I came over with the original cadre of the 392nd, as a crew chief for the 578th squadron. My first crew was Bushman, the number six crew in the squadron. He made two missions and went down over Vegesack, Germany in October of 1943.I was assigned another ship, and it was Fogerty's crew. He was the tenth crew with the 392nd and went down on a heavy water mission to Norway.
It was their fourth mission, flown in mid November, and could have been the longest journey the Group ever had to make(over ten hours in flight).A B-24 has two fuel transfer systems and the engineer for the plane has to know them both. He apparently, hadn't received the right training, because they didn't have enough fuel to make it back to England. They flew on to Sweden, a neutral country, and were interned their.
When they failed to return, I was given another plane... this time, it was assigned to Guy Carnine's crew. These fellows were the first in the whole 392nd Bomb Group to finish their tour. That was the 15th of March.
When Carnine finished up, they gave me Jim Muldoon. He'd already flown some missions in another aircraft(he was on the big one to Gotha, when we got a Unit citation), but he too was able to make his 25 missions. I got others, because I was there from the beginning to the end.
At first my responsibility was for one aircraft, but towards the end I had two. I had two assistant crew chiefs and I trained my men differently than others. I told them what I wanted done and then they'd go out and do it. When they were finished , I checked it out. It was a good system and eventually, two of my assistants wound up as crew chiefs, themselves.
We had two crews in a shack on the line; mine and Henderson's from Miss Minnie Two. We combined forces and serviced both aircraft on a priority basis; whichever plane was scheduled to go out the next day, would come first... but we got them both done. You were still responsible for you own aircraft, but there were six men available to jump on a plane and get through the inspections.
If we couldn't finish the job in time for a mission, we would call in and redline the ship. That meant it was unable to fly. Typically, a blown engine or battle damage would insure that a ship was going to be redlined for two or three days. A flight crew would land and fill out a Form 1 to turn into the Engineering Office. It was a sure bet that the crew would think they'd be able to sleep late the next morning, because they'd have no plane to fly.
Recently, I met a guy named Jack Clark who said, " I've been looking for you for forty years! We came in off a mission one time, with an aileron shot off of the plane and the whole crew just knew we could go out that night and not worry about the next day!"
The next morning, in comes the orderly to wake up the crew and get them to their briefing. They said: "Hey, we're not going... our planes not ready!" The guy says: "Well, according to our records, it is." After the briefings, Jack got out to the line, and told his copilot, Oak Mackey :" You get around and check that right aileron. That things' not ready to go." Oak went around behind the plane and came back." I'm sorry, sir, but it is ready to go!"
The crew and I had stayed out all night, re-covering it with fabric, then lacquering over it to make it stretch tight. Our system worked, and that plane was ready to fly by dawn. And Jack Clark just knew it couldn't be done. Really, it all goes back to my first mission.
My ship came back to base, because of a blown gromet between the superchargers. They were made out of rubber and would blow pretty easily. That could be quite dramatic; after it explodes, the side of the plane looks just like you hit it with a shot gun. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it did quite a job on the radio- man's compartment, We had to call in the electricians to check out all the equipment and I thought there would be a charge against me. That put me up on my toes, and gave me the incentive to do my job right.
That was in September of 1943, and I was over there for twenty two months, from start to finish. The amazing thing was , that when we first got to the base, Axis Salley welcomed us. Our ships had come in with the new Emerson nose turret, and she wanted us to know that they were useless against the mighty Luftwaffe." You think you've got a new weapon that will ward off the enemy, but it will not help you.!" Actually, most of the equipment coming in was pretty good, and kept getting better as time went on. There were always modifications and updates, and I had trained at Willow run where they were making these ships.
I had crewed both B-17's and B-24's, and besides a few difference between the hydraulic and electric controls, it was practically the same thing to service. The 17 had Wright -Cyclone engines and the B-24 had Pratt and Whitney's. When you get in there, changing plugs and draining oil... things of that nature are pretty similar. The only thing that I saw about a B-17 that got to me was when those bombay doors opened, it seemed to be nothing but a little hole there for the bombs to drop through. Now a 24.. the whole bottom of the ship was open!
From the time I was in Tucson, then at Chanute Field and Willow Run, I was learning as I was going. It seemed to me I was heading for one moment: when they told me " Barber, this is your plane...Take care of it."