December 11, 1944 to January 19, 1945
“Dec, 11. To Hanau- low left Sq.- visual lead without Farwell- In 714U. Langford was command pilot- made second run. Open bomb-bays overhead for forty-five minutes. We sweated blood. ”
Comment: The weather was clear, no need for radar (Farwell). We made our bomb run, but for some reason, the group command pilot, decided not to drop our bombs, but to go around a second time. This meant a great deal of flying, going all the way back to where the thirty B-24s first started our bomb run and coming back in toward the target. As we made our first turn, a B-24 bomber squadron came flying right over us, with their bomb-bay doors open- meaning that they were on their bomb run. As we turned, they turned, staying right on top of us. I was looking directly up into a bomb-bay, perhaps 25 feet above me, with those huge bombs hanging right there: four 500 pound bombs. Of course, I had seen 500 pound bombs before, but never from their under-side. We were on radio silence, so there was no way for the two squadrons to communicate. In fact, we had no idea of whether they even knew that we were directly below them. No matter which way we turned, they turned. I could feel myself perspiring. The outside temperature was minus 55 degrees, but I turned off my heater control. Except for the roar of the four engines, all was silence-broken only by our own automatic crew fifteen-minute check-in sequence. Beginning with the rear gunner, each of us checked-in on the intercom. Bischoff began the sequence three separate times before our two squadrons separated- so it was at least an unbelievable forty-five minutes. Finally, they went their way and we continued to the target. There was not a sound on the intercom.
“Dec. 11 (con’t.) On the way back, we hit Karlsruhe- lots of flak. Kept turning toward the left. Loutsche: “Why those bastards are shooting at us!” No. 4 engine went out over France. We left…”
Comment: For reasons that could only make no sense, as we were returning home, the lead navigator brought our bomb group right over a major city- Karlsruhe- and the flak was heavy. The thirty, bulky B-24s kept turning left, making a huge slow circle, staying in the line of fire. Our No. 4 engine was hit and Stepp feathered the propeller. We stayed in formation for a while and then Stepp called down to me. “We’re losing too much fuel to make the English Channel. Find us a safe place to land.” We were over France. I looked at my maps, there was Paris, recently liberated!. “How about Paris?” I asked over the intercom. “Roger,” Stepp said. I gave him the heading. Stepp dropped our plane out of the formation and we were on our own. The crew went wild, cheering, kidding each other about how it was in Paris. Someone sang a French-type song.
We flew over the city. Now the problem was to find a landing field. Suddenly, a P-47 appeared, wagging its wings- meaning, “follow me”. He led us to an airbase. We landed and as Stepp parked the plane, a truck pulled up. “You guys want a lift into town?” We piled into the truck and rode into…..Brussels.
As we left the truck, Stepp called: “Schanes!!!!” He had his hands on his hips. I walked over and stood in front of him. He looked down at me.
Stepp: “You told me we were going to Paris!”
Schanes: “I know.”
Stepp: “We flew over the G-D City!!!”
Schanes: “I know.”
Stepp: “Paris has the Eiffel Tower!!!”
Schanes: (Thinking quickly) “I thought they took it down for the war!”.
He was big and fast, but I was faster. After a one-block chase, he gave up.
“Dec. 11 (con’t.) …landed near Brussels with aid of P-47. Went into Brussels- billeted at the Hotel Venois. Shoes went out nose-wheel door- good old Loutsche! Went around in flying clothes and boots. Traded all our money in. Went out with Bischoff and Kirk- lost Kirk- Cognac. Canadians, Marie, Louise, open doors- “Les Americains!” Lots of running around. Dance in boots. …No. 13 for me.”
Comment: Despite the fact that we were in flying clothes and boots, a good time was had by all. My two years of high school French finally came in handy. I was in great demand and completely forgiven.
“Dec. 12. V-1 exploded nearby. Went back by B-24 with 17 crew. They were unhappy- didn’t go for banana boats. Ricci has 24.”
