392nd Bomb Group


NAVIGATOR, 576th Squadron

Jack Morris
Jones’ crew gather after playing football

PILOT: 1st Lt. George Jones - POW
CO-PILOT 1: 1st Lt. John Mann - KIA
CO-PILOT 2: 1st Lt. Richard Sandoz - Wounded
CO-PILOT 3: 2nd Lt. John Faas - KIA
NAVIGATOR: 1stLt. Jack Morris - POW
BOMBARDIER: 1st Lt. Harry Thomas - POW

TAIL GUNNER: S/SGT Vincent Rossi - POW
GUNNER: S/SGT Tommy Lane - POW
GUNNER: S/SGT William Surber - N/A

Clarksburg, Ohio native, Jack Morris, volunteered his services to the Army Air Corps in March of 1941. He took boot camp and basic training at Fort Thomas, Kentucky and Camp Walters, Texas respectively, and started flight training at Kelly Army Air Field in San Antonio, TX. Following extensive bombardier and navigation school at Midland and Hondo Army Air Fields in Texas, Lt. Morris was assigned to a B-24 crew as Navigator. From that day, members of Morris’ crew, led by pilot Lt. George Jones, began to develop a unique bond of friendship strengthened by 32 combat missions, a near fatal crash landing, the loss of two co-pilots, and a war ending Prisoner of War experience. Although the crew shared many harrowing experiences during their tenure, four particularly unique missions are outlined in the following pages.

Departing from West Palm Beach Florida in late October of 1943, Jones and crew took the southern route across the Atlantic to their first European destination, Burtonwood, England, where they gave up their B-24H and met the remainder of the crews they trained with at St. Mawvgen Field on October 30, 1943. Following overseas training, which included briefings from seasoned crew members who had flown bombing missions over various occupied sections of Europe, Jones and company were finally given a permanent assignment with the 392nd Bomb Group at Wendling, England on December 19, 1943.

Waist Gunner Hank Marvin
Waist Gunner Hank Marvin

Even though Bombardier, Harry Thomas, had volunteered to fly two missions before this date, Friday, January 21, 1944 proved to be the first mission that this crew of friends flew together as a team. The mission was a "Milk Run" to France, however, enemy flak was intense and Lt. Jones remembers this mission as his first due to a very frightening experience. While flying close to the target, the B-24 they were flying was sliced open by an unexploded 88MM flak shell, which lodged itself in the top turret armor plating, narrowly missing Sgt. Bodoh perched in the top turret gun placement. The incident was etched in the minds of the whole crew for the remainder of their service due to their fortunate luck that the shell was a dud and did not explode inside the cabin.

The 392nd BG was assigned to bomb targets in Halblerstadt, Germany, on February 20, 1944 however, due to weather, the group turned toward Helmstadt and released its load on this target instead. This mission was very vivid for all the crew members as the group leader descended to 12,000 feet, which was a lower altitude than normal. When the group released its bombs, Jones’ B-24 gave an unusual lurch. According to Thomas, five of the bombs they were carrying were accidentally released too early before the bomb bay doors were clear from the drop path, and the left door was severely bent due to the bombs slamming into it while they dropped from the aircraft. Unbeknownst to the crew, the damage done to the door was quite severe and it would not close as it hung from one broken hinge and flapped in the wind causing an incredible amount of drag. To make matters worse, as the group dropped its bombs on target, a large number of German fighters attacked the formation for over 20 minutes. Shells from a FW-190’s 20MM cannon ripped into the number two and three engines and Jones was forced to feather number two and closely monitor number three, as only partial power was trickling from it. Due to the intense fighter attack, the group leader decided to increase the speed of the formation and high tail it west, in search of better fighter cover and the geographic safety of the channel. As the group increased its speed, Jones and crew were left alone to fend for themselves.

As the gunners continued to fend off the occasional menacing German fighter, Jones eventually spotted a "V" of straggling B-24’s made up of a collection of different groups who had banded together for protection. Jones aligned his B-24 on the right wing of another and stayed with this group until they successfully reached the channel. After passing Dunkirk, all four aircraft split away from the formation and took a new heading toward their home bases or in directions of the closest airfield.

After breaking formation, Sgt. McAdams immediately tried to establish wireless contact with any airfield in the area, and as soon as he made contact with a nearby base and received an accurate heading, all three of the B-24’s active engines failed mysteriously. For a moment, everyone on the aircraft was shocked. In fact, Sgt. Bodoh and Lt. Mann, who were on the pilot’s deck with Lt. Jones refused to believe the aircraft was out of fuel and both toggled the throttle back and forth praying for the engines to re-fire. However, the engines remained idle and the aircraft began to descend rapidly.

