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by Burrell Ellison
George A Jewett was assigned as co-pilot the very first thing at Gowan Field in Boise, Idaho. George was a year or two older than I was and much more settled. He was married and his wife went along whenever we were transferred, which was fine as she interfered with our training in no way. Both of the Jewetts were from Ames, Iowa. Jewett proved to be a good pilot and a very dependable man for every task that was assigned to him. He had the respect of each man and was obeyed without question.
The first bombardier assigned to our crew in Boise, was a brand new second lieutenant named Charlie Rogers. Rogers was a throw-back if there ever was one. He was cocky, arrogant, disrespectful and totally incompetent. This one didn't believe in following orders or in being on time to formations. Rogers boasted that he came from a long life of deserters and that he was going to desert too. According to him, his father had deserted in World War One, his grandfather In the Spanish American War, his great grandfather in the American Civil War and so on back to the American Revolution. Rogers remained an on-paper member of our crew for approximately three weeks. Anyway, by this time I had quite enough and knew full well that this odd ball did not fit in with the superior crew that had been selected so I had him relieved from further duty with us. He protested frantically, but all to no avail. . We never heard of him further.
The next, and permanent, bombardier was a man from Whistler, Alabama. This man, Quitman Caldwell Hurdle, seemed to fit right in and although he was a few years older than the rest of us, the crew seemed to like him so he went on through phase training and into combat with us. With the exception of Anderson, the crew was virtually complete.
Our navigator was a fellow named Earl F Bassett. Bassett was from Rhode Island and was eager to satisfy. He was always on time so he stayed and went to combat with us. Also, his wife, like Jewett's, never interfered, not that I ever heard of anyway.
Me? A country boy from Kershaw, South Carol ma, I was an ex-B-24 co-pilot from the Pocatel 10 Air Base, Idaho, who had been lucky enough to be selected for First Pilot Training. I was 21 years old, excel lent health, four years of college, single and unemployed. In short, I was "just right". I had no dependents - just me. I was transferred to Boise, May 20, 1943.
So much for the officers.
We were indeed fortunate to pick up an ex B-24 crew chief and mechanic for an engineer. Howard F Samples of West Virginia had been regular Army Air Corps, but had gotten into some trouble about some officer's wife. He had to go somewhere quickly and we came along just at the right time. I never asked the particulars and was never told. We were just happy to have Samples with us.
Next was our assistant engineer and ball turret gunner. Jackson A Tupper was a small man, married, obedient, dependable and very modest. No problem with Tupper at all. . Very religious, he was never a hell-raiser, always saved his money and was very cheerful. Tupper was from upstate Maine.
Reginald P Jean's major accomplishment was that he spoke fluent French. I figured if we went to Europe and were shot down, Jean would be a good man to have along. On top of that, he was a top notch radio operator and mechanic. He stayed and flew every mission with the crew. Tupper and Jean lived in towns of close proximity to one another in Maine.
Edmond J patnaude was by far the youngest man on the crew. He was barely eighteen years old. Pat knew a lot about radio and was an excellent gunner. He had the burning desire to shoot down Germans. No problems with Pat at all. If there ever was a good man from Massachusetts, Pat was him!
Harold Picking, a Pennsylvania boy from Dutch country, was selected as a waist gunner and a good on he was. Married, cheerful, always ready to fly or whatever was desired of him. Picking made a valuable asset to the crew.
Stanley Moore joined us in Boise as a tail gunner. Moore had problems! He was too big to fit into the tail turret easily and Moore liked to drink hard Kentucky 'likker'. In fact, Moore was stoned out of his head nearly every night. I hated to replace him but actually I had no choice but to wish him well and good-bye.
At Scottsbluff, Nebraska, we had an 11 man crew, but after Moore left we had every position filled with the best men on any 8-24 anywhere.
Clyde S Anderson was the oldest man on the crew. He was in his mid thirties whereas the rest of us were in the early to mid twenties. Clyde, when asked why he volunteered for flying duty, always replied that he had once illegally killed a man and that he wanted to kill one legally. Anyway, Anderson was our permanent tail gunner.
So much for the crew.
After we started phase training as a crew, we flew night and day, all over the Pacific Northwest. Our instructor was a young Captain Nelson who had recently returned to the United States from combat duty in North Africa flying B-25s and B-24s. We practiced day and night landings until we were quite proficient. One night, after a cross country, the number two engine caught fire and we made a hurried landing, cutting across the traffic pattern and alarming the tower operators something fierce. Jimmy Stewart, the actor, was at Gowan at the same time and we found him to be very shy and self-conscious. I ate with him several times in the Officers' Mess and very seldom would the then Lt. Stewart ask for anything to be passed to him. Stewart's crew and our own crew left Boise about the same time -- Stewart going to Sioux City, Iowa, which we went to Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
At Boise, we didn't have much time for ourselves except at the Canteen on the flight line. ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL and ROSE ANN OF CHARING CROSS seemed to be about all the juke box would play. I always wondered where Charing Cross might be until I found out. . . in London.
My first official act at Scottsbluff was to request leave for the entire crew. Surprisingly, an eight day leave was granted and most of us went to our home towns for a few days. When we returned to Scottsbluff in the scorching heat of July we were put almost exclusively on night duty. With no air conditioning it was practically impossible to sleep restfully during the day, exhausted or not. When we did get a pass we went to the Lincoln Hotel in town to sleep in air conditioned comfort. We had never seen sugar beets grown before and there were acres and acres of these beets around Scottsbluff. They smelled awful!
