Home Page - Membership - Reunions - Shop - Contact us
"OUR TURN NEXT" is the account of the service record of James M. Ross, Staff Sergeant, US Army Air Corp. It starts upon his induction on October 15, 1942 and continues through training, active duty as a waist gunner in a B-24 Bomber, being shot down, captured and held as a German Prisoner of War. It concludes with his liberation and finally his discharge. It is filled with interesting side stories and anecdotes that GI's experience.
It also describes life as a POW in several German prisoner of war camps. However, abuse, inflected human suffering and death that was carried out in German prison camps is not discussed in any detail in this writing. Although he saw and experienced his share, he chose not to expound on it, due to the exposure that has been given the subject over the years. Anyone reading this will not have to be concerned about coming to the "gory" parts. There are none.
CHAPTER 1 REPORT FOR INDUCTION CHAPTER 6 LUFT VI - HYDEKRUG CHAPTER 2 TOUR OF DUTY BEGINS CHAPTER 7 BLACK HUNGER MARCH CHAPTER 3 MISSIONS CHAPTER 8 LUFT IV - GROSSTYCHOW CHAPTER 4 FRIEDRICHSHAFEN - "OUR TURN NEXT" CHAPTER 9 ON THE ROAD TO LUFT XI CHAPTER 5 SHOT DOWN & CAPTURED CHAPTER 10 THE LIBERATION
OUR TURN NEXT
The title "OUR TURN NEXT" was a direct quote from his tail gunner who was observing other members of their squadron being shot down by the Luftwaffe. They were being hit one by one in order from the rear and the tail gunner relayed the message to the crew when it was - our turn next!
What it was like at home is also discussed. The not knowing, the uncertainties, the camaraderie among the crew members wives and news that was always three months late.
I found the story very compelling and extremely interesting. I am thankful my father shared the story with me and permitted me to write it and share it with future generations of the family.
I was born in Scotland in the coal mining town of Bowhill. I was.an only child born to Elizabeth and Thomas Ross. McKinnon, my middle name, was my mother's maiden name.
Bowhill was a sprawling town in the district of Auchterderran, County of Fife. Bowhill had a movie theater, stores and a community house. There was a river that ran near the town that I can remember carrying water from as a small boy. Half of the houses in Bowhill were owned by the mining company. The town was dependent on the coal mines which meant the economy of the town was controlled by the coal mines.
My father died when I was a year old. He was a member of Scotland's famed Black Watch, the oldest of the Highland Regiments, and was killed in World War I. At this time I went to live with my grandmother in Bowhill. My grandmother lived in a two room apartment with my Aunt Bess and Uncle Will. Aunt Bess and Uncle Will had one room and my grandmother and I had the other room. The rooms were divided by an alcove that accommodated the beds.
I started school in Bowhill when I was five years old. We left Bowhill when I was six years old and moved to St. Vigeans, near Arbroath, County of Forfar. St. Vigeans was a very old town and all its buildings were old including the cottage that we lived in next to the church. I lived there for about two years then my mother brought me Leven to live with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Jack. At this same time, my mother moved to Kirkcaldy. I was with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Jack for about a year and then was taken in by Mrs. Steel, as a Foster Child. I was doing well in school and did not want to leave to live with my mother in Kirkcaldy. Mrs. Steel was a wonderful old lady that was very good to me. I lived with Mrs. Steel for about four years, at which time she died. I was twelve years old and devastated when she died. She did so much for me.
I then moved to Kirkcaldy and lived with my mother. During this time Kirkcaldy produced one half of the worlds supply of linoleum with Nairns Congoleum originating there. My mother ran a small cafe in Kirkcaldy as her only income. I left home and went to Canada, at the age of fourteen, on an Agricultural Settlement Program. Canada needed agricultural help and, under the program, paid for my trip. I came over on the SS Regina, which was a passenger ship. Under the program my wages were divided into thirds.. .one third went back to my mother, one third went to the Canadian Hostel and put in a savings for me and the other third I could keep. My wages were ten dollars a month which included room and board. In Canada I was fortunate enough to wind up in the care of the Gorsline family. They owned a farm and I was their hired hand. Mary and Flauius Gorsline were wonderful people and they had a son, Flavey, who was the same age as me. They treaded me just like their own son and Flavey and I were soon like brothers. Mr. and Mrs. Gorsline are dead now, but Flavey and I still remain as close as brothers and see each other annually. Flavey still lives in Canada.
In 1935 I came to the United States at about age twenty and settled in Ease Swanzey, New Hampshire. I was married to Marion Smith and divorced after five years. We had two sons, James and Douglas, and by this time I was in my late twenties. I was a registered alien and volunteered for the service to serve my (adopted) country. The United States had been good to me and I felt I wanted to do my part in the war. I was very proud to be part of the armed forces of the United States of America, and after the war I became a naturalized citizen.
It's Thursday, October 15, 1942. Franklin D. Roosevelt is President of the United States. Milk is 60 cents a gallon, gasoline is 20 cents a gallon and a new Ford cost $815. The average income is $2,500 a year and a house cost $3,775. People are singing "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree", "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition", "Serenade in Blue" and Glenn Millers "Chattanooga Choo Choo" becomes the first Golden Record. . . and I'm waiting for a train in Keene, New Hampshire, along with others from this area, including an old friend Murray Tolman, to take us to Fort Devens for our induction into the army.
REPORT FOR INDUCTION
We spent three days in Devens getting our issues, taking physicals and weeding out the ones that wouldn't be making it. When I took my physical before going for my induction, a civilian doctor picked up a heart murmur and did not want to pass me. When the military doctor heard it he said, "Oh yeah, he can make it alright," and passed me. The heart murmur followed me throughout the army. From Devens we boarded a train for Miami, Florida. Murray and I were still together. It was on the train that we learned we were going into the Army Air Corp.
Once in Miami, Murray and I were separated and he went into engineering school. I had some basic training and from there I was able to choose the type of training school I would like. I reported to an administrative building and there I was to select the area of training to go into. As I entered the building I met Clarence (CK) Royal who was there for the same reason I was. We engaged in a conversation and he was telling me that he had been in Miami for a while as a mail clerk and was waiting for an assignment. So together we went into this enormous hall and went from one area to another looking for different schools we could go to, how long it took to get through and what you wound up with for a rank when you completed the course. I wanted to fly but I knew I was too old to be a pilot. My first interest was photography, but that had a twelve to fourteen week wait before the next class. I didn't want to wait that long. I was eager to get started and wanted to get into something right away. Royal didn't know what he wanted but he felt the same way. Royal noticed the booth for Gunnery School. You could make sergeant in five weeks. We though that sounded pretty good so we talked to the person in charge and learned we could get in right away. It looked like nobody wanted to go to gunnery school. Anyway, we took some literature along to read about air gunnery and went back to the hotel. We were staying in a hotel instead of barracks when we first got to Miami. When I got back to my hotel, there was a note in my room to report to another hotel in Miami.
When I reported to the sergeant there, I was notified that I was eligible for Officer Candidate School (OCS). However, there was a wait before the next class started and he couldn't tell me exactly when the next class would begin. I told him I was interested in gunnery school and he told me that I could go to gunnery school after I finished OCS. I asked if I could go to gunnery school first and he said no, that would be telling the army how to run their business. I told him that I wanted to fly and get into action. I didn't think the war was going to last that long, and I wanted to get over there, get it over with and get home. He said, "So you're turning down OCS" and I said, "Yes." He asked if I wanted to think it over a few days and I said, "No." "Alright," he said, "I hope you won't be sorry, Ross." As it turned out I was happy with my decision.
We started our training in gunnery school in November, 1942. We went to Tyndall Field in Florida for five weeks. Tyndall Field was a brand new field that was built on a swamp. We also got more basic training along with gunnery school. The classes were set up alphabetically, so Royal and I were still together. Also in the same group, but not in the same class, was a guy from Gilsum, New Hampshire, whose name I don't remember.
The final phase of gunnery school was air to air firing. For this phase of training they split the class in half. The half I was in went to Appalachicola, on the coast of Florida. We were there over Christmas and had Christmas.. home style.
We got back to Tyndal Field and received our gunner wings and stripes at our graduation on December 29, 1942. We were now aerial gunners. We were told that now we were somebody. I was mechanically inclined, but I was never that good around guns. In five weeks I learned the 50 caliber machine gun inside out. I could take it apart and put it together blind folded. I could do just about anything with a 50 caliber machine gun. I learned this along with learning Morse Code, technical terms and taking exams. We learned all of this in just five weeks. We were well trained.
From here we went to Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado for armament school. Armament is knowing how to repair guns, turrets, bomb racks. . .anything to do with the protection of the air craft. Once we got to armament, we knew why we had to have it. Armament and gunnery went together. At this time we knew we were in heavy bombardment - bombers. We didn't know if it would be B-24's or B-17's. At this time all you heard was B-17's, but we didn't know what we would be assigned to.
Royal and I were still together. Royal needed help on drawings in school and I was able to give it to him. He knew the material but had trouble with drawing diagrams. We had to learn hot wiring around a blown portion of a system, how to get something working if a portion of it had been destroyed and things of this nature. It was like an engineering school and it took eleven weeks to complete. The last week of armament school was on 25 millimeter cannons. That was altogether different from anything we had had, but we learned it as we had the others. It was an excellent school and we graduated March 6, 1943.
This was followed with machine gun training with skeet and trap shooting. Skeet shooting was to train us to lead and follow a target. Following this we began training in air to air firing and air to ground firing as a crew. They had a clever setup for training. They had a Jeep with flanged wheels set up on a track and this Jeep would pull a silhouette of an airplane. The driver would start the Jeep in motion and then jump off and let the Jeep go by itself. There was a hill on the course, and as the Jeep went behind the hill, we'd fire at the silhouette. When the Jeep came from behind the hill we were done firing, so there was no danger. The rounds we fired were colored and they kept score- of how we did by looking at the different colored hits on the target. The sergeant in charge came up with the idea of the Jeep and the tracks. It was here that we learned that the average life span of a gunner in action was counted in "minutes"! We graduated from air to air gunnery on March 23, 1943.
