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Cover
Guest Book
The Song
Foreword
Preface
Strategy & Build Up
Sign ofThings
Government Property
My Bombardier
The Crew
More About The Crew
Texas Invasion
Dalhart, Texas
Aircraft Commander
2nd & 3rd phase training
England Bound
Combat Crew Replacement
Bloody 100th
In The Mood
First Mission
March '44 & Berlin
Target Berlin Again
48 Hour Pass In London
Sing These Songs...Mightly
Target Brunswick Again
Target Augsburg
Letters Of Commendation
Munich Is The Target
Aphrodite
Our Little Friends
Other Side...
Heavy Water
15th In Italy
Russian bases
Target Oil
Bob Rosenthal
Colonel John Bennett
William R. Lawley
B-17 Control Panel
The Base Of Operations
Russians Load Bombs
Suzy-Q
Epilogue
Goering's Lament
Code Of Conduct
C.B. (Red) Harper
Credits & Links

More About The Crew...

All new aircrew personnel were ordered to assemble in the briefing room for crew member assignments. 

Thirty crews were assembled to this training group making a total of some 300 men in attendance at the meeting. Each aircraft commander was given a crew number. Mine was 16 and as each crew number was announced, the pilot was handed a list containing names of the men that would constitute his crew. Each of the crews were then to assemble with their pilot in front of a specified aircraft on the flight line for photographs and introductions. 

I made my way to the specified aircraft and found six new faces and one that I was already familiar with. They were huddled under the nose section of the assigned aircraft. I introduced myself and then asked them to each sound off as I read out his name and crew position. The list of names started with Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer, Clarence P. Luquet -- Radio Operator, Alvin E. James -- Ball Turret Gunner, Austin P. Curlee -- Left Waist Gunner, Wiley A. Dobbs -- Right Waist Gunner, John B. Bowers -- Assistant Flight Engineer and Tail Gunner, Anderson R. (Ross) Frank and Bombardier, Arthur E. Cox. All were sergeants with the exception of Cox who was a second lieutenant. I was not assigned a copilot or navigator until the second phase of training. 

I didn’t visually see any abnormalities among the men except for the bombardier. I was still smarting over his smart assed attitude. 

The crew introduction was short. I pointed out that we would be like family, living together, sleeping together, eating together and fighting together. If anyone had a problem with this - now was the time to speak up. No one sounded off so I asked the flight engineer, Sgt. Luquet to remain with me and for the others to board the aircraft, go to their respective stations and familiarize themselves with the gadgets and I would talk to them individually as time permitted. We were scheduled to fly a six hour training mission that night with instructors aboard for the pilot, bombardier, radio operator and gunners. 

I had a talk with Sgt. Luquet and explained to him the basics of what I expected our respective relationship to be concerning parameters involved in safe operation of the aircraft and how they were to be carried out to the letter. I confessed to him that today I made my first B-17 landing and that tonight would be my first solo flight. I asked him to keep this information confidential as it might cause concern with the other members of the crew. It probably would have concerned me had I been in their place. I had Sgt. Luquet’s word on it. 

As was mentioned before, we were without a copilot at that stage of the game which meant that the pilots had to swap out with each other. I would fly copilot with a crew, and then that pilot would fly copilot for me on my next mission. This arrangement continued all through the first phase of training. 

Our first training mission was a six hour flight that scheduled touch and go landings for the first hour. I had an instructor pilot sitting in the swing seat between the copilot and me, observing the touch and go landings during that first hour. 

The next period we climbed to 10,000 feet and flew to a designated bomb range in order for the bombardier to make 10 single release bomb drops on a night lighted bomb target. For night bombing, the designated target consisted of a large circle of lights with more lighted circles progressively smaller than the next much like a bulls eye target. At the center of the target was a small wooden building referred to as a shack, and if the shack ever received a bit, the bombardier could loudly boast, “I got me a shack!”, which was indeed a marvelous accomplishment. 

The practice bombs were 100 pounders filled with either sand or water and contained about 5 pounds of black powder to create a smoke marker when exploded. A note of interest to me was that those bombs filled with water had a rather erratic course of flight if not completely filled. The sloshing around of the water had been known to cause the bombs to miss the target by a wide margin. Also, at times, boys turned into mean little kids and cattle feed shacks were just too tempting to pass up, so - damage to some of the farmers and ranchers out buildings irritated them enough to bring on law suits against Uncle Sam. 

There would usually be four bombers on the range at a time, flying a four leaf clover pattern. This alternated each approach to the target. After each drop, the next ship in line would radio his identification number to the ground observer before dropping his bomb so the observer could record the number of feet each bombardier’s bomb had missed target center. 

