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                     Mildred Cecile Walden

                                          

                                            There wasn’t much planning for the future, because the odds
                                    almost guaranteed that there was to be no future.
                                                                                                       —Truman J. Smith 
                                                                    The Wrong Stuff,
                                The Adventures and Misadventures of an 8th Air Force Aviator

 

 





 

     Millie Walden was born Cecile Mildred Walden at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on February 11, 1922, but she always went by Mildred C. Walden. She was the sixth of seven children of Lester M. and Cecil (nee Andrews) Walden.  (Lester and Cecile had a baby daughter, whom they named Cecile May Walden, born on 11 September 1918, but she died in infancy. She was not listed in the 1920 Census.)
     The family lived at 7959 Ridgeland Avenue in Chicago. They are listed there in the 1930 census. They lived in New York City in 1935  (visiting Atlantic City about that time: Lester, Malvin, Mildred, Cecil, Helen, Bill Reardon and wife Marjorie), but at the time of the 1940 census they lived at 297 Braddock Avenue, in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Millie attended Lansdowne High School, graduating on the fifth day of June, 1940. Somewhere along the line, she was held back a grade, perhaps due to the family’s relocations.
     At Lansdowne High, Millie began dating one of her classmates, Dick Bannerman. They became sweethearts. He had been known since infancy by the nickname “Dickie.”


Richard Parrent Bannerman

     The Bannerman’s lived just five blocks away from the Walden’s, at 285 N. Highland Ave.  Richard P. Bannerman was born in Philadelphia on 25 January 1923. He was the second of three sons born to William S. and Helen (nee Keiser) Bannerman. image William worked as a sewing machine salesman; Helen kept house and took care of the boys. Dick graduated from Huey Grammar School in 1935, Holmes Junior High in 1937, and attended Lansdowne High School. He ran track and played softball, was a member of the Student Council and the German Club. He graduated  in the same class as Millie.
     After graduation, they both joined the local workforce. Millie Walden found a job repairing radios at a neighborhood shop owned by Mr. John C. Holtby, a boss she always enjoyed working for and whom she admired a great deal. She kept in touch with him and his wife for decades later.  For his part, Dick began working for the Insurance Company of North America in Philadelphia as an underwriter’s clerk. He worked there for a year, earning $65.00 a month, from July 1940 to July 1941.
     But that summer the possibility of war with the Axis nations was increasing, and the draft was bringing pressure to bear on all American youths his age.
With a Second World War raging in Europe, the United States was inevitably and irretrievably being drawn into the  morass. For the first time since the Great War, the government reinstituted a national draft. And young men Dicks age were prime candidates.

 

        The draft became law on 16 September 1940....Every male in the United States, including
      aliens, between the ages of 21 and 36 had to register for the draft, and each was liable, if
      called, for one year of active duty followed by 10 years of reserve duty. Those inducted
      under the draft could not be used beyond the Western Hemisphere except in U.S.
      possessions, including the Philippines. Anyone eligible could volunteer before being called.
      Volunteering for regular military duty continued even after the draft passed, but one had to
      volunteer for three years rather than on year....On 16 October 1940, over 16 million young
      men appeared at precinct election boards across the country to register with the Selective
      Service.
            By the spring of 1941 Germany had overrun France, bombed England close to
      submission, and invaded Russia. In the Pacific the Japanese were in Indochina and boasting
      of a new co-prosperity sphere in Asia under Japan’s leadership. On 27 May 1941 President
      Roosevelt proclaimed an unlimited period of national emergency. In early July American
      troops occupied Iceland and extended naval patrols into the mid-Atlantic. Secret staff talks
      had been held with British military officers to insure coordinated action in both the Pacific
      and Atlantic when, not if, war came.
           In May 1941 the Japanese moved into French Indochina. Germany invaded Russia on
      22 June 1941. On 3 July [General of the Army George C.] Marshall recommended to the
      president that both the geographic and the time restrictions on the use of draftees be dropped
      so that the army could reach a strength of  2.3 million and be used more effectively. The
      president had already authorized American forces to occupy Iceland, but under the current
      law, no draftees could be used in the occupying force. At his press conference 8 July the
      president approved Marshall’s request and urged action upon Congress.1 


     On 8 July 1941, Richard P. Bannerman, almost 6 foot tall and weighing just under 140 pounds, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in Philadelphia. He was sent to Chanute Field, Illinois, for his basic training, which was in maintenance engineering. His basic training was held at an Army Air Corp Technical School, and it was a sort of combination of a physical education class and a trade school. Upon graduation, he would simply be called an airplane mechanic. It was a catch-all name for any one of a variety of aviation jobs in the Army Air Corps (which was soon to be known as the Army Air Forces.)