One night we were on a cross country to Minot, North Dakota and ran into a string of thunderstorms. I saw some runway lights and decided to try to land -- anything to get out of the turbulence of the storms. When we landed on the short civilian field, our nose wheel was in the water of an adjoining lake. We later learned we had landed at Watertown, South Dakota. We took off after daylight and flew back via Alliance, Nebraska in a blinding rainstorm. When we returned to Scottsbluff, we found that our wings had been buckled by the storms.
On another night we had a cross country to the Minneapolis- St. Paul area. During our leave, but unbeknown to us, the wingtip gas tanks had been filled. When we were about two-thirds of the way from Minneapolis-St.Paul back to Scottsbluff, Samples advised me that we were almost out of gas. I knew we had to find a field quickly or we would spread that B-24 over two or three acres of good farm land. Then we saw some lights that looked like a runway. we landed. It must have been some secret install at Ion as staff cars descended on us I Ike we were from Mars. When I asked for gas it was freely given and I wasn't asked to sign anything. Bassett didn't know where we were and I still don't know. When we did get back to Scottsbluff we were told that indeed we had more than enough gas and why the hell hadn't we checked the tanks. Anyway, no harm done and we learned a valuable lesson. George and I both got plenty of actual instrument flying time at Scottsbluff which later stood us both in good stead.
On August 13, 1943, we were proclaimed a "model crew" and sent to Mountain Home, Idaho, as an Instructor crew. That is, the pilot Instructs new pilots, bombardiers instruct new bombardiers and so on through each man's specialty. Mountain Home is a few miles from Boise, so when we got a pass, that's where we headed. Passes were few and far between as we flew from 8:00 pm to 12:00 pm and from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 am almost every night. We were the only crew checked out in night flying. The runway is huge; 10,000 feet long and 500 feet wide. The base was tar papered shacks and Idaho dust. I shall never forget the train ride from Scottsbluff to Mountain Home. The train was ancient and stopped long and often. On top of that, the air conditioning did not work. We stopped at Green River, Wyoming for water for the coal-fired engine and I ran into a bar located near the track. I had 10 cents to my name and put it in a slot machine. I hit the jackpot! I haven't hit a jackpot since, but I was instantly wealthy -- that one time.
When we finally arrived at Mountain Home, we were filthy dirty and looked as if we had been 'riding the rods', as regular hobos do, all the way. One of us, who shall I remain nameless, didn't even take a bath, but simply put on a clean shirt and pair of pants and went to Boise. Shortly I was getting quite enough of night flying with green right-out-of flying-school pilots and volunteered for combat. I figured that combat would be safer. The crew agreed.
So, on September 22, 1943, we were sent to Casper, Wyoming. En route we passed through Pocatel 10 Idaho, and I walked up Main Street to see if anybody I knew was in sight. While I was sight seeing, the train for Casper pulled out and I was stranded. I went out to the air base and a friend took me to Ogden, Utah on a 'routine training flight'. I hung around the operations office there hoping to catch a ride on an eastbound flight. After a few hours, when I was really getting desperate, a C-47, overloaded as it was, offered me a ride as far as Denver. I accepted, gratefully. At Lowery Field In Denver, a B-17 gave me a ride to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Believe it or not, I got to the train station just as our train from Mountain Home was pulling out of the station. I made it and arrived in Casper as If I'd been on the train all along. Lucky!
At Casper, a series of accidents started occurring with B-24's during take off. Within two to three minutes after becoming airborne, all four engines would quit. After several airplanes and crews were lost, it was determined that a saboteur had put sugar and other foreign matter in the gas tanks.
There was a lot of loose talk about a supposed landing in Alaska and there was one place we definitely did NOT want to go --the Aleutians. We heard that there was no such thing as good flying weather up there.
On September 23, 1943, it was C 0 M B A T here we come! We were sent to Herington, Kansas to stage for overseas. We arrived at Herington in the midst of a blowing, freezing rain, and with about six cases of Canadian Seagram VO and Old Grandad Whisky. The question now was how were we going to keep it. We were issued all shades and grades of wool clothing and equipment plus a brand new B-24-J number 43-1604. I willingly signed for that airplane. Then the "modifications". On 'shake down' flights we took out the entire oxygen system and jettisoned the oxygen bottles and other hardware in a Kansas field in order that we would have enough room to store our whiskey over the bomb bay. This worked fine except that the center of gravity was pretty far off the margin of safety. This minor technicality was overcome by requiring several men to take off and land in the nose. On top of that, we had a propeller that did not obey the controls, but we were not disposed to make a big deal of that.
We were ordered to the Port of Embarkation, Morrison Field, at West Palm Beach, Florida. Warrant Officer Howard Cates decided to ride to Florida with us, a decision he would regret before he got to West Palm Beach. Immediately after take off, October 1, 1943, Jean rigged the liaison radio on command frequency and I gave position reports where we were supposed to be at a given time when in actuality we were flying a straight line to South Carol ma. I had made smalI parachutes out of some cloth and affixed notes to a girl in Lancaster, South Carolina, and to my mother and father. We found my home town and I flew over my parent's house at tree top level and Anderson threw out the messages. These were picked up and delivered. Carolyn, my wife, still has the message that Anderson dropped out that was addressed to her. Then we set a course for West Palm Beach. Alas, we had gone too far out of our way and had used too much gas trying to make the times of position reports agree with where we were supposed to be. The result was we were rapidly running out of gas and there was no way to make it to West Palm Beach. En route we had buzzed my grandfather's farm so close to the ground that we had tree leaves, caught in the bombay doors. When Warrant Officer Cates saw these, he almost had a heart attack.