We were now ready for assignment but a crew hadn't been formed as yet. To form a crew, a number was assigned and as a pilot graduated he would be assigned to this crew number, and when a copilot graduated he would be assigned, and so on down the line until the crew was completed.
We were sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, to wait, just to be out of the way. After a short time we were sent to Davis Monthan Field in Tucson, Arizona. There we stayed in an old boot camp for a short time, but soon moved to an army barracks. The barracks chief was an old army man, tougher than nails, but fair. He had just come back from a tour in the Philippines. He assigned us to one end of the barracks that was set aside for our tail gunner, myself, radio operator, assistant radio operator, flight engineer, assistant flight engineer, in other words, our crew, but Royal and I were the only ones there. We were the only crewmembers.
While we were in Tucson waiting for our crew, we were playing cards one afternoon when a guy came by and put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Hi Ross, what are you doing here?" It was Murray Tolman. I said, "The last time I saw you was in Miami, Florida." He said, "Yeah, I wish I was there now!" We talked about what each of us had done since we were separated in Miami. Murray had gone to engineering school (not flight engineer) and was on an airplane for some kind of testing and wound up in Tucson. He was in Tucson for just a short time and he had to leave, but it did me a lot of good to see him for a little while anyway.
Royal and I were ordered to go down to the flight line for duty - cleaning machine guns and the like. The ground crew didn't really want us there because we were in their way. They were on a schedule and didn't really want to be bothered with us. We asked how we could get out of coming down and were told just don't show up, so we didn't. We got a 24 hour pass to go into Tucson. We went into Tucson a couple of times to look around, have a few drinks and then we'd return to the barracks. One of these times when. we got back to the barracks there was a radio operator and an assistant radio operator waiting for us. The crew 0 was starting to build. In a short time the crew was assigned, and soon after that we were assigned to B-24's.
We were sent to Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas. The radio operator was having problems and was putting in for reassignment. He was afraid to fly. We were doing blind takeoffs and landings by instruments and he'd go crazy. He got his discharge and Galler, the assistant radio operator became the radio operator. Bell joined us about a week later as our assistant radio operator.
The first part of July, I received my first (and only) furlough. Nine days with no travel time. I was upset because of the short time. I couldn't fly home, so the best I could do was three days travel time each way which would only leave three days, at the most, at home. I had to come up with a way to solve this problem. Another Air Corp soldier offered to send me a telegram (signed by a phony sergeant) granting me a ten day extension. This would get me past the MP's on the train on the way back, but wouldn't help me once I returned to base. That was alright, I just wanted to have a few more days at home. I would deal with the other problem when I got back. Sure enough, after I was home a couple of days, I received the telegram.
Annie and I decided to get married! We were staying at Annie's sister, Elna's, house in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Elna made most of the wedding arrangements. I didn't have my divorce papers because they were with my ex wife, Marion. I called her and she mailed them right out to me. They waived the results of the blood test because of the time it would take before the results would get back. The next day we had the divorce papers and headed off to the court room to get a marriage license from the Judge. We were married by a Minister, on July 21, 1943, at Elna's house out on the lawn.
While I was home, Pete, Annie's youngest of two sons, (Raymond, "Chuck", was her oldest) fell in the river. I pulled him out, gave him artificial respiration that saved his life. This was written up in the newspaper and I took the clipping back with me to hopefully help get me out of trouble for being AWOL. After another few days I left to return to El Paso.
About half way back to El Paso, I. was stopped on the train by an MP. He looked at my papers and I showed him my telegram. He looked at it and said, "You'll just about make it won't you sergeant." Of course I agreed. I got in El Paso at night and went to the base the next morning and was ordered before the Major.
On my way to the Major, I met Clover and Berger, our pilot and copilot. They asked where I was going and I told them that I had just got back and had to report to the Major. They told me no matter what the Major said, they wanted me on the crew, which made me feel~good. I faced the Major and was chewed out. I told him about the incident with Pete. The Red Cross also got involved by writing an article about the near drowning. I also told him that I got married. When I told him that, the Captain (the Majors aid) began to laugh along with the Major, which made me a little angry. I asked the Major if this was between him and me or was all three of us involved. The Major told the Captain that he thought that would be enough. I told the Major my only interest was rejoining my crew. He told me the question was, "Do they want you back?" I reminded him that the crew was just put together, and again he said the question was would they want me back, and at what rank he, the Major, would leave me with. "Major", I said, "we've been training our butts off ever since I came into this mans army. It's been nothing but go, go, go. All I've heard since I got these stripes is if you don't do this, I'll take your stripes, if you don't do that, I'll take your stripes, going to take them, going to take them. If you want to take them, then take them, but it would be a waste of America's money because I couldn't fly without them." The conversation ended and I kept my stripes. The same thing happened to Royal and be lost a stripe.
I got back to business and we resumed our training. I checked out in both the ball (bottom) turret and the top turret. Everyone in the crew has to man a gun. I knew I wasn't going to have the top turret because the flight engineer had that, as he was up on the flight deck. So that left me with the ball turret.
On August 22, 1943, we went to Topeka, Kansas, to be assigned our own airplane and final training before going overseas. While in Topeka, Bell approached me and asked if I liked the ball turret. I told him I didn't mind it and he asked if I wasn't a little too tall for the turret. I said, "Bell, would you like the ball turret?" He said, "Yes." I said, "It's all yours." That left me with the waist gun. I discussed with Clover what I had done with Bell, to be sure it was alright, and his reaction was that what ever we did in the back of the airplane was up to us. I don't know if other crews did this or not. We were assigned our airplane, a B-24H Liberator. All the B-24's had a letter following, and the "H" was one of the more popular models and the first model with the new nose turret. There were nearly eighteen and a half thousand Liberators built between 1939 and 1945. The B-24 Liberator was flown in combat by the Army Air Forces in all theaters of the war. There was an ongoing comparison between the Liberator and the more popular B-l7 Flying Fortress, but during the course of years of research into both types concludes that if you flew the B-l7 she was the best. If you flew the B-24, she was the best. Each type was ideal or less then ideal for the many kinds of missions they flew.
The B-24H Liberator Specifications:
Length 66' 4"
Height 17' 11"
Wing Area 1048 sq ft
Empty Weight 32,605 lbs
Gross Weight 60.000 lbs
Power Plant 4 Pratt and Whitney engines
Armament 10 x .50 cal.
Bomb/Cargo Load 8800 lbs
Maximum Speed 303 mph
Cruising Speed 200 mph
Service Ceiling 32,000 ft
Range 2,850 miles
For more information on the B-24 Liberator, there are several books available on the Liberator. Among them "Log of the Liberators" by Steve Birdsall, a Doubleday publication and "The B-24 Liberator 1939 - 1945" by Martin Bowman, a Rand McNally publication, to name two.
Our crew was the best working crew you could have, in my estimation. In talking with Clover and Berger, I expressed those feelings and they agreed. The following are the men I would live with, fly with and fight along side.
Don Clover, Pilot and Skipper, from Roseville, California.
I always maintained that Clover was a natural born bomber pilot. We could go up on the flight deck from time to time and watch what went on in the cockpit and just watching him he looked like a natural. He gave us all stick time on the B-24. Our flight engineer, Jim Losey, probably had more stick time than any of us because he was up on the flight deck all the time. I always felt that if anything happened to either Clover or Berger, Losey could bring us back. Clover was the fairest man I had ever met and he had a good sense of humor. His idea of a good time was to take in a couple of movies and enjoy a good meal. He didn't drink much but he did love movies.
Robert Berger, Copilot, from Perry, Oklahoma.
He was the hell raiser. Berger was taken out of fighter pilot school and transferred into heavy bomber pilot school. I always felt that he preferred fighters and didn't really like being taken out of fighter pilot school, but there just wasn't enough bomber pilots. You could always tell when Berger was flying because he would make the plane do tricks. He called it "jazzing it around." He was a first rate guy and really knew his job.
William McMillan, Navigator, from Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Simply the best in the business. He was a loner and very quiet. It was well known on base in England that anyone having navigator problems would see McMillan. He knew his stuff. McMillan manned the nose turret when in combat.
Paul McDonald, Bombardier, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
McDonald was a bombardier instructor on post. As a bombardier they didn't come any better. He was newly married and was kind of like Berger. He knew his job and was a great guy. As it would later turn out, McDonald's first baby was born the Lay his wife received news that he was "missing in action".
James Losey, Chief Flight Engineer, from Unionville, Missouri.
We called him Unionsuit. A good guy, a take hold kind of guy. He was a loner who preferred being alone, and said so. He had a good knowledge f his job. Flight engineer is a very complex job responsible for the operation of the airplane while in flight. He has to monitor fuel consumption and use fuel evenly from the various fuel tanks. Losey would not hesitate to call on he assistant flight engineer, Heavy, for a second pinion. They worked well together. I never knew Jim to make a mistake as flight engineer. Losey manned the top turret while in combat.
Earl "Heavy" Crawford, Assistant Flight Engineer, from Polk, Pennsylvania.
He was tops as a flight engineer but would not go up on the flight deck. He worked well with Losey, but didn't want the responsibility of flight engineer. No one called "Heavy" a friend and that's the way he wanted it. He was a high school drop out from a coal mining district, but he knew his job and did it well. "Heavy" manned he left waist gun during combat.
Isador Galler, Radio Operator, from Washington, D.C.
One of the best. Without realizing it I guess I was probably closer to Caller than any of he other crew members. Maybe because we were loser in age. He and I seem to be together more, did things together, although you tried not to form too close a bond. He was also a radio adviser on base in England.