      During the war the AAF required four technical specialists for every man who flew. The
      ratio of total ground personnel to flying personnel was nearly seven to one, and for every
      man actually committed to air combat there were sixteen individuals who served within the
      AAF on some noncombat assignment....In the early days of the Air Service, practically all
      enlisted technicians, whether or not they were concerned directly with the maintenance of
      aircraft, had been known as airplane mechanics.2

      
The engineering course lasted 120 academic days and provided training in airplane
      construction principles; maintenance, repair, and inspection of airplanes and associated
      tools and equipment; and the duties of an engineering officer.3





Historical note: A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

The attack on Pearl Harbor...was a surprise
military strike conducted by the Imperial
Japanese Navy against the United States naval
base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning
of December 7, 1941....The base was attacked
by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo
planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft
carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were
damaged, with four being sunk....The attack
came as a profound shock to the American people
and led directly to the American entry into World
War II in both the Pacific and European theaters.
The following day (December 8), the United States
declared war on Japan....Subsequent operations
by the U.S. prompted Germany and Italy to declare
war on the U.S. on December 11, which was
reciprocated by the U.S. the same day.4





     Richard Bannerman graduated from his Technical School on 30 December 1941 and was promoted to the rank of corporal. During the course of his training—maybe even before he ever enlisted—he decided that he wanted to be an Army Air Corps pilot, and now he made his intentions known. With the help of his parents, he had already obtained the three letters of recommendation and his high school diploma. The Army Air Corps sent him to the Greenville Army Air Base in Greenville, Mississippi, where the 434th Air Corps Basic Flying School was located. Like many other Army Air Corps schools at this time, 434th was privately owned and was operated under a contract with the Air Corps.

     Once at Greenville, he made his formal application for appointment as an Aviation Cadet on 31 January 1942. He was given a physical exam. Since he was only 18 years old, his parents had to give their written consent, which they did. Although he was required to provide evidence of his date of birth, a copy of his actual birth certificate never found its way into his file. Nevertheless, on the 20th day of February 1942, the Examining Board met, interviewed him and recommended that Corporal Bannerman, service number 13028280, be appointed as an Aviation Cadet in the United States Army.  
    
In a stroke of very good luck, Richard caught a big break. He was assigned the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) number 658, Link Trainer Instructor. He would therefore be giving instruction to Aviation Cadets in a flight simulator. “The term Link Trainer, also known as the Blue boxand Pilot Trainer is commonly used to refer to a series of flight simulators produced...by the Link Aviation Devices, Inc....These simulators became famous during World War II, when they were used as a key pilot training aid by almost every combatant nation.5 As an instructor working in this MOS, Corporal Bannerman did the following:


            Explains operation of equipment to trainee and demonstrates use of its controls
            and instruments and difference between operating characteristics of trainer and
            actual aircraft. Assigns a series of progressive practice exercises to trainee which
            includes simulated cross-country flights. 

                 During practice periods and test exercises, transmits simulated radio beam signals
            to trainee and operates equipment to give him flight instructions similar to those
            received in flight by radio from ground stations. Evaluates trainee’s performance
            and maintains records pertaining to operation of the trainer. 

                 Inspects trainer prior to use, and operates the controls in order to determine whether
            it is functioning properly. Cleans and makes minor adjustments to the trainer.
6


     Corporal Bannerman now worked in a rich educational environment. He led a life of constant flight simulation, training and instruction, day after day, week after week. It would be a blessing for him. It would give him a great advantage over other cadets when he started his own Aviation Cadet training. Here, he was learning the fundamentals of flight from the ground up. He had to know the basics very well to be able to instruct others. And nothing encourages your own learning and self confidence like instructing someone else. This MOS, Link Simulator Trainer, would prove to be invaluable as he advanced in his career as an Aviation Cadet. Although his military records do not tell us when, this picture proves he was promoted to sergeant during this time.