Due to the rapidly approaching darkness and lack of gas, we landed in Jacksonville, Florida at the Naval Air Station. We all went into town for a meal and to look the place over. The following day we did proceed to West Palm Beach and I faced the music about landing in Jacksonville, FL. Howard Cates came in good as he smoothed the matter over for us. We hung around West Palm Beach for a few days, went sight seeing in Miami, etc., and on October 5, 1943, took off for Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico. There was a radio tower in our line of flight just off the end of the runway and I recall just barely lifting the right wing over It. Off the coast of Miami I made a 360 degree turn for us to take one last look at the USA for it was very uncertain that we would ever see the United States again. It was then that I opened our secret orders. We were one single airplane and crew headed for the United Kingdom. And we were on per diem all the way.
The flight from Morrison Field in Florida to Borinquen Field was a pleasant one and the weather was super. When we landed in Puerto Rico it was the first time most of us had been out of the States except for Mexico and Canada. We landed and immediately told the operations officer that we were experiencing a 'little' trouble with the governor on one of our propellers. Then we were assigned transient quarters. After a few days some of us 'borrowed' the Administrative B--25 and flew over to San Juan for the weekend. We almost stayed too long. The Air Transport Command was about to be called in to take us on to our destination and fly our B-24 back to the States for repairs. I knew that would never do, especially in sight of our cargo of liquor and the 'modifications' we had effected in Kansas. While at Borinquen we picked up a stranded RAF navigator from Aukland, New Zealand named Desmond W. Mullen. We were to transport him all the way to England. He proved to be a valuable passenger.
We took off for points south. We did stop over for a night in Belem but other than that we kept moving until we reached Natal, Brazil. I remember that it took almost an hour to fly over the mouth of the Amazon River. At Natal we decided we needed a rest. After about a week the ATC was being thought of again and we had to make plans rather quickly to proceed across the Atlantic. There was one problems Our CO-pilot, George Jewett, usually a very straight-laced fellow, sampled some of that green Brazilian beer and it flew all over him. For about two days that followed, whenever he would drink some water, he was in foul shape again. That cured George from drinking beer.. .period! Bassett wasn't eager to leave Natal, he liked to go to town. Most of the crew members were ready to leave, go anywhere. I had put a guard on the airplane with orders to shoot anybody who attempted to go aboard without my permission and that wasn't suiting some of the crew at all. While in Natal, we laid in a supply of silk stockings and Omega Wrist Watches as Captain Nelson, our instructor at Gowan Field, had advised us. These items, together with the whiskey, worked wonders in our favor in England.
Overloaded, center of gravity off, contraband cargo, propeller governor not working properly, RAF Desmond W Mullen and all, we took off at dawn for Ascension Island in the middle of the South Atlantic. We were about one and one-half steps ahead of the ATC. Hurdle had gotten a ride to Recife, Brazil and I was on pins and needles for fear he would not get back to Natal before the ATC did. But he made it, just barely in time.
En route, over the blue, deep Atlantic, German U-Boats were jamming the radio compass and trying to lure us off course. Desmond W. Mullen came in handy at this point. He was a very accomplished celestial navigator and between Mullen and Bassett we arrived at where Ascension Island was supposed to be on time. Ascension Island was completely shrouded with clouds. Jewett made his first unassisted landing since we had left the States - on Ascension Island. The island itself is about three miles wide and seven miles long and the runway Is the side of a mountain that had been blasted away. Once away from the mainland we felt free. I would not show our secret orders to anyone and nobody knew exactly what to do with us so we stayed until I we got ready to leave or somebody started talking ATC, then we departed in great haste. We loitered on the island for three days and then took off for Roberts Field, Liberia, Africa. The second half of our trans-Atlantic flight was very uneventful. Frankly, I was plenty happy to see the coast as I was not at all sure of our course. We landed and it was as if we had stepped back in time a few centuries. The natives were half-naked and wore loincloths. There were big fans in the mess hall that were operated by natives pulling ropes. Needless to say, we didn't stay there but one night.
The trip to Dakar from Roberts Field, Liberia was a long one. While crossing the Sahara we buzzed an outpost of the French Foreign Legion. It looked just like a movie set. At Dakar we were greeted with a loud, "Where have you been?" I lamely told about our propeller problems but assured them that it was "All I right now". That Operations Officer had ATC written all over him. Anyway, we were nice guys and gave him a bottle of bourbon and promptly went Into town to see the sights. We saw the sights, all right! Jean lost his hat in some place that we went in to see a show. People at the airfield looked at us strangely, maybe because I would not give up a copy of our orders. So, after a day or so, I marched in to the operations office and filed a flight plan to Marrakech. We were glad to go and the base people were glad to see us go.
Marrakech is a very old city. The weather there is about the same as South Carolina and as long as nobody brought up the ATC, it suited me to stay awhile. Meanwhile, I had steadfastly refused to surrender our secret orders and I knew full well that to get a TWX through all of the bureaucratic red tape would take at least four days. Too, I rationalized, the worst possible thing that could happen to us was happening; we were headed for combat and almost certain death. Very, very few had survived combat in the European Theater and we did not have reason to believe that we were the exception. We had all volunteered for flying duty and for combat and we were going, no doubt about that. We were just taking our time -- that's all. We traded booze and a watch or two for transportation and body guard down to the very, very old part of the city called the Madena. It was like living in Biblical times. We visited some of the cafes, etc., and one place no officers were allowed. I borrowed Picking's dog tags, shirt, etc., and started answering to Sgt. and went where I wasn't supposed to go -- along with the other officers. The picture show CASABLANCA was popular in the States and Hurdle had enough 'brass', brass, not rank, to get a staff car to take him over to the city itself and bring him back. I never quite understood how he got away with that. All good things must come to an end, so we loaded up and took off one night for England.
