Posts Tagged With: #8th Air Force

Moments with the 379th

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Men of the 379th take a break to play football beside the flight line at Kimbolton in the spring of 1944. The shadow of what the air crews faced lingers in the backstory of the B-17 parked nearby. That’s “Pansy Yokum,” a Douglas-built B-17G that joined the group right at the end of Big Week in February 1944. On March 8th, it was hit by enemy fire during the Berlin Raid and one of the waist gunners was killed in action. Shortly after this photo was taken, this B-17 vanished on July 9, 1944. The crew failed to form up as the 379th assembled for the mission, but apparently the pilot, Lt. Hugh Frye, decided to press on. They either joined up with another group, or went off in search of the 379th. Either way, the Fort was hit by flak over France, limped back toward England, only to crash at sea off Le Havre. All nine aboard perished, including the 23 year old bombardier, Lt. Orval Epperson, a small town kid from Neosho, Missouri. He was his family’s only son.

In November 1942, the 379th Bomb Group was activated at Gowen Field Idaho, just outside of Boise. The crews trained incessantly through the winter and early spring, then deployed to England in April 1943. The group arrived just as the 8th Air Force was ramping up for the ’43 strategic bombing effort against Germany.

Men of the 379th entertaining local English kids and their families at Kimbolton. The B-17 was “Tampa Tornado,” a battered Fort that had first seen service with the 303rd Bomb Group before joining the 379th in September ’43. It was retired from combat service in October, and was the aircraft the group used for tours when civilians came on post.

 

Commanded by LTC Maurice A. Preston, a Class of ’37 graduate of West Point, the 379th was a sharp, well-disciplined outfit that would soon prove to be one of the elite groups of 8th Bomber Command. Preston held command until October 1944 when he moved up to take over the 41st Wing. He was a combat leader all the way, flying forty-five missions through the worst phase of the air war over Europe. He led the 379th during the August ’43 Schweinfurt raid, and returned to that city the following spring. He went on to have a very successful USAF career, ultimately commanding both the 5th Air Force in the Pacific and all USAF forces in Europe during the height of the Cold War.

The group performed so well in combat that it earned two Presidential Unit Citations, and was recognized for its bombing accuracy, low abort rates, tight formation flying and bomb tonnage delivered on targets. The aircrews pioneered new formations and new bombing tactics that were later adopted throughout VIIII┬áBomber Command, and completed 300 combat missions faster than any other USAAF heavy bombardment group in England. The group paid a brutal price during its two years in combat. Altogether, 141 of the 379th’s Forts went down over Europe.

 

“Lost Angel” returns to Kimbolton on April 10, 1944. This Fort joined the 379th in February ’44, and this crash landing was one of at least two crews of the group experienced in her. On September 28, 1944, Lost Angel and the rest of the 379th ran into scores of German fighters on a mission to Magdeburg. During the bomb run, another nearby B-17 (Queen of Hearts) took a direct AA hit that touched off one of its fuel tanks. As it fell, the tongue of flame it trailed engulfed Lost Angel so completely that the tail gunner thought their B-17 had been hit as well. He bailed out and was taken prisoner. Just after the bomb run, the fighters struck. Lost Angel’s navigator later wrote, “Most horrible sight I’ve seen. Sky filled with burning planes. Too many to count. Had to look away.” For details on that mission, see, “http://b17navigator.com/dads-log-book/mission-no-seventeen-september-28-1944/” Lost Angel was repaired repeatedly and sent back into battle. After the September mission, it was sent to the 384th Bomb Group. Miraculously, it survived the war, only to be scrapped in October 1945.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Men of Station 167

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The 381st Bomb Group’s O Club at Ridgewell.

In May of 1943, the 381st Bomb Group reached England. It had been formed and activated in January that year, undergoing a short, intensive training cycle that included a full formation leaflet dropping exercise over Denver. Led by the legendary bomber pilot Colonel Joseph Nazzaro, the 381st was a tight, disciplined organization. Nazzaro would go into combat for the first time with his beloved 381st, and his tenure with the group led to an extraordinary career that culminated with him commanding SAC in the late 1960’s.

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The 381st climbing out over the channel.

