My name is John G. Thiel. I am presently 80 years old. I was a radio operator gunner on B-24s with the 576th squadron of the 392nd Bomb group flying out of Kings Lynn (near Norwich) England. I flew 30 missions and we were shot up and crashed on the last mission after dropping supplys to paratroopers in Holland. We also flew on D-Day. I have a list with dates etc. of every mission we went on plus a diary. I have many stories I could tell.
In Mid 1941, I had six months left to finish College, the University of Calif. at Berkely. A buddy of mine said I am going to join the air force; how about going with me. I said O.K.. We went to the AF recruiting offices and signed up for the Physical and entrance exams. He passed but I was rejected for partial color blindness.
He went into the airforce ( and finished the war as a Captain). I was shook up and applied for CAA (civilian pilot training) and went to Nevada and after 30 to 40 hours of flight training. My flight instructor, prior to AF entry, was Weldon Ratliff; a small man but a really nice guy; no war connection to this training I was just learning to fly an airplane in a peaceful situation. My flight school (civilian) was in Piper cubs (75 horsepower) and then Wacos or Stearmans (220 horsepower). On my first solo I was obviously nervous but I got back down on the ground OK. I finished the school and received my pilot's license.
After that I applied for reentry into Air Force with a waiver and letter from my flight instructor stating that I could see colors OK. I was admitted and went to Santa Ana, California to pre flight training. My basic training was taken at Santa Ana under the aviation cadet program and I dont remember any problems. We did do calisthenics and some marching etc. but I dont remember much else. Believe it or not I do not remember any of my instructors, here or at radio or gunnery school. It must be because there were so many we listened too and no single one for any period of time.
After I finished pre-flight training I was sent to Arizona to start primary flight training. I arrived in Arizona and was told my waiver was no good. Despite getting my pilot's license I would not fly in the service.
As a buck private I got into aerial gunnery school at Las Vegas, Nevada. My gunnery school at Las Vegas was fun; We flew and practiced our aerial gunnery out of the back cockpit of AT-6s. We practice a lot of Skeet and Trap shooting on the ground to get the feel of leading the target, etc.etc. A lot of identification work learning to know the different enemy air craft we might encounter. Speed, wing span, front rear and side ID. This was needed not just to identify friend from foe but also to use our Sperry Gun sights.
The Sperry Sights were nothing like to day, but they were a built in computer where you would punch in the altitude you were to fly at, the speed you were to maintain, the wing span of the enemy aircraft plus some other numbers I don't remember. You would aim your gun sights dead at the target and if you looked up over the sights the ends of your 50 caliber guns would be pointed way left or right and or high or low of the actual target. The guns compensated and when you fired you would see the tracers ( I think one of every five shells was a tracer) going out at the target even though the guns were pointed somewhere else. Obviously they were no where near as accurate as todays guns but were certainly better than nothing. The waist guns just had ring sites and the gunner would have to use his training in firing at the enemy with these. The tracers really came into play on these guns.
I finished gunnery school and applied for radio school and went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for radio school. Radio school was full time code study and practice plus working with the equipment (I was designated as a "Radio Operator/Mechanic") nearly all of which I have now forgotten. I still remember code if given to me at one word a minute. Sioux Falls S.D. was cold the winter I was there and I do remember standing in the snow, along with the other guys in my barracks, stark naked waiting for "short arm" inspection.
I was told that the top 5% of the class would qualify for communications cadet leading to a commission. I made the top percent and applied but was turned down because "there was an urgent need for aerial gunners overseas".
I finished radio school in December 1943 and went home for two weeks leave and then went to Salt Lake City Air base on Dec 27th.
As a PFC. private first class, I was assigned to B-24 operational training at Peterson Field Colorado.
I left Salt Lake Nov. 3rd and arrived at Peterson Field Colorado on the 5th. As our train approached Colorado Springs we saw the wreckage of a B-24 close to the tracks. Upon arrival I trained in B-24s for approximately three months and was promoted to S/Sgt. At C/S I joined with 8 other men to form our crew for combat duty.
We left Colorado Springs April 5th for Topeka, Kansas where our crew was given a B-24H=295117 with which to fly to our final destination, England. Our itinerary was from Topeka to Lincoln Neb. (3 days there), then to Morrison Field Florida (8 hrs flying time). We spent two days there then to Waller Field Trinidad (11 hrs 40 min. flying time). Then to Belem, Brazil (7 hrs flying time) then to Natal (8 hrs flying time). One day there then to Dakar, Africa (11 hrs flying time). One day there then to Marraketch (8 hrs flying). While there went to the Red cross center, where we went swimming, rode bicyles et cetera. Two days later we left for St. Mawgan England (7 ½ Hrs) and then to Warton, Blackpool, England.
We left our plane in Warton, we had just shuttled it over and would not fly combat in that plane. We took a train to Stone where we spent five days (more indoctrination) and then to Cluntoe, Ireland. Ten more days of schooling. in my case radio schooling. I received a final grade of 97%. After schooling we then left by boat for Scotland and then train to Wendling, England. There we were attached to the 392nd Bomb Group and the 576th Squadron, flying from King's Lynn, England on May 22nd, 1944. Kings Lynn was near Norwich about 70 miles Northeast of London.
