—they need the best possible medical care. We’ll get much better medical care back in England than we would in the forward medical units in France, where they don’t have complete medical facilities. It would be better for the wounded men to get back to England.
I talked about that with him. “What do you think?”
We talked about the options. As long as it’s holding together, we want to make England. I made the decision. I was the airplane commander.
He could feel the rudders were mushy. He would once in a while put his hands on the wheel, our feet were always on the rudders, the whole plane was shaking and shuddering. He was a good pilot. I didn’t need to tell him what to do. Keep it straight and level. Continue to our gradual letdown. We did not make a single sharp turn of any kind. The cables were shredding. Any turns we made were very gradual so we wouldn’t put it under any stress. We didn’t notice further deterioration affecting our flight.
I would just rest. I stayed in the seat the whole 7 or eight hours. I would shut my eyes and relax. Only one of us could fly it at a time. As long as one of us was flying it, the other didn’t have to. We kept our eyes open for enemy aircraft for about an hour after departing formation, for the last 2 hours or so we were in friendly territory over France and then over the Channel.
John Ellson, the only conversation I had with him was to radio back to the base that we were heading for the emergency landing base at Manston.
The day was late September—normal for Fall in England. Coming through the clouds we were only 1500-2000 feet, so we warmed up. The clouds were lower over the water.
“Wallet A-Able, this is Colgate. You are on course for Manston. We’ll turn you over to Manston Control.”
I switched over to the frequency Colgate gave me. “Manston Control, this is Wallet A-Able on final approach, request landing instructions.”
The English accent answered, “Wallet A-Able, this is Manston Control. You’re cleared to land runway two-seven.” They gave me the wind direction and barometric pressure, so I could re-set the altimeter. That way I knew what the altitude was when I came in.
To that point we had to keep it flying, when we had to land, it was a landing procedure. I didn’t worry about landing until we had to land.
Flying straight and level and landing are two different procedures. I didn’t worry about that.
On final approach, after we dropped through the clouds, I called Ellson on the radio to fire red flares as we came in. I contacted—there was a standard frequency—I called Manston control and asked for landing instructions and said, “We’re coming in on a straight-in approach with wounded on board, emergency landing. Over.”
The RAF tower operator cleared me in.
I would learn later that two of our planes crash landed in France and one in Belgium. Since all of us followed a heading determined by Colgate, I assume we passed over those countries, too.
Over the Channel coming home, the main thing is that we didn’t encounter any flak as we passed over the coast of the English Channel. There’s usually more turbulence over land than there is over water.
We broke through the cloud cover just as we left the coast of France. The clouds themselves were not turbulent—a little, but not much. Basically, they were strato-cumulus, which are not very turbulent.
I could see the White Cliffs of Dover 10 to 15 minutes away.
We let down through the clouds and there was the water with the White Cliffs of Dover, straight ahead. Colgate vectored me in.
Now we’d find out if we would crash. “Let’s hope the hydraulics work and everything comes down properly.” [said on final approach after getting clearance to land from Manston) standing behind. Between the copilot and pilot, had screwed in his very pistol and was putting in red flares, that’s when I would have said it. (Charley Craig)
We didn’t know if…with all the shrapnel going above that number three engine where the hydraulics was, we wondered if the landing gear work.
It was time. “Put the landing gear down.” The gear made its usual racket, a reassuring sound. The landing gear came down first and locked. The light came on indicating it had locked.
“Gear down and locked,” he replied.
Next was the flaps. “Full flaps,” I commanded. We needed the full 40 degrees of flaps. They were on the hydraulic system also. If they didn’t work, we’d be landing hot. If they worked, they’d slow us down precipitously so we could land without stalling.
To come down, you cut back on the power and the plane settles—gravity.
“Flaps down,” Bill replied.
As soon as the landing gear came down, Charley automatically began calling out the air speed.
Air speed and ground speed were different. (winds were 85 mph on km) If you’re doing 160 and have headwinds of 40 mph, like they had
“Air speed 140.” He was the guy who would have had to crank down the landing gear if it didn’t work. He was standing right behind Bill and me, watching carefully. He immediately called out the air speed.
We were probably around 140 mph when the flaps went down. He called it out every five mph. Every couple of minutes, he called, “135, 130, 125….”
Touch down we tried to be right about 105 or one hundred.
