21: With the 93rd Bomb Group (pt. 2)

October, 1944

“Oct. 1, 1944. Sheets from home…sack, letters and pay- $244. Alerted.”

Comment: Fresh sheets were so fine. I’d think about the boys in the infantry. They had no beds to come home to at night.

“Oct. 2. Back to Hamm- the whole Second Bomb Division. Terrific fighter cover- ‘Bandits in the Area’ -didn’t see them. But PFF Snafued- came in on the wrong heading. Nobody knew what we bombed- most likely Munster. Bischoff got a hole the size of his fist in the tail turret. Two holes in nose wheel door- one in radio compartment. Didn’t hit anything down there. Flew in 815G (No nose turret) for third time. Assigned to the ship. Alerted. Crew- Air Medal mission.”

Comment: Hundreds of B-24s, all going to Hamm. Obviously, the navigation was off and planes were headed in the wrong direction. We heard that enemy fighters were there, but saw none. The flak was heavy. We missed the target- and any potential target. The Air Medal was awarded upon the completion of five missions.

“Oct. 3. Went to Benz-Daimler Works at Gaggenau. Stayed at altitude four and a half hours- little flak. Hit target and woods nearby. Must have hit ammunition dump- lot of explosions. #6 for me, 71 for Gilbert, seven for crew. Not alerted, thank the Lord. Girl at Red Cross from Milburn.”

Comment: This was a long mission. This was the first time that I saw a physical reaction to our bombing- explosions coming from a wooded area. Red Cross girls met us after every mission- handing out coffee. Milburn was a town right next to Maplewood, where I had once lived. It was good to talk with someone from home.

“Oct 4. Sack time. JP flew as co-pilot. Went to Hamburg- quite a messed up bombing run. . Alerted- and had to go to target briefing at 2300. Alerted for Magdeburg- hard time sleeping.”

Comment: JP flew with a different crew. As some planes came in to bomb the target at Hamburg, others cut right in front of them- very dangerous. We rarely had target briefing at 11 PM before a morning flight. Magdeburg was known as a very tough target.

“Oct. 5. Different mission at briefing- much easier- scrubbed as we got into the trucks. Went to pre-briefing at night- For Plauen- way deep.”

Comment: The “hot and cold” briefings were wearing. Any deep mission into Germany meant that we would not have fighter protection.

“Oct. 6- 7. Missions scrubbed. Wallace moved into hut- co-pilot with no training in B-24s. Alerted.”

Comment: Wallace carried a pistol at all times. Sometimes he would go at night and fire some rounds. He always played the part of a gung-ho warrior. Sometime after this, on a mission, he had to urinate and did so in his flak helmet. Of course, when they were at altitude, everything froze. Approaching the target, he put on the helmet- and kept it on for the rest of the mission. As they descended, the liquid thawed. It gave us a good feeling.

“Oct. 8. Went to Coblenz again. My #7, Waldrop’s twelfth. Sanders called in- two engines on fire, one put out. Co-pilot trouble- bailed crew out, we think. Last heard from near Liege.”

“Oct. 9. Gilbert has 75! We drank to him. He’s finished. Has to make some speeches in London- Coca-cola program.”

“Oct. 10. Big change- wheels turned. New bombardier and navigator- Hammack and Loutsch. Rudgers is off the crew. I’m pilotage navigator- nose turret.”

Comment: A lead crew had three navigators- one for radar, called a “Mickey Operator”, one for dead reckoning, and one for pilotage (seeing where we were). As the Pilotage Navigator (“PN”), I would looking out at the whole world from the nose turret, with maps in my hand. No lead crew of the 93rd. had ever finished a tour of duty. We were in for a lot of training and practice missions. I found it hard mentally to go from many days of non-combat into combat and then out again.

Stepp was convinced that German fighters would not try to come through a tight bomber formation. So, he and I developed a special technique aimed at keeping our planes in tight. We ran a series of tests and as a result, I was able to make a number of marks on my turret, which would indicate the position of the other bombers in our squadron relative to us. I would call off these “readings” to Stepp and he would order the other planes to move into tight positions. As a result, in combat, the ten to twelve ships in our squadrons flew with their wingtips practically interlocking. It was hard flying, but I am convinced that it saved us from German fighters. In the entire time I flew, I never saw an enemy plane. We saw their contrails up on high above us, as they went up and down the bomber flight line, looking for easy targets. We were not one.

My other function would to get us out of the target area as soon as the bombs were away. The bombardier was actually steering the plane with his Norden Bombsight for about ten minutes going toward the target. During that time, the pilot and co-pilot just sat there, unable to interfere unless an emergency arose. However, they were in charge as soon as the bombardier called, “Bombs Away!” Since their windows were small and their view extremely limited, they were not in the best position to determine the safest way to get out of flak range. I was in that position. And so we practiced- from my one-word immediate command and then the others as we would be maneuvering, taking into account the slow way in which an entire squadron of B-24s could make any turn. This last part required a great deal of patience, especially since we knew that the German anti-aircraft gunners would be focussing on us- the lead plane.