Our original crew was a great group of guys. Our Pilot, Robert C. Martin was a Studious type. A nice guy but not an extrovert. The Co-Pilot, Harrison S. Hilbert was a typical New Yorker. He was real nice and a joy to be with plus an excellent pilot and extremely cool and calm under the worst circumstances. The Bombardier was Harold E. Wier, a fun person to be around, a real extrovert. Leonard C. Waldo was the Navigator. He was another studious type but knowledgeable about his job. The Engineer and Top Turret Gunner wasKarl D. Blees. He was serious but not to much so. He knew his job and did it well. M.H. Cannon was Armorer/gunner and he was a real extrovert. He very seldom let anything bother him and enjoyed being a gunner. Delbert C. Minton wasAssstant Engineer and gunner. Minton was a sort of down to earth farmer type. He did his job well. The Nose Gunner was Marvin E. Roberts who was another fairly quiet type but he later got real hepped up when he got credit for a couple of kills. Lastly besides myself was the Tail Gunner, Marvin L. Powell. He was an extrovert and fun to be around.
I don't remember why but no name was ever given to our bomber, a B-24H.
When we arrived at Kings Lynn we were assigned to our barracks. They were open barracks with two crews to a barrack. We had modern latrines and showers. Enlisted and officers were in seperate barracks.
I really don't know whether the Kings Lynn field had already been established or was built for our use, but it was not bad, with fairly modern facilities and while there it would not really be too hot to too cold.
Kings Lynn was a large facility. Besides the barracks, there was a mess hall, post exchange, hangers, officers club, NCO club et cetera. There was one long paved runway with taxi ramps and take offs and landings would obviously take off or land in the direction most facing the wind. There was plenty of additional room to all sides as well as beyond either end. Planes would be parked, mostly uncovered, along the perimiter. There were covered hangers for maintenance work and repairs et cetera. The Barracks were not close to the planes so we would be driven to the planes in jeeps and or trucks for missions.
Other than the trucks to the planes, around the base and even into town we all had to use bikes. We did not have access to vehicles. We usually had "class A" passes so we were free to go to town, at will, providing there was no alert or stand down pending. We were allowed to leave the base without first checking with our Pilot to find if there was a stand down or an alert. We usually always had plenty of notice of our forthcoming missions.
We were the only squadron at Kings Lynn. The 577th, 578th and 579th Squadrons of our Bomb Group were at other fields. I don't know whether there were any RAF units nearby. Most of the RAF flights were done at night but on occasion we would see some of their fighters.
Around the base it would develop that usually the crews hung together with not too much togetherness with other crew members. We were like a family.
The next six days we flew 3 practice missions and slept most of the rest of the time. Ground mechanics and armorers took care of planes, guns and ammo et cetera. We would obviously do pre-flight checks to make sure everything was OK. I oversaw my own radio equipment and made sure all the proper frequencies were set etc. We had no real duties other than flight. This may not have been true in other theatres of operation but was true in our case.
On May 29th: Delbert Minton (gunner) Marvin Powell (gunner) and M. Roberts (gunner) thought they could get their tour of duty over faster by volunteering for extra missions with other crews (in need of a man) . They all flew, each with a different crew, on this day on a mission to Leipzig (Politz oil fields). Roberts came back. Powell and Minton did not return to base with the others.
Minton came back shortly after the mission. His plane hadcrashed in a field but they got back. He was pretty shook up and had to get away for a short rest but he came back OK.
We were told Powell's plane had gone down when the mission returned to the base but did not know whether he had survived, bailed out or whatever. It was assumed from the reports, from the other crews on that mission, that his chances of survival were slim.
Powell never returned. To my memory we never did get a final accurate report. But it turns out that all but one of the men on his plane were killed in action when their plane was shot down. As I said, Powell was a real fun guy to be around. I'm sorry I didn't get to know him better. Its a sad thing but mission after mission someone does not return and if we allowed ourselves to dwell on it our own job performances could suffer. At no time could we ever be sure that we would return from any given Mission.
With the loss of Powell we had to replace one gunner in our crew on every mission. Powell; never was replaced, we took on volunteer types (just like Powell had volunteered) for the tail gunner position, Very seldom ever the same person.
We could go into town if not on stand by or on alert, so we went to Kings Lynn on 12 hour pass on the 30th. Kings Lynn was a small quaint typical English town and the people there were real wonderful to the service men. The blitz didn't hit here, not when I was there. No buzz bombs or German planes. The people moved about by Cars and bicycles, I dont remember any trains or buses. The pubs were cozy and fun to go to although I wasn't too enthused with the English beer or stout. I found that English food was eatable but not the best in the world but many places, especially London where I would go later, had American food so none of us went hungry. Here and during all of our trips into town most people were very nice and appeared thankful that we were around.
We went on our 1st mission on the 31st; target Marshalling yards at Brussels.
As would become the routine, we learned we were scheduled for a mission that a GI runner came to the barracks to announce a scheduled briefing. Usually we were up at 4 or 5am for briefing and took off before dawn or just after day break. When a briefing was scheduled you just arrived at the designated time and filed in. All the crews scheduled to fly would be there.
Inside the briefing room was a map and an officer with a pointer. Usually three or four officers were involved in briefings. We had 3 operations officers, Lt. Wm. R. Boyd, Lt. Hugh Sullivan, and Major James A. McGregor, who would do the briefings. The briefing officers, with the aid of a sound system, the map and the pointer, would then tell us the mission. There was also a weather briefing. At some point also I would be given a sheet that covered any codes for anything I would need to do, such as if "john smith" meant "we have formed" or whatever I would send out "john smith" in morse code during the mission at the appropriate time.
We had brought some gear with us to the briefing. The rest of our gear was left on our plane and we would put in on as needed when we got there. So after the briefing we went straight to our trucks to go to the plane. There was not much discussion between the crews. This became serious business. The first mission as on every take off we wondered and hoped we would make it; on every mission we wondered and hoped we would get back. The deep missions, especially, such as Berlin, Munich, Bremerhaven, Magdenburg, Bernberg, Sarbrucken, Brunswick, Stuggart, Hanover and Karlsruhe all caused heart palpatations to the aircrews when scheduled.