We were to fly west of Portugal and then north to Lands End in England. The flight did not go exactly as planned. After turning on our heading north, I went to sleep. Jewett woke me up a bit later and asked what the lights on the grounds down under our right wing were. Lights, hell! There weren't supposed to be any lights anywhere that we could see, but there they were. I asked Bassett and he said that he 'thought' it must be Lisbon. Anyway, thoroughly awake now, I turned to a heading of 270 degrees until the lights completely faded into the darkness and then resumed the northern heading. The thought of being picked up from France by a German listening device was a haunting thought. Shortly after the crack of dawn, I saw land and some letters formed by hand placed rocks that spelled EIRE. That was a beautiful sight as the gas was getting low and I had no idea where I was and I wasn't sure that our navigators did either.
I knew that we had to be due west of England so I took up a heading of 90 degrees and hoped that the gas would hold out. There were many cargo and naval ships in the sea below and I planned to ditch our airplane as close to a ship as possible if the gas ran out.
Shortly a coastline came into view and I was determined to land at the first opportunity, military or civilian, it mattered not one whit to me. Within a minute or so I saw what looked as if it might be an airstrip and promptly landed. It was a RAF base and the American made jeep that came out to the airplane carried a stern looking Englishman who said, "You cawn't land here!" I already had landed after a six or seven week trip from the USA but was perfectly willing to go back home the way I'd come if I had the authority. We got them to 'lend' us some gas and give up a heading to an American base. Shortly we landed at a place called Newquey at the southwestern tip of England. We were told that we had to deliver our airplane to an air depot called Burtonwood up the coast near Liverpool. We stayed at Newquey a day or so until the weather was forecast to be good enough to land at Burtonwood and then took off in late afternoon. When we arrived over Burtonwood, fog had rolled in and I could see straight down but not horizontally at all. The tower instructed me to fly the British glide path which I did and landed safely. Thankfully, I had been told about some of the RAF systems in flying school. Once on the ground we became very concerned about our cargo of whiskey, silk stockings and watches. Since the bomb sight was no longer with us, we had put the metal safe which the bomb sight had been in, to good use as a storage place for as many cases of whiskey as it would hold. Hurdle, always good at procurement, came through again and commandeered a GI truck to haul us and our baggage to the assigned replacement depot at Shakespeare's old home town, Stratford-on-Avon. I turned in my plane and got some second lieutenant to sign for it and we were on our way.
That was some "chilling" ride at night and on those very narrow English roads. At Stratford-on-Avon we exchanged what little American money we had for British pounds and shillings and promptly got in a poker game. We were betting pound notes like they were dollars when in reality the exchange was one pound note for $4.35 American. Crews were coming in and going out at a rapid rate thus we shipped out via rail to Stone, November 11, 1943. Stone was near Norwich and we were allowed to visit the city once or twice. We marveled at how people ran, not walked, almost everywhere they went. The canal system intrigued us as a canal ran almost through the base. Next we went to Cheddington and it was there that we had our first leave to London. It was also here we ate Thanksgiving dinner. We arrived in London at the Charing Cross Station during an air raid. Sirens and search lights were all over the place. Some of us went outside the station to see the excitement, but when shrapnel from the anti-aircraft shells started dropping all around us, we quickly went back inside. We flew a few practice missions at Cheddlngton and on November 27, 1943, we were transferred to Attlebury for further flying training and formation flying. On one practice mission with the new B-24-H nose turret, Hurdle got the turret turned in such a manner that he could not get out or turn the turret at all. He was climbing around in it very much akin to a squirrel in a cage. We landed without a mishap so no harm was done.
The big day came on December 19 when we received orders to the 392nd Bomb Group. Our transportation was by GI truck. The driver, on arrival, pointed to the B-24's parked in the hard stands and remarked, "Those are the very airplanes that are taking the bombs into Germany". Wow, that remark hit home and sunk in.
When we reported in at the 392nd, we were assigned to the 576th Squadron which was then commanded by Major Clyde Gray. Our quarters were fairly new and in a section of the base reserved for the 576th Squadron. The officers' quarters had two rooms, which was half of a Nissan Hut and the men shared a barracks with men of other crews. I roomed with Hurdle while Jewett roomed with Bassett. Believe it or not, our luggage arrived without mishap, our whiskey intact.
After a few days fighting for the meager amount of coal that was available, Hurdle hit upon the idea of having a coal bin built of brick right next to the stove. In that way we could fill it up when coal was delivered to the 574th site and have enough to last until the next delivery. Some Irish workmen were nearby and Hurdle's plan was carried out with Hurdle as supervisor.
One of the first things we were required to do was to have a 'combat patch' sewn on to our uniform blouses. A combat patch is simply a piece of royal blue cloth about four inches long and two inches wide which was sewn above our left breast pocket in such a manner that It would serve as a background for our silver wings. The patch differentiated combat crews from ordinary ground or support people, officers and enlisted men. After, or if, we finished a tour of combat, the patch was to be removed.
We flew practice missions until we felt that we could fly a mission in our sleep. Major Gray wanted to be absolutely sure of the proficiency of the crews, each man on a crew Individually.
