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We were stunned to receive orders to report to the Hundredth Bomb Group at Thorpe Abbotts. The infamous “Bloody Hundredth.” We took the train from Bovington to Diss in East Anglia which was only a few miles from Thorpe Abbotts. Trucks had been dispatched to ignominiously deliver us to 100th Bomb Group Headquarters. None of the usual and familiar “You’ll be sorry” greeted us. We were assigned quarters. The enlisted men shared a building with two or three other crews. The officers were quartered in a large nissen hut with the officers from three other crews. Four empty cots gaped at us that had been occupied the night before by Lieutenant Fletcher and his crew who went down that morning on a mission to Brunswick. At 14:50 the day he went down, a radio message was received from Bill Fletcher announcing that he couldn’t make it across the channel and was going to crash land his B- 17 called “Fletcher’s Castoria.” It was later learned that the landing was successfully accomplished in a field north east of Spaarndam, Holland, where he attempted to set the plane on fire. All ten men were taken prisoners of war.

 Two large wooden tables resembling picnic tables with attached benches were located down the center of the nissen hut with a large pot-bellied coal stove between them. On the table was a large chunk of Spam, about a half loaf of GI unsliced bread and half a quart can of grapefruit juice - left over from a late night poker game.

The cot arrangement for each crew had two on each side of the aisle. We were near the back wall which was made of bricks. The wall looked like a sieve, it had so many holes in it. The pilot whose bunk was next to mine was Ed McKay. He told me that a few nights before Fletcher went down, he came in from the officers club drunk as a hoot owl. He had a tommy gun and told everyone to hit the deck. He then proceeded to fire a whole clip into the wall before he stopped.

Word of the shooting got to the Group Commander, Col. John Bennett who immediately phoned Squadron Commander, Major Bucky Elton and told him to go down there and take that damn machine gun away from Fletcher. Bucky told the Colonel if he wanted that gun he’d have to go down there and get it himself. He said he wasn’t going near any drunk son-of-a-bitch with a machine gun.

Ed McKay also explained the ceiling art to me. The entire ceiling was covered with the names of targets that had been bombed by the “Bloody Hundredth.” Each one had been hand written using the smoke from lighted candles. Each mission was recorded that way for the duration.

Each officer had at the head of his bed - a wooden dresser with about five storage drawers and a large mirror on top of it. A barracks bag and footlocker was placed at the foot of the bed.

Everyone had a “Just in case” letter, sealed, addressed and stamped - placed at the corner of the wooden framed mirror. The letter contained a message to a loved one that in essence stated that receipt of the letter was an indication that the writer had been shot down and there was a better than even chance that he would be a prisoner of the Germans for the duration of the war.

It was the duty of each officer in the nissen hut to see that the letter was mailed when it was verified the writer had gone down. The letter would be gone before it could be censored in any way.

A phone was located on a shelf near my bunk. Beside it was a small blackboard fastened to the wall. Aircraft positions in the formation were represented by small silhouettes of B- 17s in formation. They were arranged to diagram the entire group of 21 aircraft by squadrons. There was enough space in front of each plane’s silhouette to write a pilot’s name. There was also room on the blackboard for the names of spares. The spares would take off and follow the group to fill in for aborts. If not needed by the time the formation reached the channel, the spares would return. Since my bed was located nearest the phone, it would be my lot to answer the phone and take the mission alert and chalk in the pilot’s names to show the position they would fly on the mission.

Much speculation was evidenced as to what the target might be. We did have a character we called “Whirlaway” that moved kind of fast like the famous race horse of the same name. He would stick his head in the door just before the crews were officially awakened and yell “10 five hundreds and 2700 hundred gallons,” and he was gone. That was bad news and pretty well cinched a deep penetration into Germany which always gave us cause for considerable concern.

My Squadron Commander Major Bucky Elton pretty well summed up how he thought things were going around there when I checked in for duty. He said, “Lieutenant, I don’t want to get to know you. You probably won’t be around here for very long anyway.” “Well, Gee Whiz thanks Major Carnegie. That attitude sure as hell ought to win you some friends and influence a bunch of people.”

I was surprised to find Bob (Rosie) Rosenthal at the 100th BG. He and his crew were in training at Pyote and Dyersburg when I was there as a copilot with the (h-issom crew. I asked him if he knew anything about Allen Grissom and his crew. Rosie told me that during a recent 48 hour leave in London, he had talked to a pilot from Grissom’s Group and was told that Grissom was last seen heading for neutral Switzerland after the first Schweinfurt mission.

Rosie Rosenthal had become quite a legend at the 100th Bomb Group. On the morning of October 10, 1943 the group briefing was for Munster, Germany. The main point of impact for the bombing was to be the center of the city. Bombing missions for the 8th Air Force usually were strategic in nature and were not intended to just kill civilians. As a last resort to stop rail transportation in the Ruhr Valley, it was known that all the rail workers in the valley were billeted in Munster. A decision was made that a pursuit and fighter-bomber attack could not effectively stop up the Ruhr Valley. A good big bomber raid could really mess up the very efficient rail system by messing up its personnel.

There was some apprehension about purposefiully bombing civilians, including slave laborers. Some who were preparing to fly their third successive mission, ‘felt they were living on borrowed time anyway’ and were so tired and drained emotionally, ‘they could care less.’

Twenty planes from Thorpe Abbotts set out that morning. Seven of them aborted while over the sea or shortly after reaching the coast of Holland.

The first signs of trouble came after the P-47s turned for home - nine minutes flying time from Munster and the replacement escort, delayed by ground fog, failed to show up. When it eventually arrived, ‘the 100th had disappeared from the sky,’ having been overwhelmed by two hundred plus enemy aircraft, mostly FW-190s, JU-88s, ME-210s and ME-i lOs. To add to the confusion, a number of ME- 1 lOs, 410s, JU-88s and Dornier 217s, began launching rockets. Of the thirteen - Hundredth BG planes that had reached the Initial Point - twelve were lost to flak and enemy fighters.

Only one of the fortresses now remained, Royal Flush, piloted by Robert Rosenthall, which, although seriously damaged and with the number one engine knocked out, successfiully bombed the objective before turning to head for home. The aircraft then became the object of a series of concentrated fighter attacks. The number three engine was hit and had to be feathered. The oxygen system was almost completely destroyed and a rocket went through the right wing, barely missing the gas tank.

The two waist gunners - Loren Darling and John Shaffer, were shot up quite badly. The tail gunner was hit in the butt and the top turret gunner collected a nick between the eyes while he was busy destroying two enemy fighters, which were seen to burst in flames. A third was destroyed by the radio operator. After the assaults had ceased, all moveable equipment was thrown overboard and Rosie brought his bomber home - alone. All that remained of the Hundredth after a day’s air battle.

Next..."In The Mood" by Glen Miller


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