Tuesday, January 5, 2010

War Supplement - Jan. 5, 1945

Events of 1/5/1945:

Dad’s Story – “I was flight-engineer/gunner on a six man crew piloted by Duane R. Borst, and co-pilot, Eugene G. Cowart. There was snow on the ground making takeoffs and landings very hazardous. Our target for that day was road junctions about 20 miles northeast of Bastonge, Germany. This mission may have been in support of the recent Battle of the Bulge, but was identified as supporting Gen. Patton’s 3rd Army. My notes indicate that the weather was clear, flak was heavy and we suffered damage to our electrical system from the flak.”

He drew a sketch of a cross section of a B-26 showing the bomb racks and bomb bay doors. As he remembers, the load was four 1000 pound bombs that day. Each bomb has a fuse in its nose and a propeller. When the bomb drops free of the plane, the safety pin is pulled by the safety wire, which lets the wind spin the propeller. As the propeller spins, it rotates off of the bomb and arms the fuse. With four large bombs, there would be two on each side of the catwalk. The bombs on one side were dropped over the target but the lower bomb on the other side hung up inside the plane. The bomb above it released from the rack and was resting on the lower bomb. As the bomb bay doors were open, the wind caused the top bomb to arm itself.

“We tried repeatedly to release the bombs by both electrical and manual means. The bomb shackle on bomb #1 (the lower one) would not release but bomb #2 did release. Since bomb#1 did not move in the bomb bay, the safety wire was still in place keeping the bomb from becoming “armed” and ready to explode. However, bomb #2 dropped far enough to become “armed” before becoming lodged between the wall and bomb #1. We were told that a 7 pound jolt would set the bomb off. It was a very hazardous situation.

Since I was the only one on the crew that had gone through the Air Force armament school, it fell my lot to try to solve the situation. The pilot and co-pilot were opposed to try landing until we had secured the bomb, if possible. After exhausting all other options, I decided to climb onto the loose bomb and attempt to remove the fuse. The fuse consisted of several pounds of TNT. Luckily, the fuse had been inserted hand tight making it possible for me to unscrew the fuse and remove it. After removing the fuse, I handed it to Jack Edwards, tail-gunner, who then passed it into the forward section of the plane to James Pappas, radio-gunner. James wrapped the fuse in his sheep-lined jacket, sat in a corner of the radio compartment on the floor and hugged the fuse to his body for protection of it. One of the difficulties I experienced was negotiating the bomb bay, crawling onto the bomb and removing the fuse all the wile dealing with a chest parachute. I wore the chute just in case the bombs decided to release while I was sitting on them over open bomb bay doors. Other problems included the extremely cold temperature making it necessary to wear gloves continually. The temperature was below zero F most of the time at altitude. After removing the fuse, the bomb was relatively safe from explosion. If it came loose while landing, it still could have easily wrecked the plane without exploding. One of the issues we discussed in the plane was whether or not anyone was aware that the fuse was booby-trapped. On occasion we had carried bombs whose fuses were set to explode if anyone tried to remove the fuse after it had been inserted. Obviously, that was not true in this case.

We landed safely and immediately put the episode behind us.”

Gene Cowart’s story – “450th Bomb Squadron-two 6 ship javelin formation as part of 322nd Bomb Group (Medium). Total group was 36 airplanes, two boxes of 18 airplanes, each box with 3 six airplanes javelin. I’m going back almost 60 years here so there may be one or two errors. (Sure) We usually flew in the deputy lead position in position 4 which is in the middle of the six ship formation and right behind and under the tail of the plane leading the 6 ship formation. I was co pilot and possibly at the controls as I often flew in that spot.

Our target was listed in group history as Couvy France. However I cannot find such a town in France but there is one in Belgium. That was probably our target. At that time the Germans were retreating after the battle of the Bulge and were probably still in Belgium.

