Before ringing down the final curtain on World War II, we
should pause to reflect on this mighty conflict, which is
without parallel in history. The scope of it was unprecedented.
The fighting spread to engulf Europe, Africa, Asia
and the Pacific Islands. Eventually, it drew in the United
States and every other nation of significant power anywhere
in the world.
Nobody knows the exact carnage, but a credible estimate is
that twenty-two million people - military and civilian - died
and that another thirty-four million were maimed or
wounded. We do know that U.S. military forces sustained
1.07 million casualties and 292,000 Americans were killed.
There are no extenuating circumstances to explain away the
aggression of the Rome-Tokyo-Berlin-Axis. The war was a
cause that unified Americans like nothing before or since.
More than sixteen million of them served in uniform.
Citizens at home endured rationing, bought bonds, planted
victory gardens and saved scrap metal for defense
production. The fighting forces were constantly reminded
that their nation was behind them. In 1945, the United
States allotted an incredible 89.5 percent of the federal
budget for defense.
When the war was over, political and social change had
swept the globe. Centers of power had shifted and the
breakup of old colonial empires had begun. The United
States, inclined toward isolationism before the war, was in a
position of world leadership. A revolution had also taken
place in the nature of war.
World War II effectively began and ended with air power.
In September 1939, Germany rained blitzkrieg, lightning
war on Poland. In 1940, German air attacks in the Baffle of
Britain came perilously close to opening the door for
invasion forces to cross the English channel. On December
7, 1941, Japan struck the United States at Pearl Harbor.
Four years later, long range American B-29 bombers would
bring war to an end, striking the Japanese homeland from
island bases in the Pacific, but in 1941 that end was not yet
When the war began, Germany had more than 4,000 combat
aircraft. The British had about 2,000. The United States
had only 800. In China, American airmen of the famous
Flying Tigers used hit-and-run tactics because their P-40
Warhawks could not maneuver with the sleek Japanese
fighters. And while the B-17 bomber was outstanding, we
did not have many of them yet. Given the importance of
airpower in the war, it is a good thing we were able to catch
up. Air Force Historians say that every day for the length of
the war, American workers produced 191 airplanes, sixty-
four tanks, 1,761 trucks and 20,892 tons of shipping.
During World War II, the US Army Air Forces outpaced all
other nations in the numbers of aircraft, engines, technology
and size. For instance, in 1941, our squadrons were still
flying the P-26, an open-cockpit monoplane. Yet, by 1945,
we were flying our first jet, the P-80 Shooting Star.
History records that the Axis nations had air superiority in
the beginning but lost it through a series of critical mistakes.
They were unable to match US and Allied production of
aircraft therefore they could not hold on to their superiority.
Perhaps most fateful of all, both Germany and Japan clung
to the concept of airpower as an adjunct to ground and
naval forces, whereas the US and the British wielded their
airpower as a strategic weapon.
Albert Speer, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War
Production, said that Allied strategic airpower was the
equivalent of a “new front” for Germany, tying up 10,000
guns, hundreds of thousands of forces and about half the
electronics industry. Had it not been for this air front over
Germany, the defensive strength against their tanks could
have been doubled.
The Allied landings at Normandy in 1944 were aided
tremendously by an air campaign that pounded rail centers,
bridges, roads and airports that isolated the invasion
beaches from reinforcement. Ground troops fighting their
way across Europe had few worries about air attack
because the Luftwaffe had been put out of action.
The era of two-dimensional warfare was ended. The age of
military airpower had begun. The United States and its
Allies had defeated Axis plans for world conquest. For the
United States Army Air Forces, however, there was one
more legacy. On September 18, 1947, the US Air Force
would become a separate military service. It happened
largely because of what the Army Air Forces had achieved
during World War Two.
And so the heroes went home...
The crew of The Buffalo Gal went to the Port of
Embarkation Station at Naples, Italy for shipment home.
This station was a mad-house and was better known as the
“Repple Depple.” Hundreds of pyramidal tents were set up
as far as the eye could see. Troops were coming in from the
United States, others were going back for reassignment or
separation. The camp was divided into two sections. One
for processing those going home - the other for replacement
troops coming in.