The thought racing through each crew member’s mind, especially Lt. Jones’, was how on earth the fuel gauges could have been so far from being correct. Even though engine two was feathered and number three was pulling little pressure, the other two engines were performing well enough to safely return the aircraft to a coastal airfield and the fuel gauges registered plenty of fuel. However, what the pilots didn’t know was that the damaged left bomb bay door was causing so much drag, that it caused for the pilots to run the available two engines at a much higher RPM than normal, which quickly depleted the fuel supply.

Obviously, there was little time to blame each other for the unexplained miscalculation. From his personal memoirs, Jones explained the severity of the situation: "I didn’t have time to do more than start picking a line of flight to put the plane down. We were over farm land, so I decided to try to pick out a line of flight as best I could, to miss as many trees as I could, and hope for the best. Lt. Morris and Lt. Thomas came up from the nose of the aircraft, and ball turret gunner Sgt. Surber had come from the waist, making five men {gathered} on the flight deck. We got the flaps down but there wasn’t time to get the wheels down, which was probably a lucky thing. As the plane began to approach the ground, I remember lifting the right wing over a stone farmhouse, and with the nose up somewhat, I felt and heard the tailskid gently dragging the ground. That was probably the smoothest landing I had ever made up until that point, and just then it happened – the co-pilot had neglected to cut the switches (my fault as well being the pilot), and the number four engine got some gas into it from the nose up position, and it {started spinning again}, pulling the plane to the right in a {crab-like} attitude… and there went my beautiful landing! I remember seeing at least one prop cartwheel across the field and a brief flare of flame, and then we hit a drainage ditch, skidding to a stop. When we hit the ditch, the fuselage broke, not completely in two, but enough to partially drop the top gun turret (approx. 1,000 lbs.) downward, pinning all five men in position. We were extremely fortunate, as no one was hurt badly. I managed to squeeze out of the pilot’s window and {be the first} to greet a farmer coming across the field to our aid. A few minutes later, American airmen came across the field in jeeps and trucks and had to use axes to hack a hole in the fuselage to free the remaining crew members."

Lt. Thomas’ narrative of the crash was quite colorful. "{Before Lt. Jones touched the aircraft down onto English soil}, we all clung together like a bunch of biddies! When we first hit it was like a normal landing, then it seemed like all hell broke loose. The force of the turret and fuselage was the "force of all forces" that smashed us down and all together. Then the aircraft stopped. The first thing we did was have a rapid roll call. Everyone was almost smothering and had a portion of the aircraft, or another person’s weight pinning them to the floor. Eventually, Sgt. McAdams, who was behind me, worked himself loose. Just after we had hit, I had grabbed his leg and yelled "My God, my leg, I can’t feel anything!" McAdams’ movement allowed me to come back just enough so that Johnny {Mann} and I could get off. Surber pulled himself up and was bleeding profusely about the forehead. We managed to squirm just enough so that Johnny {Mann} and I could pull Jack {Morris} out from under the material pinning him. Bodoh got out from my left, then we finally had enough room so I could pull my right leg out from under me and Johnny {Mann} could reach down to untie my left shoe. That foot had gone through the floor board and was stuck fast. After a few pulls they slid me down the left side of the fuselage into some on-looking Limey’s arm. Jack {Morris} and I were bruised all over with small cuts here and there. We looked over the scene from where we were laying and saw the house that George {Jones} had miraculously missed before settling her down. There was a smooth path through the beet field until {it was obvious} where the ship began swerving when number four re-started {and sent the aircraft toward the drainage ditch}, which caused a majority of our damage and injury."

The crew returned to Wendling around 0100 the next day. The flight surgeon put Lt. Morris and Lt. Thomas in the hospital for several days due to combat fatigue received from flying too many missions in a short period of time. Lt. Morris, Sgt. McAdams and Sgt. Surber were awarded the purple heart due to wounds received from the crash.

APRIL 29, 1944

The crew’s 20th mission (flying B-24 #097) on April 29, 1944 was to bomb the Friedrichstrasse Railway Station in the center of downtown Berlin. By this time, co-pilot Lt. Mann had successfully received a transfer to the RAF to fly Mosquito bombers. He felt it wasn’t his place to be attached to fly bombers, as his piloting abilities would be more needed in a fast aircraft (author’s note: Lt. Mann was killed in action July 7, 1944). Lt. Sandy Sandoz was his replacement and had flown a few missions with the crew before this trip.

According to Jones, while flying to the target, the group encountered some flak but was much for affected by a later attack of fifty or more FW-190’s and ME-109’s, which had swarmed onto the group from above the formation boxes. During one of the vertical fighter passes, Jones’ B-24 was riddled with 20MM shells. One shell narrowly missed Morris and Thomas as it zipped passed them through the nose turret. Unfortunately, this same shell hit Lt. Sandoz in the right ankle, causing severe damage to his lower leg. Seconds later, another shell severed Lt. Jones’ oxygen line making him rely on portable bottles for the remainder of the mission.

