FIRST MISSION FOR THE BUFFALO GAL
Wake up, Sir. Your crew is flying today.
I squinted while looking down the barrel of a flashlight in
the hands of the squadron orderly and then at my watch,
1942 G.I. Air Corps issue - to all airmen.
February 28, 1944 - four a.m. in England Double British
Summer Time - it was already getting light. I sat up
groping for pants and shirt while the orderly assassinated
sleep for my copilot Robert Flannigan, navigator Chuck
Hardiman and bombardier Arthur (Buddy) Cox. My eyes
finally came in focus. The nissen hut had two rows of beds
with eight beds in each row. The other twelve beds
contained the snoring remains of officers from the other
three crews that were not dispatched to fly the day’s
My bombardier Buddy Cox, looked like a 15 year old kid
and was somewhat of a smart ass. He had just gotten a G.I.
shoe across the head for making the loud announcement
“It’s a beautiful day in Chicago.”
I had pulled my pants over the long john underwear,
buttoned the wool shirt - put on heavy socks, flight
coveralls and fleece lined boots over brown oxford low
quarter shoes. The A-2 leather jacket completed the day’s
Four sleepy officers piled into the squadron orderly’s jeep
for a ride to the transient officers mess, a term that alwayspissed me off, but the term transient was to distinguish it
from the high-faluten permanent officers mess. La-Di-Dah.
I sipped a cup of coffee while the cook fixed a hard flied
egg and stuck it between two slices of G.I. bread. The only
food I felt would stay down. I filled my canteen with hot
coffee, grabbed the sandwich and loaded on a 6 X 6 G.I.
truck that was headed for the briefing room.
The briefing room resembled a crude theater with benches
lined up one behind the other. A guard at the door checked
each individual to see that he was authorized to be there.
The end wall of the building was covered with a huge map
of Europe. One could see a great deal of detail as the scale
was one inch to eight miles. The Intelligence Section had
marked in red those areas where anti-aircraft guns were
located. Cities like Berlin, Hamburg and others would show
up as large red spots because they had plenty of it available.
The map was not visible to the combat crews as it was
covered by a curtain. There was coughing and shuffling of
feet as the crews made themselves comfortable. Suddenly
the room came to a dead silence as the group intelligence
officer pulled back the curtain covering the map. Outlined
in tape on the map was the course to and from the target for
the day. The suspense was usually broken by a few groans
from all sides unless it happened to be a no ball mission.
(No ball was absence of antiaircraft fire and enemy fighters).
After the intelligence officer finished, the operations officer
announced the time for take-off and instructions for group,
wing and division assemblies. He went over our route into
the target and out again, explaining where we would meet
our fighter escort for invasion and withdrawal. Next the
weather officer gave complete data on clouds, direction of
winds at various altitudes and temperatures. This was
followed by the communications officer who gave the
various frequencies and channels to be used on the radio:
group frequency, wing frequency, division channel,
fighter to bomber channels for air-sea rescue and many
others. We really needed a blond WAC switch-board
operator in a Fortress. All of this was followed by the
warning, “Don’t use any of these frequencies unless
absolutely necessary for the success of the mission.” The
group C.O. then gave a few final words of advice about
flying in close formation and how to exercise the super-
charger regulators in order to keep them from freezing up at
The next two hours were probably the toughest part of the
mission.. Shakespeare expressed it best when he said, “Thus
conscience does make cowards of us all.” One was inclined
to think of all the terrible things which might happen.
On the way to our plane, we made a stop to sign for our
combat supplies which included an escape and evasion kit
loaded with French money. Cowboy Roane says, “That
was the prettiest money he had ever seen. Rembrandt
himself must have done the art work” We had rubberized
maps of France and Germany. Small photographs of us
dressed in European peasant clothes had been made. These
were included in the kit just in case. we found ourselves
afoot on the continent and in need of an identification card.
We checked out our parachutes and grabbed a truck for a
ride to the hardstand, a name used to denote the resting
place for the aircraft. We were assigned B-17G # 537.
This aircraft would be “THE BUFFALO GAL”
I met the ground crew and then had the crew chief
accompany me on a pre-flight inspection of the plane along
with our flight engineer/top turret gunner, Sgt. Clarence
Luquet. Bob Flannigan rode herd on the rest of the crew.
Sgt. Ross Frank was in the tail gun turret putting it in order
while Sgts. Wiley Dobbs and John Bowers were setting up
their respective waist gun stations.