Our flight engineer Technical Sergeant Clarence Luquet’s
brother Charles had just landed and was in the incoming
troops camp. Clarence wanted very much to see his brother
before going home, but there was a standing order
prohibiting enlisted personnel from leaving their camp area.
Officers were allowed to come and go at will.
Flannigan and I decided to have a “swearing in” ceremony
for Sgt. Luquet making him a First Lieutenant for the
evening. Flannigan outfitted the sergeant in an officers
uniform complete with wings and silver bars and the three
of us set out for an evening with brother Charles. Luquet
made it out the gate and acknowledged the MP guard’s
salute with a beautiful flying salute of his own. I was plumb
proud of him and if memory serves me right, “we hung on a
beauty that night.”
The next day I went out to Cappadocia Air Base which was
located in the vicinity of the famous volcano Vesuvius. I had
been told there were some B-25 aircraft there just begging
to be flown back to the zone of the interior (U.S.). I was
anxious to get out of Italy and go home.
I met a Lt. Col. at the base who was a squadron commander
of one of the B-25 outfits. He agreed to check me out.
He took me up in his B-25 and let me try my hand at several
landings. We went through emergency procedures including
single engine operation and ditching. We did an instrument
orientation and let down and he gave me an official okay.
We went to his office where he drew up papers and signed
them verifying that I was checked out to fly the B-25 type
I went out to the flight line to examine the B-25s that were
available to be flown back to the United States. They
looked real clean and appeared to be in near new condition.
A master sergeant line chief came over and asked me if I
was interested in flying one of the birds back to the states. I
answered in the affirmative. He took a screw driver and
removed a wing inspection plate and had me reach inside
the wing surface and feel around.
I brought my hand out covered with scale and volcanic ash.
The sergeant informed me that several attempts had been
made to fly the B-25s back to the states and over half of
them didn’t make it.
I didn’t like those odds and so I bid adios and returned to
doing whatever it was I was doing before spending a day
with the B-25 victims of ‘Vesuvius’ last eruption.
A couple of weeks later we were herded up a gang plank
and loaded aboard a concrete hull liberty troop ship named
for some famous army general. All officer quarters for the
trip home were on A deck - top side. They were very
comfortable and well appointed. This was going to be a
beautiful, relaxing boat ride home. Ah - yes.
First three grade non-corns were assigned B & C decks in
that order. Corporals, PFCs and privates were farther down
below the water line on D deck.
I was in the process of unloading my A-3 and B-4 bags.
Folded underwear and socks were being placed in the
drawer space provided when a ship’s officer knocked on the
door. He announced his regrets but all the officers on A
deck would have to be moved to another area of the ship.
I inquired as to just where in the hell that might be and the
ensign informed me that since all the troops assigned to this
ship had been loaded, the only space left was in the very
bottom of that concrete tub.
I was seething with rage and was sure this was an RHIP
(Rank Has Its Privilege) and field grade brass would be
moving into our plush quarters.
My rage turned to tears when I saw ambulatory patients
being put in our A deck accommodations. Some were quad
paraplegics - no arms or legs - some horribly burned and
bandaged - others minus some extremities - some had the
blank stare that could only come from witnessing some awful hell they had endured. Brains had just snapped -
causing need for a keeper around the clock. Some
mutilated horribly. Most were infantry troops with a sprinkling of artillery, combat engineers and medicos.
Cat calls and whistles accompanied the officers as we made
our way down past the enlisted troops. They were enjoying
every minute of our misery.
I think every officer in our group felt honored to surrender
our quarters to these magnificent heroes.
The air conditioning system was broken down where we
were - the fresh water stills were not operating - and we had
to bathe and wash our socks and underwear in salt water. It
was hot as hell to boot. Our bunks were stacked five high
one above the other.
I don’t recall hearing a single complaint from any officer in
the group. I did hear one complaining that he was being
kept awake by the whales farting. We were nine days
getting to New York.