The group set up shot at Station 167, RAF Ridgewell in Essex. After a few weeks of settling in and local training flights, the group flew its first mission on June 22, 1943. Two of its B-17’s were shot down by flak and fighters on that first combat run, and two others came home battered and damaged with wounded aboard. It was a tough indoctrination to the air war over German-held Europe.381st bg b17  bomb loading aug 20 43721 4x6

The following day, the ground crews were busily preparing the Forts for their second mission when a bomb exploded on the flight line. The blast killed twenty four men, yet the 381st joined the rest of the 8th Air Force and continued on to fly that day.

During the August 17, 1943 Schweinfurt raid, half of the group’s bombers went down under the onslaught of determined Luftwaffe fighters and massive flak barrages. Ten crews went with those birds, but one crew returned home after being fished out of the English Channel. Colonel Nazzaro personally led the mission that day, flying the lead Fort in the formation.381st bg b17 sept 26 43 719 8x10

The 381st went on to fly a total of 296 missions–over 9,000 sorties against German targets. It came at a terrible cost–over a thousand combat crews went missing, were killed or wounded during those vicious two years of flying. One hundred and thirty one B-17’s belonging to the 381st never made it back to station 167, which represented roughly 500% of the group’s established strength.

The 381st over Germany, February 5, 1945.

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Hard Day for the 549th Bomb Squadron

Piccadilly Queen returns home to Great Ashfield with wounded aboard on June 14, 1943. This Fort was a B-17F and was part of the 385th Bomb Group’s original contingent of aircraft. It soldiered through the harshest air battles of the 1943 campaign only to be shot down by Luftwaffe fighters during a raid on Frankfurt on January 29, 1944. Piccadilly Queen crashed near Kaiserlautern, where about half the crew survived to be taken prisoner.

 

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Last View of a Doomed Flying Fort, Chelveston 1943

Rum Runner was one of the original B-17F’s that equipped the 305th Bomb Group when it reached England in late 1942. This photo was taken shortly before the Fort was lost with Boomerang on the February 16, 1943 raid over France.

In the Fall of 1942, the 305th Bomb Group arrived in England after a six month work up cycle in Utah, California and Washington. When the men reached East Anglia that fall, the Army Air Force assigned them a batch of factory-fresh Boeing B-17F Flying Fortresses with which they would soon begin operations against German targets in Western Europe. One of those original B-17’s was #41-24611, which the crews named “Boomerang.” ┬áThe 305th was one of the first bomb groups to reach the 8th Air Force, which attracted a lot of media and PAO attention. This film clip was taken at the start of one of the unit’s earliest combat missions, either in late 1942 or early 1943. Seen taxiing toward its take off run is Boomerang and her crew.

On February 16, 1943, the 305th flew a bombing mission over Brittany, France. The Forts were hit by flak and fighters, and the Luftwaffe interceptors singled out Boomerang. Firing passes knocked out two of the B-17’s engines, and it dropped out of formation on fire. Other members of group saw a number of parachutes blossom from the aircraft just before it disappeared into a layer of clouds. Another Fort was cut out of its squadron box and sent down in flames at about the same time. Both B-17’s crashed near Molac, France, with one crew member from each aircraft dying in the ordeal.

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Battle damage suffered by a 305th Bomb Group B-17 during one of the February raids over Western Europe in 1943.

Boomerang’s surviving crew tried to escape and evade. Several of them were able to avoid capture–at least at first. They were split into two groups, and one eventually was run down by the Germans and taken prisoner. Two men successfully evaded and returned to Allied territory.

 

Boomerang’s crew that day:

Pilot: Charles Steenbarger

Copilot: Thomas Mayo

Navigator: John Carpenter Jr. (Killed in Action)

Bombardier: Joe Varhol

Radio Operator: Carey Ford

Top Turret Gunner: Fred Dewig

Ball Turret Gunner: Charley Gilbert

Tail Gunner: Lowell Lewis

Waist Gunners: Dale Markland and Don Wall

Norris Miller was also aboard the aircraft.

 

Here is the film clip:

 

Ford and Markland were the two who successfully evaded capture.

The townsfolk in Molac later erected a monument honoring the two crews shot down that day. It can be seen here:

http://www.uswarmemorials.org/html/site_details.php?SiteID=762

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home from Frankfurt

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A 381st Bomb Group Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress crew returns to England following a bombing raid to Frankfurt, Germany on February 4, 1944. The group had lost twenty men the week before when the 8th Air Force struck Frankfurt on January 29th. That was the 381st’s 61st combat mission. On the 4th of February, everyone came home, a rare moment to celebrate in the dark days of America’s air war over German-held Europe.

 

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