On 11 Sep 1944, the target was an ordnance depot near Hannover, Germany. Just after crossing the Rhine River, the formation was attacked by 20-30 Me-109s, which caused fi ve ships to abort due to battle damage. Three more ships were later shot down near Koblenz.
579th Sqdn pilot F/O White’s plane was heavily damaged by the fi ghters or fl ak at the target. Navigator 2/Lt William S. Long recalls that the #1 turbo regulator was shot away; the #3 engine was shot out, on fi re, and streaming gas and oil; the interphone was shot out; the bombsight damaged; and there was a huge hole in the left wing.
Four P-47s escorted the damaged Lib toward England. The crew began throwing equipment overboard to lighten the ship. When a waist window cover was tossed out, it hit the right horizontal stabilizer and got stuck, causing a lot of drag. After that, the ship was almost completely out of control—climbing, descending, and banking at random.
The crew had periodically practiced getting into the correct ditching positions and attaching the ditching belt. It was a heavy canvas strap that would be hooked to either side of the fuselage. The men in the waist would sit facing the tail with their backs braced against the belt.
In the excitement of the moment, though, they hooked the ditching belt too tight and not everyone fi t. So, they improvised—some crewmen held others in their laps.
F/O White ditched the plane about 30 miles from Great Yarmouth, England. He did a masterful job of landing, setting the badly damaged ship in a U-shaped swell at 105 mph. The a/c stayed afl oat for 15 minutes, well past the norm.
The bottom half of the plane was ripped off from the bomb bays to the camera hatch. It must have nosed in because the rear was abruptly lifted in the air, causing the entire tail and turret to be torn completely off. The top turret dropped into the plane, leaving a hole through which engineer T/Sgt Ralston Hayden escaped.
Bombardier 2/Lt Richard W. Alexander had been holding on to radio operator T/Sgt Robert W. McAllaster, but the current pulled McAllaster away. He went down with the ship, as did nose navigator 1/Lt Orville W. Shelton Jr. The P-47 had notifi ed ASR and a launch was sent to intercept them. Eight crewmen were picked up within 15 minutes, a critical factor in their survival since only three (White, copilot F/O James M. Whalen and Hayden) had managed to get into a raft.
White, Whalen, Alexander, and Hayden fi nished their combat tours. Long and tail gunner S/Sgt Ralph W. Ziehm were excused from further combat duty due to their injuries. Waist gunners S/Sgt George Sabolish and S/Sgt Martin G. Egler were killed in action on 22 March 1945.
Long says he was too busy to even think about "what happens next" until he was in the water. He still remembers fi nally starting to feel warm again, after he was picked up by the ASR launch and given dry clothes and something hot to drink.
T/Sgt Claiborne R. Maynard was the engineer on 1/Lt Charles R. Rudd’s crew in the 578th Sqdn. He was from Durham, NC, and a student in the University of North Carolina when he enlisted in the Air Corps. On 11 Sep 1944, during a mission to Hanover, his plane was shot down. The only survivors were waist gunner S/Sgt Odell F. Dobson and radio operator T/Sgt Roger E.E. Clapp Jr. They spent the rest of the war as POWs. After his return to the US in 1945, Dobson wrote the relatives of the eight crewmen who had been killed and visited as many of them as he could. His letter to T/Sgt Maynard’s family was printed in a Durham newspaper in August 1945.
Dobson wrote, “We were going northeast toward the target when we were attacked by enemy fi ghters. Early in the ensuing fight our plane was hit in vital spots, and lost speed and altitude, thereby losing the formation and protection of the guns on the other planes. Finally, with all our control cables shot away, our plane went into a spin and hit the earth, taking to their deaths eight men. Among them was your son Claiborne. He was unconscious when the plane hit the ground.”
Why We Fight The letter, as printed in the newspaper, ended with this homage to T/Sgt Maynard: “Your son died fi ghting. No amount of money or praise could have caused him to do the job he did. Some people call it patriotism, but I call it self respect. He realized that he was fi ghting for right, for God, for principles good and true, trying to make your world and mine a better place in which to live…you and I will remember him as an individual, but he has an honored place in history as one of many who made the supreme sacrifice that we and those who come after us might enjoy the rights, privileges, and freedoms of a free people in a land truly blessed of God. No greater tribute can be paid any man.”
Dobson says Butch (as they called him) was "always in high spirits. He had a lovely voice, easily as good as Bing Crosby, and could have been a world-famous singer. He especially enjoyed Dinah Shore's music. We'd often be coming back from a mission and someone would say, 'Butch, sing us a song.' Before you knew it, the rest of us would be singing or humming along."
On my 17th mission -to Hannover, l l September 1944-I remember it was a beautiful late summer day, blue sky and no clouds. We had not yet been tested that day, and wp were approaching Bonn on the far side of the Rhine River. I wasn't exactly thinking lovely thoughts, but as I gazed down at the city I was aware of the fact that Beethoven had been born 4 miles below and 184 years earlier - the juxtaposition of beauty and the devil.
Suddenly, off our left wing-tip, appeared a very bold and brassy Me. 109 German fighter, flying in a position invulnerable to our guns. The enemy pilot was so close to me that I could see his features (and he did wear a white scarf!). I vividly recall freezing in my activities, with nothing but my E6-8 computer in my gloved hands as a weapon. He hovered in that spot off our wingtip for perhaps 10 seconds, riveting my complete attention in our exchange of hostile stares. Then, with a flick of his wing, he shot away some distance beyond our effective .50-caliber range.
It wasn't until we had safely returned to base that I learned of my narrow escape. The Me. 109 had fired its 20mm cannon at my position. The shell had exploded over my head above our B-24's nose section, but all fragments had dispersed up and away from our plane. Perhaps the gentler Muse" had protected me; perhaps I kid myself.
During the mission to Hannover, 11 September 1944, our tail gunner, Delmar Carter, got credit for damaging one Me. 109. He felt that it was destroyed, but it wasn't possible to confirm because of the air battle. This was the mission during which Charles E. Ruud from Peoria, IL, and his crew were killed in action. They were flying just ahead of us and an Me. 109 sat under our left wing and pumped Ruud's B-24 full of 20mm cannon shells. The Liberator burned from nose to tail.
Charles Ruud had been a classmate of mine in Cadet school and it was very traumatic to watch an old friend die like that.
Two days later, during the mission to bomb the jet fighter base at Schwabisch Hall Airfield, our navigator/bombardier, Franklin "Smitty" Smith, got in the way of a chunk of flak and stopped it with his left arm.
It was our 19th mission and after a period of hospitalization in England, "Smitty" was sent back to the U.S. for R&R. While in the hospital in England, one of his nurses was Eileen Hallstein, a long-time friend of mine from Minier, IL, my home town.