Roger Bell, Assistant Radio Operator, from New Kensington, Pennsylvania.
At nineteen years old, Bell was the youngest ember of the crew, and full of hell. He had more guts than he had a right to have. He spent a lot of time reading newspapers from home. Bell manned the ball turret during combat.
Clarence Royal, Tail Gunner, from Talladaga, Alabama.
I met Royal in Miami Beach and we were together throughout. He and his brother owned a cafe and taxi service back home. Royal was a small man, 5' 4" tall, 105 pounds and gutsy. He did not really like flying and felt every trip would be his last. Royal carried a Bible at all times but he was not what you'd call a religious man. He always read the Bible before taking off. He was a boozer and a gambler, and he came from a good family. He was close to his sister and he corresponded with her regularly. Although he never admitted to being scared, I had to promise that I would not leave the airplane, in an emergency, without being sure that he was out of the tail turret. He had my word on that. I also felt the same way about Bell in the ball turret.
Myself, James M. Ross, Right Waist Gunner and Armorer, from Hinsdale, New Hampshire.
At twenty nine years old, I was the oldest member of the crew. I was Pappy to the younger crew members. They felt they could come to me with their personal problems and concerns, and I was happy to help when ever I could. They were a great bunch of guys, the best B-24 crew ever assembled!
When we picked up our airplane there were representatives at the base from the companies that built the airplanes and equipment. They would talk to the men flying the airplanes, looking for ways to improve anything on the airplane that the crew members would suggest. When the Sperry people, the builders of the turrets, came to me as the armorer, I did have some suggestions for them. The oxygen hose to the ball turret came in under the seat between your legs and was far too long. We were wrapping it around our legs to take up the slack and keep it out of the way. I suggested they make the hose about three feet shorter, and they did. I also had a few other suggestions on some minor details. They wanted to do anything they could, within reason, to make things as easy and comfortable for us as possible.
There were guys going around painting pictures on the airplanes, so when Clover came around and wanted to know if we wanted a name for our airplane along with a picture, we said go ahead. It cost twenty five dollars so we chipped in three or four dollars apiece and had it done. We were to go to the South Pacific so we named our plane the "Jungle Princess". In addition to the name we also had a nudie painted on her. She was covered, but just barely. It was done with taste.. .but not much!
We flew a lot of test flights testing our equipment and airplane. We had our own plane now so we wanted to become as familiar as possible with her. We wanted to know everything there was to know about her.. . how she reacted to every possible situation. We knew that it would only be a matter of time when we would be going overseas and we wanted to be well prepared for what ever was in store for us. When it came time for us to ship out, we were a well coordinated crew.
TOUR OF DUTY BEGINS
In September of 1943, we got word that we would be a replacement crew going to England. We had already been issued gear for the South Pacific; jungle gear, insect netting, summer cloths, and things of this nature. However, the crew was just as satisfied to be going to England. They were not to keen on going to the hot weather, and besides we got word that in the South Pacific they were flying three and four missions a day. It was just a short hop to fly a mission and drop a load of bombs, return for another load and fly another mission. Personally, I was glad to go to England. My mother was still in Scotland and I hoped to have a chance to see her. As it turned out I would have that chance to see her while I was in England.
Before leaving, our bomb bays were stripped and we were loaded witho spare airplane parts to bring to Prestwick, Scotland. In Prestwick was the Scottish Aviation Works where they rebuilt, repaired and did maintenance on airplanes. We were bringing them airplane parts to stock their inventory. We were really loaded heavy which would cause us an inconvenience later on.
From Topeka we flew to Newburg, New York. When we landed in Newburg we learned we couldn't take off because the runway was too short for us with our heavy load. We had to stay in Newburg, in the YMCA, while they decided what to do about our load. There were four other crews staying there at the same time, for the same reason. One crew had a real hot shot pilot, Lieutenant Scarlotta, from the Bronx, New York. Around five o'clock in the morning he was up getting everybody out of bed hollering, "Come on guys up, don't you know there's a war on? Lets go, up up up." He was a real pain in the neck who most of us grew to dislike very much, very quick. (We'll hear more about him later.)
We went out to the airport and they were unloading our airplane onto trucks that would take our cargo to Presque Isle, Maine, and we'd fly to Presque and pick it up. We flew to Presque Isle and were loaded once again. The runways at Presque Isle were long enough for us to take off with our heavy load. After leaving Presque Isle, although we were still loaded very heavy, we had no further problems.
We took off for England, the last group to fly over using the Northern route. The Northern route took us through Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland and on to England. We got iced in, in Greenland and snowed in, in Iceland. From Iceland we went to Ireland, and landed in a small town called Nutts Corner. It was a little bit of a town, hardly big enough to turn the airplane around. I really don't know why we sat down there because it was only a thirty minute flight to Prestwick. We left Nutts Corner after a short time and took off for Prestwick. On the flight to Prestwick, we test fired our guns leaving empty shells in the plane. We landed in Prestwick and the ground crew cleaned out our airplane. The ground personnel were anxious to get the empty 50 caliber shells because they made cigarette lighters out of them. Clever people, those Scotsman!
We left Prestwick and flew down the coast of England, over the Wash, (the Wash is a shallow bay of the North Sea on the east coast of England. It is approximately twenty two miles long and fifteen miles wide) near Kings Lynn, and landed in Wendling, England, where we would be based. We were introduced around to the ground personnel and to the camp commander, Colonel Rendell, who was a regular guy. We were assigned to the 392nd Bombardment Group, and were ready to fly!
We immediately went into action. All that we had trained and prepared for was happening and then some. From our first mission to our last, they were filled with anxious moments at one time or another.. .some more anxious than others! It's hard to recall each mission as it occurred, but I'll try to give an accurate account of some of the more memorable outings. I flew a total of twenty seven missions. A mission is any flight over enemy territory. I had one more mission than the rest of the crew which was not uncommon for flight crews. It is common practice to occasionally fly with other crews. A crew may be flying and one of their crew members may be sick or for some reason not able to fly that day. So they look for a replacement which would be a member of another crew that wasn't flying that day. It was usually not hard to find a replacement, at least not for us, because we had a good reputation as a flight crew - nor was it hard for any of our crew to get a "ride" with another crew for the same reason. Anyway, that's how I had one more mission than the rest of my crew.
We were the first B-24's over there with the new nose turret and of course news of this got out and the enemy got word of it. On about our third mission we picked up the Lord Ha Ha (he was Germany's equivalent to Tokyo Rose) radio broadcast from Germany and he was telling us that he knew we had just landed with B-24's, and that we had the new nose turrets. He said, "Just come over fella's, and we'll blow your nose for you." We got a chuckle out of that, but in missions to come they did in fact try to "blow our nose".
At this time the air war was nip and tuck. Goerings special fighter planes were based around Abbeyville, France, about twenty one miles from England. We'd be hit by them as soon as we crossed the channel. They'd come up and meet us, raise havoc, return, refuel and come back at us again. Our targets were deep in enemy territory including Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and those areas. These were four hour flights minimum, and our fighters did not have the range to take us all the way in. They would have to leave us, go back and refuel, and pick us up on our way back, so we were getting knocked around in pretty good shape. Later on, our fighters were equipped with auxiliary tanks to give them greater range. These tanks could be jettisoned when they were empty to cut down wind resistance and improve speed. Our life was a little easier after getting more fighter protection.
England was like a floating air field. Just about every conceivable space was converted into an air field. The 392nd was a group of four squadrons. Each mission put up six squadrons (approximately fifty planes) and formed over England. We converged over England and the mission would be carried out. At the beginning we were sending fifty planes on each mission. At the end, we were sending a hundred planes on each mission. They'd return and we'd send another hundred planes over on the same day. We were bombing in the daytime and the British were bombing at night. Near the end the bombing was intense.
Our first six or eight missions were very rough. This was before we had the full fighter escorts. They got us up at three AM and we'd go for breakfast. After breakfast we went back for our equipment and then go down for our briefing. While we were being briefed, the ground crew was getting our plane ready. We took off at daylight, or a little after. We liked to take off and get above the clouds so we could get some sunshine. The weather was usually lousy and this was about the only way to see the sun.
We crashed landed twice. On our thirteenth mission the "Jungle Princes" had been shot up and our hydraulics were out of commission. When we approached the field to land, the nose gear would not lower. We knew we would be making a belly landing so we prepared for the emergency landing. The crew went to the rear of the airplane and formed a circle, locking our arms with our backs t~ the inside of the circle. Upon impact, we tightened the circle to form a solid unit to prevent bouncing around. Clover tried to set us down in mud, but we soon slid out of that and the nose went down and of course the tail, where we were, went up in the air, but nobody got hurt. We saved all four engines, but the rest of the plane was totally destroyed. A few days later, Berger took some pieces off the plane, including the control wheel, and sent them home. We didn't know it at the time.
After crashing the "Jungle Princes", one of the spare planes that we flew was the "Black Widow." The "Black Widow" was an old airplane and had more hours on it than any other plane in the group. When the "Black Widow" sat on the ground, a seam behind the bomb bay would open up an inch and a half. You could put your hand through it, however, when it was in the air, it would tighten up and fly nicely.
We flew a mission to Norway in the "Black Widow" loaded with 50 caliber ammunition and gasoline. Not many bombs. We had to sacrifice bombs for fuel because of the distance of the flight. We were loaded so heavy we were "mushing" when we took off. Norway was neutral, but Germany had fighter plants and training facilities there and we had to knock them out before they got into the air. We bombed the living devil out of them with what bombs we had, on the one and only mission we flew to Norway. When we got back we had about a pint of gasoline left. I wasn't sorry that we didn't make anymore of those flights. I never knew for sure why we never went back but it could have been because of the distance.