Sgt. Austin Curlee was in the lower ball turret checking out
the electrical outlet for his heated suit and also the intercom
system to his turret. These were very important aspects of
personal comfort and safety to Austin because at 650 below,
hanging down under the B-17 in a ball turret can get a
might drafty. At that temperature, he was forced at times to
turn the heat so high on his heated suit and gloves in order
to keep his feet and hands from freezing he would blister
his belly. If he got in a jam and needed help, he wanted
intercom communication. Radio operator Al James was
checking out the aircraft’s radios and stacking the bales of
anti-radar chaff in the radio room. Well, this was it. (lame
time after eighteen months training for it.
Our first combat briefing was now history. We were briefed
for a no-ball mission to bomb rocket slides on the French
coast. Take off was set for 07:00. A green-green flare
went up from the control tower as a signal to start engines.
All went well - engines started - throttles were set at 1200
RPM. I gunned the engines to move the big bomber when it
was our time to move out. I miscued the narrow width of
the hardstand taxi strip and dropped the right landing gear
wheel off into the soft earth. The wheel buried down about
four feet. This was not good - a real bad day in my life and
a hell-of-a-way for a new pilot to start life in a new group.
The group engineering staff went to work to raise the big
bomber laden with its load of bombs and fuel. An air bag
was installed under the right wing and inflated. Jacks were
put under the wing at the proper jacking post positions.
Another air bag was installed with a platform beneath, and
the air bag inflated again raising the plane some more until
the hydraulic jacks could be moved in place that would raise
the craft to the proper height. I felt terrible about causing
All planes from the group returned from the mission. Some
had flak damage. The target was socked in and my
squadron reported having made five passes at the same
Lt. Stout’s crew arrived on base after crash landing their
plane “Holy Terror” at Honington Depot. Soon after take
off, Lt. Stout had to feather an engine. In preparing to
land, he found that he had a landing gear problem. He flew
for hours to use up fuel and dumped his bombs and ball
turret in the channel and then made a belly landing at Honington. All went well except the bombardier received
some cracked ribs from the crash landing.
An official announcement was made on the 27th that the
Eighth had dropped more bombs on the enemy last week
than the entire first year’s operations. The crews had flown
8,148 sorties and had released 6,000 tons of bombs. The
combined RAF-USSTAF total was 19,172 tons.
A few hundred yards due east of the 100th BG control
tower was a brick building that had been around for a while
and had sunk pretty well into the ground. This building
served as the “Battle Headquarters” and Nerve Center for
the Bomb Group’s Ground Defense Team.
A training exercise was scheduled one Sunday morning for
this crack defense team to show its readiness in the event of
an invasion. At a very crucial moment in the demonstration,
Lieutenant “Hardrock” Caverly, the commander, drew his
Very pistol and fired a flare toward the heavens to signal the
start of the attack. The flare sputtered, limped some five
feet into the air, and collapsed to the ground. Small prayers
were said by observers in the fervent hope that the Germans
would never invade to be slaughtered by this mighty force
Colonel Curtis LeMay, 3rd Air Division Commander pulled
a surprise inspection during the latter part of the month that
turned out to be a disaster of the first order. The work
sections were knee deep in grease and disorder. The
crowning blow came as LeMay was being driven to the
perimeter strip. A 3 50th squadron crew chief came buzzing
by in a jeep and sideswiped the command car, pretty badly
denting a fender. The crew chief went from master sergeant
to private in matter of minutes.
John Bennett, who had moved up from a replacement pilot,
to Squadron Ops, to Squadron Commander, to Group Air
Executive in a matter of weeks, was now the 100th BG’ s
commander. When we came in as a replacement crew, he
gave us “tough talk” and then fitted our butts right in with
the old timers flying the tough ones.
Today is 29 February 1944. Leap year! Getting dressed for
what ever this day’s mission will bring and thinking of the
silly leap year thing we recited as a kid many years ago that
went something like: “Thirty days hacienda - April, June
and sombrero all the rest etc. - etc. - etc. Anything to take
my mind off of getting shot at today.
The head man at briefing said we would drop our bombs on
the Focke WuIf Engine Works Plant at Brunswick,
Germany. The lead ship is to start rolling down the runway
at 07:00 hours and bombing is to be done from a cold
23,000 feet - indicated. The BUFFALO GAL is being
checked over after being raised from the mud yesterday.
We are to fly aircraft number 380.
My formation spot today is number nine - in the high
squadron. Better known as tail-end-charley and is better
described as Purple-Heart-Corner. Such is the life of a new
crew here in the Mighty Eighth Air Force - The Big League.