When we arrived at the plane, we went through our pre-flight procedures. Pre-flight just consisted of each crew member checking out his equipment to see that everything was working properly including guns, radio equipment et cetera. Each man had his own responsibility. The ground crew usually had everything in order but it never hurt to do your own checking.
My radio equipment on a B-24 was on the flight deck, just behind the pilot and co-pilot, and the starboard side. The engineer was on the port side. We had the top turret guns above and between us. My one transmitter and one receiver were one on top of the other on a desk like table below the starboard window. The transmitter had replaceable units that would fit into the main unit for the changing of frequencies. I sat on a swivel chair with rollers. My Oxygen hook up was above my head, but we also had walk around tanks when necessary to leave position when on oxygen. I would wear an aviation helmet with earphones for communication, which between crew members was by intercom. Besides having inter-crew communication by inter-com the pilots were able to communicate by voice with the other crews. We could listen in on some of these conversations but didn't communicate interplanewise ourselves.
My position was cramped, anywhere in the airplane could be considered cramped when wearing heavy suits plus flak suit et cetera. We wore the real heavy gear most of the time but we also had heated suits that plugged into the system to keep us warm in the sub zero temperatures at the altitudes we flew at.I would be in this positionfor several hours every mission.
Once pre-flight was over, it was time to start the engines and taxi for takeoff.
How may planes went on the first mission I really can't remember, but I would guess from 12 to anywhere as high as 24 to 30. This would be just from our base. I can't recall how many total planes were on the base. These planes would be taxi towards the runway and be lined up on the field. We would take off one behind the other. I can't recall any specific distance but not close enough to cause any serious problems. On occasions, our plane would be buffeted from the turbulence caused by the planes ahead of us.
We flew in tight V formations in units of 3 planes each. At a certain altitude, which I can't recall, we would start to form into the required formation, not just our Squadron but with other Squadrons from the Group from other fields. We would then head for the designated target area.
We had had staggered formations in practice and training but when we went for the bomb run (at least our squadron) we were all at the same level. I would imagine that fire power protection was better this way and maybe less chance of hitting our own planes.
My duty was mainly to observe and listen to the radio, except when I would man the top turret in place of the engineer. All of our communication with the base would be by code only. As would be typical, German radio was broadscasting in plain English on some radio bands, telling us we were losing and so on. But for us radio silence was required on most of the mission. Other than knowing that my radio equipment was working and on the proper frequencies I rarely ever transmitted during our missions. I would only transmit during an emergency or unless we were lead crew, which only happened twice, at which time we were responsible for a couple of notifications to base and other crews. I am not sure of which missions we were lead, but the two times we did I had contact with home base on a specific frequency and reported when formed, when all groups in formation and headed for destination, then radio silence until leaving target when I would report that the mission was accomplished. I guess it might have been considered an honor to fly lead but I'm sure we all felt safer when in the middle of the formation.
On missions it was rare to meet fighters unless you started to penetrate France or Germany, so the skies were just filled with our own bombers over England and the sea. We rarely ever saw our escort, if we had one, until we were hit by enemy fighters. Then the P-51s came to our rescue.
When the fighters came, the guns came into play. This added noise to the discomfort of my flight position. When we fired the 50 caliber guns, if you sat between two of them, as I did when in the top turret, it was very loud even though we did wear aviation helmets with ear phones. Even the nose, waist and tail guns were loud. I've talked to other Air Force veterans who flew under the same conditions and they all claimed some degree of hearing loss. I am nearly deaf in my right ear and some loss in the left. The doctor blames it on the 50 caliber machine guns.
The guns also added litter to my position. Though some guns threw the casings out of the plane, mainly on the waist guns, the rest cluttered up the floor.
The fighter resistance on our first mission, though, was very light compared to what we would face later. We were not damaged.
On the bomb run over the Marshalling Yards, however, we received lots of flak. On the way to a target we could obviously alter altitude and direction at will (the group as a whole) so a certain amount of evasive action could be done if we were being shot at. On a bomb run, though, we had to hold a direct line and a set altitude until after the bombs were released which could be as long as 15 minutes or more. This made us sitting ducks for the anti aircraft fire. Bursts of flak would be occuring all around you, as well as into you, which probably made the bomb run the scariest part of any mission.
My duties during the bomb run also were dangerous. Normally I maintained radio contact with the base and would alternate with the engineer in manning the turret guns when enemy fighters appeared. But not when we were on the bomb run. On the bomb run I would be at the bomb bay to make sure all the bombs dropped.
When I went to the bomb bay I sat on the edge of the flight deck, just below and behind my radio station, and could observe all the bombs in the bay. When the drop area was reached and the bay doors opened up the wind would be terrific and the roar of the wind plus all the other noises would fill the air. If I didnt have heavy clothing plus helmet and goggles it would have been near to impossible. Some times I had an oxygen mask on also, but fortunatly no bombs ever held up when that was the case. If that occured I would have had to disconnect the oxygen to be able to get out into the bay. When the bombs released, if any held up, I would have to go out on the catwalk and hand release them.
We received no damage and returned safely. After the mission Minton went to a flak house for a week of rest to recover from his crash on the previous mission.
We slept all day the 1st of June. If we were not put on alert and no mission scheduled we were able to do anything we wanted to do; Sleep, snack, write mail, play ping pong, read, look at the papers from home etc.etc. Most of the papers from home were the "funnies". There were also occasional practice runs, war up-date briefings et cetera. I don't remember to much about "war" briefings; not many given and not really detailed and mostly matter of fact. Chow was fair, typical army stuff, I really cant remember any menu (a lot of what used to be described as "sh*t on a shingle"- I just remembered that).