I made the complete landing on the rudders, etc. Bill had his hands on the wheel, his feet on the rudders, ready to help if I needed it. I didn’t.
“Gear down,” I commanded to Boykin. We heard the wonderful rumble and clunk as the gear came down and locked in place. The locked light came on. Thank God.
“20 degree flaps,” I commanded Boykin. He hit the lever and the flaps squealed into place. As we drew closer, I called out, “Full flaps” I called as the end of the runway came into view.
“Charley, give me the airspeed,” I asked. When we’d come in for a landing, I always had Charley Craig stand behind the two seats and he called out the air speed as we were letting down, so I could keep my eyes on the landing strip. As we got close to the end of the runway, letting down, I would try to be close to 105 mph, cut the throttles and touch down.
Charlie called out the speed every fifteen to thirty seconds. Any variation in the air speed, he let me know. WE came in at around 105-110 mph, shaking and vibrating.
As we slowed, the plane shuddered less. It was very obedient and responded perfectly. We glided in and touched down, like landing on feathers. Best landing I ever made. The brakes and hydraulics worked perfectly. We slowed down, applied the brakes, got to the end of the runway, etc etc.
We turned the plane around, shut down the engines and got out of the plane.
We slowed down and stopped. I turned off the engine switches. Boykin and I got out as fast as we could. All kinds of people were out there looking at the plane. I was concerned about the wounded. Got out through the bomb bay and walked back with Boykin and Bailey and John Ellson, in time to watch the medics take the 3 wounded and Les Medlock out through the waist window.
A 9th Air Force Photographer approached us. He couldn’t believe we had flown that plane and landed in one piece. “Would you three officers please simulate your exit from the plane again?”
I didn’t want to do it. But Boykin and Bailey said, “Come on Dewey. Let’s do it.”
So we got into the plane and came out again through the bomb bay and walked toward him. He took stills and movies, on a tripod of the whole plane. At the time, this was September, the Allies had passed Paris. We still didn’t control France, and all of medium bombers (B-17’s) had not left England, so every once in a while a B-17 or A-26 would come in, they couldn’t make it back. But I didn’t get his name.
I didn’t go out to take a look at the plane and look at or count the holes like other pilots did. Later, I wished I had. At the time, I just wanted to get out of the plane.
We were hit about 10:10 Double British Summer Time, so we would have landed sometime around 1:30, two o’clock.
An RAF Jeep came out and led us back to the headquarters for briefings.
Another group made this song up after we were done with our missions and were flying home. To the tune of “Bell-Bottomed Trousers:”
Hard ass luck boys, nothing else to do.
Around comes the sergeant to get you from the hay,
Briefings in an hour boys, school room number one,
Now don’t’ get excited, it’s just an old milk run.
When we landed at Manston, all the rear gunners were able to step or be carried right out that "door." Looked over the plane. Walked to the rear as they unloaded the three wounded through the hole that used to be a window. All three were bloodied. Montanez’s face was bloody. Johnson couldn’t move, because the shrapnel ruined his leg. Bartkow could walk and was helped off the plane. Montanez was helped off. His face was a mess.
The battle we had just survived would be referred to by those left in the 445th as “The Kassel Mission.” There would be other Kassel Missions, but this was The Kassel Mission. We in the 445th Bomb Group suffered the highest losses of any single group on a single mission in Air Force history.
When I first starting flying with the 445th on practice missions, Colonel Jones, our base commandeer, evidently watched me and my movements from his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane, using a clipboard, making notes on individual pilots' formation flying. After the Kassel Mission there were only a few of us with combat experience. I had flown 8 missions, so I was quickly promoted to an element lead pilot position, and then to squadron lead pilot.
Lead planes didn't fly formation with other planes, just other squadrons within the group. We led nine other planes that flew on us, reacting to every change in direction that the lead plane made. So it was a breeze comparatively for the pilot and copilot of lead planes, because we only had to maintain our squadron of ten planes in proper position over or under the group lead plane. Except for landing and takeoff, of course.
However it was a great responsibility. On one mission as lead, we were returning after having dropped our bombs and I was leading the low left squadron, we had a disaster. I led my ten planes under the lead squadron, and the group leader started to let down into clouds.
