21: With the 93rd Bomb Group (pt. 5)

Jan. 20 to Feb. 10, 1945:

Nothing much until the twenty-third. To Heilbron- temperature- minus 60 degrees.

Went on pass on the twenty-third, with Larson, Simpson, and Gloss- stayed at Batts Club- good beds…Met Berg on third day- saw Jean Arthur and Lee Bowman in ? Bought many records- especially Miller.

Back for two days. Came back at 0215, mission at 0330- briefed for Kiel- scrubbed. Next day- Dortmund- aborted for gas leak- looked simple. Schluter- deputy lead- got hit- five chutes- exploded. Lost Boyd, Wallace, and Collier. Schmoller is MIA. It was visual- Boyd’s twentieth.”

Comment: On a clear day, those gunners could really see us. After a while, the loss of buddies became commonplace- almost ignored. Otherwise (?)…Some guys just stayed drunk all the time.

“Flak shack with Stepp and the boys. Had a grand time.”

Comment: We were given a 10-day vacation to an estate in the south of England: Comb House, Semly, Dorset. We lived in a huge mansion over looking vast gardens and grounds. I have no idea why this type of break was called ‘flak shack’- perhaps because it was such a complete break from combat flying.

“Red Cross girls- Sally, Barbara, Sunny (Astrid-refugee). Archery, skeet, five meals a day. Saw “Saratoga Trunk and Gary Cooper and Theresa Wright in a good one. Volley ball. WRENs at dance. Read Apostles of Revolution and began Armed Forces Institute course in Contemporary International Politics. In London, we visited Madame Tussaudes (Sp?) and “Henry V” with Laurence Olivier. Saw “Uncle Harry”. Met Cole of the “Fighting 68″ at the flak shack. Met Ricci in London- has thirty-one- is a first. Barre has thirty.

Took ten days. Got forty-two letters- two packages from home. Three new men in hut- Tully, Smith, and Amstutz. Same beds, same talk.”

“Went to Magdeburg….Simpson got fighters- seven 190s. Gunner hit. Lark got rid of bombs, lying in bomb-bay. Good job on Sezny’s part- engineer with forty-five missions. Landed with no hydraulics. Five for them. Twenty-one for Row, Chewning, twenty-four for Ward, twenty-two for me.

Birkenmeier missing in Italy.

Seymour’s engaged.”

Comment: Birkenmeier was a navigation school classmate. Seymour Lubman was my cousin. In the Army, he lived in New Jersey and was stationed in New York City.

“Feb. 11 to Feb. 25, 1945.

To Magdeburg- aborted inside Germany- made a “Gee” run on Meppen….Tired- flew a practice mission the night before.”

Comment: I was the navigator of a non-lead plane. Our plane developed some problem, so we returned across Germany alone. The ground was totally obscured, but I used the “Gee” indications on my cathode tube screen and we bombed on my command- through the clouds, hopefully hitting something at Meppen.

“Magdeburg- with Stepp, group lead. Received grand compliments. Stepp called to 8th AAF by major to experiment on B-24s. Wants to finish crew up first. Can fly only wing or division leads.”

Comment: The detail of this mission has stayed with me the rest of my life. Flying in the nose turret of the lead plane, it was my function to call out the new heading just as soon as the bombardier called, “Bombs away!” My choices were fairly simple- basically, to head for wherever the flak was the lightest. As we made the bomb run, the flak was heaviest ahead and left. At “Bombs away!”, I pressed the button on my mike and said, “Left!”. To turn a group of thirty B-24s effectively, the lead plane banked only slightly- the planes at the outer edges of the formation banked much more steeply. It was a slow process and I could say nothing until we all leveled out. Now the flak was much closer, since we had turned toward it. I pressed my button and said “Left!” Up went the right wing, and now we were moving directly into the midst of the black puffs of flak. I could feel the explosions and then our left Plexiglas window was blown away. I thought to myself, “He’s not listening. We’re gonna get killed!” “Left!!”, I said it with much more emphasis this time. “We’re going left!” Stepp could hear my annoyance. I stopped looking out and instead I looked very carefully at my hands. Which one did I eat with? Ah! My right hand made a scooping gesture. Pressing the button, “Now right.” My voice was steady, cool- as if I had everything under control. Up with our left wing, thirty B-24s turned away from the flak and came home safely. When we landed some hours later, several guys came running over to our ship with all kinds of great words. I do remember “fantastic” being said several times. All that I could think of was: “They don’t know and I’m not gonna tell them.” My inability to tell right from left has remained with me.