The Honeymoon Express

     All this while, Richard and Millie were still sweethearts, and they kept in touch with each other by way of frequent letters and phone calls. The exact circumstances are now unknown, but at some point, Millie left her parents’ home in Lansdowne and made her way to Greenville to be with her fiancé. What is known, however, is that Mildred Cecile Walden and Richard Parrent Bannerman were married by a minister on 7 July 1942 at the Greenville Army Air Base, located in Washington County, Mississippi. He was 19, she was 20. Both were Protestant. Millie’s older sister, Marjorie (Walden) Reardon, and her husband, William F. (“Bill”) Reardon, made the trip from their apartment at 7909 Crandon, on the south side of Chicago, to Greenville for the big event. They were the witnesses and served as best man and maid of honor.
     Of course, there was no time for a real honeymoon away from the base. Richard’s days were filled with training cadets on the Link. Only in the evenings and on weekends could they be together. News of their wedding was not announced in the Lansdowne paper until four months later.


Intense Training

     With a solid foundation of basic aviation knowledge already established, Richard was well prepared to begin his career as a cadet. In September, 1942, he was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, for classification. For the next several months, his time would be spent in long days of classes and practical exercises, all designed to produce a skilled and capable navigator, bombardier or pilot. It started at the Classification Center.



                         Aircrew Classification Centers   To facilitate the processing of the
                         tremendous number of men needed for the aircrew training programs,
                         Training Command established three aircrew classification centers in
                         March 1942. Located in Nashville, at Kelly Field [in San Antonio],
                         and at Santa Ana [California], the classification centers were, essentially,
                         collecting points where thousands of qualified candidates for aircrew training
                         could be kept while awaiting their assignments. Here, would-be air force officers
                         received their first uniforms and faced a series of tests, the classification battery.7
 
     
    
     
     Dick was designated for pilot training. His initial physical exam was given on September 16. Then the training began. “Training came in five stages. Classification lasted 1 to 2 weeks and the education and training stages were 9 weeks each....

           
          *  Pre-Flight stage taught the mechanics and physics of flight and required the cadets to
              pass courses in mathematics and the hard sciences. Then the cadets were taught to apply
              their knowledge practically by teaching them aeronautics, deflection shooting, and
              thinking in three dimensions. Typically, cadets reported to a preflight school at San
              Antonio Aviation Cadet Center; Maxwell Field, Alabama, or Santa Ana Army Base,
              California.
              [Dick was at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, from 9/18/42 to11/25/42.]



     The...program was a “combination of basic training and Officer Candidate School, with a thin topping of West Point tradition.” A few officers and NCOs ran the training program, but upperclassmen, theoretically getting experience in a command situation, administered most of the discipline.... Preflight training included academic subjects such as physics, math, map reading, aircraft recognition, and code. Military drill and PT helped fill the days. Aviation cadets also stood guard duties....8







          * Primary Pilot Training  taught basic flight using two-seater training aircraft. Performed
             at civilian-operated flight schools for primary training. At peak strength there were 56
             such schools in operation. The most popular primary trainers were the Stearman PT-13
             and PT-17 “Kaydet,”  the Fairchild PT-19 “Cornell,”  and the Ryan PT-20.
             [Dick trained at Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina, from 11/26/42 to 01/30/43.]
            






          * Basic Pilot Training taught the cadets to fly in formation, fly by instruments or by
             aerial navigation, fly at night and fly for long distances. Cadets flew aircraft such as the
             Vultee BT-13 “Valiant” and were evaluated to determine who should go into single-
             engine advance training and who should proceed to twin-engine training.
             [Cochran Field, in Macon, Georgia, from 1/31/43 to 3/31/43. He went into twin-engine.]


                                                  Graduation Day, 31 March 1943


          * Advanced Pilot Training placed the graduates in two categories: single-engined and
             multi-engined. Single-engined pilots flew fighter and fighter-bombers. Multi-engined
             pilots learned to fly transports and bombers. First they flew Trainer aircraft, then
             transitioned to front-line aircraft. Those students selected for single-engine training
             flew the AT-6 “Texan,”  and those who went into twin-engine training flew Curtiss
             AT-9 “Jeep,”  the all-wood Beechcraft AT-10 “Wichita,” or the Cessna AT-17 “Bobcat.”   
             [Moody Field, Valdosta, Georgia, 4/1/43 to 5/28/43]