The plane leading the slot element of three planes, the slot leader, evidently got vertigo in the clouds, and started to pull up under us. Either Roy Alberghini, the pilotage navigator flying in the nose turret, or Charlie Craig looking through his side window, yelled, "Pull up, we're going to collide!"
I cut off the autopilot and pulled the plane up abruptly. To digress-This is one thing you never do as a leader of other planes. All of your movements have to be slow and smooth, so that the planes flying on you can anticipate and react. We avoided collision, but the formation broke apart in the clouds, and one plane spun in, killing all on board.
After we landed and debriefed and I approached my Nissen hut, a navigator from another plane in my squadron that day accosted me and claimed I killed nine men in the plane that crashed. I just listened to him and understood his feelings and frustrations. But if I hadn't pulled up, even greater midair collisions would have resulted, with more planes crashing together. For sure, my plane and the slot element leader would have smashed together and gone down.
I only flew with him [Col. Jones] one time, way after the Kassel Mission, in the spring of 1945 just before my last mission. He got into the copilot’s seat and turned to me.
“Is it okay if I smoke?” He asked.
Here was the base commander asking me? But of course, I was the ship’s captain. I hated smoking, but I caved and said, “Okay.”
It was at a time when the Allies were moving rapidly into Germany and it was very important not to bomb our own troops. The orders were that we had to bomb visually, not by Pathfinder. Colonel Jones in late March of 1945, in my plane led the second Air Division that day, ahead of all 14 groups. We were the Division Lead Plane that day. After we formed and climbed to 18000 feet and made landfall, at that point, the other divisions’ targets were changed so that they had to fall behind the second Air Division. We ended up leading the entire 8th AF.
But. When we got close to the initial bombing run, it was solid undercast. The entire 8th AF had to abort, drop (salvo) our bombs in the North Sea, un-activated, and return home.
Colonel Jones sat in the copilot’s seat. I was basically the chauffer as squadron lead pilot. The air commander was in constant touch with group and the other divisions on channel B. We had four high frequency channels. Channel A was for our own 445th BG communication. Channel B was the command channel for the entire second air division. So the various wing and group commanders could communicate. Channel C was for communication with our fighter escort which came in 3 echelons: one flight would meet us after we made landfall over the Continent, usually on the northern route over the coast of Holland.
They flew for awhile, then while they went back for more fuel, a second flight would normally cover us over the target area while we spread out and bombed in formation trail form the IP to the target, Then we had a rallying point and a third flight of P-51 escorts would meet us and cover us for the rest of the mission from the rally point back to the English Channel. So we had plenty of cover if were flying to the right target
But we weren’t flying to the right target on September 27. That’s why we didn’t have fighter cover when the Germans came up out of the clouds.
Assistant Operations Manager
When I began an assistant operations manager with Fritz Mueller, and the two of us worked as a team to put the missions together…I think I only briefed two missions before the war ended, because I finished my tour April 4, and the War ended May 8. But to have two 21 year old guys to get the whole mission together for the whole 445th Group. It would come down from 8th Air Force Headquarters what the mission would be for the three different divisions. Then that would be split down into what individual groups within each division. There were fourteen groups in the 2nd Air Division, which we were in, all B-24’s—fourteen airfields, and we were one of them. Three of those airfields are grouped into one wing. We were the 2nd Combat Wing, with our headquarters at Hethel. So orders would come down from Pine Tree, which was 8th Air Force Headquarters, to the 2nd Air Division Headquarters and 2nd AD down to the Wing, then down to the groups. By the time the groups got it, by teletype, we’d have all the information. The information would come over to us by teletype around about midnight. We’d go on duty at midnight. By 11 or 1 o’clock we’d have all the information on what the target was and what our bomb route was going to be. Then we had to put that together and go down a list of fourteen phone calls to notify everybody of what the…from the ammunition dump, the gasoline dump, the radio and communications, meterology, intelligence, each one of the four squadrons and so forth. So it was a mass of operations and here we had two twenty-one year old guys doing this whole thing, and either he or I would then, after all these people were notified, would have to stand in front of the entire group, all of the—there would be thirty or forty planes in the air, and each one would have nine or ten men or more. So there would be 400 men in this main brieifing men, and I was the master of ceremonies. I would introduce Col. Jones, the Intelligence officer, the weather officer and then the whole thing would break up and the gunners would go to the gunner’s briefing, the nav….