“Oct. 11. Practice mission. Got eleven letters- about time. Fell off my bike- really scrapped up! Treacherous machine.”

“Oct. 12. Practice mission. Seven chutes -from Sanders ship? Two engines out. Buck and the co-pilot were going to land it. Nothing else.”

“Oct. 13. Practice mission- Nuts! Getting tired of it. Ricci says Seeds “didn’t come back”- 445th.

Comment: Seeds was one of my navigation school classmates.

“Oct. 14-15. Practice missions.”

“Oct. 16-19. Pass-London. Rudgers, Waldrop, Stepp and Schanes living at the Natural Rest Home. Magyar Club, Blue Lagoon. Henry DeBray.”

Comment: Rudgers took the three of us to the Magyar Club, a small nightclub for Hungarian émigrés, run by Dinah (pronounced Dee-nah), a short, dark-haired woman with flashing black eyes. She was delighted to see Rudgers again and welcomed his new friends. She asked no questions. The place was well-lit and crowded with GIs. The piano player kept leading us in such songs as “Deep In The Heart of Texas”. At one point in the evening, she accompanied me as I sang “Dark Eyes” in Russian. Later, I was standing near the bar, holding a beer, when there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to face an amazingly beautiful, young girl. She said, “Oh, I thought you were (some name), Sorry.” I introduced myself. She was Pamela, Dinah’s daughter. She was about 5’4″, very pretty, with a lovely, low voice. We found a place to sit and we talked until closing. I felt very romantic as we said goodnight when Dinah closed the club.

Rudgers found me and said, “C’mon, we’re going to Henry’s place.” The four of us piled into a cab to “The Blue Lagoon”. Henry (“On-re”) DeBray was French- a sortish stocky man- dark hair, small mustache, very smart dark suit, a flower buttonaire. Before he introduced me to Henry, Rudgers advised me not to touch the buttonaire. “Henry’s nice, but his guys can play rough.” This was very different from the Magyar Club- dimly lit by blue light, much smoke, a three piece band, couples dancing slowly, strange-looking people, including a dwarf who seemed to be attracted to me. It was right out of the movies. “Am I in the Casbah?”, I asked anyone. About an hour after we got there, a fight broke out- someone getting too close to Henry DeBray. Three big bouncers appeared and a fight broke out. We threw money on the table and got out of there fast.

The next morning, I looked up Mr. Pettegrove, an English teacher at Montclair State, but now with the “Voice of America”, broadcasting to the various resistance groups on the European Continent. He took me to see Westminster Abbey. Sorry, I was not impressed. I also saw a movie, “Dragon Seed”, starring a Chinese Katherine Hepburn. This was all in sharp contrast with the previous night- different worlds.

I again visited with Mr. Pettegrove the next day. Somehow, I met Phil Weil, a 1941 MSTC graduate. That night, I went back to the Magyar Club just to see Pamela. She told me that she worked at the American Red Cross during the day and that I should call her when I next came to London. I promised.

“Oct. 20. Stepp and Bridgeman got their firsts.”

Comment: Pilots were always promoted to first lieutenant before the other officers of the crew, and rightly so. They had so much more of the burden and responsibility.

“Oct. 21. Flew #8- as PN- in Missouri Sue- went to Hamm. Complete undercast- little flak- deputy lead. JP’s 13th, Hemeleski’s 11th.”

“Oct. 22. Crew, except Kerr and me, received Air Medal. Rain and cold- another practice mission.”

“Oct. 23. JP received the Air Medal- also Berg. Alerted for squadron lead tomorrow. Won five and a half pounds at cards.”

“Oct. 24. Stood down. Beat Berg at ping-pong.”

“Oct. 25. Sixty-one days to Christmas. Practice mission. Alerted.”

“Oct. 26. Practice mission. Alerted. Read ‘The American Problem’ by D.W. Brogan.”

“Oct. 27. Practice mission. Alerted.”

“Oct. 28. Practice mission. Alerted.”

“Oct. 29. Practice mission. Alerted.”

“Oct. 30. Practice. Still alerted.”

Comment: On one of the above practice missions, just we climbed through some clouds and reached the sunlight, a B-24, that had been skimming the cloud tops, came right over our nose. Since I was in the nose turret, I saw it as it flashed over us. On the intercom, I heard Stepp say to JP, “Did you see him?” “No.” – and then not another word. Had we come up a second sooner, both crews would have just disappeared.

“Oct. 31. Gilbert’s finished with speeches, left for home. Re-arranged hut- now have a mattress. Berg’s a first. Alerted.”

Published in: on July 13, 2006 at 3:14 pm  Comments Off on 21: With the 93rd Bomb Group (pt. 2)  
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