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Target Brunswick Again
Target Augsburg
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Bob Rosenthal
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William R. Lawley
B-17 Control Panel
The Base Of Operations
Russians Load Bombs
Goering's Lament
Code Of Conduct
C.B. (Red) Harper
Credits & Links


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?”
     “Roger, pre-flight.”
     “Weight and balance?”
     “Adjust seat and rudder pedals.”
     “Check controls? Right ok.”
     “Left ok.”
     “Fuel transfer, valves and switches?”
     “Fuel shut-off switches?”
     “Gear switch?”
     “Cowl flaps? Open right.”
     “Open left, and locked.”
“Mixture, idle cut off?”
     “High rpm?”
     “De-icers and anti-icers, wing and prop?”
     “Cabin heat?”
     “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?”
     “Master switches on.”
     “Battery switches and inverters?”
     “On and checked.”
     “Booster pumps, pressure?”
     “On and checked.”
     “Carburetor Filters?”
     “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! 

     “Start engines?”

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 there.


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 running.

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 move horizontally.

It could have been tough had we lost an engine and were forced to lag behind without crew communication and faulty machine guns.

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 exist..” 

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 for-or-mation time,
            I’ll be with you, to taxi down the line!
                    Away up in the blue,
                    The Big-Assed bird, and you.

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