For some reason I want to think that we were carrying 500 lb bombs that day. (?) David probably remembers well. I also remember that the weather was clear which didn’t happen often. At any rate we dropped our bombs (B 26s carried 4,000 lbs of bombs usually and that meant we had 8 on board.) Shortly thereafter some one on board, probably David who was closest to bomb bay in top turret said we had a hanger; i.e. one didn’t drop. It was soon verified that this bomb had only partially released. By way of explanation each bomb was suspended in the bomb bay in bomb shackles, two to a bomb one fore and one aft. Bombs are dropped in a sequence set by the bombardier in accord with target definition that he set into an intervalometer (sp?). (On long interval settings it seems to take forever to get them out especially in heavy flak.)

Bombs are also carried in the “safe” condition that prevents the small arming propeller to spin up on the way down thus arming the fuse. This propeller is “seized” by a wire that prevents spinning until it is pulled free as the bomb falls away from the plane. We had an armed bomb hanging nose down in the bomb bay that had armed as it halfway released. Not good is an understatement. If you shut the bomb bay doors it may release and detonate going thru the closed doors. If you try to land with it, it may drop free at touch down and explode under the plane.

Now the “Go To Guy” in mechanical system problems was David Foil on our crew. His knowledge and judgment that he exercised throughout my tour of duty is the main reason I’m able to sit here and write this. (I’m alive). As an aside although I could fly the plane it was not until many years later that having graduated from engineering school and perusing an old copy of the B26 Pilots Information File that I finally understood what David was doing when he was turning a bunch of valve handles to transfer fuel that had to be done on every flight.

At any rate David had to go in to the open bomb bay and see if the bomb could be released. In the B26 the pilots wore back pack chutes but the crew had a chest pack that had to be clipped on the front of their chute harness. This was because that aircrew, in their duties have to move around and could not wear their chute (until it was needed (doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?). I doubt that David could have worn his chute while wrestling with a reluctant bomb in an open bomb bay. It had to be the top bomb or one would have hit on the way out. The B26 had a “keel” that ran down the bottom of the middle of the plane and bombs hung on both sides in the bay. David had to stand on this while in some manner he was able to release the armed bomb. By falling part way off, the bomb was armed as slip stream would cause the bomb to arm in its hanging position.

As I stated I think he had to do this sans chute.

He managed to do this and as I think back I think we were too dumb (or numb) to really appreciate what he had done. There should have been a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) at a minimum. However we usually when we got back to our field after a raid we had no interest in talking to the flacks that hung around debriefing looking for something to write up. Just another day at the office. Heroism?-in retrospect hell yes-but things are transitory in your 20s. As a further aside David did get one break around this time. (Don’t tell Maxine) Our group was pretty well bunged up after the Battle of the Bulge and we needed more airplanes. David was one of those selected for a trip back to England to crew some replacements. And there (maybe this was Christmas before the bomb incident) I have picture of David. And lo and behold in the midst of WWII he sits making goo goo eyes at some Red Cross girl sitting next to him. Oh well he was always lucky (witness hanging out in the open bomb bay) and wound up with Maxine.

Mike, I know you only wanted to know what time it was and I’ve told you how to build a watch—but David Foil was and is an Extraordinary Man and you don’t meet many.”

(Gene Cowart named his first son after Dad.)

The “flacks” Gene mentioned were a group of men that met each crew as they got off of their plane to see if there were any news stories or acts of heroism to report. Dad said that by the time they landed, this day, it had been a bad day and no one wanted to talk about it and no one mentioned to the “flacks” what had just taken place.

The pilot Borst and the co-pilot Cowart have both indicated to me that they credit having the rest of their lives due to what Dad was able to do that day.

You will notice some variations in the two stories. Was Dad wearing a parachute? Were they 500# of 1000# bombs? Also, based on the entry in the journal, two bombs were disarmed.

You can see the same photo Gene mentioned, of Dad, on the blog entry for 12/26/1944.

1 comment:

  1. This got me teared up. Seems I am finally coming to an appreciation of what grandpa went through. I can understand your fascination with this war, dad. Grandpa is certainly a hero to these men and to me as well. All I have ever known is the grandpa in his house on Stratton in Show Low, father to his children, a woodworker, a Bible Study leader. I love that man. But, I've been so ignorant of what his life before that entailed. It's fascinating and heartbreaking. So proud of him. Thanks for sharing.