     “Graduates were usually graded as Flight Officer (Warrant Officer); cadets who graduated at the top of their class were graded as Second Lieutenants. Aviation Cadets who washed out of pilot training were sent to navigator or bombardier school.” At this point in the war, graduating personnel were sent to Replacement Training Units (RTU’s), where they received proficiency training prior to deployment in the European Theater of Operations, because “a constant flow of new pilots was needed to replace those captured, killed in action, or rotated back to the United States.”9
     Aviation Cadet Richard P. Bannerman completed his Advanced Pilot Training at Moody Field on 28 May 1943. He had performed so well that he was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Forces of the United States. He was now an officer, and he was given a new serial number: O-804585. His Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was now 1022: Pilot, Twin-Engine Aircraft. He was only 20 years old.

     From here, he would begin Four Engine Training (Pilot) at Hendricks Field in Sebring, Florida. It was the largest B-17 training facility of the war. Mr. and Mrs. Bannerman (she was only 21 herself) arrived there on the first of June, 1943. Dick’s task now was to master the monstrous the B-17, a plane so massive it was hard to believe it could actually lift off the ground and fly. Eugene Fletcher, also a cadet in pilot training over in Roswell, New Mexico, describes his first encounter with this plane.





          While we looked on in disbelief at this aluminum-covered flying machine we were
          approached by a very proud crew chief who offered to guide us through his airplane.
          We accepted his offer and crawled into the largest cockpit we had ever seen. The
          crew chief very patiently explained in great detail the many mechanical features
          of the plane. His hands caressed the controls and his soft voice conveyed a sense
          of pride and love as he explained the various controls and their functions.
               It didn’t take him long to overload our minds as he related the specifications
          of the B17F: gross weight 55,000 pounds, a crew of ten men, wingspan of almost
          104 feet and a length of approximately 75, powered by four Wright-Cyclone engines
          each capable of producing 1,200 horsepower and a top speed of 310 miles per hour.
          These numbers were beyond comprehension compared to the twin-engine AT-17.
          The jump in horsepower from 490 to 4,800 was almost ten times and every feature
          seemed to correspond to this same ratio. It was truly a mechanical marvel. To say
          we were overwhelmed would be a gross understatement. Here was a plane that could
          fly over 10 hours, but there was no pilot’s relief tube.10
    
    

     The B-17 was in a category of planes known as “heavies,” and it was an apt description. The F model was armed with twelve .50 caliber Browning M2 machine guns. The G model had thirteen. Unbelievable. It was justifiably known as the “Flying Fortress.” Dick would soon be the Pilot in Command of this beast and a be responsible for a flight crew of nine men.  





     At Hendricks Field, as elsewhere, each B-17 had a crew chief specifically assigned to it. The crew chief was a combined flying mechanic and lead machine gunner. In the air, his station was just behind and above the cockpit. On the ground, he performed inspections and kept careful maintenance records of his aircraft. He also acted as the loadmaster of his plane. Each chief knew his particular ship intimately, and the command pilots in combat zones came to depend on crew chiefs to keep the planes in tip-top condition.
     In an unlikely coincidence, Lt. Bannerman knew the crew chief of one of the planes. They had both begun flight training as cadets together, but this man had withdrawn from the program, been sent to Hendricks and been assigned to the 4-Engine Pilot Training School. Small world. More about this man, Corporal Robert J. Arvin, later.
 
     On 17 August 1943, Dick successfully completed his training at Hendricks Field. He now had a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of 1024: Pilot, Four-Engine Aircraft. He had become a highly skilled professional soldier, but his training days were not over. The next step—a big one—was to travel to the Army Air Base in Sioux City, Iowa, where a Combat Transition School was located. Dick would be assigned to the Provisional 393rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), commanded by Major James D. Moytl.
     A Group consisted of a minimum of three squadrons, each squadron consisting of six aircraft (more or less) and their flight crews. Dick’s duty assignment: First Pilot and Airplane Commander. His flight crew which would work and train together as members of a close-knit unit. Their very lives would depend on how well they performed as a team.