There was a longshoreman strike in progress when we
arrived in New York harbor. I don’t believe any of the
38,000 returning combat troops aboard had any sympathy
There were no tug boats available to slowly push the big
ship into and through the harbor and to ease her into the
dock. We had arrived about midnight and had to drop
anchor out near the Statue of Liberty and sit there until
The ships captain finally said “To Hell With This” and pulled
anchor and headed for the docks under his own power.
Without help from the tugs, he had to slowly move the big
ship. He made the turn and headed her in along side the
He was doing beautifully until he was near the end of the
docking area. With engines full speed in reverse the
mammoth vessel still kept moving forward enough to tear
down about half a block of wooden wharf on 157th street -
all to the cheers of the 38,000 or so troops aboard his ship.
We were all just damn proud of him for taking a stand that
got the troops back home and off that stinking tub.
All the troops were loaded on a train and transported to
Camp Shanks over in New Jersey. After processing I was
given a 21 day leave with orders to report to Bryan AAF,
Bryan, Texas to attend an advanced flight instrument
After completion of the advanced instrument course I went
to Lockbourne AAF Base at Columbus, Ohio to attend
instructors standardization school.
Instructors school had us flying from the right seat with a
maniac instructor sitting in the left seat trying to kill us. The
experience turned out to be a good one. Our lives as
instructors were probably saved because we had
experienced about anything dumb a student could pull and
maybe we knew how to cope with it. After completion of
this phase of training I went to Hobbs, New Mexico as an
instrument check ride supervisor.
After VE Day, the Air Force announced a release program
based on a point system. I had more than the necessary
number of points to qualify so I decided to Bail Out!
I had accomplished a respectful number of instrument flying
hours in combat and completion of the Bryan Advanced
Instrument Flying Course was also on my 201 record.
Commercial airline representatives were on hand at all of
the four-engine transition school bases checking records of
all instructor pilots being separated from the service. One
of the airlines had taken an interest in my instrument records
and had asked me to meet with their representatives to
consider an offer for employment.
An airline job would have been made to order except that I
had a serious problem with it, brought on by an incident
that happened while attending instructor standardization at
Pilots attending the standardization program at Lockbourne
were dispatched at times during inclement weather
conditions to hone their skills by flying in actual bad
weather conditions. Instrument flying in simulated trainers
was of course much more economical than time spent flying
in aircraft. Actual instrument flying offered challenges not
encountered in simulator conditions.
Pilot instructor candidates flew in pairs on these weather
missions that lasted for six hours. One pilot would fly for
three hours as command pilot while the other took on the
copilot’s chores. At the end of the three hours, the positions
On one such mission I was designated to be command pilot
for the first period. We were experiencing a heavy winter
snow storm and ground visibility was less than a quarter of
a mile. An airline report indicated the top of the storm to be
at 10,000 feet. Our mission was to take off and as soon as
we experienced lift off, turn to a given compass beading
and climb straight out until we reached our assigned
altitude of 6,000 feet. We were then to fly back and forth
on the east/west leg of the beam, fifteen minutes out then
back over the station and fifteen minutes out in the other
direction and back. This was to continue until time to return
to the base.
We had three command set radios overhead in the cockpit.
The copilot had tuned one of them to the control tower
frequency and another was tuned to the beam frequency.
Both radios checked out loud and cleat. We were cleared
for take off by the control tower. As I felt lift off, I turned
to the climb compass heading and ground visibility became
zero. It was strictly instrument interpretation to keep the
aircraft aloft. I asked the copilot to switch me to the beam
radio, which he did, and the only sound was static. I asked
him to switch back to the tower radio and nothing was
heard but static on it. We tried retuning both radios - still
nothing but static. We were flying on instruments without a
navigation tool for instrument flying.
My next decision was to climb on up to 10,000 feet, get out
on top in the sunshine and go from there. At 10,000 we
were still in the soup. We went to 12,000 and were still in
it. We had no oxygen on board and the temperature had
dropped to about 29 degrees. We were both feeling the effects of
reduced oxygen at that altitude. I dropped back down to
the 10,000 foot level.