Comment: The Germans were sending V-1 buzz-bombs. They were bombs with jet engines on top. When the engine ran out of fuel, the bomb would come on down. Whenever we heard the loud putt-putt sound, we would listen for it to pass over. If there suddenly was silence, we knew it was coming down- time to pray.
A B-17 crew flew in the B-24 taking us home. They were very “uncomfortable” with the way the B-24 flew, calling it a “banana boat”. With its big wing, the B-17 was much easier to get off the ground and far more stable in flight than a B-24.
“Dec. 13. Alerted, mission scrubbed.”
“Dec. 14. “Air-rec test. Nine wrong out of fifteen- really hot.”
Comment: We were tested on our ability to identify friendly and enemy fighters. I failed badly. My feeling was that if any fighter- friend or foe- pointed its nose at us, I would fire.
“Dec. 30. My folks’ 25th wedding anniversary- and Dad says he still loves Mom. Death of Byron Kirk- reported- is false.
Russ Reed is a PW- very good.”
Comment: On December 13th, the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive. The weather over Europe was so bad that all Allied aircraft were grounded for ten days. In that time, the Germans recaptured a great deal of territory- pushing toward the ports of Belgium. They took many prisoners. We had no idea of how bad things were. Each day, we would be alerted for a mission, get into our ships, taxi out to the runway, sit in the fog, and wait for the weather to break. We sat out there for hours- and then returned to park the planes and get trucked back to our huts. It was a gloomy frustrating time.
“Well, on Dec. 20, with the German offensive and the fog- Marx took off and crashed 1000 yards from the runway. The plane blew up- two of the bombs went. Took a row of trees. We lost Marx, Locker, Fulmer, and Camp. So fast. The shock is still felt. Fulmer had so much and Camp was a grand guy. “pappy” Marx- that hurts. Fulmer had two to go. What a feeling! The boys slept poorly the first few nights.”
Comment: For some reason, the narrow B-24 wing had even less “lift” in the fog. We had only known those four guys for five weeks, but when you live with a person day and night, you get very close, fast. That morning, an officer drove up to our hut in a Jeep. Very briefly, he told us what had happened. He was there to take the other two pilots in our hut, Stepp and Bridgeman, out to the crash. I never asked what they saw or what they had to do.
Several years ago, someone showed me a photo in one of those WWII history books- of “a B-24 of the 93rd Bomb Group that crashed on December 20, 1944.” I said, “I knew those boys,” and felt like crying all over again.
“We finally got off. Went to Ahrwiler on the 24th- most planes ever put up. 93rd put up 55. I could count 350 at one time. I hit the toggle switch- deputy lead- two ships dropped on us and we hit a marshalling yard. Forts came through on bomb run- Bridgeman almost had it. Lead never dropped- headed for Coblenz, crew disagreed, and so squadron came home loaded. Forty minutes of flak.”
Comment: After eleven days, the weather broke. The sky was full of bombers. While our group normally put up from 30 to 36 planes, this time 55 took off. We flew as a squadron second lead plane. At my right elbow, there was a toggle switch for dropping bombs, which was to be used in planes that were not in lead positions. The nose gunner was to hit the switch when he saw the lead plane’s bombs drop. Since we were a lead plane, the toggle switch should have been tied down securely. It wasn’t. As we came down the bomb run, I leaned against it, and Hammack, our bombardier, shouted, in surprise, “There go the bombs!” Two other planes dropped with us and, as we looked down, we could see the hits on a railroad marshalling yard- not bad work.
Right after that, a B-17 squadron flew directly under us, one of them almost hitting Bridgeman’s plane. Then our leader did not drop his bombs. We stayed with the formation, as all the bomb bays doors were closed and the squadron headed for the secondary target, at Coblenz. For some reason, the lead crew ducked the target and decided to bring the plane back, fully loaded. The only worthwhile thing in whole day was my elbow’s work.
“On Christmas, we went to a small railroad bend. Got forty-three minutes of flak. Flew high right lead. Got blast in nose- plexiglass scratched Hammack- flak ended up in bombsight. Hammack: “I’ll get that sonofabitch if it’s the last thing I do!” Hits were excellent- made us feel good to do something for the boys. These four gun batteries at each little town can be damn accurate when they can see you.”
