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Russians Load Bombs
Goering's Lament
Code Of Conduct
C.B. (Red) Harper
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Lieutenant Harper!
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 mission. 

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 mission wardrobe.

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 high altitude. 

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 the problem. 

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 altitude. 

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 of warriors....  

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 mechanism. 

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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