Our 2nd Mission was on the 2nd; gun installations on the coast of France; easy mission, no problems. We slept all day the 3rd.
Our 3rd mission was on the 4th and bombed an air field in central France near Bourge. We returned through a rain storm which was much scarier than the mission. On the 5th we slept all day.
INVASION D-DAY JUNE 6th. We knew an invasion was forthcoming as the rumors were running rampant. We knew that poor weather conditions were the reason it hadn't occurred earlier. We also knew of reports from other flyers of seeing build up of equipment along the English coast line plus noticeable mass movements of troops throughout England. I'm sure the Germans knew this also.
Usually our briefings were at 4 or 5 in the morning, but the D-Day briefing was much later in the morning than normal. As we entered the briefing there were maps at the front of the room showing the target areas in Normandy. At our briefing we were told this is the big one. Crowd reaction was silent. We expected this to be a tough and dangerous flight. Our job was to lead the invasion. Our target, gun emplacements on the French coast ahead of the landing craft.
Due to heavy (but some scattered) cloud cover over the channel we were only able to get glimpses of ship activity below. But we could see the other aircraft heading towards their targets over Normandy. At no time prior to this, and I am sure that at no time ever again, would there be that many airplanes in one place at one time. It looked like 1000sds of flocks of geese heading south. Thousands of B-17teens at about 20,000 plus feet and more thousands of B-24s a few thousand feet below. The worry of this mission was not enemy resistance but how did we keep from running into each other. The b-17 crews used to give us a bad time because the 17s could fly higher than the 24s, and get less flak etc.; but we could get back at them because once the bombs were dropped on the target we could get out of the fire quicker since the 24s were much faster than the 17s. Despite the vast number of aircraft in the area, radio traffic was silent, as had been ordered until the mission was accomplished.
The mission itself was probably one of the easiest we ever had. No fighter activity, hardly any flak no planes downed, no casualties; as far as our units were concerned. The bombing was spread over a massively large area and its certainly possible that other units in other areas may have run into resistance. At later dates I heard, or read, that many of the bombing targets selected on D-Day were away from the main landing sites in order to confuse the Germans.
The Channel was still covered with clouds when we returned. The total mission time was 5hrs and 40 minutes. We were told at the briefing, after the mission, that we were successful in hitting our target. After flight de-brief called for each crew (usually handled by the crew captain) to report their situation; any damage, any hits, anyone hurt, any observations of interest over target, any bomb release problems etc. etc.
Sleeping again on the 7th. On the 8th we started twice on what would be the 5th mission but had to abort due to instrument failure of the aircraft. Rained all day the 9th and I received 8 letters from home.
We went on our 5th mission on the 10th and bombed an airfield 220 mile south of Paris. Sleeping again on the 11th. On the 12th we went on 6th mission to another airfield in France; this time there was heavy antiaircraft fire. We sustained some damage but no one hurt; there were casualties on other planes.
I received my first "Air Medal" this day. I hope this doesn't disallusion you but if the crew member survied 5 missions he got an air medal up through 25 missions. I have 5 air medals. If he survived through the 30th mission he got the DFC (I have one). If he was wounded or injured in combat he got the purple heart (I have one).
The 13th I got a 3 day pass and went to London. To help with troop morale the Red Cross maintained places throughout England. The Red Cross gals, both in London and locally at Kings Lynn, did an excellent job in working on the service mens morale. The red cross place was in a hotel (I think it was a hotel or similar building) in the center of Piccadilly Circus in London. I might mention that at the London Red Cross I became acquainted with Fred Astairs sister Adele. A real nice gal.
That night I went to a dance at Covent Gardens in evening. I woke up on the 14th at Columbus Club and took a taxi tour of London. Covent Garden again in the evening. On the 15th went to the American Bar at the Criterion hotel then to a movie. I caught a train to return to base.
Nothing much on the 16th on the 17th went to a group party. Although I resented the fact I had been unable to become a commissioned officer I appreciated the closeness between combat air crew members; rank was of no importance. We did things together regardless of rank.
The 18th we had our 7th mission to another air field at Hamburg plus docks at Cookshaven, Bremerhaven.
The job of the radio operator on a B-24, besides radio communication and alternating with the flight engineer on manning the top turret guns, included checking for bomb hangups in the bay after the bomb run. On this mission over Bremerhaven 6/18/44 I sat down on the edge of the flight deck (feet hanging into the bay) while on the bomb run. Upon the release (drop) of the bombs one 500 lb bomb hung up. I leaned into the bay and manually released it and when I sat back down I sat in a hole. An anti aircraft shell had come up through the bottom of the plane and out the top. If that bomb had released that day I wouldn't be writing this to you.
We were on alert all day the 19th but the mission was eventually scrubbed. Alert just meant we had to stay around and wait to see if there was to be an upcoming mission. No one looked forward to a mission but we all had enough sense to know we don't go home until we fly 30 completed missions so we really were frustrated when one was called off or aborted. A mission aborted or returned for plane problems etc. did not count for the 30. Only successful and completed missions counted. Nothing on the 20th.
At this time I began to think that this isn't as bad as I had heard; to date we had faired pretty well, only one really bad scare, that being on the 18th. One never should get complacent; along came the 21st and our 8th Mission. and the 23rd (a nothing day between) for the 9th mission.
The 8th was an Aircraft factory at the edge of Berlin. It was this mission that I had my only experience with an effect of nerves before a flight that a good number of the men suffered from from time to time. I got physically ill before takeoff. It turns out I had good reason.