Then the BIG DAY came. January 11, 1944, we were awakened at 3:30 am and told the time for breakfast, briefing, etc. Frankly, I wasn't very hungry, even for fresh eggs. At briefing we were told that the target would be Brunswick and that we could expect moderate flak and some resistance from fighters. The weather over the target was supposed to be good but a cold front was expected later in the day.
Take off went as we had practiced with the exception that the sky at the assembly point was filled with B-24s. I didn't know there were that many airplanes in the world. Our formation ship was supposed to fire our group identification flares, red/yellow which it did. We got into our assigned places in the formation, crossed the coast, the English Channel, the enemy coast and headed into heartland Germany. After we had been flying about two and one-half hours, Jean excitedly told me that he had heard "Almagordo", the group recall signal. Meanwhile over Holland we had seen a few bursts of flak and somebody and yelled over the Intercom "Bandits at nine o'clock". This was our first experience with enemy action. It was exciting and all that, but for my part, life would be just as complete without it. Flak sounds like someone throwing gravel on a tin roof, or it did to me. On other missions some bursts of flak were close enough to hear and to see the red core when the shell exploded. That's too close! Anyway, we turned for England and all the fighter opposition that I saw was a few black specks off to our left. We must have had some fighter escort as I do not recall an engagement. We dropped our bombs on a target of opportunity which turned out to be Meppin, Germany. The next day the Stars and Stripes carried the headline, "Eighth Air Force Destroys Secret Bomb Dump". What a joke that was! We may have hit a bomb dump but it was purely by accident. The return to the base was blissfully uneventful. After de-briefing and the customary shot of whiskey, we sighed and felt like real genuine ALL AMERICAN warriors. Number one was history.
A few days later we went on a no-ball (a target near the enemy coast such as a harbor installation that required little exposure to the enemy from attacking forces) to France and made several runs over the target. It is very doubtful if we hit anything but the ground. Then the weather turned really bad for about a week.
January 24, 1944, is one date that I won't forget. We were awakened as usual, shaved, etc., and went to breakfast. Real, honest-to-goodness chicken eggs. I thought that something must be up. It was. When the briefing officer drew back the curtain from the map there was one red ribbon stretching from Wendling in England to Berlin in Germany. The usual zigs and zags to avoid known enemy anti-aircraft emplacements were missing. There was no ribbon plotting the return route. One ribbon to Berlin and that was IT. The briefing officer, I do not recall who it was, simply said, "Well, boys, this is the one you've been waiting for, the first United States AAF mission to Big-B." After the oohs and ahhs died down, he continued to tell us that if we missed the PFF (Pathfinder) ship to fly on to the target and bomb the railroad station in the center of Berlin. Also, if the group was split up, we were to tack on to another group and/or get back the best way we could. That last part really sent my stomach to cutting cartwheels. Flak over Berlin was expected to be heavy and fighter opposition was expected to be fierce. In other words, this was to be a one-way mission. Nobody was expected to return to England.
The weather was cold, misty and generally awful. Take-off was delayed, but we finally got off at about 9:00 am. We formed the group above the clouds and started out across the English Channel. After we crossed the Channel, there was a cloud bank that must have gone up to 40,000 feet. We flew into the clouds and the formation scattered. Everywhere I looked during breaks in the clouds I saw B-24s. Then Jean heard the recall, "Almagordo". Now, all we had to do was get back to the base without a mid-air collision. After a couple of near misses, we broke in the clear above the lower layer of clouds. In short, we made it back after having been airborne about four and one-half hours. No bombs were dropped. We were promised mission credit, but somehow someone forgot that promise. After the war, I tried to find out something about that January 24th. There is no mission folder in the 392nd records in the National Archives. My Form Five records no flying time and nobody except Merwyn Jones, Don Clover and Bob Berger will even admit that such a mission was ever scheduled. Thus, I've called it "The Mission That Never Was." We lost one crew and there is no record of even who it was. But that one briefing and subsequent fIight made a believer out of me.
On January 29, our Squadron Commander, Major Clyde T Gray was killed in a mid-air collision while forming the group over England. Major Gray was one of those really good men. The then 1st Lieutenant Charles Lowell was made temporary Squadron Commander. This appointment was shortly made permanent and Lowell was promoted to Captain.
From January 24 into the middle of February we flew two or three missions to bomb airfields in France without much enemy action except flak, which was bad enough.
Then on February 20, we went to bomb Helmstadt in Germany. Actually, the briefed target was Halberstadt. Fighters were out in force, estimated at 35 to 40 Mel09s and FWI9Os. The 392nd lost several ships on this mission but we were not hit very badly.
Two days later we were briefed for Gotha but the weather prevented the mission going. On February 24, Gotha was again scheduled and it was on this mission that the 392nd was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.
Once, when we were en route to a target in Germany, Picking called from a waist gun position and said that we had a leak in an oxygen line. Jewett went back to see how bad it was and when he came back to the cockpit he said that I'd better go back and see for myself. There was a hole in the line leading from an oxygen tank just about where the 50 caliber waist gun could possibly have hit it and oxygen was escaping rapidly. It would have been impossible to continue the mission as I concluded that we would run out of oxygen either before we could get to the target or back to England. We would have had to leave the formation in central Germany and drop down to 12,000 feet. At that altitude, and alone, we wouldn't have a chance to return to the base. Reluctantly, I made a decision to abort even though we were well into Germany. We were given mission credit. After the war I was told that Anderson made the hole in the oxygen line with his penknife. Had I known this at the time, I would have had him court martialed, but I was in total ignorance for many years.
Nothing much happened for a few days. We went on leave to London, Scotland, or wherever for five days.