We activated the radio compass that had an enclosed loop
antenna and a panel instrument designed with an arrow that
would point in the direction of the radio station being
received. Its range was limited to about 50 miles at best.
Aircraft navigation beam radio station identification signals
were transmitted every five minutes. We continually rotated
the loop around and around... .nothing!
We had four VHF radios that were also typically short
range. In combat they were used for air to ground, bomber
to fighter, bomber to bomber but they were not adaptable to
navigation. Every few minutes I would make a distress call
on each of the VHF sets with no results.
Our situation seemed hopeless. Nothing was working right.
We were now flying in the darkness of night, our fuel supply
was dangerously low and we were making plans to
parachute out in the darkness if the engines began dying
from fuel starvation. I made another swing around the
circle with the radio compass. Suddenly the needle stopped
turning . . . .moved back and forth a few degrees and I heard a
faint Morse code signal “dit di-dah-dit” ER. A quick
check in the radio facility chart book told me it was Erie,
PA. We would have to be within 50 miles of Erie to have
picked up the signal. It lasted only a few seconds and the
signal was gone.
I tried the VHF radio again, “This is B-17 Q-Queen from
Lockbourne, Air Force Base with an emergency. If you
read me, please give me a call - over.” Then, “B-17 Q-
Queen - this is Pittsburgh radio - over.” “Pittsburgh radio
this is Q-Queen. We have been hung-up on instruments
since take-off from Columbus, Ohio this morning and our
navigation radio is out. The only clue to our possible
location is a radio compass signal we picked up about 30
minutes ago from Erie Pennsylvania’s radio beam station.
Can anyone take a radar position fix on us? Our fuel is low
and we need information on direction we might take to get
us out of this mess before we have to jump - over.”
“Q-Queen stand by - over.” In a few minutes Pittsburgh
radio was back with information that a radar fix was not
available but if we thought we might be in a fifty-mile radius
of Erie, PA., we should pick up a 300 degree compass heading,
let down to 7,000 feet altitude fly for one hour then let
down to 5,000 feet and we should be in the clear.
We followed the suggested procedure and at the end of an
hour I let down to 5,000 into a beautiful night sky full of
stars. I followed a series of swinging lighted beacons that
finally led to an airport. I dropped my landing gear and
buzzed the tower with landing lights on. This is a distress
signal. The tower flashed a green light to us and a vehicle
sent up a green-green flare from the end of the landing
runway to guide us in. A follow-me truck guided us to the
visitors ramp where we parked.
Someone came up into the cockpit from the waist area
wearing a heavy parka and greeted us. In answer to my
question “Where are we ?“, he announced we were in
London - Ontario, Canada.
We were taken to the base operations office where I gave a
brief explanation of how and why we were there and then
was given the courtesy of making a telephone call to my
base in Columbus, Ohio. My commanding officer was on
the phone in seconds asking if we were okay. While I was
talking to him the operations officer handed me a note
telling me that the long antenna wire for the command
radios had broken loose making the radios inoperable.
We flew back to Lockbourne the next morning. We passed
over lake Ontario that was just solid huge chunks of ice. A
nice place to bail out in the dark of night.
That incident haunted me during the interview with the
airline people. Airlines were using the same type radio
equipment. I knew the same thing that had happened to me
with the broken antenna wire was a possibility in their
aircraft - loaded with passengers. I couldn’t do it.
Later on, new and much more reliable radio systems became
available. Radar was vastly improved as a navigation aid for
aircraft as well as a visual projection of weather in route.
Inclement weather landing instrumentation and procedures
were later refined resulting in much safer instrument flying.
I have a book, "One Last Look", by Rex Allen Smith, that has
a paragraph I want to share with you in closing.
No American or East Anglican can think seriously about
B-17s today without feeling the tug of their great purpose
and destiny. They were the two-fisted tin cans that tore the
roof off a deranged empire. When they swarmed over
occupied Europe, people blessed them. One day, when
several hundred of them roared across Holland, a little girl
cried out in fear. Her father put his arm around her, took
her hand and looked up. “Listen to it, Helene,” he told
her. “It’s the music of angels.”
Next...Luftwaffe Chief, Hermann