In one stretch we flew ten missions in ten days. That's a mission a day and that's a killer. We got up at three AM, and were not able to hit the sack again until around six PM, because we had to be debriefed when we got back. At times it was longer because we got shot up and had to fly a diversionary route back. By the time some of the crew received medical attention for wounds they received, it was a very long day to say the least. We looked forward to bad flying weather because we got a break. That was the only time that we had that kind of a flight schedule.
B-24's cannot fly in a tight formation as can the B-17. The B-17 trims up nicely - better than the B-24, so we had to spread out a little in our formation. As a result, while we're flying our mission, the Gerries would send up a "circus ship" that is full of all kinds of tracking equipment. They flew just outside our range and were sending back information on our air speed, altitude, heading, number of planes and anything else they wanted to know. We wanted to hit one of those planes so bad that we would "hose" our guns (the way you try to throw water from a hose. to get a little more distance) in hopes of hitting them just so they knew we could. Even if we had hit one, it would not have damaged them and we knew that, but we just wanted to hit one. We never did.
On one particular mission the enemy new we were coming and sure enough the flack came up so thick and heavy that you would swear you could walk on it. Flack was set to detonate at a certain height, usually above 10,000 feet. Few planes get shot down by flack, fighters do that, but it can damage an airplane or hit and wound crew members. We went in, dropped our bombs and was heading home when we got hit. Heavy took a 30 caliber bullet in the thigh. I cut his shirt open and gave him a shot of morphine. The next thing I knew I heard a "Phsssst." A phosphorous shell had come through the plane at an angle and hit me behind the knee. It had gone through my flight suit, hit my knee and exited the plane just under a box of 50 caliber ammunition. The fuselage was riddled with holes and I didn't realize that I had really been hit, or if I had, it was only a scratch. By this time we were letting down and approaching the English Channel. Clover called back to see if we were alright and I answered we were and told him about Heavy. I had checked on Royal and he was alright. Heavy was stretched out on the floor doing fine and I hollered to Bell to bring up the ball turret. He couldn't because the hydraulic system had been shot up. I got the crank and cranked him up by hand. While I was doing this I thought, how are we going to land with no hydraulics. . We can't put down the landing gear. At about the same instant I realized the landing gear has a separate hydraulic system and that system was not damaged. I stood up to get Bell up and I started sliding all over the place. There was hydraulic fluid all over everywhere. Hydraulic fluid is pink and I was covered with it and everybody thought I was bleeding. Actually, my wound was nothing more than a bruise, but it was phosphorous and was eating away at the back of ray leg. Anyway, I got Bell up and out of the ball turret. He came up grinning. I asked him if he was alright and he said, "Yes, kind of messy up here isn't it. I can't even find a place to sit down."
While we were coming in, Clover alerted the ground crew that we had wounded aboard and needed an ambulance. We landed and just as we taxied up to stop, the nose gear collapsed and the back of the plane went up in the air. They got Heavy out through the bomb bay and asked, "Where's the other Dne?" I didn't know they had told them about me because I didn't think I needed help. Clover said, "It's Ross." They called me and I answered, "I'm in the tail." They all went walking up in the tail and the tail came down. I started walking to the ambulance and they told me I couldn't walk. I asked, "Why not?" They said, "Because you've been hit by a phosphorous shot." I answered, "Alright, lets go get it taken care of."
I was in the hospital for three days getting the phosphorous steamed out. It ached like a toothache. The only way to get the phosphorous out was by applying piping hot towels. It was like applying heat to sunburn! I missed a few missions but made them up. As I said before, it was not hard getting a ride.
The raids were beginning to ease up a little by this time (this was before the raids to Berlin). The Germans were up into France and they were starting the V-i and V-2 rocket programs. By this time Clover had a real good record, as did the crew, and we were made group leader. As group leader we could have special duty such as flying two missions and have three days that we were not required to fly. This is when we learned about the "no ball" raids (no ball meant that you didn't need the ball turret). These were milk runs that were usually given to the new replacements. They counted as a mission but were just what we called them - milk runs. When we learned about this we put in for some of the easier runs. We only got one or two. Of all of our missions, these so called, milk runs, were the only uneventful missions we had.
Royal was always afraid of being caught in the' tail turret and not able to get out. All but about twenty percent of the tail turret is outside of the airplane. The twenty percent that curves into the airplane is for entering and exiting the turret and when the turret rotates, the doors on the turret close. This bothered Royal thinking that if anything happened to the airplane, he would not be able to get back into the airplane and would be trapped in the turret. He was really troubled by this so he asked me if I could do anything about it. I was the armorer, so I was the logical one for him to come to. I told him we could take off the doors but it would be cold in there, and he said, "I'd rather be cold but know that I can get out," so I told him I'd take the doors off on the next flight.
The doors were vertical and held by a long piano type hinge. As I pulled the pin from the hinge, it was so long that it hit against the floor, so I had to bend it as I pulled it out. It turned out to be a heck of a job. Anyway, I completed the task and laid the doors on the floor of the airplane. Royal felt a lot better. The next morning when we went out to fly the next mission, the doors were back on. The ground crew had done their job and put the doors back on. They didn't know why they were of f. So I took them off again and Royal said, "Let's hide 'em," and that's what I did. Sure enough, the next time up the doors were back on. This time I took them off and threw them in the English Channel. I knew the ground crew couldn't get two turret doors. Problem solved!
While returning from one of our missions we were looking down at the barrage balloons over England. Barrage balloons give limited protection against enemy fighter attacks, should any occur. Barrage balloons are a lighter than air balloon shaped something like a blimp. They float, in great numbers, several hundred feet in the air on the end of lines anchored on the ground. The theory being that the enemy attack planes would become entangled in the lines. You can imagine what these balloons must look like from the air. Royal was looking down at these balloons, along with the rest of us, and said, "I don't know why they just don't cut the lines and let it sink!" Of course he was referring to England!
During the days that we didn't have to fly, we'd check out new bombardiers. McDonald was a bombardier instructor on post in Wentling, so we had many trips up and down England with Clover, McMillian, McDonald and Losey, all on the flight deck, and myself in the back with the camera mounted in the rear hatch. I did get to do some photography, which as I mentioned earlier, I had an interest in. I photographed the accuracy of the new bombardier for hitting the "target." Usually when we did this, we brought along a member of our ground crew who wanted a ride in an airplane. They treated us pretty good when we did this for them, so we'd take them up whenever we could. They rode in back with me. I liked the company because it gave me somebody to. talk to. They usually only went up once because it was pretty boring.
I also did some photography while flying missions. I took my hand held K-9 camera on our missions and on the return trip, besides eating fudge and candy bars that I had stuffed in my heated suit, I took pictures out of the waist window over enemy territory. I photographed anything that looked interesting. We had heated suits for cold weather and the only time the cold really bothered me was when I held the camera out of the waist window. I had to twist my body, and when I did my goggles separated from my oxygen mask and I froze my cheek bones and ears. My skin peeled from this and turned a brown color. This was the only time I was uncomfortable except for my phosphate bullet wound.
When we returned from these missions that I had taken pictures, I would take the film to the shack and they developed it. After the film was developed, they would post the pictures on the bulletin board and I could see how I was doing as far as photo quality and subject matter was concerned. They always posted the pictures. After returning from one of these missions, I turned in my film as usual, but for some reason, this time my pictures were not posted. I got to wondering why, so I asked my commanding officer why my pictures weren't posted as they usually where. He told me that I had taken some pictures of some launch sights for the new German V-i and V-2 rockets and the pictures were being studied by our intelligence. I felt pretty good about that.
Just about every mission had something out of the ordinary happen. While coming back from one of our missions, we saw a crew member, without a chute, fall out of his airplane. It bothered me to see it but there's nothing I could do about it. During war time it's an unnerving thing to see a man die an accidental death. It's tough enough surviving the combat without being killed in such a freak accident. When we landed I asked a medic how this guy would die and he told me that he would be dead before he hit the ground. Well, I wondered, but it did make me feel better to hear it.
We did a few search and rescue missions over the English Channel (not countable missions because they were not over enemy territory) for downed airplanes and crews. We flew up and down the channel, usually on a bright and sunny day, looking for rubber dinghies containing crew members. Each airplane had three dinghies for emergency survival. We all had our eyes glued to the water looking for any sign of survivors, but our crew never spotted any. As a result of these search and rescue missions, I realized just how poor the chance of rescue was. We lost a lot of planes and crews in the English Channel. Probably my greatest fear was the thought of being force to ditch in the water. I knew the chance of survival was very poor. Fortunately, we never had to face that ordeal.
No matter how well things were planned out, there was always miscues. While on one of our missions, we were lined up over the target only to look out and find a group under us making their drop. We had to make a 360 and come back in to drop our bombs. I can remember, when we lined up to drop our bombs, of looking up to see if there was anyone above us that might be dropping bombs on us. All of a sudden I was very aware of such mishaps. By this time we were twenty minutes late joining up with our group, plus we had fuel consumption to be concerned about. On any of our missions we only had fuel enough to fly the mission with very little fuel to spare. This allowed us the maximum bomb load. However, fuel was never a problem to us all the while we were flying, except that one mission to Norway.
On every mission we were shot up and brought back a damaged plane. We also had our share of downed enemy airplanes. Clover once said if we got credit for every plane we shot down, we'd all be aces. It was hard to verify every hit. The top turret could usually verify their hits, but it was hard for the rest of us to verify ours. Royal got a couple out of the tail gun that was verified. Usually our wingmen could help verify hits, and we had two good wing men. Lieutenant Ford was always one of our wingmen and we had several other wingmen with Ford throughout our tour. We could always count on Ford to be there. The wingmen wanted to be good, because Clover was good. We worked together as a great team.
On several missions we received orders over the radio to return, abort the mission. These were false radio transmissions sent out by the Germans in hopes that we would think that the mission was being aborted. Many of our planes would turn back and not complete the mission, but our crew never turned back. Caller knew the orders were false and we continued on to complete each mission. This happened three times to us and we completed every mission. We asked Caller how he new the orders were false, and he said for one thing, we were too far into the mission to be called back plus he didn't recognize the person issuing the orders. On one of these occasions we were one of only three crews that completed the mission. This was one of the reasons that we were considered as one of the better crews.