Starting March 5th, we were scheduled for nearly every mission. We went to Bordeau in southern France, Genshagen just outside Berlin, Erkner, a suburb of Berlin and a short mission to France on which the weather was so bad we landed at an RAF base and returned to Wendling the next day.
On March 16, we went to Fredrickshafen. It was a long haul, but uneventful. The next time the 392nd went to Fredrickshafen, of the 22 planes over the target, 15 were shot down.
As nearly all the 392nd B-24S had been shot down, we put up 12 or 13 ships and went to Watten to bomb some gun emplacements.
General Leon Johnson led us to St. Dizier to bomb an airfield. We made several passes over the target and finally dropped our bombs at 12,000 feet. Thankfully we saw no fighters except ours.
By now we had 15 missions to our credit and we were still alive. Captain Leonard Barnes, the Squadron Operations Officer, was going back to the United States for R & R (rest and recuperation). This was a deal that after 15 missions a combat pilot could elect to return to the United States for 30 days leave and then come back to the group and start over. Barnes tried to get me to go home with him, but I said, "No way". I had over half of my tour finished and wasn't about to leave a good crew for the unknown. I elected to stay and hope to finish my 25 missions. Barnes went home, came back to the group, was promoted to major and was killed in a freak accident. He was a good man and the epitome of a combat pilot.
April 1, 1944, April Fools Day, we were briefed for Ludwigshaffen, Germany, a heavily defended target. The weather was bad, as usual, but away we went anyway. We flew, and flew, and flew, flying on a PFF ship that was supposed to know where it was going. I was flying deputy lead that day and had no choice except to fly on the PFF ship's right wing. Bassett, my navigator, said he had no idea where we were when I asked him. The PFF ship dropped its flairs and we slaved our bombs as did everyone else. There was no flak and I had seen no fighters. We knew we weren't over Ludwigshaffefl, but did not know where we were. In fact, I hadn't seen anybody but our group and the 44th. A lone P-51 had been with us for about an hour and I surely prayed that he could stay until we got home. It seemed to take forever to get out of Germany and we were running low on gas. We had about 15 minutes left when, through clouds we saw the English Channel. Somehow, we got back to Wendling, landed and all hell broke loose. It seems the PFF ship had taken us into Switzerland and we had bombed Schaffhausen. We got seven days leave after that fiasco. I went to Taunton in southern England. Hurdle went to Scotland and I have no idea where the rest of the crew went. Tupper usually stayed at the base and slept late when we had several days leave. Not me, I was too glad to get away.
While we were on leave the 392nd suffered some heavy losses. On April 13, we bombed an airfield and on April 18, we went to Cruxhaven just outside Brandenburg near Berlin. Then we had a few short missions to France. It was about time we flew a few short missions according to my way of thinking. Flak over Berlin looked like a tremendous thundercloud, visible 100 miles away.
Then we got the word that our tour had been increased from 25 to 30 missions. All of the flying personnel thought that this was the work of General Jimmy Doolittle and to us he was one SOB glory hog! We felt that this increase was a breach of faith. Not until after the war did I learn that General Doolittle was the best friend the aircrews had and that he was ordered by General Arnold to increase the number of missions and that General Arnold wanted no specific number constituting a tour. Just fly until either you were shot down or the war was over.
We went on leave again and while we were gone the group went to Berlin again. The Luftwaffe was up and waiting and the losses were severe.
On May 7, we went to Munster. En route to the target, out of my left window, I saw an American/German fighter dog fight like one would imagine a movie studio would make. On top of that, I had smuggled the enlisted Charge of Quarters along on the mission. He sat in the radio room and missed the whole show.
On May 8, we went to Brunswick, Germany. We saw some fighters but none attacked us. Flak was horrible. When we got back I counted 142 flak holes in our plane.
Number 25 mission, which should have completed our tour, was to an airfield near St. Troud, a milk run (a mission during which little or no enemy opposition is encountered).
We flew a few more no-balls to France and the coastal installations. On one, I don't recall which, we left our tail gunner who was warming himself with the ground crew. We got back so no harm was done and I put him on the Form One as if he had been along.
On May 29, our 28th mission was almost our last. At briefing the target was named as Stettin, an oil refinery northeast of Berlin. A long, long haul! In later documents I noted that this target was called Politz. Anyway, it is the same place. We flew this one with two or our old crew missing, Hurdle and Bassett. Hurdle, having flown as squadron bombardier several previous missions, had completed his tour and was being transferred. Bassett had been assigned to Lieutenant L.T. Tyler's crew for this mission. I had a replacement enlisted man in the nose turret and he was scared almost to death. The timing must have been off for we missed our fighter escort and that is just what the Luftwaffe had been waiting for. About 15 minutes from the target and for approximately 30 minutes thereafter, we were under attack by 100 to 150 FW190s, JU88s and ME109s. During the first three attacks the ME109s and FW19Os went through the formation and between the B-24s, thereby creating havoc. They literally shot the 392nd to pieces. German pilots came so close that I felt as if I would recognize them if I met them on the street. We lost six to eight of the 27 planes we started with and I thought that we would be among the missing that night. One 20mm came through the front windshield and missed my head by a small fraction of an inch, went on back and ripped some clothing from Samples in the top turret. We also had 20mm shells in both spars which buckled the wings but, but the grace of God, did not ignite the fuel. Also, we had a cylinder shot out of our number two engine which made it inoperable. Number three engine was hit and running rough but I could use it about half of the time. I could not feather the propeller on the number two engine at all. The enemy fighters must have run low on gas because they withdrew.