Comment: When we returned, we celebrated Christmas by opening all of the sealed fruit cakes. Everyone who had ever lived in Hut 14 in 1944 had sent home for fruit cakes, to be eaten at Christmas. By now, there was quite a stack. Many of the cakes were soaked in rum- and as we ate/drank them, we toasted those who had gone before, including names we had never heard of and some “unknowns”.
“Dec. 26-29. Pass. Saw “Private Lives” by Noel Coward with Pamela. Met Dick “GI Supper Club” Dudley. Visited AFN (Armed Forces Network) the next day. Met Johnny Kerr- “Duffle Bag”, John Brosis- sports, Lois- announcer, and Monahan- “Off the Record”. Put in a request for boys in hut…Bought out PX for the boys. Met 1st Lt. Reese, missed Schwartz.”
Comment: In my diary, there is no notation of the following: After I brought Pamela home from the play, she said, “I have something to tell you.” What she told me was that during the time that I knew her, she had been in love with an American bombardier, had become pregnant by him and had had an abortion. Now they were to be married on January 20th. After the war, she would be moving to Atlanta with him. She hoped that I could attend the wedding. I wished her well, but I felt so naïve and stupid.
Johnny Kerr went on to become a very famous baseball commentator.
“Dec. 30 to January, 19, 1945. Tactical bombing continued.”
Comment: The Army had set up three powerful signal towers on the perimeter of the Ardennes Offensive. Installed in each of our planes was a small box with green and red lights. When we flew in the Ardennes area, we were free to bomb any target as long as the green light was on. For accuracy, we flew at 10,000 feet, scary when we were used to being at 25,000- made us much easier targets.
“Flew with Stepp to bridge on Rhine- a fighter-bait mission- flew down length of Germany with loads of fighters. Didn’t see a burst of flak.”
Comment: This mission had two purposes: One- to attract German fighters, so that our fighters could knock them down. We were the bait- a nice feeling. and Two- to destroy a certain bridge over the Rhine. This was the last remaining railroad bridge carrying supplies to the German Ardennes Offensive. It was located at Remagen.
The Bridge at Remagen, is the story of how I won World War II, at least in Europe. I have written this up separately. (See Story) Suffice to say here that we were briefed early in the morning for a long run down the Rhine, ending at that bridge. We led nine other bombers straight down the river, flying at 10,000 feet, or even lower. No flak. I picked up the target, pointed it out to the bombardier, and he did the rest. The hits were excellent, the bridge was destroyed, Just one problem- it was the wrong bridge. I didn’t remember anyone telling me about an autobahn bridge about 100 yards upstream from the railroad bridge. It was now gone and the railroad bridge remained standing. The net result of this misadventure was that that bridge remained as the only bridge across the Rhine when our troops chased the Germans back into Germany. Shortly after enough of our guys had crossed, the bridge collapsed. We finally got it.
The evening of our return from that mission, there was a special commendation award ceremony for our excellent work. The next day, when the “strike” photos revealed the truth, the commendations were rescinded.
Bas-tog-ne is a separate story of how I didn’t kill our boys in the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. Suffice to say here that the town of Bastogne was in the “Green Light” area- one of the many “targets of opportunity” for us to bomb. We did not know that American troops were there, surrounded by the Germans. Flying at 10,000 feet, looking for targets, I selected the town for our squadron. We did begin our bomb run, but then I saw a less formidable-looking town and we went there instead.
Diary (con’t): “Flew two missions with Bridgeman and crew- finished them up. First, to Neunkirchen- flak at us alone. Berg passed out on faulty oxygen connection and heated plug outlet. Brought him out of it. Never knew he dropped the bombs.”