Stepp had now been selected for only special and very infrequent flights- I would no longer be flying with him. My goal now became to fly with side crews as often as possible to get this thing over with.

“Row was stood down for two days. I tried to fly with Gaston. Hemeleski went with me.- recalled, salvoed all bombs in Channel.”

This mission took a long time to get going- just a lot of flying around to get into formation. Hemeleski and I decided to make ourselves comfortable. We lay down in the nose compartment. To do this, we had to rearrange our intercom, heater and oxygen lines- I had his and he had mine. We fell asleep. Suddenly over the intercom came the news that the mission had been cancelled and that we were to dump our bombs into the English Channel. The bomb-bay doors were being opened as the pilot spoke. There was very little time before we would be back over England. We tried to get up and found that we were wedged in. Then, after much squirming to get on our knees, we had to unplug and then re-attach the various wires and hoses. In the midst of this, we both went into laughing fits. Finally, Hemeleski got over to his bombsight and did the necessary. It would have been very sad for both of us, had he not made it.

“Back with Row. Went to Osnabruk- little flak.”

“Recalled on way to Nurnberg- way inside Belgium- contrails.”

Comment: “Contrails” meant German fighters. On one mission, in the distance, I saw the pattern made by a new German plane. We thought that it was a rocket ship of some kind, but I think it was one of their early jets. If developed earlier, the jet would have created havoc for our fighters and certainly for us.

“Again, Nurnberg- hit on No. 3 fuel cell at lines and in No. 3 engine at target. Hit lead crew’s smoke bomb- almost bailed out. Feathered No.3- left formation at lines and came home alone. Landed with little hydraulics- flares.”

Comment: Nurnberg was tough, with many accurate anti-aircraft batteries. We were hit long before we made the bomb run and then again as we dropped our bombs. Right after that second hit, our nose compartment was filled with thick smoke. I grabbed my chest parachute and clipped onto the hooks in my flight straps. Our way out would be through the nose wheel opening- there was an emergency handle to lower the wheel. We would have to edge ourselves past the wheel and then drop. Also, we had been cautioned not to open the parachute immediately- otherwise the draft of the plane would pull us back, collapsing the parachute. The basic idea was to get out of the airplane before it went into any kind of maneuver that would make getting out impossible- such as a spin, dive, flip, or explosion- all of which meant that there was little time to waste. I reached for the handle, when a voice said, “It’s just the smoke bomb- no problem.” I relaxed, unhooked the parachute, and then sweated out the lonely flight home.

We had lost braking power- when we reached our airbase, the engineer sent up “distress” flares, so that the ground emergency crews would be ready. However, we landed nicely.

The lead plane always dropped a smoke bomb with its bomb load, to show planes in the rear where to drop. If there was any kind of wind, the smoke would move, therefore completely unhelpful. Sometimes, this could be dangerous, especially when the bombing was close to our own troops. I heard of instances when planes, dropping on smoke which had blown backwards, actually bombed our men.

“Next to Seigen- a long trip inside Germany- little flak- all went well.”

“Then came the 10,000 ft. raid in Central Germany- divided in three squares. We filled the middle one. Went to Kreisen. Saw a lot of targets- no flak. Fighter pilot bailed out- hid in woods. P-51s took care of flak batteries and trains. A good time was had by all. ‘Smoking on the bomb-run.”

Comment: The 8th Air Force put on a show of force, flying low over a “soft” area of Germany, selecting any target. Our fighter escorts were everywhere. There were no German planes. Our bombardier was so relaxed that he smoked a cigar on the bomb run.

“Misburg- oil near Hanover- loads of flak. Maddock’s crew bailed out near the Zuider Zee.”

“Got my last lead and mission with Stringer. Went to Ascheffenberg- flew in waist. Good oil hits in yards- smoke to 10,000. Two ships hit at front lines. Came home alone- tired- wore flak suit a long time.”

Comment: I flew as the navigator, but I knew the route well enough to fly in the waist of the ship, rather than in the nose. I wanted to see what it was like to be a waist gunner- and learned that standing in an armored flak suit for hours was exhausting. The mission was a success, but we had lost two more crews. I had finished my 30 required missions, but the bed was all that I wanted.

“DONE! Sent cable home.”

Comment: The next day, I sent the following cable home: “The firm of Schanes, Schanes & Schanes announces the completion of one European tour of duty. Raise my right hand.”