The radio men of the crews that turned back were forced to go to radio school to keep from making the mistake again. Also during briefing of other crews, Caller would be called upon to talk to the crews and explain to them the reasons he thought the messages were false and why he continued on with the mission. They introduced Caller as the guy who "flew with the crew that did fly in". Caller felt that sooner or later he'd probably be wrong, but so far he was three for three, and to fool him, they would have to be smarter than they are now. As it turned out, Galler was never fooled and his record of three for three remained in tact.
All the close calls didn't necessarily come from actual combat. During pre-f light check out, my responsibility as armorer was from the flight deck back; check the bomb load, the charging wires (for the bombs) and anything to do with armor. While making one of these checks I spotted what could have been a runaway bomb. There is an arming wire that goes through the wheel of the bomb to keep the wheel from rotating while in the bomb racks. When the bombs are released, the wire is held in place in the airplane and the action of the bomb dropping from the wire starts the wheels rotating. There is a wheel on each end of the bomb. This is what charges the bomb and causes it to explode. In my check I spotted a bomb wheel turning very slowly. The wire was not tight and the bomb was slowly being charged. I wired it tight to stop the rotation and rendered the bomb helpless. If I had not spotted this, probably the bomb would not have been charged enough to cause us any problem as long as we went in and dropped our load on schedule, but if for some reason we were delayed in getting to our target or had to return without dropping, the wheel would have made enough revolutions to charge the bomb and the bomb probably would have exploded in the airplane.
I talked earlier of Lieutenant Scarlotta, from the Bronx, a real gung ho pilot. He was also based in England, although he evidently left all of his enthusiasm and courage in the States, because he never completed a mission. He aborted every one. He was finally washed out and his crew was spiit up to fill other crews. Most of his crew were shot down before we were. The last of his crewmembers was billeted in the same room with me. Wolfer was his name and he was a real quiet and nice guy. He was married about a week before leaving for England and he wrote his wife every night. We use to kid him about it and he'd laugh. Wolfer seldom left the base, so he always had a considerable amount of money in his bunk.
We got word that Wolfer's plane was shot down and Wolfer and his crew were killed. When members of a crew are killed, they send an officer and some helpers to pick up all of the belongings of the deceased to get ready to send home. Who do they send around to gather the belongings of Wolfer's crew but Scarlotta. We were not flying that day so we were in the barracks when he came in. We had a lot of comments for his benefit. "Well, look who's here to pick up the stuff. Well, he can't fly, so he might as well do this".. .was but a mild sampling. He should have been ashamed but whether he was, I don't know. When they came to Wolfer's area, I told them about the letters to his wife and about the money. We watched them very closely as they gathered all of Wolfer's belongings. I'm sure Scarlotta was glad to get out of there, as we were to have him leave. I never saw Scarlotta again. As for Wolfer, I'll never forget him. He was such a nice kid.
Flyers were not hampered by the day to day army discipline. We didn't have inspections or anything like that to worry about. The days we didn't fly we would go to the mess hail, eat and go back to the sack. Losey used to go to the mess hall and grab six or eight steaks and bring them back to the hut. We'd put them on top of the stove and fry them up. We used the stove as a griddle. Enlisted men, Noncoms, like myself, the tail gunner, the left waist gunner, the ball turret gunner, the flight engineer and the radio operator, were billeted separately from the commissioned officers. The commissioned officers being the pilot, the copilot, the navigator and the bombardier. There was two Noncoms crews per Nissen Hut (maybe better known as Quonset Huts). (Nissen Huts, or Quonset Huts, were a prefabricated shelter of corrugated metal shaped like a cylinder cut vertically in two and rests on the flat surface. They were commonly used instead of barracks.) Sleep was always a scarce commodity. Whenever we had a chance to get a little extra sleep we took it, and believe me, when we slept, we slept well.
Once in a while we would get a two day pass to go to London. London was fairly close to us so we'd go in and have a big feed and take in a show. We went to what was then the famous Windmill Theater. It was open 24 hours a day and they had good entertainment including a couple of good Scottish comedians. Of course I liked that. They also put on vaudeville. At that time they could have nudes on the stage as long as they didn't move. They had nudes on stage but we didn't realize it at first, we though we were looking at statues!
We also stayed at the Strand Palace Hotel. Whenever we went out we went as a crew. We pretty much stayed together. We ate as a crew and would enjoy a big dinner and the entertainment. They always had a big band playing and Losey would always say to the waiter, "See if the band will play such and such a song." He'd give the waiter ten shilli4igs and tell him to give it to the bandleader. The next thing you knew the bandleader was over at our table asking if we remembered the name of that song and of course he had his hand out for money. They grabbed your money left and right. We also went to Piccadilly Circus while we were there.
When we went to London, the crew usually hung around me because of the money. They didn't understand the value. There was this one instance when Heavy went into a store and came out with change in his hand. I asked him what he bought and he said a pack of Buckingham Cigarettes. I asked him what he gave the store keeper and he said a five pound note. I asked if this was all the money he got back and he said yes, so Heavy and I went back into the store. A woman had waited on him so I had him point her out to me. I had Heavy call the manager and I called the lady over. She asked what the matter was, and I said, "He gave you a five pound note." She answered, "I don't know." I said, "I do, because that's all he had and you gave him this much back." By this time the manager came out and I asked him to come over. He wondered what the trouble was and I told him that my friend came in here and bought a pack of Buckingham Cigarettes for two and six pence. He gave her a five pound note and she gave him change for one. I want the other four. He argued a little so I told him the reason I was mad. "I'm British subject. I was born in Great Britain. If my crew comes in here don't cheat them." We got the money and left. This sort of thing happened fairly often, but we enjoyed our trips to London. When it became time we'd return to Kings Inn. A train would take us to Wendling and then a truck would take us to the base. I never knew how far it was to the base, or saw any of the sights on the way, because I never saw it in the daylight.
I learned from letters from home that Russell O'Brien, a friend of mine from my home town was also stationed here. We corresponded and made arrangements to meet in London at the Rainbow Loom. We hadn't seen each other since going into the army so it was a good chance to talk over old times. We set a time and date and I was there. For some reason, however, Russell was unable to Lake it. I'll talk about this a little later.
I had a chance to go home and visit with my mother in Scotland. We had to bring a B-24 to Prestwick and bring another back. Instead of going back with the crew, I had a leave and took a few days to go home. I took a train to Edinburgh then crossed the Forth bridge to Kirkcaldy. The Forth is the name of a bay (firth) in Scotland. Kirkcaldy was across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
I was very disappointed when I got home. I was glad to see mother of course, but it had been fifteen years since I had left home (I left in 1928) and the living conditions had not improved at all in that time. Our living quarters were very inadequate. We came in from a side street and went through an alley. We entered into a court yard and there was an outside stairway leading up to two apartments. The toilets were all down stairs outside. Across from the toilets was another door leading into another building, and that was your coal shed. Every time you had to go to the bathroom, you had to go down stairs and every time you needed coal, you had to go down stairs and lug it up. All these doors had locks on them, so when you went down you had to be sure you had your key with you. Believe me, you made our trips count! This was the way it was when I left and it was the same when I returned. No improvements what so ever.
While I was home I saw an aunt and some cousins who stopped by. I wanted to see another cousin, Mary Gordon. Mother and I took a bus to Auchterderran to see Mary, but she wasn't home. I remembered Mary from years ago and was disappointed when I was unable to see her. We also went to Dunfermline and spent part of a day with Uncle Will and Aunt Bess. Outside of my Uncle Rod, they were my favorites of all my aunts and uncles. Uncle Rod was the one who encouraged me, at a young age, to go to America. He told me that I would have a better future there. Aunt Bess was my favorite aunt. I spent one summer with them when I was home and still in school in Scotland. Mother was working and Aunt Bess and Uncle Will came down one weekend and Aunt Bess said, "James (they all called me James at home), it must be pretty lonesome with the summer holidays and all. Why don't we take you home with us for a couple of weeks?" I went back with them and I enjoyed it. Their son Willie (my cousin) was a pain in the neck, but I still enjoyed it. I was very glad to see them on my visit. I still remember the nice meal we had that day.
Cousin Willie, his wife and two kids stopped by to say hello. Willie had changed a lot. I guess he had grown up. All the relatives couldn't get over the fact that I had silver wings. They though that was pretty special. I also had an Air Medal and Three Oak Clusters and mother wanted to show it to all our relatives. This was a big thing for them, so I left it with mother to show the relatives. When she was through showing it around, she could mail it back home to Annie, and she did.
One evening about dark, there was a rap on the door. My mother answered the door and it was Willie Rogers. "I heard James was home so I stopped by to see him." Willie was an old friend I had when I was in school. He was six or seven years older than I was and had a learning disability. Willie couldn't read. I spend a lot of time with him when we were younger, and because I did he felt befriended. He was a real nice guy and a hard worker. He was the best natured person you could ask for. "How did you know I was home," I asked, and he said a woman had seen me on the street and she told his sister. He was very glad to see me. Willie was driving a horse and two wheel cart for a contractor, and after working all day he walked over to see me. I don't remember just how far it was from his house, but at the time I remembered it was a fair distance. I gave Willie a couple packs of cigarettes and he was so tickled you'd have thought I had given him a couple of hundred pounds. I was so pleased to see Willie and happy he took the time to look me up.
I enjoyed being home again and seeing all my friends and relatives but the time had come for me to leave. I had to return to the base. I said my good byes and left home about three o'clock in the afternoon. This was the last time I was ever in Scotland. I did see my mother after the war when she came to the United States to live with us and later got an apartment of her own. She got a job while she was here, but she didn't really like being away from home, so she returned to Scotland after a couple of years. She died in Scotland in the middle sixties.