As the group dropped its bombs and made a turn for home, Lt. Sandoz’s condition was worsening. Sgt. McAdams showed a remarkable presence of mind by leaving his position and immediately getting Sandoz out of his seat, stabilized on the flight deck and a tourniquet secured around his ankle. For the next four hours, McAdams held Sandoz in his arms behind the pilot seats. According to Thomas, "{we} started taking Sandy to the nearest base, but he said he would rather go home. It wasn’t but ten minutes longer, {so upon arrival to Wendling, we} made a quick pattern and I fired three red flares to let them know someone on board was wounded. An ambulance was waiting for us at the end of the runway. What a mission! Brother, this was an experience. Sandoz was sent back to the states and we got out third co-pilot."

July 7, 1944

On their 32nd Mission, flying B-24J 42-94772 (no nickname), the 392nd BG was assigned to bomb an aircraft factory in Bernberg, Germany. Flak was noticeably heavy over this target. As the group dropped its bombs close to 140 German fighters, more than any of the pilots had ever seen concentrated in one area, fiercely attacked the group causing great damage to the bombers. According to Jones, "our plane was literally riddled by machine gun and 20MM cannon shells, but miraculously no one was injured, but our number three and four engines were struck and we fell out of the formation. We managed to feather number four, but were unable to feather number three which was "wind milling" and pumping oil into a fire between the engines and running down into the bomb bay. Our control tabs were seemingly shot out and the plane was going into a steep bank to the left which {new} co-pilot, Lt. Faas, and myself couldn’t straighten out. We didn’t have any viable alternative except to bail out."

Getting out of the aircraft was no easy task. Jones further commented, "our intercom was shot out, so I couldn’t contact {Thomas and Morris} up in the nose. I yelled and stomped my feet to try to get across to them to bail out, but we were fighting to keep the plane from going into a spin. I sent Sgt. Bodoh back to the waist to bail out the three men there, and told Sgt. McAdams to get out."

Unbeknownst to Jones, Jack Morris and Harry Thomas, in the nose section of the aircraft were already prepared to make a jump. When Morris looked up and noticed that he could not see the pilot or co-pilot’s feet on the rudder pedals, he signaled for Thomas to put on his gear and prepare to jump as soon as possible. Seconds later, Morris opened the nose wheel door and jumped out. When he went to pull the rip cord, his chute was stuck and did not open immediately. Frantically, he reached around the back of the pack and flipped open the flaps and the chute eventually caught wind and opened. It was a smaller chute than normal, so his floating speed was quite fast. He landed hard in a farm field and was immediately met by a few German farmers who took him to a nearby abandoned school building, which served as a holding pin for future POW’s. Eventually, a German soldier in the area stopped by to take him prisoner.

Harry Thomas, who exited the nose wheel door very shortly after Morris had a successful landing in the back yard of a German resident, however, he was concerned about the others in the aircraft as he jumped due to the fact that the B-24 was already in a tight, flat spin. Close to the same time, Jones told Faas to prepare to jump. According to Jones, "he got out of his seat, but turned and tried to hold the wheel so that I could get out. We both went down into the bomb bay and out onto the catwalk. Faas was right beside me, so I shoved off.. I was wearing the loose-fitting fur-lined flying boots and when my chute opened I stopped very suddenly, but the boots kept going, so I was literally in my stockings when I landed. Eventually, a German home guardsman took me into custody and marched me into a small town nearby and a stone building where I was reunited with several members of the crew."

The crew members who were gathered started to put their story together to determine the status of the crash. It was news to Jones that Lt. Faas was found dead lying next to the crash site with the ripcord on the parachute still in place. Even though the crew knew deep down that Lt. Faas had a nervous history and was quite frightened of his flying experiences due to a "close miss" on a previous mission, they assumed that he at least made an attempt to jump from the aircraft and must have hit his head while exiting. After being captured and under the gun of angry German guards, Thomas and Bodoh were thrown into the back of a truck containing a crude wooden casket and shovels and were given the duty of recovering Lt. Faas’ body and digging his grave. As Jones concluded in his memoirs, "the two were very apprehensive when it came to discussing these details."

On July 7, German Army report #KU2420 suggests that the crew’s B-24J crashed 400 meters north of Wagenfeld, Germany at 1045 hours and that eight crew members, less Lt. Faas were captured at Barver-Diephels, Germany just after the crash. Following interrogation in Frankfurt, Germany, the officers were separated from the enlisted men and sent to Stalag III in Sagan, Germany. Jack Morris and George Jones were assigned to Center, Block 42, and Harry Thomas was assigned to the West Compound. The crew remained in Sagan until February of 1945 when the Russian Army became uncomfortably close to the camp. The German guards moved the camp to Mossburg, Germany, where Morris, Thomas, and Jones were eventually liberated by American forces. They spent 10 months in captivity. (pictured above: Sagan, Germany. A not-so-happy POW file portrait of Jack Morris).