We were deep in Germany, plane shot up and no friendly fighters in sight. The situation did not look good. I ordered everything that wasn't nailed or welded down thrown overboard and this included bombsight, flak vests, guns, ammunition--everything' I tried to snuggle up to another group as they passed but couldn't maintain enough speed or altitude. Even the B-17s were passing us. I was resigned to the fact that we would be guests of Mr. Hitler that night. I flew all the way back with my hand on the landing gear lever. I meant that if an enemy fighter showed up, down would come the landing gear. And to think that we were so close to finishing 30 missions too. We lost altitude gradually all the way toward the English Channel, but we stayed in the air and no enemy fighter appeared. Finally, at about 4,000 feet we crossed the English Channel and started looking for someplace to land. We had gas and no field was in sight so we made it back to Wendling. Bassett didn't. Tyler was shot down and Bassett was the only man to bail out before the ship blew up killing all on board.
Bassett was a POW until the end of the war. As I remember, there were three major frontal attacks by the fighters and some JU99s shooting rockets at us. The FWI90 that got us I know figured that he had a victory.
Back at Wendling we were the only ship in the traffic pattern and the ground crew had given us up for lost. Our airplane was so badly damaged that it never flew again. The mission was not a total loss however; the bombing was good and Anderson got credit for one fighter. After briefing, Tupper and Patnaude both gave me their shot of whiskey. I needed it. Not one man on the aircraft was wounded. That was a miracle.
The very next day we went to Rotenburg, Germany. We saw friendly fighters with invasion stripes painted on the wings and fuselage which upset me a wee bit as we had been warned that the Germans had put invasion type stripes on ME109s. I quickly and emphatically instructed the gunners to shoot any fighters that pointed its nose at us. None did. Number 29 -- one more to go.
On June 3, we had a rehearsal for the D-Day invasion which was expected at any time. The sky was full of airplanes of every description and the Channel was full of watercraft.
Mission number three zero! We went to bomb a gun impalement on the coast of France. This was a genuine 'milk run'. No fighters and no flak.
Well, I thought we were through. In fact, I knew damn well we had completed a tour. Lowell, the Commanding Officer of the 576th disagreed. I told him that we would fly one more for good measure and then if he insisted that we had not fulfilled our commitment, we'd see him at the court martial.
On June 4, we went to the airfield at St. Avord in France. Flak was intense and accurate. One crewman from another crew lacked one mission completing a tour and Captain Lowel I asked me to take him along. I did. When the flak was getting very close, the poor fellow jumped out a waist window. I have often wondered what happened to him. As usual, we got hit and this time we lost some hydraulic fluid. By the time we got back to England, it was getting dark and I was looking for some place to set that B-24 down. I spotted a RAP field in southern England and even though it looked short and of grass sod, I landed. The RAF fed us soft boiled eggs. That is the only time before or since that I have eaten soft boiled eggs. The next morning, after our hydraulic damage had been repaired, we looked at the field. It was short, very short. Again we took off all of the weight that we could and decided to try to fly back to Wendling. I held the brakes, ran the engines full throttle, left the flaps up as long as I dared and away we went. I wasn't sure that we were flying, but I pulled up the wheels anyway. The plane somehow stayed up and we were on our way.
Captain Lowel I greeted me with word of 'tomorrow's mission'. I told him in no uncertain terms that there was no 'tomorrow's mission' for me. I was through! As it is, I believe that we were the first crew to finish a tour with the 576th Squadron of the 392nd group.
Then we ripped the combat patches off our uniforms.
Shortly after June 4, 1944, I was transferred to the 482nd at Alconberry.
No crew member was ever asked to do anything that I would not do myself.. .ever!
George Jewett stayed with the 392nd as a test pilot for awhile and then went back to Iowa. He was employed by United Air Lines and was killed in August, 1951. Jewett had a son and a daughter.
Hurdle eventually returned to the United States, went to Long Island with his aunt, married a wealthy girl and went into the oil business on Long Island. Later he sold out and retired In Mobile, Alabama.
Bassett stayed in the Air Force and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He is retired In Rhode Island.
Me? , Burrell Ellison, I worked for Rust Engineering Co., until they sold out to Litton. I then taught school until I retired in 1988. My home is in Lancaster, South Carolina.
Samples went with civil service at Wright Patterson AFB until he retired In 1977. Samples died In California on May 29, 1992.
Tupper went into the construction business in Lisbon Pal Is, Maine where he remains as of this writing (July 25, 1992).
Jean was a gas company employee until he retired several years ago. He lives in Lewiston, Maine.
Patnaude was in the steel business in Massachusetts. He died two years ago. Patnaude gave his body for medical research.
Picking went to work for Amtrak in Pennsylvania. He has homes in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Florida and is now retired.
Anderson drove a big rig from Santa Fe to San Francisco for a number of years. Present whereabouts unknown.
Saturday, January 29, 2005 Lancaster News.
DATE SORTIES 11 JAN 44
21 JAN 44
31 JAN 44
05 FEB 44
08 FEB 44
20 FEB 44
24 FEB 44
05 MAR 44
06 MAR 44
08 MAR 44
12 MAR 44
18 MAR 44
21 MAR 44
23 MAR 44
24 MAR 44
01 APR 44
13 APR 44
18 APR 44
20 APR 44
25 APR 44
26 APR 44
27 APR 44
07 MAY 44
08 MAY 44
09 MAY 44
13 MAY 44
21 MAY 44
29 MAY 44
30 MAY 44
02 JUN 44
04 JUN 44
Nobal I, France
He lmstedt, Germany
Ludwig Shafen, Germany
Lechfeld A/F, Germany
Pasde Calais, France
Chalons M/Y, France
Braunschwe i g, Germany
SfTrond A/F, Belgium
Tutow A/F, Germany
Pol itz, Germany
Rotenburg, A/F, Germany
St. Auord A/F, France
Decorated WW II pilot B.M. Ellison Jr. dies
By Gregory A. Summers - Staff Writer
The late Burrell "B.M." Ellison Jr. never figured he'd make it past his 25th birthday, much less fly 31 successful bombing missions into France, Belgium and Germany in 1944 during World War II.