There were Fighters galore coming at us in this mission. Here as throughout my tour, there was no way to count how many fighters came at us at any given time. They came from below, above, level the side. Bear in mind we would be in a formation of maybe 15-30 or more bombers together going straight at a fixed altitude and speed (the planes on auto-pilot). Your position in that formation would determine how close you came to the fighters; if you were lead plane or an outside wing or a tail end obviously you would experience a closer look. We had been in all of these kind of positions at one time or the other. I don't think I was ever close enough to look into the enemy's eyes (as they do in the movies) but was surely close enough to wish they would go away.
On this mission to Berlin there was not only many German fighters to contend with but also flak all over the place. We had heavy damage to the plane and lost one engine completely. We sent out an SOS thinking we weren't going to make it but for whatever reason we did get back without crashing.
The 9th was another Airfield west of Paris. "This should be a snap". Heavy and accurate flak. We got nicked but four other ships in our group went down. A fellow radio operator from one of the planes went out of his ship WITHOUT A CHUTE. That evening from supply I checked out a back pack type chute.
The 24th flew practice mission. On the 25th we were scheduled for Munich, but the mission was scrubbed. I was sick in bed on the 26th.
On the 27th we stood down all day; heavy rain, went to town in evening. 28th: went to code room in morning for check (could take around 25 words per minute); sacked in until 4pm then went to class.
29th -10th mission; bombed aircraft engine factory about 40 miles south of Berlin, 7hrs 45 min. flying time. Got shot at but very inaccurate flak; got back to base and went before promotion board.
The promotion board was just a formality, you met before two or three officers (usually base commanders etc) and they asked do you know of any reason you should not get promotion? Usually standard procedure where gunners end up sgts. asst. engineer & armorer end up staff/sgts and radio operator and engineer end up tech/sgts.
The 30th, 1st went to town, slept and wrote letters home. Flew test hop on the 2nd-1hr 25 min. then wrote more letters and sent a money order home. Received promotion to Tech.Sgt. I neglected to tell you that I was made Staff Sgt. just before going overseas. 3rd, more letters.
On July 4th, 1944 we went on our 11th mission to another airfield. It was an 8hr10min flight. Very boring mission with no activity. 5th- A sad day; went on practice mission in morning.
Reese's crew, from our barracks, collided with another ship. We were practising stagerred formations. We witnessed the collision, it was right near us. The pilot made a wrong turn in peeling from formation.
Three officers of Reese's plane, plus the radio operator and engineer, were killed when their plane crashed.
The Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, radio operator and engineer were the only ones to go on practice missions. The purpose was so each of these five men could better perfect their specific skills and duties. We were the important members of the crew HA! In the afternoon we went on another practice flight, total time two flights 6hrs 5min.
6th-took off on a mission to Kiel but had to abort due to a gas leak in number 3 engine. Slept all afternoon and evening.
7th - Went on 12th mission (a toughy) bombed Junkers aircraft factory at Bernburg, Germany. Heavy losses throughout the group. We only suffered minor damage with no injuries. We were lucky. Awarded cluster to air medal (you dont actually receive another medal but get an oak leaf cluster to put on to the ribbon).
8th - another practice mission; squadron party in the evening. 9th and 10th=stayed around the base and wrote more letters.
11th-13th mission to bomb marshalling yards at Munich as well as the city itself. It was a secondary target and we were not told why but it came out of headquarters. Although we were over the city the target aimed at could have had military importance. Even in those days the enemy sometimes hid military targets behind civilian backgrounds. I think in another mission later on (not to Munich) it happened again. This was a high altitude mission and we were on oxygen masks most of the time until we let back down; heavy flak. 8hrs 10min.
On the 12th of July was mission to Munich. We lost two engines over the target. Munich was the farthermost target from our base. We struggled back and by the time we were nearing the Channel we were down to 3000 feet and dropping fast. We threw out every item we could get our hands on, including waist guns, radio equipment and Parachutes. We cleared the white cliffs of Dover by approximately 200 feet and slid into an emergency field just the other side of the Channel. 9 plus hours of flight time.
13th, 14th and 15th, did much of nothing saw two movies "Paris Honeymoon" and "The Hostages". In England we converted our American money to Pounds, shillin and pence etc. and spent real money. The movies cost about a six pence. The movies were in town at regular theatres and were Hollywood movies.
On the 16th we went on our 15th mission. We had a bad takeoff, but managed to make it to the target and bombed marshalling yards at SarBrucken in Germany. All my diary said was "bad takeoff that day". Could have been engine failure, oil leak bomb bay door stuck and wouldnt close or many other things. We had lots of "bad takeoffs". Mission time was 6hrs 55min.
17th= slept till 9; cleaned up barracks; went to town and stayed until midnight; saw movie "His Butlers Sisters".
18th-Bombed troops and gun installations near Caen; object was to clear bottleneck so OUR troops could move forward some more. I remember that a smoke screen was put up from below and we were to bomb in front of that. At the time we had no knowledge that Caen was to be a big one. We found out later. I had further heard (fact or not I dont know) that some bombs by some planes landed on our own troops due to the fact that wind changes caused the screen to move back.
On the 19th I go to London on pass. I left Left at noon and went to Covent Garden for dancing. There I met Joan and Marie Golton (sisters).
On the 20th I slept till 11 had lunch and some drinks then went to a movie. Ate dinner at the Corner House then met Marie and went to the theatre.