     Mr. and Mrs. Bannerman were assigned their married officers quarters on the base, and Millie set up housekeeping. The Sioux City base was a big place. “At its peak, (October 1943) there were 940 officers and 5,183 enlisted men either assigned or attached to the base. The major training activities  at Sioux City included aerial gunnery, bombardment, navigation, formation flying, and other related courses. Initially training at the field was intended to prepare an entire bomb group for overseas combat....After July 1943...the base switched to training individual crews as replacements or additions to various bomb groups (RTU - Replacement Training).”11
    “Pilots were not immediately placed in advanced training. They were first given a preflight examination that included radio range, link trainer, cockpit ‘feel,’ landing gear operation, parking and taxiing. After successful completion of the examination, pilots were started in Advanced Fighter Training....”12
     Lt. Bannerman began his training with Major Moytl’s Bomb Group on the third of November, 1943. By the 20th of November he had successfully completed instrument training. And, with his natural talent and leadership skills, Dick continued to be an outstanding performer. The training command recognized his abilities. He was formally promoted to First Lieutenant on December 29th, 1943. Major Moytl, in recommending him for promotion, wrote, “This officer has served in grade [as a Second Lieutenant] for a period of six months and two days and has clearly demonstrated his qualifications for promotion by actual occupation of the position and performance of the duties appropriate to the grade of First Lieutenant for a period of four months and fifteen days.” The recommendation had been approved up through the ranks. First Lieutenant Bannerman would be in command of a B-17 and its crew on bombing missions, and sit   in the left seat of the cockpit. There would also be another officer serving as co-pilot, and one as navigator. Each crew would be complete with skilled enlisted men: a bombardier/nose gunner, a radio operator, a top turret gunner, two men who manned the machine guns in the “waist” of the ship, a ball-turret gunner and, of course, a tail gunner. Nine men in all. All taking orders from the pilot-in-command of the ship. It was quite an operation. And quite a responsibility for Lt. Bannerman.

     For the next few weeks, the Bannerman’s continued to live in Sioux City as Dick completed his training. They both knew their time together was growing short. All too soon, the Army Air Corp began its final preparations for Dick’s deployment overseas. His dental records were brought up to date. (It was all too obvious that these records would allow for his identification in case it came to that.) Notification cards for next of kin were also updated. One last Christmas together, then, all too quickly, time was up. Early in the new year, duty called. Richard and Millie said their tearful goodbyes, and he left. They knew they would be separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Worlds apart. Would they ever see each other again?

     Orders came down for the latest crew replacements in the European Theatre of Operations. Dick was assigned to the Eighth Air Force. The Mighty Eighth. It was engaged in an enormous “strategic” bombing operation over Northern Germany, bombing with a strategy: to degrade that country’s ability to wage war against the Allies. He would soon be reporting to the Eighth Army Headquarters, located in southern England.
     In the process of getting to the Mighty Eighth, Dick and his crew probably shuttled a newly manufactured plane to Europe themselves. The usual route for this delivery took them from Sioux City to Newfoundland, Canada, then across the North Atlantic, with a refueling stop in Iceland. Besides themselves, they would bring a newly manufactured B-17 model G to the war effort. Their final destination was Bovingdon, England.
 
     Millie, already lonely and scared to death for her husband, returned to live in Lansdowne. At her parents’ home, she had shared a room with her older sister Shirley, so the Bannerman’s graciously invited her to stay with them. She would still be within walking distance of her own family. She may have also gone back to work for Mr. Holtby at the radio shop. All this was a good thing, because she would need the support of everyone she knew for what was about to happen.


Combat:  The European Theatre of Operations

     In the summer of 1941 the United States Army Air Forces' recently formed Air War Plans Division produced an ambitious design for air operations when -- as seemed inevitable -- the United States became involved in the European war. Known as AWPD-1....A total force of 4,000 bomber aircraft would be required to decimate Germany's industrial power in a six month period, this force to be in place 21 months after America's mobilization. Initially, current production heavy bombers, the B-17 Fortress and B-24 Liberator, were to be employed from bases in England....
     To cripple German war economy, AWPD-1 proposed three primary objectives:--the electrical power system, transportation (road, rail and canals) and the petroleum industry. A necessary intermediate objective was the neutralization of the German fighter defenses through attacks on aircraft manufacturing and associated industries....
     To allow the strategic bombers to go about their work, AWPD-1 acknowledged that the German fighter force would have to be suppressed or defeated. It would be necessary first to direct bombers to attack sources of aircraft production, air depots and airfields. US fighters would be assigned to England to give support within the limits of their range and defend the bomber bases, but the mass fire power of the bomber formations would hopefully keep losses to an acceptable level while they devastated the German aviation industry....
      With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into the war...the opportunity was taken to prepare another study embracing force requirements and potential targets. [It was] known as AWPD-42, and based on the earlier plan....At the time of the preparation of AWPD-42, US heavy bombers had begun initial operations from England, suffering few loses and apparently well able to ward off enemy fighter attacks. This influenced the authors to express a confidence in the day bombers to survive in combat. The new plan revised the numbers of aircraft deployed in the United Kingdom to over 7,000, of which 2,000 were to be heavy bombers of the B-17 and B-24 types....