Ellison, a highly decorated B-24 pilot and Army Air Corps officer, died Monday at his home in Lancaster. He was 84.
Ellison was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal, a Sliver Star, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Many may remember him as the son of late B.M. Ellison, owner of Ellison Motors, a Buick dealership on Old Waterworks Road.
Ellison Jr. was also a retired engineer with Rust Engineering Co. and also taught math and social studies at Buford and Lewisville high schools until 1988.
But during World War II, he was a B-24 pilot based in England.
Ellison chronicled his military service in a story called "Our Crew," which appears on www.b24.net, a Web site dedicated to those who flew and supported B-24s in WWII.
In the story, Ellison jokingly refers to himself as a country boy from Kershaw who was lucky enough to be selected for pilot training in 1941.
"I was 21 years old, excellent health, four years of college, single and unemployed," he said. "In short, I was 'just right.' I had no dependents - just me."
While training in the Pacific Northwest in 1943, Ellison did find time for an adventure or two, including the chance to meet actor Jimmy Stewart, who was filming a movie at Gowan Field in Boise, Idaho.
Ellison and his 11-member crew flew over Lancaster on one occasion.
Ellison said his "model crew" was ordered to fly to Morrison Field in West Palm Beach, Fla., in October 1943. On the flight, Ellison's communications officer rigged the plane's radio so Ellison could fly over Lancaster and not get caught.
Ellison flew over his parent's house at tree-top level while tail-gunner Clyde Anderson dropped notes affixed to small parachutes to a girl he knew and his mother and father.
That girl - Carolyn Holland - kept the note and would one day become his wife.
"En route, we had buzzed my grandfather's farm so close to the ground that we had tree leaves caught in the bombay doors," Ellison said. "When Warrant Officer (Howard) Cates saw these, he just about had a heart attack."
But the decision to buzz his hometown proved to be costly.
The plane ran out of gas, and the crew had to stay in Jacksonville, Fla., for the night. But Ellison said Cates managed to "smooth the matter over for us."
After that it was on to Puerto Rico. There, Ellison's crew opened secret orders that sent them to the United Kingdom. From there, Ellison was on to Brazil, Ascension Island, Liberia, Marrakech, Portugal, then the crew headed north to Lands End, England.
They spent Thanksgiving in London and were then assigned to the 576th Squadron of the 392nd Bomber Group on Dec. 19.
Ellison vividly recalled a mission he was scheduled to fly to "Big-B" (Berlin) on Jan. 24, 1944.
When the briefing office went over the flight plan, the usual zip-zags that show anti-aircraft emplacements were missing and there was no return route, Ellison said. They were told if the group spilt up to get back to England the best way they could.
"One ribbon to Berlin and that was it," Ellison said. "In other words, this was to be a one-way mission. Nobody was expected to return to England."
However, Ellison said the mission was scraped due to bad weather after the planes were in the air. Ellison said years later he tried to find records but there were none to be found.
In January and February, Ellison's crew flew seven missions in Germany and France.
Then in March, Ellison said they were scheduled for about every mission the 576th flew. The crew remained unscathed until a May 8 mission to Brunswick, Germany.
"Flak was horrible," Ellison said. "When we got back, I counted 142 flak holes in our plane."
Ellison said a May 29 mission to a oil refinery northeast of Berlin was almost his last. Bombers missed their fight escort and the Luftwaffe was waiting for them when they got there. Eight of 27 planes were lost. A 20-mm round came through the cockpit windshield, missing Ellison's head by inches. His plane lost an engine, the wings buckled, but the bomber's fuel didn't ignite. He said the enemy fighter must have run low on fuel and withdrew.
"They literally shot the 392nd to pieces," he said. "German pilots came so close that I felt as if I would recognize them if I met them on the street."
Ellison ordered everything on the plane that wasn't nailed or welded down thrown overboard. He flew all the way back to England with one hand on the landing gear lever. They plane miraculously made it back, but Ellison said it never flew again.
"The mission was not a total loss, however; the bombing was good and Anderson got credit for one fighter," Ellison said. "After briefing, Tupper and Patnaude (two crew members) both gave me their shot of whiskey. I needed it. Not one man on the aircraft was wounded. That was a miracle."
Ellison would fly three more missions and took part in the D-Day rehearsal on June 3, 1944.
His last mission was to an airfield at Saint Avord, France, on June 4, 1944.
Ellison said the flak was "intense and accurate," and his plane lost hydraulic fluid. With daylight running out, Ellison sat the damaged plane down in a field in southern England where it was repaired.
After that, it was back to their home base in Wendling. Ellison said that's when he decided to hang it up and rip the combat patches from his crew's uniforms.
"Capt. Lowell greeted me with word of 'tomorrow's mission.' I told him in no uncertain terms that there was no tomorrow's mission for me," Ellison said. "I was through."
Survived by two daughters a son and two grandchildren, graveside services for Ellison will be 3 p.m. today at Westside Cemetery.