392nd Bomb Group


by Col. Myron Keilman

On the mission to Hanover 11 Sept. 1944, Eddy White was leading the 579th Squadron's eight airplanes - his nineteenth mission. The target was an ordnance manufacturing plant. Bill Long, Eddy's navigator recorded these events:

"Events: Pre-briefing at 5:00 A.M. - regular briefing at 5:30. Flying ship #615 and leading the 579th high. Shelton flying as Nose Navigator. Took off at 8:35, climbed to assembly and left the English coast at 10:00. We entered the enemy coast - (France) at 1040, flying north of course. A lone P-38 (probably a captured ship radioing our course, etc.) - was sighted in the vicinity of Sigfried line. About five minutes later, ME-109's attacked formation ahead of us. Two ships seen going down in flames (B-24s). One crew bailed out - another wasn't so lucky and the plane spun into the ground. The 109's left us suddenly - we had no fighter cover with us at all - must have been at the interim when the groups were changing.

Flak at the time was intense and quite accurate. No one sustained any injuries at the time, though. All reported o.k.

We finally got on course and hit the target - PFF. Huge volumes of smoke could be seen rising from the town. Smoke rose in pillars up to 15,000 ft. in a short time. All this time our number three and four engines were smoking and streaming gas and oil. We were hit badly. it's hard to determine whether the fighters caused the damage on us or the flak at the Sigfried line.

Over the target the flak was heavy and intense - our ship received many hits - lots in the nose, though no one was injured from the flak. Alex and I huddled together in the nose and prayed. Bombed at 23,000 t. - Such flak. The sky was black with it! i(eports later were that the German fighters put up their greatest opposition in a long time to meet us. 47 bombers were lost in all.

Here are our damages up to the target area. #1 turbo regulator shot away. #3 shot out and streaming oil. Burning also. Interphone shot out. Bomb sight damaged. After leaving the target we left the formation and feathered #4. #3 couldn't be feathered at the time. Picked up a P-47 escort and made it back to the Zeider Zee O.K. Got there at about 14,000 ft. Avoided flak fairly well.

Had a huge hole in left wing. #3 had two cylinders shot out. Damage very complete. We had hopes of making it back to the base.

At Dutch territory between Zeider Zee at the North Sea Whitey called us to bail out, but changed the order. We decided to try to cross the North Sea. Began lightening the ship throwing out all loose equipment. Someone threw out the waist window and it struck on the right horizontal tail plane causing more drag - Whitey and Jim had trouble controlling the ship and gave orders to clear the nose and prepare for ditching. Such a feeling realizing that we were going to have to land in the Channel - yet all crew members remained calm.

We had a single P-47 escort who arranged with the Air Sea Rescue to meet us. Rescue sent launches Out every 15 miles on a heading of 900 from Gt. Yarmouth.

30 Miles out from Yarmouth we hit the water - ship almost completely out of control - climbing, descending, banking, etc. Sea calm and sunny - very good conditions. Hit the water at 2:45 P.M. skidding to the right with a terrific crash. Hit at 105 M.P.H. - the bottom half of the plane was ripped off from the bomb bays to the camera hatch. The tail turret and tail was torn completely off. As soon as we hit, the plane evidently nosed down and the rear went up into the air. Everything was very confusing but most of us managed to get out. McAllaster, the Radio operator and Shelton the Nose Navigator failed to get out O.K. and went down. Whalen pushed his way out of the nose up thru the canopy. White followed him. The top turret dropped and Hayden escaped thru the hole where it was. Eight of us were picked up within 15 minutes. Only three got into the life raft.

Injuries - Pilot - none; Co-Pilot - cut on right ankle. Bombarider - none; Engineer - bruised. Navigator - dislocated left shoulder and broken nose. Nose Navigator - went down. Radio operator - went down. Tail Gunner - dislocated toe and cut head. RI. waist - cut arm and head; Left waist - cut neck and mouth. Plane sank in 15 minutes.

Were picked up by Air Sea Rescue launch and taken to Naval Hospital in Gt. Yarmouth. From there to Morley Hall for further treatment. Navigator's shoulder out for 11 hours - most painful.

Plane torn completely up upon hitting the water - White did a perfect job - should get the D.F.C.