Many times while in London V-2 bombs or rockets would arrive in town. Many times while sleeping in the hotel I would hear the air raid sirens and then hear the buzz, or hum, of these bombs. Eventually they would stop buzzing and you would wait a minute or so and then hear the explosion when they came down. This was fairly commonplace in London, usually at night. I sort of have blanked my mind on the details but Marie and I were walking home from a movie one evening when one came over. We ducked into a underground (the underground railways throughout London were used as shelters and many people stayed in them overnight) when we came out the bomb had hit a bus full of people just a block ahead of where we were walking. Marie only lived a few blocks away and she said this was the first time a V-2 bomb had come anywhere near where she lived. I never ceased to be amazed at the English as to how they lived with this situation and travelled around town by foot and or vehicle as if nothing was awry.
On the 21st: slept till 10 then met Harry, Hal and Karl and had lunch at Marrianos and then to a show. Caught the 5:41 train for Kings Lynn.
On the 22nd I was Officially presented the Air Medal and citation by Colonel Johnson at the awards ceremony in the afternoon. On the 23rd I slept, wrote letters, went to a movie on post.
We were alerted at 9pm. During the early hours of th 24th we were awakened three times. Finally we went on our 17th mission. The target was German troop installations near the town of St. Lo. Due to bad weather we never dropped our bombs.
We repeated the mission, our 18th, on the 25th. going back to St. Lo. We bombed troop installations in support of our own troops. We bombed at 12,000 feet. Slept all afternoon and evening.
26th: Left for London on Seven Day pass. Met Marie at 8pm and went to see movie Broadway Rhythm , given a picture of Marie. 27th: got up at 11:30 had lunch with Hal, Karl and Herbie at Italian Restaurant. Met Marie and went to see Glenn Miller and band with the show "Going My Way". 28th: ate at Red Cross; Karl and I went to a movie. Cannon and I went to Covent Gardens in the evening.29th got up at 9 , had blouse and pants pressed. Went to movie; met Marie at 5, another movie, dinner and Hyde Park. 30th: met Marie and went to swimming meet. Missed train for camp; went to bed early and caught morning train for camp.
31st; 4:30 am morning train to camp; arrived at 11; was paid and caught 1:30 pm train back to London. Picked up Marie at 7:30 went dinner dancing at Bristol Cafe.. Missed last Underground. August 1st: slept till noon; picked up Marie at 2:30 went swimming. Frank showed up. Took Joan dancing at Bristol Cafe in the evening.. 2nd:met Marie at 11 and went boating in the Richmond district. Boat ran aground. Had dinner at Corner House.3rd: Met Joan for lunch; caught train at 5:47pm & arrived back in camp at midnight.4th: up late, cleaned barracks and wrote letters back to bed at 10pm.
On the 5th we went on our 19th mission, to bomb a truck factory at Brunswick, Germany. My flight gear came in handy on this mission. We had very heavy Leather (parka like) jackets and pants plus boots (I cant name the material) plus aviator helmet and goggles. Not to difficult to get in and out of. On top of that went a flak suit (cover chest and back) when nearing the target or upon sighting enemy fighters. It became real difficult when you tried to include all these things plus where do you put a parachute when needed? When on oxygen it was really cumbersome. But the important item this day was the flack suits we wore protecting our chest and back. My Flack suit stopped piece of flack. To this day I still have that piece of flack.
6th: 20th mission to bomb oil refineries at Hamburg. No. one engine was shot out and gas tank hit but no fire or explosion so we made it back OK.
7th: another day of sleeping etc. 8th: wrote letters and slept and played Ping Pong.
9th: went on 21st mission. Bombed Robot bomb factory at Stuttgart in central Germany. On leaving target we got heavy flack plus enemy aircraft resistance. I claimed I shot down an ME 109 but there was so much fireing going on that they were unable to to factually determine who would get the credit. I don't care because I felt good about it anyway.
When fighters attacked it was wild with a hit or miss mentality; all of our 50 Caliber guns roaring away (hoping to hit something) tracers all over the sky ( this allowed you to follow the flight of the fire and see whether you were on or off target) the problem was obviously that the fighters (ME-109s or FW-190s) were manueverable while we had to fly straight and even though all but our waist guns had Sperry automatic sights we still had to program into the sights, Altitude,speed, wing span of enemy aircraft etc. etc. The real effectiveness was based on our bombers holding close formation and when put together had hundreds of guns firing a broad blanket of shells that the enemy fighters had to fly through. Actually enemy kills were more a matter of luck than skill on our part; when an enemy fighter did go down it was not always for sure to know whose guns knocked him down. There was no time to be scared when these attacks occured. After it was over that was when you got the shakes. These occurances were not as numerous as you might think because if our fighter protection was around the enemy did not have the time to worry about us.
Once when a German fighter was shot down, I don't remember the dates or specific missions, a parachuter out of an enemy plane was shot out of the sky by a gunner (no one knew who) from the group that flew immediately behind us. THIS WAS A NO-NO. The Germans announced that this group was marked for extinction. For a number of missions following we watched the group behind us get hit by fighters and lose bombers while we were never touched. The Germans did an excellent job in getting retribution.
10th: slept, wrote letters, played ping pong and to bed at 11pm. 11th: went on 22nd mission; oil dumps in France 150 miles south east of Paris. No flack or fighters.
12th: slept, letters. to Kings Lynn for movie Captain Fury.
August 13th went on 23rd mission; bombed roads and troop movements near LeHavre in support of British and Canadian forces. Light resistance.
14th:flew a practice flight. At this point I would like to mention that I spent quite a bit of time with the base communications people and was told that if I was willing to sign up for an additional two year stint in England (after finishing my 30 missions) there would be an opening for a communications officer at the base. Because of my interest in getting a commission I said yes I would and counted on this occuring.
15th: went on 24th mission and bombed an airfield east of Willhelmshaven in Germany. Very little flak and suprisingly no fighter resistance.