It wasn't that far to the base, but I didn't get back until ten o'clock that night. I had to change trains three times and the connections were not that good. I got back to base two days before I had to fly. My mail was piled up on my bunk so I curled up and started reading it. Royal was in the bunk next to me and he woke up and said, "Ross, you made it back. You better get some shut eye. We're flying in the morning." This was about 2:30 in the morning. I said, "I got a couple of days yet," and Royal said, "oh no, we got this one this afternoon." I asked, "What time is alert," and he said, "3:3O." "I guess I better get some sleep." He said, "That's what I've been trying to tell you."
At 3:30, Royal and I were getting dressed and Royal was saying that he really dreaded this one (mission). I asked, "Why, do you know where it is?" He said, "No, Heavy's coming with us." This was Heavy's first mission since he was hit in the leg. It seamed that when Heavy was flying with us we got banged around pretty good, but while he was laid up with his leg we didn't have it quite so rough. Of course we had replacements for him and I'm sure that had nothing to do with it, but superstition does enter into it for some. I said, "Well, he's been hit, so maybe that will take the jinx off." Royal laughed and said, "I hope so."
On the way down to briefing, Royal told me about an air collision involving one of our Pathfinders that happened while I was in Scotland. On many of our missions we would be following a Pathfinder, especially in bad weather. A Pathfinder is a B-24, usually flown by a Major, and carries "Mickey" (a black box) that is used to see through the clouds. By following the Pathfinder, we would know when we were over our target area and we'd drop our bombs on the signal from the Pathfinder. During one of the missions while I was in Scotland, as our planes were circling over England to gain altitude before crossing the channel (as we always did), our Pathfinder was involved in a midair collision and crashed. The pilot, Major Gray, was killed. This happened just before I got back from Scotland. They went to the scene of the crash and picked up what belongings they could find and brought them back to the base. Things like his parachute, heated suit and any personal belongings he may have had with him. Major Gray was one of the better pilots and we hated to lose him.
THE FRIEDRICHSHAFEN MISSION - "OUR TURN NEXT"
We got down to briefing and found out it's Friedrickshafen, a city on the north shore of Lake Constance. It was marshaling yards (a railroad center) and we were after ammunition trains. A marshaling yard is where the railroads come together as a central location for switching or dispatching.
After breakfast, while on the way to our airplane, I learned that we're carrying an extra man because we're the group leader. Normally, if you're not the group leader, the bombardier will man the nose turret until he's ready to bomb and then the navigator mans the nose turret. But when you're the group leader, both the bombardier and navigator are busy all the time, so they give you the eleventh man. As we're checking out the airplane, the skipper brought over the new man and said to me, "Ross, I want you to check out this guy." I was introduced to him but I can't recall his name. He told me he knew all about turrets. I said, "You can't Lieutenant, they're brand new. These are the Consolidated turrets and they're brand new." He insisted that he knew all about them and I told him that he damn well didn't know about them, but regardless, my skipper told me to check him out and that's what I was going to do.
He agreed and it's a good thing because he didn't even know how to charge the gun (load it). I got him so he knew pretty much what he was doing - or should have.
Our take off time had been set back an hour. We learned this by a signal flare that was sent up. In the mean time, I was checking my equipment and I found that my heated suit wasn't working. So I said to Clover, "If our take off time has been set back an hour, I've got time to go back to the shack and get another heated suit." He told me that I'd better, that this will be quite a run. I got a ride and went back to get another heated suit. When I got back to the shack, they fitted me with another heated suit and the only one that came close to my size was Major Grays. It still had his name on it. They asked if I minded and I said, "No, I don't mind." Here I had just learned that he got killed and I was putting on his heated suit. I put it on and headed back to the plane.
On the way back to the plane, there were some Irishman working in a ditch and as we drove by they hollered, "You don't have to hurry chum, you won't be flying for another thirty minutes." I asked, "How do you know?" He said, "The flares." Ireland was neutral and it was a hot bed for spies. They knew all about the flares, the order of the day and everything else. I told Clover about it and he joked, "Yeah, if you want to know anything about your mission, ask one of the guys digging a ditch!"
We finally took off, March 18, 1944, the day after Saint Patrick's Day. While we're crossing the channel, Clover asks if we should test fire the guns. "Oh yes," I said, "I want to hear something out of the nose turret." It took him a few tries, he had a hell of a time, but he finally got a couple of rounds out of the guns. I was satisfied, but I told Clover to have somebody check on the new man to see if he's going to be alright. I didn't have a good feeling about this guy.
Due to the late take off, we were an hour late over the target. What that does to others nobody knows but it does affect the timing and increases the chances of accidents or other problems. We had the same thing happen on this mission that happened once before. Once we got over the target, we were ready to drop only to find there was a group directly over us. This time we were looking for it so it didn't catch us off guard. We had to make a 360 and come in behind the group that was just over us. On our way in we looked all around and above us to be sure that nobody was up above ready to drop on us. It was all clear and we made our bomb run with no problems. There was plenty of flack, but nobody got hurt. On our way back we were late tying on to our group, but were doing fine with no apparent problems. We were flying at about 18,000 feet to avoid any possible flack if it should come up. Flack is set to go off higher than that. We were also below their sensory devices. Our navigator was weaving us through areas that were known for heavy ground fire. We're getting along fine; in fact, we're in the middle of France. We had seventeen ships in our group. There was another group far off to our right who's captain ordered us to tie on to his group. He wasn't on the right course and we knew it, but he had a large group and he ordered us to tie on with him and we had no alternative but to do so even though it was against our better judgment. We were counting on safety in numbers. We were doing fine with this group but we were flying a little higher now and we were not real comfortable with that.
Than all of a sudden there's bandits. Royal spotted them coming in from the rear and they hit us hard - one after the other. They all came from the same direction, attacking us from the rear. They were attacking our tail were Royal saw it all and he kept us informed. They were picking us off one by one from the rear. Royal watched as planes in our group were being hit knowing that it was inevitable that before it was over, we would also get it. Royal had used all of his ammunition as did Heavy and I. The top turret and ball turret were chattering relentlessly. The whole ship was shaking but the nose turret never got a single round off. When the German fighters peeled off over us there is no reason why the nose turret shouldn't have fired on them. Of course when the Germans see this they're able to come at us from a different angle. They were still hitting us from the rear and Royal was helplessly watching it all. The plane next to us was hit which left us next in line. At this point Royal alerted us that it was "OUR TURN NEXT".
They hit us and set our engines afire. Before we had the order to bail out, Heavy climbed on top of an empty ammunition box and dove through the waist window. The waist window was relatively small, and to this day I can't figure out how he fit through it. We were burning and the fire had spread into the wing roots and into the bomb bay. The fire retardant had been exhausted and the fire continued to spread. I checked to make sure Bell was coming around in the ball turret so he could come up. The ball turret had to be in a certain position before it could come up into the ship. He was doing fine and was able to come up. I knew it was time that we should be getting out of there. Clover gave the order, "All right you guys, get out of here. Let's get out," and he sounded the horn. I knew that Heavy was gone. Bell was coming up and getting out of the ball turret and finally standing up when I heard the horn. I checked back on Royal and he was just stepping out over the rim of his turret to get into the ship. He had a cut over his eye, but was alright. He was not hit by a shell. We're now down below 10,000 feet. Royal is walking towards me as I'm opening the camera hatch, which is a large hatch, that we will bail out from. I'm hollering to Royal to go but there's so much noise that nobody can hear anything plus Royal's intercom is no longer connected. He's signaling me to go ahead. Royal wants me to go first. There's no time to argue, so I go. Everybody is leaving.
I pulled my ripcord and when I did, it came all the way out. I thought to myself, "I broke the damn thing." I didn't know it was supposed to come out. By this time my chute opened. While this was happening, my GI shoes were tied to my parachute harness and in the commotion, one of my shoes got under the strap and when my chute opened, the shoe hit against my chest with such force that it broke a rib. It hurt so much it just about made me sick.
It's all quiet now and I'm wondering if they all made it. I knew they were all right when I left. I was wondering about Heavy. He did a foolish thing jumping out of the waist window. Not knowing the angle of the plane, he could have been hit by one of the vertical stabilizers which would surely spell disaster. I looked around and there was a railroad track and a high tension line forming a "V" about where I'm going to drop. I started pulling my shroud lines because there was a train on the track and I didn't know anything about wind drift. All I wanted to do was get away from this area. To add to the situation, there were Messerschntitts buzzing around us. Their purpose was to get the chutes swaying. If the chute swayed more than 180 degrees, it would collapse and sent you plummeting to the ground. It was against the rules of war to shoot at a man in a parachute so they used this maneuver. As I was starting to sway, there was a P-38 (American fighter plane) that took off after one of the Messerschmitts and got him! Meanwhile, I got down. I managed to miss the railroad track and high tension wires, and I landed in a field, but I broke my leg in two places when I landed. By this time I was in pretty rough shape.
There was a free Frenchman on the ground waiting for me. He came up and unbuckled my chute and hid it in the brush on the edge of the field that I landed in. He came up to me and motioned me to stand up, and I did. He motioned me to come to him but I couldn't. My leg was worse than I thought and my rib was really hurting. Both injuries were on the same side of my body. He kissed me on both cheeks and showed me his badge. The badge was to tell me that he was a free Frenchman and an ally. Had I been able to walk he would have helped me escape, but I needed medical attention and with all the doctors under German orders to report such things, it was impossible. I could have gotten by with just my broken rib, but because of my leg injuries, he couldn't save me and he had to turn me over to the Germans. I gave him my escape kit, French Francs and the, candy bars that I had in my heated suit. He was a rich man when I got through with him. As he stood with me, there were a couple of German soldiers walking across the field. He waved his arms and the Germans came over. He and the Germans carried me over to a road. I was in occupied France. In one day I had gone from visiting my mother at home in Scotland, to being shot down over enemy territory.CAPTURED, MEETING THE ENEMY
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when they sat me down on the side of the road with my feet hanging over the shoulder, kind of dangling in the ditch. The road was higher than the ditch and my leg felt better just hanging. It gave the same affect as traction on my leg, so the pain wasn't too bad in this position. The next thing I knew, a German brought Galler over and sat him down next to me. Galler had broken his ankle.
