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Bob Rosenthal
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B-17 Control Panel
The Base Of Operations
Russians Load Bombs
Goering's Lament
Code Of Conduct
C.B. (Red) Harper
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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 in sight.

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 aircraft.

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 for them.

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 daylight.

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 dock.

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 school.

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 Lockbourne AFB.

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 were reversed.

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 Goering's Lament

Continued...contact W4SID@attglobal.net for information.