16th: Went on 25th mission; bombed aircraft engine factory at Kothen just outside Magdenburg another uneventual flight with little resistance.
17th Thru. the 22nd. Extremely bad weather conditions and squadron stood down. Wrote letters, saw movies, practiced code etc. nothing exciting.
23rd,24th,25th and 26th: another pass to London spent some time with Lt. Martin (our pilot) also time with other crew members plus movies and dancing with Marie.
27th thru Sept.3rd. No missions although took off twice but came back due to weather. Alerted another time but cancelled.
4th: Flew to N. Peckhem (not sure of name or spelling) to pick up an airplane and fly back to our base; the pilot had gotten lost. I never did get an explanation or find out what happened to the pilot; all I know we were sent over to fly the plane back.
5th: went on 26th mission; bombed marshalling yards at Karlsruhe near Stuttgart. bad weather plus accurate flak; again we lucked out and came back un-harmed.
6th: briefed for a mission to Brunswick but it was scrubbed. Saw a P-38 hit telephone wires and crash but pilot was able to pull up, after hitting wires, and bail out. We were told that he was celebrating his finishing his tour of duty and buzzing our base (he had a buddy there) We were further told that instead of being court-martialed , or whatever, he was put onto another tour of duty. We do not know whether he ever made it through or not.
7th: a nothing day. 8th: went on 27th mission. Marshalling yards at Karlsruhe again. One of our crews never got back.
9th: Town and movies (in one 7 month period I saw more movies than I've seen in the last 56 years) 10th:another nothing day.
11th: went on 28th Mission; bombed arms and munitions factory at Hanover. Attacked by fighters; Roberts got one confirmed and two probable. Heavy flak but other than some holes in the plane we made it again. B-24s had a reputation of flying under all kinds of problems.
12th: Nearly Finished ??????? Went on 29th mission bombed Misburg(?) and Hanover again (oil refinery & town). Heavy and accurate flak. Many many holes in plane but none in Us, Again we were very lucky. Only one more mission to go.
13th: slept till noon; flew down to Woodbridge to pick up another ship..14th,15th & 16th: briefed for a mission but scrubbed due to weather; went to town etc. etc..Sunday the 17th: Flew two Practice mission majority of flying was done AT TREETOP LEVEL AND BELOW. We were given no explanation as to what this was all about.
18th: Our 30th and last (little did we know) mission. Im not sure whether it was a day or more before that Paratroopers were dropped near Arnhem in Holland; they were surrounded and were in need of supplies etc. Some bright soul decided that the best away to get these supples to them was to use B-24 bombers. I'm not sure of the exact number but my memory says there were 75 B-24s on the mission and we were one of them. Instead of bombs we had supplies on board plus another guy (a drop-master) to handle the dropping. The drop master stayed at the rear of the bomb bays (where the waist guns were) and was able to release the supply boxes (like bales) from the bomb bay area, as well as throw stuff out of the waist gun ports. To be totally honest things happened so fast I really didnt get to observe how it was done. I did not know what was actually in the cargo (other than supplies of some kind).
We flew into the target area at TREE TOP LEVEL and when the drop area was reached we pulled up to 500 feet to drop the supplies. At that point all hell broke loose and everything was in a state of confusion; the supplies got dropped but while doing it we had two engines shot out, our hydraulic system was shot out and I had two radios blow up in front of my face, I dont know what else was gone ( although to this day I can't believe none of the crew got killed or hit).
When you go on a bomb run, this was handled that way, you pull up or down to the prescribed altitude and fly perfectly straight to a drop point. No evasive action is possible. You drop your bombs, in this case supplies, and then take off like a wounded duck. Usually, in normal bomb runs, you still hold tight formation and peel off to your return keeping your fire power to resist enemy fighters. In this case the air was full of flak bursts and and those of us hit pulled out as fast as possible for cloud cover. Not easy on two engines.
Due to the ability of our pilots, especially Harry Hilbert, we were able to get our plane, running on two engines, into some cloud cover avoiding any more ground fire, and struggle back to an emergency field (just on our side of the lines) At Brussels, Belgium. Sad to say in landing (with the hydraulic system out) we had no brakes and couldn't stop in time to keep from running off the runway; at this point the plane flipped up on its nose but luckily no serious injuries, except me. The nose wheel came up through the floor of the flight deck and picked on me. I am sure that we all were lucky to be alive.
I was never able to get a legimitate count on how many of the 75 planes came back from that mission but there weren't an awful lot. Maybe in your researching you could find out what happened. I have no knowledge as to what happened to the paratroopers or anything. All I do know whenever I tried to get information no one wanted to talk about it. The rest of my crew were shuttled back to England but because of my injury I was put up over night at the Canadian officers club, where I was visited by Prince Leopold of Belgium.
Sept. 19th: Flew on a C-47 hospital ship to an airfield near Swindon in England wher I stayed in a hospital overnight. 20th: flew from Swindon to home base and put in station hospital; Everyone was glad to see me back.
Sept. 21st thru the 29th; still in hospital. Had foot & leg taped up and released on the 30th and given a 3 day pass. Went to London. Got back on Oct. 3rd; had shipping orders (our crew was officially relieved of combat duty Sept. 23rd). Oct. 4th picked up orders, service records plus DFC and Purple Heart (was told on Sept 23rd I was awarded both). Oct. 5th packed and took baggage out to truck. Flew to Wharton and caught truck to Bamber Bridge near Preston. 6th Through 16th. Waiting further orders. Went to town, more movies, more sleeping, played cards etc. etc..