At the conclusion of the exercise, the total footage from target center that each crews bombs had impacted was added and the total divided by 10. This gave an average total error and was referred to as the bombardier’s CE or circular error. 

The instructor bombardier with us on our first practice mission asked to be returned to base after completion of the practice bombing runs. My landing at the base surprisingly turned out to be fairly smooth. The bombardier instructor was on interphone and remarked to the bombardier, “That was a smooth landing he made.” The bombardier replied, “Yes Sir - My pilot’s the best in the Air Corps.” That night, for some strange reason, I began to like that bombardier. The bombardier instructor made mention that the adjutant had told him I wanted to get rid of the bombardier. He told me the kid had a CE for the evening of 96 feet, which is fantastic, and I for sure ought to think twice before letting someone else get him. I told the instructor that Cox would definitely be my bombardier. Cox and I became the best of friends and I had much admiration for the skill he exhibited in his military occupational specialty not only as a bombardier but an excellent navigator and gunner as well. 

The rest of the evening’s mission was spent exploring the wonders of that fine B-17 aircraft and doing some coordination exercises with my bombardier and playing with some of the gadgets on board. My left waist gunner, Wiley Dobbs, was air sick. This turned out to be a problem for him for the duration of his flying career. Wiley had a private pilots license before entering the Air Corps, so I asked him to come up front and sit in the pilots seat and fly the big bird, under the watchful eye of the pilot that was flying copilot for me that evening. Wiley’s airsickness would always go away as long as he was up front in the cockpit. I spent the rest of the evening back in the waist section getting better aquatinted with the rest of the crew. 

Most of first phase combat training at Pyote was a repetition of the first mission. We alternated day and night flying since this was an accelerated training program. Replacement crews were sorely needed in Europe and the Pacific. The crew had become a close knit unit as time progressed. We were informal and on a first name basis on the ground. In the air -- it was strictly business and no horse-play was allowed. Flying was a dangerous business and sloppy crew habits could kill as quickly as the enemy could. If one knows his job, and tends to business, there is an even chance at survival. A crew is only as strong as it’s weakest member. A few crews had crashed in training - killing all ten men while we were at Pyote. It was reported by the flight safety staff that every one of these accidents could have been prevented had the pilot and crew observed correct flying procedures. We never encountered a really serious problem. 

There were a few instances that could have had tragic results that really were rather humorous in the end. One early morning, we were briefed for a formation gunnery flight to the aerial gunnery range at La Junta, Colorado. This would allow the gunners to shoot at tow-targets being dragged through the sky with cables behind B-26s. 

There was a thick ground fog that morning so we were told to start engines at a prescribed time, idle at 1200 RPM and wait for a signal from the tower to take off. It was just breaking dawn and I was sitting there with all four engines idling and nearly asleep. Suddenly there was a hail of metal and debris going in all directions. I cut my engines and went out through the nose hatch to try and find out what had happened. 

Our 30 planes were parked in rows of five, wing tip to wing tip and 6 columns deep. I made my way forward through all sorts and sizes of pieces of aluminum, fabric and steel scattered all over the ramp. I finally arrived at the scene of the problem and saw that one aircraft had crawled up to another one in front of it and chewed its way all the way up to the rear waist door. Fortunately, the tail gunner and waist gunners in the stricken plane had gathered forward in the radio room. Unfortunately, the pilot, copilot, navigator and bombardier in the offending aircraft had gathered in the radio room for a friendly crap game. The offending aircraft’s brakes were a little soft allowing the craft to slowly creep, un-noticed by the crap shooting crew members, right on up to the tail of the plane in front of it and start chewing away. 

Take off was delayed a couple of hours while everyone on the base was called out to clean up the mess. We flew to La Junta where our gunners had a go at it, some puffing a few holes in the hapless B-26s that towed the targets. Some managed to put a few holes in the target. 

When we returned, all the pilots made a bee line to talk to the pilot whose plane was involved in the flight line episode earlier in the day.. We gathered in his room and heard a very nonchalant recount of the ceremony of his signing a statement of charges for $275,000 damages to the two aircraft. Bets were made that he would be promoted to colonel in six months in order for the government to get their money. 

Another episode involving a lesser amount of money occurred one dark morning as the training group was preparing for the day’s operations. The pilot of the ship parked next to mine was talking to me about the day’s mission. His bombardier walked up with his bombsight in its tote bag and slung it up into the open nose hatch opening. Just as he turned around to join us, there was a loud bump as the bombsight fell back to the ramp resulting in a $75,000 statement of charges being signed by the bombardier. Bets were made that he made captain soon. 

The bomber crews in training at Pyote Army Air Base were hard at work learning and practicing the skills of their respective Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), and naturally, non-fatal mishaps would occur. After all, we were human. 

One such harmless mishap fell our way as we returned from the La Junta, Colorado air-to-air gunnery range. Our formation of B-17s had executed the standard peel-off for landing and it seemed like a good opportunity for an emergency “ditching” exercise. I made the announcement over intercom to prepare to ditch. The men were trained for all eight of them to move quickly to the radio room, sit in the floor in two rows facing the rear of the plane. Each man was to interlock fingers of both hands and brace the head of the person in front of him - to reduce the shock impact as the plane hit the water. The radio operator was to remove the radio room overhead Plexiglas hatch. As far as I knew, things were going well. What I didn’t know was that the radio room overhead hatch had slipped from the radio operators hands and took flight through the air while we were on final approach. Another unknown factor was that an Inspector General and his staff were conducting a surprise inspection at the base and all were watching the planes make their approaches and landings. The aerial flight of my radio room hatch had focused attention on my aircraft by all the ground observers.

Something else I didn’t know about was that after the plane was parked and engines stopped, someone in my crew, and my bombardier has always been suspect, pulled a lever that launched and inflated the port side life raft, which was a no- no in a practice ditching exercise. The ditching procedure then called for each man to exit the radio room through the open hatch and alternately slide off the fuselage into the water (or ground in this case) and board the life rafts had this been a real emergency ditching. The pilot and copilot were to exit through their respective windows by grasping the top turret gun barrels and pulling themselves free to drop on the wing and run the length of the wing and drop to the water and board their respective life rafts. As I cleared the window and started my run down the wing, I was petrified to see four of my crew sitting majestically in the life raft. As I dropped off the wing tip to the ground, I was horrified to find myself eyeball to eyeball with a live - very large - red faced - brigadier general. His first remark was, “Son, are we in any imminent danger of that son of a bitch blowing up? My answer was negative. 

“Well then, why the life raft - has a dam busted and are we expecting a flood?” My answer was negative again. Next question, “Would you mind explaining then why you people are throwing good airplane parts overboard in the air?” Answer, “Sir, I’m not aware of an incident of that nature. Next question. “Tell me this then, is this the normal way you and your crew exit an airplane after landing? Give me a clue, boy! - What’s going on?” My commanding officer intercepted by explaining to the general that we were apparently conducting what looked to him like a half assed - over zealous attempt at a practice ditching exercise. I was then ordered to report to his office at 15:00 hours for a critique. Critique hell. I knew a butt chewing when I saw it coming. Well, you learned by doing. 

A few days later we decided to leave the restrictive boundary of our local air space and venture out on a little navigation mission to my home town - Buffalo Gap, Texas near Abilene. We thought it would be great fun to buzz the hamlet and give my old friend Mayor Coon Johnson a thrill along with Hazel Maxwell and her wonderful family and other friends there. We gave “The Gap” a pretty good dusting and saw several of the town folks outside waving at us. A miracle that we didn’t get a butt chewing over that. 

On the return flight we headed west down highway 80, that would take us directly back to Pyote. We were only a few miles out of Abilene when we were on the receiving end of a fighter attack. I almost shed my skin as a fighter plane zoomed across my windshield within ten feet of the nose as it passed over and down. His propwash nearly turned us upside down. We had picked up about a dozen P-39s from the Abilene Air Base and they worked us over for a hundred miles before doing victory rolls and returning to Abilene. The unscheduled simulated fighter attack proved to be great fun for all and was a good experience for our gunners and the fighters involved. 

A few days later we were scheduled for gunnery training on the air to ground gunnery range. This would be a strafing mission. There were mock up Naval vessels, buildings, aircraft and vehicles on the ground for our gunners to shoot up while we cut the grass on low level passes at the targets. Sgt. Ross Frank’s tail guns had jammed toward the end of the mission and we were forced to leave the range since our allotted time had run out. Just as we were leaving the range he reported his guns were now in firing order. We decided to let down on a heavily wooded creek ahead and he could expend the 100 or so rounds of ammunition he had left. 

If we brought any ammo back, we were suspect of not completing our mission. We let down to tree top level and came roaring down the creek with twin .50 Cal. tail guns blazing away. We zoomed over a large family of black folks who had slipped in to that “off limits” area to cane pole fish. Our two .50 cal. machine guns in the tail were blazing away. Those poor souls must have shed their skin as we suddenly appeared. They threw up their hands and ran through the brush like the world was coming to an end. We had unintentionally scared the hell out of them. That episode was probably enough to curb their desire to “slip in” and fish that creek for the duration of the war.

Next...The Texas Invasion

Continued...

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