A little German corporal came along in an old Mercedes Benz touring car to pick us up. The car ran on charcoal gas. (They burned charcoal in a boiler type unit on the car. The burning charcoal created a gas that fueled the car engine. They had to preheat the spark plug before starting the engine, but after the engine was warmed up it ran pretty good. They used a special, very large, spark plug in the engine.) The Germans helped get us into the car and we were taken to Colmar, France. It looked like a village, at least more like a village than a town. There was a hospital there, but they took us to what appeared to be the village jail. I didn't see any jail cells, but it looked like a town hail that was also used as the jail. When they got Galler and I in there, the rest of my crew, except for Heavy and the eleventh man, was already there. They were in good physical condition. They had gotten down fine without any injuries. It must have longer than I thought, getting down and all, because they had picked up the crew and already had them in there.
They put me in a small room that was about ten feet square. The rest of the crew was setting in a larger, adjoining room. I was really hurting by this time. While I'm setting there, the door burst open and a German kid about ninteen years old came marching in. He's a Messerschmitt pilot. He came over to me and said, "Krank," which meant sick or ill, although I didn''t know it at the time, and he pointed to, and was looking at, my leg. "A," he said, and he wnet over and picked up a chair that had no back and brought the chair over to me. He very carefully picked up my leg and put it on the chair. Again he said, "Ah," and left the room. He came back with a bottle of Schnapps, potato whiskey or gin and poured me a good big slug. I downed that and about choked! He let that settle and he poured another half and I drank that. That was beginning to warm me up! He pulled up a chair and put it in front of me, sat down and said, "du flieger America?" (you fly for America?) I said, "yeah." He said "Du Liber-a-tor?", in broken English. He grinned and said, "Ich, Messeerschmitts." I said, "Oh?" He said, "Liberator Mmmmmm" (he gestures with his hand to show the Liberator in level flight) and he continues, "Heeeee Messerschmitt, rat-tat-tat (gesturing with his other hand shooting down the Liberator). He said, "Liberator roarrrrr" (going down) and I answered "Yep." He said, "Du flieger America, Ich flieger Father Land (you fly for America and I fly for Germany). He held out his hand and we shook hands. We had a friendly conversation, as best we could with the language barrier. He pulled out some pictures and showed me his girl friend and his family.
He touched his flight jacket and said in a stuttering voice searching for the correct English words, "No.. .non. . .non fear".. .1 interrupted, "Nonflammable." He said, "Yah." His jacket was nonflammable. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a comb made of Plexiglas and the handle was a naked girl. He grinned at the handle and I asked, "Plexiglas?" He said, "Yah, Plexiglas Germany, Plexiglas America?" I said, "Yeah." He took out a cigarette case and there was a cigarette and a half of another in the case. The half cigarette was one that he had smoked and butted earlier. He gave me the whole cigarette and he took the butted one, and he then lit both of our cigarettes. He asked if I had any cigarettes and I indicated that I didn't.
He went into the other room, where the rest of our crew was, and got what cigarettes they had and brought them in the room where I was. He counted out the cigarettes and divided them evenly among us. There were two cigarettes left and he asked if he could have them. I said, "Sure." He then gave out the cigarettes to the rest of the crew.
He started looking around and asking the other two Germans in the other room wh~ something wasn't being done to help me (this was my interpretation). They began .to hustle around and got on the phone. He had the two Germans carry me out to the Mercedes, the same car that brought me, and helped me into the car. He got in the back with me and had them drive us to what looked to be a rehabilitation hospital for the German Army. He took me in and put me on a table. Two interns took a wire splint and bent it to fit my leg from my hip to my ankle. Then they got some paper bandages (that's all they had) and bandaged the splint to my leg. They did this ever so carefully. Then my young friend got the same two Germans to carry me back to the car and helped me into the back seat. Again he got in the back seat with me and we left to go back to the same building from where we came. About half way back he had the driver stop the car and he got out. He looked at me and said, "Du flieger America, Ich flieger Father Land. Goooood. . .good luck." I said, "For this, thank you." He said, "Danke schone." I said, "Oh, danke schone" and he said, "Yeah, danke schone." He stepped back, shut the door and saluted me. I saluted him back. We drove off.
He was a typical nice German kid. He was blond and thinking back, he reminds me of Jay (my grandson, Jay Ross, the son of this author) tall and slim and weighed about 140 pounds. He flew for Germany, I flew for America.
By now it was getting dark and we heard a commotion outside. There was a German truck that had backed up to the door. Two Germans got out of the truck and walked around to the back of the truck and pulled the canvas back. The same two Germans came for me first, picked me up and literally threw me into the truck. I went sliding all the way to the front and slammed against the cab. I heard Galler say, "Son of a bitch" and Clover said, "I hope he passes out." Evidently I did because that's the last I remember until they were carrying me in the corridor of a hospital. I remembered it being about ten o'clock at night. They took me to an operating room. The nurses in the hospital were French Sisters (nuns). One of the nurses came over to me and spoke some English to me, "To see how good you can count, you start to count one, two, three, four".. .and on and on. So I started counting and got to about eight. I remember a big spiral thing that started spinning faster and faster and… I was gone.
I was hazy for quite some time, blacking out from time to time. When I came to, I was in a two bed ward in a hospital and Galler was in the bed next to mine. I couldn't believe it. It was nighttime and I was feeling woozy and I went back to sleep. I can remember being very, very tired. 1 woke up in the middle of the night and a nurse, not a Sister, had propped me up In bed and she was feeding me soup. She was talking to me, but I didn't know what she was saying. She left the room and I went back to sleep. The next time I woke up it was daylight. Galler asked how I felt and I said, "Pretty good." "You kind of went out of your head during the night," he said. I said, "I did" and he said, "Yeah, you were talking in your sleep. You weren't very coherent, so I called in a nurse and she gave you some soup. After that, you went back to sleep." I could remember vaguely someone talking to me and Galler said that I was talking to her. I said, "I was" and he said, "I though you were going to get her into bed with you. It was Cheri this and Cheri that. She was really taking care of you." According to Galler this was about three o,clock in the morning when all this happened.
While Galler and I were talking, two nuns came in carrying a English/French dictionary. They began asking us questions about how long we though the war would last. We both agreed that probably right after Christmas, or maybe even before Christmas, it would be over. We asked them how they were treated and they motioned that their hands were tied. Another nun came into the room and the two that were in there got kind of flustered, and said, "Well, good luck and God bless you," and they left. Just as they left the room, a German officer came in. He looked at Galler and asked, "Wat ist lose?" (What is this?). The nun evidently told him what Galler's problem was and he answered, "Aus, aus." He came over to me and asked the same question and got the same answer from the nun. Again he said, "Aus, aus, aus." He was telling us to leave although we didn't know it at the time. He was a tall, big man, strictly Nazi. The nun came over to us and said, "Very sorry, soon they will come to take you away," and they did. They came and took a hold of Galler and took him out first. When they came for me, there was one German and one nun. My leg had a full leg cast and the cast had been split open and wound together with a bandage. A diagram was drawn on the cast to show what had been done. The German took a look at me and my cast and said, "Ah." He got me up and I hobbled out of the room. There was an iron railing on the wall outside of the room and he propped me up against that. He spread my legs apart, backed up to me and picked me up piggy back and carried me about a half mile to a street car. You should have seen the look of the people on the streetcar. "Luft gangster," they called me and they made him take me to the back of the car. We rode about forty-five minutes until the streetcar stopped. He helped me onto the platform and did the same thing again, carried me piggy back. He carried me very carefully because I had a leg sticking out to one side. He got me out onto the sidewalk and a German army truck came "along. He waved it down. The truck stopped and the Germans talked among themselves. They finally put me in the back of the truck and about a half-hour later, we were in a prisoner of war distribution camp in Frankfurt. Here I would be processed and sent to a prison camp.
I was put into a barn. There was chicken wire on the door and straw on the floor, a typical animal pen in a barn. It was like a stock yard and I had to lay on straw on the floor. That night the English bombed some marshalling yards in the area. It didn't come close to us but we could sure hear it and it shook everything around us. They must have blown the yard all to hell!
The next morning when I woke up the whole crew, except for McMillan, was there, including Heavy. This was the first time I had seen Heavy since he bailed out. I was glad to see that he didn't get hurt when he bailed out. He so easily could have been killed. He had said many times while we were flying, "If this plane catches fire, I'm gone," and he was! We heard that McMillan had escaped from a train and was free for three or~ f our days. He had jumped from a train through a toilet window. He was a gutsy son of a gun. I learned years later from Berger that McMillan was going to take on the whole German army by himself and Berger was afraid he was going to get them all killed. I didn't know until later when I heard from home that they had caught McMillan and that our whole crew was in prison camps, except the eleventh man.
Galler and I were taken to another cell over night. I had to be carried, so two Germans picked me up in a sitting position (as if I was sitting in a chair) and carried me to the cell in that position. This was much easier for them and me. One of the Germans asked me if I was an "Offizier" and I said, "Yes," but I didn't tell him I was a noncommissioned "Offizier." The cell was about ten feet square and that also had straw on the floor. The two Germans left and then another God damn animal came in. He was the most misshapen, ugliest human being I had ever seen. He had two cans of coffee and he gave one to Galler and the other one to me. I looked in mine and there was a cigarette butt floating in it. I asked Galler if he had tried his coffee yet and he said, "No, there's a cigarette butt in it." I asked him if his cigarette butt was bigger than mine. Galler asked what we could do and I said, "Maybe we could push the butt to one side and gently take it out of the can and get a few swallows that way." It was hot and we hoped it would taste alright. It was a mistake, it tasted terrible, but nevertheless we drank some.