Comment: I flew as a standard navigator (not in the nose turret), standing behind Berg, the bombardier. Something had gone wrong earlier in forming our squadron, so we went in on the target alone. I could see the puffs of flak on both sides as they tracked us. After the bombs were away and we turned to get out of there, Berg remained crouched over his bombsight. I nudged him and he fell over. I disconnected his oxygen hose and plugged my oxygen hose into his mask. Over the intercom, I explained what had happened. The engineer came down with an emergency oxygen canister for me. After he came to, Berg could not remember making the bomb run and dropping the bombs.
Diary (con’t): “On the second, to Coblenz – I stayed on the flight deck the full mission. Berg navigated. Lots of sack time. Bridgeman finished up, with four of crew.”
Comment: I was now getting to the point of not caring or worrying. We were part of a long line of bomber squadrons, all going to the same place. We couldn’t get lost, we were going to drop our bombs with the lead plane. There was nothing for me to do, so I slept.
“Flew next two with Row. Went to bridge at Worms- good results. We landed at Swanington, British base. Good meal, bed, party- but Hardwick sent a truck and we came back at night, cold and hungry. Had mid-night meal. Supply crew the next morning.”
Comment: We took some hits in our hydraulic lines, resulting in no pressure for the brakes. Our airfield runway was too short for this type of emergency. However, there was a very, very long runway at Swanington, so we landed there and rolled for miles until we stopped. There was a hotel there with a fine restaurant, a dance floor and a band playing. Unfortunately, our command sent a truck for us and we were back home, feeling miserable. The next day, we flew in some supplies and I was able to move a few K-ration cartons to our hut.
“Next to Ruhland- other side of Dresden. Plan “B” was Berlin. Of thirty-three ships, eight didn’t get off, and ten aborted- very poor. Colonel Robertson and Schluter cracked up on take-off- forgot flaps. Took another ship and met us over the Zuider Zee, where we formed. Stepp ended up as lead and we flew 1-3. Mission took nine hours. Hit Lauta aluminum works- intense, accurate flak. Got a lot of hits- hail on the roof. Schluter got two black eyes- co-pilot hurt, bombsight blew up. Kirk just missed getting hit. Holes in wings and waist.”
“Simpson, first mission- lost engine, salvoed, landed at Lille. Newell flew with Hastrieter- Schmoller’s co-pilot- no news- MIA. Simpson, Newall, Larson and Gloss moved into hut late December. First mission was Ruhland- Newell missing.”
“On the long mission, we saw Czechoslovakia and the Alps. Some saw Berlin. I wasn’t looking.”
Comment: This was my longest mission. Only 15 of 33 planes actually made the full trip. The assigned lead pilot, a Colonel, forgot to use flaps on take-off (reminding me of my days as a pilot-trainee) and crashed. Furious, he commandeered another airplane, took off, and caught up with us. As a result, Stepp’s crew became the lead, and we flew right alongside them. We went far beyond any fighter cover protection and I think that we missed the target. A lonely, long ride in and a longer, more lonely, and frustrated ride back. Newell had just moved into our hut and now he was gone.
“Makes 21 for me. Stepp- 20. Waldrop- 25. Was twenty-one on the seventh, as usual. Became a first as of December 18. Waldrop and Loustche got theirs at the same time. Ricci came to visit- 29 and still a second. Schwartz- seventeen missions and still a second.”
Comment: I became a 1st Lieutenant on December 18th and 21 years of age on January 7th.
“Hemeleski and Berg went to the Herman Goering Steel Works at Brunswick. Berg finished (flak suit- courtesy of Schanes). Hemeleski has 31.”
“Dick Glattley’s missing in action in Italy.”
Comment: Dick was a very close friend at Montclair State.
“Searles crackup- some hurt- Searles sent home.”
“Group went to Hamburg. Major Floore went on to Sweden.”
“Received canned chicken from Mrs. Adkins and an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal from Uncle Sam.”
“Russians launched offensive- took Warsaw, Crakow, and Lodz in three days.”
“Each week we go out wood hunting- coal lasts three days. Get it from bomb dump- or from the ruined trees around Marx’s wrecked ship.”
“Pamela gets married tomorrow- a bombardier.”