The Mighty Eighth Air Force

     The USAAF agency chosen to engage in strategic bombardment from England and follow the aims outlined in AWPD-42 was the 8th Air Force....the RAF supplied the intelligence data....
     Following the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, Allied leaders called for a Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) against Germany...which was principally designed as a plan to destroy the German air force prior to the cross Channel invasion in the spring of 1944....The US force to accomplish the task was to build up to 2,700 heavy bombers in 51 groups by the spring of 1944.
     The Combined Bomber Offensive commenced officially in June 1943 with the issue of a directive code named POINTBLANK. The 8th Air Force now turned its attention more to attacks against the German aircraft and associated industries together with operational airfields in occupied countries. This was in line with previous plans to neutralize the Luftwaffe. Deeper strikes occurred during the summer months against important aircraft factories and occasionally against component industries. The especially vulnerable rubber and ball-bearing plants were also attacked....
     During the winter and following early spring of 1944 the number of 8th Air Force heavy bombers had doubled and the maximum planned strength of 2,000 operational aircraft (40 groups) was finally realized on 6 June 1944, the day of the cross-Channel invasion. The Combined Bomber Offensive had officially terminated on 1 May when by previous agreement the 8th Air Force and RAF Commander came under the control of the Supreme Allied Commander and were thereafter primarily directed to operations in support of the forthcoming invasion. The neutralization of the German fighter force had been achieved through a concentrated series of attacks against aviation manufacturing plants in February and March 1944, but chiefly by the US long-range fighters being allowed to take the offensive and gaining air superiority in combat.
13  



      There was always a pressing need for new crews. After landing at Bovingdon early in February, Dick and his crew were promptly assigned to the 11th Combat Crew Replacement Unit for some intense training which would introduce them to the realities of combat bombing. Their new B-17 model G was replaced with an older Model E. After two short weeks, crews were randomly assigned to one bombing group or another depending on need. Dick’s crew was officially assigned to the 412th Squadron of the 95th Bombardment Group, located north of England in East Anglia, near the sleepy hamlet of Horham [HOR-am]. They were about to become part of a vast war machine. Their Group alone had three thousand personnel on the roster and about thirty-five to forty B-17’s at any given time. There were four squadrons in the 95th Bomb Group. “...Four Groups made a Wing; Four Wings made a Division; and Three Divisions made the Eighth Bomber Command....Numbers varied, but an all-out effort could amount to a Force of a thousand bombers or more, depending on losses and replacement.”14
      The cost of this strategic effort was a huge loss of equipment and a huge loss of life. “The Vietnam War lasted five times longer than the war of the Eighth Air Force in Europe. Yet, the Eighth Air Force lost 8,314 bombers and 60,376 air crewmen with 79,265 casualties in less than 36 months. Just try to imagine it.
      “The Eighth Air Force suffered higher losses than any other U.S. Force in War Two. And what a force it was!
      “How many airplanes have you ever seen in the sky at one time? Maybe ten? Have you ever seen a hundred planes in the air at the same time? Two hundred? Five hundred? Can you even imagine the sight of a thousand airplanes?
      “How then can you possibly comprehend an air armada of  TWO THOUSAND AIRPLANES? AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE IN ANY DIRECTION...AIRPLANES!!! It was truly AWESOME !!!”15
 


The 95th Bombardment Group

     The 95th was one of five new B-17 Groups to become operational in May 1943, greatly increasing the power of the Eighth Air Force (the number of available crews rose from 100 to 215 on 13 May). Its first mission was an attack on the German airfield at St Omer-Longuenesse on 13 May. Its first loss came on the following day when an aircraft was shot down during an attack on a Ford and General Motors factory at Antwerp....
     
In July 1943 the group began to take part in longer range raids against strategic targets in Germany. Most of the groups raids for the rest of the war were part of the strategic bombing campaign.
    