Shelton went down on the 30th mission. Tough luck. Probably got out of the plan but couldn't keep up - as did McAllastei Rest of the crew alright - but looking forward to a long stay in the hospital.

No more missions for at least one month.

Within ten days or so, Eddy, co-pilot Whalen, bombardier Alexander, engineer Hayden and gunners Egler and Sabolish had recuperated, and surprisingly were returned to duty at Wendling.

Upon departing from the hospital, one of the friendly nurses, bidding Eddy farewell, said "Come back and give us a buzz sometime." Without thinking of the consequence, Eddy assured the lady that he would.

Back at Wendling, Eddy and his crew mates were welcomed as heroes - which they were. They rejoined their Nissen hut bunk mates - Charlie Neundorf and his crew. They immediately went pubbing on Charlie's night off (not alerted for the next day's mission) and in general "got back into the swing of things". When it came to flying, it was a different matter - Eddy didn't have a complete crew.

Eddy's ability as a lead crew pilot was still honored, but it was tough to rebuild a lead crew once it was broken up. Nevertheless, as a squadron commander, I deemed it important to take advantage of Eddy's great experience and talent. I elected to reJ build his lead crew. While selecting a lead-type navigator, radio operator and gunner, we gave Eddy, Whalen and Hayden opportunity to get used to flying B-24s again by means of new engine slow-time flights and practice bombing missions. Then it happened!

After a new engine test flight, Eddy "just happened" to be in the vicinity of the hospital. He "ran" the propeller to the high RPM (revolutions per minute) position, lowered the nose of the ol' B-24, and buzzed the convalescent ward - not just once, but three times. The bold tail insignia of the 392nd Bombardment Group plus the numbers of the airplane were easily read by hospital personnel. I don't think Eddy had landed the airplane back at Wendling one hour before I as squadron commander was notified that Eddy was in trouble.

Charges of willful buzzing of a hospital and several counts of unprofessional conduct of an officer of the U.S. Army Air Forces were preferred against Eddy. The general court martial was held at the 14th Combat Wing Headquarters at Shipdham. I was called to the stand to testify as to Eddy's loyalty and pilot ability. That was easy to do, and I still remember the last question the trial judge advocate asked me - "Would you want this pilot, Edward White, to be returned to your squadron for further duty?" Without hesitation, I replied, "Yes, I would." With that I was dismissed.

It wasn't until the next day that I was informed that Eddy had been returned to duty - but had been fined a sizable sum. The loss of pay was tough - but tougher still, I couldn't get Eddy promoted to Captain - the earned rank of a lead-crew pilot.

On 29 November 1944, eighty-one days from the tragic mission to Hanover and the ditching, Eddy and his crew returned to operation. They led a squadron of ten B-24s on a mission to bomb a railroad viaduct at Atenbeken, Germany (near the Rhine River). This was Eddy's twentieth mission. No flak, no fighters, excellent bombing results, and all airplanes of the 392nd returned safely.

Nine more missions were led without incident, and Eddy and his crew were sweating out their thirtieth mission. - What would it be?

24 March 1945 was planned by General Eisenhower and his staff at Supreme Allied Headquarters to be a big and important day. It was the day the Allied forces were to cross the Rhine River for the final drive to conquer Berlin and end the war. The 2nd Air Division, including the 392nd, was scheduled to fly low level re-supply missions to allied troops just after they crossed the Rhine River the morning of the 24th. As lead crew commander, I selected a well experienced and competent pilot (Capt. Eggleston) and crew to lead the 392nd. A couple of practice missions were flown in France, and special intelligence briefings were held with sand box mock-ups of the Rhine River and drop areas. All was in readiness on the evening of the 23rd.

I had just finished eating supper and was returning to my quarters - no doubt to write a V-Mail letter to my sweetheart wife, when Capt. Eggleston approached, saluted and said, "1 can't fly the mission tomorrow." The statement stunned me. I remember that I couldn't believe what I had heard. He had flown practice missions and was well prepared. I asked him to repeat what he had said. He did - the same words were spoken. His countenance assured me that he meant each word he had spoken. With one or more hard looks into his eyes to assure finality, I turned away and headed for my jeep. I knew no words of mine would change his mind. Even if they could - if his heart wasn't in it and he wasn't fully committed, he could and no doubt would, jeopardize the success of the mission. It was the first time in nineteen months of combat operations that a pilot of mine had refused to fly.