From here I was once again carried, this time into a German interrogation building. Although I didn't know it at the time, it would be a long time before I would see any of my crew again. This was three days after I was shot down. I sat down in front of a German Lieutenant who was quite friendly. I was alone in the room with him. The door was open and people were going by outside, but he and I were alone in the room. The first thing he did was give me a cigarette. He asked me if they were treating me well and I said, "Yes, except they used my coffee cup as an ash tray." He said, "Oh no." I said, "Oh yes." He spoke very good English. "Well," he said, "what can you expect, you've been bombing their country and they don't like it." He asked if I wanted a good cup of coffee now? I asked, "Is there such a thing?" He said, "Oh yes," and he went to the door and someone came in with two paper cups of coffee. . .real coffee. He told me sugar was hard to get but it didn't taste too bad without it, and it was hot.
We talked about things in general and he asked, "How many were in your plane sergeant?" At about the same time he spotted Major Gray on my heated suit. He said, "We were so sorry to hear about Major Gray. That was sad, he was a gentleman. . . a flyer and a gentleman. We felt bad." He asked, "What did they do, give you".. .and I interrupted and explained that my heated suit wasn't working, I had a few minutes to change, and this was the only one that fit me. (Evidently, when they carried me into the cell, the Germans thought I was an officer and that's why they carried me so gently.) He asked me a few questions and I answered, "Sergeant James Ross, 31175759"...name, rank and serial number. He asked me six or seven more questions about what was doing and again I answered, "Sergeant James Ross, 31175759." He grinned, opened a drawer in his desk and took out a large folder. Inside of that folder there were four other folders. He opened them up and picked out the one for our squadron. I could see 392 written on the folder.
"Alright Staff Sergeant James Ross. You went to gunnery school at Tyndall Field in Florida. You went to Denver Colorado, and he went on to tell me all about the training I had,...and you landed in England in a B-24 that was equipped with a brand new Consolidated nose turret. Here's James C. Losey. He's your engineer. He went to engineering school in Texas and graduated on such and such a day (he had the exact date). I see you had to show your pilot and copilot how to shoot 45." I laughed and said, "I didn't have to show them how to shoot, I showed them how to hold it they could shoot well enough to qualify so they wouldn't have to go back there any more." How he laughed. He knew more about me than I did. I said, "You've got some organization." He said, "No doubt you've got the same on our people." I said, "I hope so." He grinned, and he was still friendly. "The only thing, sergeant, why do you come over bombing our hospitals and churches?" answered, "If we do that, it's not intentional." He said, "I was hoping that it wasn't." "But," said, "I'm telling you something. I was in London when there was a couple of raids and you blew the living hell out of a hospital for the blind, a children's hospital and a rehabilitation hospital. There was a gas station in the same area and you hit that and leveled the whole area." "Yes," he said, "it happens on both sides, doesn't it?" I said, "Yes." "Well," he said, "it's night time and the search lights are on, what are we going to do with those bombs?" I said, "You're going to let them go, just like I would." "War isn't funny, is it?" I said, "No, not a bit." He commented, "You're old to be flying, sergeant." said, "Yeah." He never questioned my nationality and I offered nothing. He asked, "Why, did you have to"... I interrupted and said, "No," and he asked, "Why?" I said, "America has been very, very good to me. I want to do what I can." He said, "A lot of people here feel the same way about Germany." I said. "Of course" "Well there's no use horsing around any more. You've seen the folder. I can even give you your score on skeet shooting. You're not too good at that.
Trap shooting you're a little better at." (We had trap shooting and skeet shooting in training.) "You got good marks in armorment school." When he made that statement he got me to thinking a little bit. When I went to armorment school in Denver, there were two Russians in our class. They were friendly, spoke broken English, but you could understand them. While we were there, they took us to a rodeo and paid all expenses. They wanted to belong, to be friendly. They came to class every day. I often wondered. . . that was an ideal situation. We were friendly with Russia at the time, but I don't know.. .could this have been the source of some of his information? Of course I'll never know.
The interrogation ended and I was carried back to the cell. A short time later, I was put on a train headed for the Baltic, in East Prussia. It was the most desolate piece of Europe that there was. It took eight days for the train to reach its destination.. .Stalag Luft VI.
NEWS REACHES HOME
As Jim mentioned earlier, he left his Air Medal in Scotland for his mother to show to her friends and relatives, and asked her to mail it home to me when she had shown it to everyone she wanted to. She mailed it to me and I received it April 5, 1944. Ironically, I received the telegram notifying me that Jim was missing in action on the same day. The telegram was delivered to me by a local lady who ran and cried all the way to my house. She knew what was in the telegram and by the time she got to the house, just about everybody in town knew what was in it. My immediate reaction was anger, and I threw the medal across the room. Chuck found the medal a few weeks later. This was followed by letters from Styles Bridges, our Senator, and Robert Blood, the Governor of New Hampshire, expressing their condolences and regret of Jim being missing in action.
On April 27, 1944, I received two post cards from two different people in Florida, telling me that they had picked up a German short wave broadcast ". . .and it was reported that James Ross had been downed over enemy territory but is alive and well. If a message of "missing" has been received from our government, perhaps this information will give some consolation to whom it may concern. Best of luck to James Ross and may Germany's fall come rapidly!" Both people must have heard the same broadcast, because each post card carried about the same message. . .down to the same date and time of day it was broadcast, 11:30 PM.
The Germans actually did put out these broadcasts, but we were warned by our government not to put too much faith in these messages, because often times the Germans intentionally put out incorrect names to break down our moral. However, it was a ray of hope.
On May 5, 1944, I received a telegram from Washington, D.C., confirming that Jim was being held as a prisoner of war by the German government, and there would be more information to follow. After it was confirmed that Jim was a prisoner of war, the government sent a list containing the next of kin of the crew members, to all the crew members next of kin. We immediately started corresponding with each other. As we learned anything at all about any of the crew, we immediately wrote to the others. That's how I found out that Jim had broken his leg. Clover's mother was affiliated with the Red Cross on the West Coast and it was through her that I learned of Jim's broken leg. It was also through her that we received a great deal of information from the Red Cross.
In the meantime, I received a list and instructions from our government pertaining to sending food packages to prisoners of war. These rules were set by the Germans and we had to follow them very carefully, to have any hope at all of the packages getting through. The size of the box was even specified. It was an odd size, larger than a shoe box but smaller than a boot box. The Germans made nothing easy. The packages could not weigh over eleven pounds and the contents of the package had to be listed on the outside of the package. The government also issued special address labels that had to be used on these packages. I had to apply for these labels and they were issued one at a time in duplicate. One label was to be placed directly on the contents inside the box and the other label was to be placed on the outside of the package. We were sent one set of labels every'sixty days and we couldn't send packages without these labels. The packages could not be sealed and had to be wrapped.. . "in a manner which would facilitate opening for postal inspection."
As soon as I sent out one food package, I started getting items ready for the next package. Some of the things I. wanted to send were hard to get due to rationing, and it took me two months, sometimes, to get everything together. One of the things we could send was dried fruit, but we needed plastic bags to put it in and plastic bags were relatively new and hard to get. I was working in a grocery store at the time, and some of the salesmen helped me in getting some of the things I needed. I can remember one salesman who got a stack of plastic bags from somewhere and gave them to me. Another salesman was able to get me a few large Hershey bars. Jim loved them but they were hard to get. Things like that made life just a little easier for me.
The local Red Cross had regular monthly meetings for prisoner of war next of kin and I attended these meetings. During one of the meetings I asked for the correct box size for the food packages and how I could get them. The next day, a woman from the Red Cross drove to my house and brought a stack of corrugated boxes, folded flat, and gave them to me. The Red Cross was very helpful throughout, andoI have nothing but praise for them.
We were also permitted to have cigarettes (Tobacco Packages) sent to them. A tobacco package consists of three cartons of cigarettes, or one hundred cigars, or twenty-four ounces of chewing or smoking tobacco. This was done through the tobacco companies. We were issued Tobacco Labels and order forms every sixty days. We had to fill out the order forms and send ttthem along with the tobacco labels to the tobacco company and the tobacco company sent the cigarettes to the prisoners. We paid for the cigarettes when we ordered them and the tobacco companies sent the tobacco packages, postage free. I sent food packages and tobacco packages every two months, but Jim only got part of one food package, and one tobacco package during the entire time he was in prison camp. We got word through the Red Cross that warehouses in Germany were full of these packages, but the Germans were not distributing them. I knew the tobacco company was sending the cigarettes, even though Jim did not receive them. The company sent me a refund on the last order, as he had been liberated and the package was returned to them. This of course was later on.
I also received mailing instructions from our government in regards to mailing letters to Jim. The postal service had special letter sheets for our letters to the prisoners of war, and these are what had to be used. Again, these rules were set by the Germans.
Jim mentioned earlier that his friend Russell O'Brien and Jim had set a date to meet in London, and Russell wasn't able to be there. Russell wrote to me explaining that his leave was canceled at the last minute. He wrote Jim a letter explaining and the letter was returned to him stamped "Missing in Action". Russell was by nature a very mild, calm person, but when he received the letter back, he walked into his C.O.'s office and threw the letter on his desk. He was angry because he said there was no reason for him having to stay on duty that weekend. The work he was doing that weekend wasn't that important. Russell expected to be dressed down by his C.O., but apparently the officer was understanding and took no action against him. As a result, Russell was the first one from home to know that Jim had been shot down.
CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE THE STORY
STALAG LUFT VI, LAGER C, HYDEKRUG