Orders for shipping to the States came on the 17th. I was to go home on the Queen Mary. I packed and processed the 18th and took a train to Glasgow on the 19th where I boarded the Queen Mary. Most of the interior (as it appeared in its cruise days) was stripped down and pretty bare. The trip was still very comfortable, even though we slept in one of hundreds of bunks set up to accomodate the returning troops. All forces of the Service were represented in the passenger make up.
On the 20th and 21st we waited at dock for the rest of the ship's passengers. Finally on the 22nd we lifted anchor at 5:30 pm and set sail for New York. I felt great when we left the dock, but there was no celebration; all of my crew had already gone home and there was no one I knew on the ship. There wasn't any celebration by the rest of the passengers either other than possibly sighs of relief. Nearly all of the troops on the ship were combat worn and tired and slept most of the way back.
On the ocean thru the 27th (was blacked out at night and if out on deck could not smoke . Hit a rough storm on the 27th). The storm we hit just short of New York made some passengers sick.
28th: arrived and docked at N.Y. harbor at 14:30 hours and taken to Camp Shanks. 29th: N.Y. city on pass and escorted throughout N.Y. by Wac Sgt. Anna Sinclare. 30th: returned to base and left by train for Oakland, Calif. at 6 pm. 31st thru Nov. 4th on train. 4th: arrived Oakland and bussed down to Monterey where processed.
5th: Returned home (Oakland, Ca.) on a 21 day furlough. As of this point my diary ended and all I have left is memory plus flight logs. Upon completion of furlough I was sent to Santa Ana, where I first started, for rehabilitation. Believe it or not I spent 3 months there doing not much of anything. I had free reign on passes and could leave any time as long as I reported back on certain specified dates. Most of my time was spent in Hollywood, (I had friends there) where I went to the Hollywood Canteen and mingled with the Stars. Really a tough life. I really didn't think I needed that much rehabilitation but whose to complain under these circumstances.
At the end of March they figured I was back in condition and assigned me to the 3035th AAFBU (Army Air Force Base Unit) squadron C at Victorville Calif. as a Radio Operator. I flew 52 flights for a total of 231 hours of flight time through June 28th 1945.
While flying out of Victorville I ran across a highschool buddy of mine who was a pilot there. He was a crazy, although likable nut. On one flight that he piloted we buzzed Lake Arrohead. This lake was like a crator and sort of looked like a cone. We flew in below lake level, rose up above the cone and buzzed across the surface of the lake at about 150 feet. Can you imagine the sound of a B-24 to the people 150 feet below. Needless to say people were jumping out of boats all over the place. It was a wild ride. I to this day never knew whether he was found out and reprimanded or what. All I do know that shortly after that he was sent overseas. I do not know whether he returned or not.
As a side issue I served MP duty in the town of Victorville (with a 45 strapped to my side) to maintain peace and tranquility in town.
After my last flight out of Victorville on June 28th. (you will have a hard time believing this) which completed 52 flights, I was grounded from flying anymore because "of my bad ankle and leg etc. it would be harmful for me to parachute out and land hard on my leg".
The next step is really ridiculous. Because I couldnt fly anymore I was re assigned to a base at Yuma, Arizona to join the AF MARCHING BAND. This is the honest truth but hard to ever believe. I went to Yuma and convinced the people there that if I couldn't fly I certainly couldnt march. ( I might point out my records showed that I Played clarinet in the marching band in High school). At this point I talked the wheels at Yuma to put me into the office that handled "adjusted rating scores" these were the scores used as a basis for discharge. I moved up in the position of heading up that department, I forget how many points I had (it was quite a few), but as soon as the opportunity appeared I had myself ordered to the Seperation Center at Camp Beale, Calif. and I received my Honorable Discharge on Sept. 7th, 1945.
That ends the story of my life in the military during World War 2. I still resented that I was never able to get a commission so in 1950 I applied for an appointment, and to get back in, but on Sept 20th I received a letter from Headquarters Fourth Air Force stating "the Air Force Surgeon reveals that you are physically diaqualified for appointment and a waiver of this disqualification cannot be granted".
Something I might point out (or admit to) as long as two years after getting home (according to my wife; we were married Feb. 8th 1947) I still had the shakes for awhile and whenever we went to a movie (if they showed war films or battle scenes etc) I had to leave and sit in the lobby. Even today, after 56 years, if I see world war 2 air battles with bombers etc. I begin to get nervous.
I'm afraid I was not very detailed with my diary entries. I can't believe I Slept so much. Ha!!! I am not in touch with any alumni group. The only crew member I remained in touch with was Harry Hilbert, co-pilot, and sad to say he passed away last year. I heard that Cannon had passed away and of course Powell was killed in combat. I have no idea about the others.
After the war I flew a little using my pilot's license finally,but I eventually quit because I had no money at that time and needed to make a living. In later years I had friends who had planes and I occasionally would be allowed to sit up front and play with the controls.
After the war and after finishing my last six months to graduate from Cal.. I got a real estate brokers license and ran a residential real estate business in Oakland, Ca. for 23 plus years; In 1970 was offered a job (as director of shelter sales) with Dart Resorts (a division of Dart Industries, eventually acquired by Kraft Foods then by Phillip Morris) providing I move to Southern Ca., which I did. Dart Resorts had 3 projects (2 in Southern Ca. and one in Northern Ca.) A few years later I was promoted to Vice President of sales and marketing for all projects, In 1980 we had cleaned out the So, Ca. projects and I moved to Truckee, Ca. (near Lake Tahoe) onto the Project know as "Tahoe Donner" which had 6000 lots, and cleared it out by 1989 after which I retired. Tahoe Donner now has close to 5000 homes. My wife and I stayed at Tahoe Donner, except for winters when we went to Palm Desert, Ca.,until May this year when we moved here to Del Webbs Sun City, Lincoln Hills, Ca.