The ground crew end of the 392nd, started one winter's day up in Salt Lake City. It was the winter of 1942-1943 and there were six turret men, and about twenty four truck drivers, who came into the airbase at Salt Lake City. We were the original cadre and new guys kept coming in; the air mechanics, radio mechanics and armorer.
Each week, the Group's strength would expand, until we had our four squadrons filled out. From there we went to Biggs Field, Texas; and then on to Alamogordo, New Mexico. That was the last phase of our training and we left there about the middle of July, 1943.The "Atom Bomb" groups (B-29 crews) followed us.
Our next stop was Camp Shanks, up in Orangeburg, New York. We left there to board the Queen Mary on the 24th of July and it took us five days to make our crossing. I remember we were the last group to board the ship, and then she pulled up anchor.
Greenock , Scotland was our destination. The ship was too large to dock, so they put us on a lighter (that's a small boat) and we went ashore. The train ride through Scotland down to Wendling, England was memorable. Edinborough, Glasgow, New Castle....it was so new and exciting to us; we were as green as the countryside. It was August 1, 1943 when we reached our new base.
What we found when we got there was an undertaker, a church, a general store and a pub. The airfield itself had been a quiet little farm, but now it would be our home for the next two years. Wendling was just a stop in the middle of the Norwich-Kings Lynn road, twenty miles from either end.
The Quonset huts and the airstrip had been completed before we arrived. Aircraft were coming and going. One of the early responsibilities was to ferry the 589th to Bengazi for the Ploesti raid. It was a thrill at first, but after a while, I didn't pay much attention to who was landing and who wasn't. Only when our squadron was flying, did we go down to the line. Our barracks were almost two miles away and sometimes we walked.
I was a turret mechanic for the 579th squadron and by the time we reached full steam, there were several hundred of us ground crew. Each squadron had their own cooks , mechanics, orderlies and so on. There were about twenty planes to a squadron, but they didn't all fly. We always had a few " spares".
You started working as soon as the planes landed. Air mechanics, armorer, and radio-mem all headed out about the same time and assembled on " The Line" to wait. When the crews and planes touched down, we'd go over and talk to the gunners to see what problems they'd had with equipment: Were the guns jamming? ...Did the turret motors behave properly?..." and so on. When the B-24's started coming over with the Emerson turrets in the nose, you'd talk to the guys up front- the bombardier and navigator.
If it was three o"clock in their afternoon that the mission ended, you started immediately and worked right through the night. Let's say the dome on the top turret took some flak or it cracked... it had to be replaced. As winter drew near, the sun went down earlier. Let me tell you, it could be bitter cold at night over there, and we did all our work outside. You couldn't put spotlights up either, because they never knew when Jerry was coming around.
We didn't work by the clock...we didn't belong to a union, alright. When the task was completed, You'd go back to the barracks to get some sleep. That might not be until eight o'clock in the morning. If the mission was six hours, then we'd have to get back to the line when the planes returned that afternoon. To make things a little more efficient, they finally moved us to a farmhouse that was right on the line.
We did get time off...usually a 3 day pass to go to London or Leeds. That gave us time to relax and see some of the countryside. Over the course of two years, I got to know our corner of England pretty well.