Our group of 21 planes formed up during the climb out to
cruising altitude. The climbing is done over England and
with the heavy load of bombs and gasoline it takes about an
hour to reach 23,000 feet. My navigator is in charge of
making an oxygen check every 2,000 feet after we reach
10,000. When we reach cruising altitude he checks every
ten minutes. He announces “Oxygen check” over the
intercom system. Each crew member is assigned a number
and answers with his number in rotation. If a crew member
fails to answer during oxygen check, the flight engineer will
attach a portable walk around oxygen bottle and go to the
silent station to check out the problem.
Occasionally a headphone will become unplugged and the
oxygen check message will not be received.
The copilot keeps busy watching the engine instruments,
adjusting cowl flaps to control cylinder head temperatures
and checking manifold pressures as a monitor of erratic
turbo-superchargers. These rascals are temperamental at
high altitudes where it really gets cold. After what seems
years, we finally reach cruising altitude.
The lead ship fires identification flares so we can assemble
with the two other twenty-one plane groups that make up
our wing. Other groups form into their sixty-three plane
wings and the wings then form up to make up the Air
Divisions. The 8th Air Force is really out in force today.
The sky is filled with bombers as far as the eye can see. As
we near the Dutch coast we see, small specs appear at about
35,000 feet and are flying in elements of four. Each of these
tiny specs has a white rooster tail behind it. These are
beautifiul sights to a bomber pilot as long as they are P-47s,
P-S Is and P-3 8s our “little friends.” The rooster tails are
vapor trails and their rendezvous with us is right on time. As
we near the target we see a huge black cloud, made up of
smaller ones, boiling up in front of us. This is barrage flak.
The enemy guesses our target and makes some calculations.
He figures where we will have to fly to release our bombs.
He aims all his guns at the bomb release point and fires as
rapidly as possible. There is a burst directly ahead of us and
the sound of hail on a tin roof as we are pelted with steel.
Our bomb load today is 10 - 100 lb. GP bombs and 23 - 100
lb. incendiary clusters. We had to drop our bombs on the
Path-finder’s smoke marker because visibility over the
target was 10/10 overcast. Rockets fired at us from the
ground - burst with brilliant red fire and smoke. I wish the
ground was visible so the bomb bursts could be observed.
Thank goodness for radar bombing - such as it is.
The number 3 supercharger ran away just after bombs away
and I had trouble with that sucker all the way back to our
base. The gunners had problems with their gun solenoids
and oil buffer adjustments on many of the guns were way
out of alignment. Our bombs were released late due to a
problem with the intervelometer in the bomb sight
This aircraft was a real “KLUNKER.” The form one
indicated this aircraft had only completed 12 missions with
22 engine changes and was equipped with Studebaker
rebuilds. The crew chief told me the main bearings in the
number 3 engine would expire when the engine reached a
certain number of operating hours each time it went on a
mission. The problem was finally traced to a faulty oil
dilution switch. Each time the master switch was energized,
the oil dilution pump would activate and dilute the engine’s
oil hopper tank with gasoline, thinning the oil and causing
bearing burn out at about the same time on each mission
forcing the crew to abort the mission.
We flew over the Zuider Zee on our way back and all our
aircraft returned safely. The flight engineer pointed out a
large hole that was made when a big piece of flak came
through the aircraft’s bottom section near the loop antenna.
As I flipped the plane around to park on the hardstand, a
couple of Jeeps raced up - everyone smiling. I remarked to
the copilot that maybe I was forgiven for burying the wheel
in the ground the day before. Turned out they were
congratulating themselves for diagnosing the faulty switch
problem that had plagued them for so long. No. 380 never
flew combat again. It was used as a utility craft until it was
returned to the U.s. 24 June, 1944. That was a good move!
The Buffalo Gal’s crew finally had a mission under their belt.
Our baptism of fire was behind us and it was now time to
look and act like a veteran combat crew.
I noticed the grommets had disappeared from the hats of all
our crew members, which by the way, was the real sign of
distinction if a member of a combat air crew was to look
like a “rock.” Initially, the real reason for removal of the
grommet was to accommodate the radio headset. The stiff
top of the hat kept the headset from fitting close to the ears.
The blue combat patch appeared behind the wings of all the
Buffalo Gal’s warriors and we soon joined those at the club
bar with hand gestures indicating the attack of the ME- 109
on the Big Assed Bird with a rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun
fire. Fists opened up to indicate flak bursts and the beer and
booze made the stories really come to life.
Truth was, the Eighth Air Force losses were higher than
those of any other military service. We were losing more
men than the entire U.S. Navy.
Like the man said, “Let them in Peter, they are so tired;
God knows how young they were to have to die! Give ‘em
swing bands, not gold harps - Let them love, they have had
no time and tell them how they are missed
Next...March 1944 and Berlin
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