I went to my office and scanned the roster of some twenty lead crews. Who could possibly take a mission like this "from scratch"? Who would the group commander approve without question? I didn't have much time to "dwadle". Eddy White and crew was my choice. Back in my jeep I jumped and headed for the Squadron combat crew Nissen hut area with the dreaded thought that Eddy and crew may have gone pubbing - as they usually did if they weren't on alert. I was in luck. Eddy was about to leave for the movies. I told him that Eggleston couldn't fly the mission, and I needed him and his crew. He sensed that it was something important - or I wouldn't be doing the asking. If it were a routine change, Sgt. Vivian would be told, and he in turn would notify the crew concerned. Eddy was given a real quick idea of what the mission entailed. With only a moments thought, he looked me in the eye and said, "I will if you will." That seemed really impertinent and, as squadron commander, I felt like "dressing him down" - but he had a point. I wouldn't ask him to do anything I wouldn't do. This would be his thirtieth and last mission of his combat tour. He - and I - hoped it would be a "milk-run" type. Well, I didn't have the say of when or which combat missions I would fly as command pilot. Squadron commanders rotated or were selected at the designs of the group commander. I knew it wasn't my turn - nor was I scheduled for this mission. Nevertheless, I had Eddy's partial commitment, and I still had to notify Col. Loran Johnson that Eggleston had "crapped out"; that Eddy White and crew would replace him - if I would fly with him as command pilot.

Luckily, Col. Johnson was in his quarters and, without mincing words, I spelled out the situation. I had been with the Colonel for nearly two years; so he didn't question me nor harangue about Eggleston, and of course I could take over from the scheduled command pilot without question. With his approval, I crowded Eddy, his navigator, M. Weissberger, and bombardier, M. Shumaker into my jeep and headed for the group intelligence building. We were given a thorough, but hasty briefing: studied the route into the target, turning points, land marks on the Rhine River, the dropping area colored smoke signals, 500 foot altitude approach, slow to 130 mile per hour air speed for bundles release at 1,000 feet, and then "get the hell out of there" tactic.

Rest assured that I didn't sleep much that night - the mission would be my forty-third - more than anyone had flown in the 392nd.

Briefing was bright and early at 6:00 A.M., and I took off with Eddy White and crew at 9:30. The weather was clear. Our assembly of twenty-six (26) airplanes and the route to the drop zone near Wesel, Germany, were bright and clear except for the tremendous smoke screen the allies had laid down to hide their intentions and movements along the Rhine. As we flew across Holland at 500 foot altitude, I remember the windmills, the neat green fields of the countryside; and, as we neared the Rhine, the scattered gliders and crashed transport planes. The navigator and bombardier kept us right on course, and we spotted the colored smoke signal at the drop zone just across the Rhine. Eddy throttled back, climbed to 1,000 feet slowing the airspeed for the release of the bundles. The bombardier released them in a salvo, and Eddy turned the formation for home. The last airplanes in the formation swung wide after their bundles released, and they were shot up very badly with German 20 and 37 millimeter ground weapons. Three B-24s were shot up so badly they had to crashland. Several men were killed. Some were taken prisoner by the Germans - but they were soon overtaken by American forces and freed.

I vividly remember the "scarey" exit. As we rolled out of our 180° outbound turn in the dense smoke, we were confronted with being on near collision course and altitude of an inbound group of B-24s. Talk about brushing wing tips! It didn't take long to ram the throttles to climb power setting and "get the hell out of there"!

We landed 5 hours and 50 minutes after takeoff - tired but satisfied with a job well done. Eddy, his crew, and his close friend, Charlie Neundorf, went pubbing that night on their bicycles to celebrate. The results of "that mission" were more harrowing than actual combat. Can you imagine riding hell bent from a pub on narrow English country roads on a dark night? But that's another story.

Eddy continued serving with the Air Force. He spent several years flying transports in the Arctic, and for six years he flew ten-engine B-36 bombers in the Strategic Air Command. He retired as a major with twenty years service - including three years (1940-1943) service and a combat tour with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He retired again in 1979 from Boeing Aircraft as a precision machinist in their "skunk works" (new aircraft development). He built and flies his own airplane today. Yes, Eddy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross!