On March 16, the sky over Thorpe Abbotts was open and the weather officer told us it would be clear sailing over the
continent. We were to drop bombs on an airfield at Gablingen, Germany.
Robert Flannigan and I completed pre-flighting the “big bird” with our usual walk around inspection that always
included kicking the huge waist high tires. Why, I don’t know. It just seemed like the thing to do. We always made
a visual inspection of the engines and took a look at the super chargers. If there was presence of red oil dripping
from the turbine, it could mean an oil seal problem. Those things ran at a terrific speed and very high temperatures
pumping air to the huge carburetors.
A check that the locking blocks on the horizontal stabilizer had been removed was a must. The very first B-17 built by
Boeing crashed and burned, senselessly killing everyone aboard because someone failed to remove the stabilizer
locking blocks before take off. We climbed aboard the bird through the rear door and found Sgt. Ross Frank in the
cramped tail gun turret installing gun barrels and attaching the .50 cal. ammo belts. Sergeants John Bowers and Wiley
Dobbs were doing the same at their respective stations in the waist.
The whirring sound of the motor on the ball turret indicated that Sgt. Austin Curlee was
putting his house in order. We
climbed over several bales of radar chaff in the radio room that Sgt. James was trying to stack.
Entering the bomb bay, we found Buddy Cox checking bomb racks and arming wires. Ten 500 pounders hung
there - 5 on each side. Buddy said, “Hi, it’s a beautiful day in Chicago.” Flannigan said “Bull muffins” as he stumbled
over the bulk head riser while entering the cockpit and fell on the right seat. Cox always liked to stand between the
copilot and me during the running of the check list. He thought it fascinating to watch our hands and fingers flick
along the controls and instrument panel, feet shuffling to reach and adjust the rudder/brake pedals. He said, “It’s
like two men playing a soundless organ.” Flannigan began reading from the check list:
“Set on pre-flight?”
“Weight and balance?”
“Adjust seat and rudder pedals.”
“Check controls? Right ok.”
“Fuel transfer, valves and switches?”
“Fuel shut-off switches?”
“Cowl flaps? Open right.”
“Open left, and locked.”
“Mixture, idle cut off?”
“De-icers and anti-icers, wing and prop?”
“Ha - Ha.” (there is none.)
“All set to fire up?”
At this point both pilots buckle chute straps and safety belt.
Flannigan picks up the cadence.
“Master switches on.”
“Battery switches and inverters?”
“On and checked.”
“Booster pumps, pressure?”
“On and checked.”
“Fuel supply and quantity?”
That was a check on the accuracy of the fuel gauges only. Flight engineer Sgt. Luquet had a long standing order from
the first day we flew as a crew that under no circumstances did we fly until he had removed each gas tank cap and
stuck a screw driver down into the tank and verified that each tank was full of gasoline, and there would be no
exceptions to that order!
At that point there was to be a member of the ground crew
standing by in front of number one engine with a fire
extinguisher. I would put my head out the window and call
out, “Fire guard” to alert him and to verify that he was
The energizing motor would begin to wind up and as soon
as I thought the sound pitch was right I would call out
“Mesh.” The copilot would then pull down on the energizer
switch and the meshing “dogs” would engage and start
turning the prop slowly. The prop speed would increase
and there would usually be a pop, then a belch of smoke out
the exhaust stack and the big Wright engine would come to
life. The process was continued until all four engines were
We eased the big bomber out to the take off point and into
the blue to do what we had been trained to do and what we
were being paid to do.
We arrived at the target and found it completely obscured
by clouds. Standard procedure for those who were
responsible for selecting targets was to find secondary and
even tertiary or third priority targets for the bombers. It
seemed foolish to abandon missions after the big bombers
had assembled and many times flown for hours getting to a
target then finding it covered with clouds.
This was the case at Gablingen so the secondary target was
selected which was the city of Augsburg. The target was
the I.G. Farbens Chemical Works and specifically the aiming
point was a 50,000 barrel tank of chemicals that was used to
produce synthetic rubber. There was about an eight tenths
cloud cover over the target and the sky had turned black
with flak. We were at about 20,000 feet altitude with
temperature at a minus 25degrees.
We found a momentary opening in the clouds that allowed
visual bombing of the target. At briefing, our Group CO
had given us the usual pep talk and with what might have
been construed as sort of a joke, he said, “If you are
required to bomb the secondary target at Augsburg, the turn
that will get you quickly off the target will be a right turn
which will take you over the edge of Switzerland’s Lake
Constance, and Switzerland as you all know is neutral.”
He went on, “If I hear that one of the planes from this group
lands in neutral Switzerland, it had darn sure better not be
with all four fans turning.” After bombs away we made
that turn over the lake and there was beautiful snow
covered Switzerland almost right under my right wing.
The thought probably never would have crossed my mind if
Col. Bennett hadn’t brought up the possibility of defecting
to neutral Switzerland. Seeing the possibility slip beneath
my right wing did provoke a glimmer of thought about the
matter. I was really too busy about that time fighting a war
to give much thought to throttling back and scooting in and
doing a belly-whopper - setting the “Gal” on fire and
hearing the famous words, “Veil frer you der var 1st over, Lowintent.” It’s my personal belief that anyone would have
been out of his cotton pickin’ mind to have jumped ship and
tried for Switzerland with Nazi fighters thick as fleas on a
wildcat around there.
The wing leader immediately called for fighter support as
soon as we cleared the target as ME-109s were everywhere.
Our top turret gunner, Sergeant Luquet shot down one of
the enemy fighters and left waist gunner Sgt. Wiley Dobbs
drove off three that had made several passes at us from the
port side. American and German fighters were engaged in
“dog fights” all over the sky.
Rockets were fired at us from ME-110s and our gunners
said with all those rockets hung under their wings, they
looked much like our B-24 bombers. It was estimated that
some 75 enemy fighters had made the attacks on our group.
A bomber from a group directly ahead of us was smoking
and dropped down about 10,000 feet, leveled out and
continued to fly at that elevation. Seven enemy fighters
could be seen attacking the hapless B-17 making pass after
pass until the big bomber started burning. We counted ten
chutes before the bomber exploded. The Jerries had been
smart - they picked us up just as soon as the escort left us.
It always seemed their timing was absolutely perfect
We had more equipment problems on this mission than any
mission we had flown. The intercom system wasn’t
working, causing difficulties in contacting crew members for
oxygen checks while we were on oxygen. We could not call
out enemy fighter attacks to the gunners. The ball turret
guns had solenoid problems and the nose turret would not
It could have been tough had we lost an engine and were
forced to lag behind without crew communication and faulty
Enemy fighters had bounced Clement Cowan’s plane and
riddled it with 20 mm cannon fire. The radio operator,
Sparky Myers was killed and Cowen was severely injured
by 20 mm fire.
Sherwyn “Sparky” Myers was buried at the Cambridge
American Military Cemetery, March 21, 1944. Chaplain
Teska officiating. Nine crew buddies were there to stand
testimony that Sparky will not be forgotten - and there were
nine lumps in nine throats as taps was sounded. The
Chaplain said, “He gave his life that free nations might
Copilot Hank Dibbern said, “The morning of the mission,
Sparky had bounded up with a smart salute and asked, “how
ya this morning?” I said, “Not bad, Sparky, how’s the
Swoon Crooner of the ETO ?“ Sparky went into his song,
a parody on “Apple Blossom Time”:
“I’ll be with you, in
I’ll be with you, to taxi down the line!
Away up in the blue,
The Big-Assed bird, and you.