My father was at the candy store when the phone message came from Western Union, saying that a telegram was waiting at our home. It had never occurred to me that the War Department used telegrams to inform parents of the death of their sons. (“General Eisenhower regrets to inform you…..”) I don’t know what went through his mind as he opened my message- how deep his despair and then how incomprehensible the words at first. He must have been in a state of shock- this coming after months and months of worry. I do know that when I had met with my parents in Reno in June, 1944, his hair was black and that when I came home in April, 1955, he was completely white.

“Hemeleski- thirty-three, Ward- thirty, JP- twenty-seven, Crew- twenty-one. Stepp led to Berlin- not much accurate flak. Kerr and JP broke fuel line- got Tokyo gas- saved the day. Kerr in for DFC.”

Comment: The B-24 carried extra fuel in its wings. On the way back from Berlin, Stepp’s fuel line from the wings froze. When he had worked at building B-24s some years previously, he had suggested that the emergency bomb release rod be the same diameter as the fuel line, for just such an emergency. Kerr and JP broke the frozen line, stuck in the bomb release rod, and the gas flowed. Kerr received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“Stepp got his tracks. Good man.”

Comment: Captain Lee R. “Jack” Stepp was a giant compared to the rest of us. He was a natural-born leader, made for emergency. There is no doubt in my mind that I owed my life to him- as did a good many others. Over the years, he and I stayed in touch. We saw each other several times before he died in 1998.

On one mission, as we came down the bomb run, the pilot of another B-24 broke radio silence, asking Stepp for advice. His bomb-bay doors would not open and he was afraid to let the bombs drop through the closed doors. Stepp told him of a special way to open the doors manually and all went well. Many, many years later, that pilot wrote to Stepp, thanking him. I had heard that radio conversation and responded for Stepp, who was no longer well.

Stepp was structured internally. As an example, on any evening, I could make money by betting newcomers to our hut that I could predict Stepp’s next words. After the bet was made, I would write on a piece of paper: “No thanks, I’ve just brushed my teeth.” Then I would call out: “Hey, Stepp, would you like some candy?” And he, without looking up from his book, would say, “No thanks, I’ve just brushed my teeth.”

“Hershey was MIA- walked out.”

Comment: Les Hershey was one of my special navigation school friends. Shot-down, he found American troops.

“Russ’ first card came home- all is well.”

Comment: Russell Reed was a POW and endured great hardship. He returned to Montclair State. After graduation, he taught Chemistry, went to Korea, and then flew with Eastern Airlines until he retired. As I write this, he and his wife Millie, live outside of Seattle. We have stayed very close.

“Waldrop finished, also Bischoff. Hemeleski came home same time I did.”

“Farwell blew up over Munster.”

“Collier rescued by allied troops- coming home.

“Schwartz crashed on continent- last mission- ?”

“Ricci finished- whole crew did- came home.”

Comment: I later learned that Maury Schwartz was safe. Altogether, I was able to account for the survival of about 12 of our 30 navigation school class. One, Halstead, received the Purple Heart.

Jack Stepp finished his tour of duty some time later.

“Saw Pamela- happily married.”

Comment: On my last visit to London, I called Pamela at the American Red Cross, just to say goodbye. She told me that she had something for me, so we got together at the Magyar Club that evening. She handed me a large envelop containing two big photographs- one of her in her wedding gown, the other of the marriage scene. She had been married by a priest in a Greek Orthodox Church ceremony. I recognized a number of the people in attendance: Dinah, her mother, Freda, the piano-player and some of the Magyar Club girls. The bridegroom was in US Army Air Corps uniform as was the best man. What struck me the most was that there was Henry DeBray- he had escorted Pamela down the aisle- and there was Elsa Graves, the well-faded former actress, as maid of honor. I had no idea that Pamela knew either one of them. These people had their own world and understanding- almost like a coven. It was beyond my understanding. I gave up trying.

Two other memories of the 93rd remain:

(1) Returning from bombing missions, when we had descended low enough so that oxygen was not needed, I would open a K-Ration box, remove and unwrap the candy bar, and, while munching, I would laugh- a laugh of satisfaction that I had done something for the right of the world; (2) Our huts had loud speakers, over which came music and information. One morning, as I lay sleeping, there came the beautiful voice of Peggy Lee singing “Where Or When”. She made the “wh” sound as it does in “whistle”. For one moment, I thought that perhaps I had not made it back and this was an angel. I was ready.
We were the first lead crew of the 93rd Bomb Group ever to finish and I was on my way home.

Published in: on July 13, 2006 at 3:16 pm  Comments Off on 21: With the 93rd Bomb Group (pt. 5)  
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