The group was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was for its role in the attack on an aircraft factory at Regensburg on 17 August 1943. The second was the Munster Mission of 10 October 1943. The third was won during a raid on Berlin on 4 March 1944 when the 95th was one of a small number of units to actually reach Berlin (others diverting to secondary targets or returning to base after encountering terrible weather).
    
The group also flew a significant number of tactical missions. It attacked coastal defenses in Normandy during the D-Day campaign, supported the American breakthrough at St Lo in July 1944, dropped supplies to the isolated Poles during the Warsaw Uprising (18 June 1944), attacked German transport links during the Battle of the Bulge (to prevent reinforcements or supplies reaching the advancing Germans). It also supported the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945.
    
The groups last combat operation was an attack on marshalling yards at Oranienburg on 20 April 1945. It was then used to drop food to the starving Dutch and to move POWs and displaced persons from Austria to France and Britain. The group returned to the USA in June-August 1945 and was inactivated on 28 August.16


Horham, England

      The Group air base, officially designated Station 119, had been built near Horham and was originally intended for Royal Air Force use. It was provided for the Eighth Air Force in 1942. The 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), a unit with all B-17 aircraft, relocated there from Framlingham, England, on 15 June 1943.
    
“The 95th was located in East Anglia close by the small village of Horham. East Anglia is the bulge of England which lies northeast of London. Directly across the English Channel to the east is the Netherlands.
     The base was typical of the many bases in the area. It had been hastily built shortly after the war started. In order to conserve resources, to make the field less conspicuous from the air, and less susceptible to bombing damage, little earth moving had been done. The runways had the same rolling nature as those of Dyersburg. In order to disturb things the least, a small road was not relocated but was allowed to cross the main runway. Further, the barracks and other supporting buildings were well scattered about the countryside in order to make them less likely to be damaged by any German bomb coming that way.
     
This arrangement required more than a little getting used to.17

                                 Replica Nissen Huts and Control Tower at the National Museum of the US Air Force



Big Week

     Lt. Bannerman and crew went to the 412th Bombardment Squadron, which, along with the 334th, the 335th and the 336th Squadrons, comprised the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy). This Group was part of the 13th Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy), which was part of the 3rd Bombardment Division of the Eighth Bomber Command, commonly called the Eighth Air Force. They arrived on Friday, February the 18th, just two days before what would come to be known as Big Week. It might as well have been called Hell Week. It must have been unnerving for a fresh new rookie pilot who had just appeared on the scene and who was supposed to be in command of a B-17 and his aircrew. During Big Week, the Eighth Air Force lost 97 B-17s, 40 B-24s, and another 20 had to be scrapped due to damage. Big Week began just two days after he arrived at Horham. That was Sunday, February 20. Before he had even settled into a daily routine.
    
Between February 20–25, 1944, as part of the European strategic bombing campaign, the United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) launched Operation Argument, a series of missions against the Third Reich that became known as Big Week. The planners intended to lure the Luftwaffe into a decisive battle by launching massive attacks on the German aircraft industry. By defeating the Luftwaffe, the Allies would achieve air superiority and the invasion of Europe could proceed. The daylight bombing campaign was also supported by RAF Bomber Command, operating against the same targets at night.18

     Sunday, February 20:  The 95th Bomb Group (Heavy) sent 38 aircraft on a mission to bomb Rostock, Germany. 36 completed the mission. Two aircraft had to abort their sorties because of mechanical problems. Three others were damaged by flak and/or German fighters. But all planes returned safe and all air crews were accounted for.
     Monday:  30 aircraft were sent to Hannover, Germany. Nine had to abort and return to base, their sorties incomplete. Two aircraft went unaccounted for. They were simply gone, lost in the fog of war. They might have been either shot down or simply crashed on their own, their crews killed or taken Prisoners of War. Or, the planes could possibly have glided north across the Baltic Sea and made it to Sweden, a neutral country. Or, they may have gone down in the ocean, their crews
bodies never to be recovered. The crew members of these planes could only be listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Most of the time, no one ever really knew what happened to them. Sometimes for months, sometimes for years, sometimes forever. Although it happened frequently, it was a nagging source of dread for everyone. There was no closure. All the crewmen of the other nearby ships could do was count the number of parachutes they saw leave an aircraft going down.
     Even official records were often inadequate. In the heat of battle, with the anti-aircraft guns booming and the German fighters coming at you, maybe with some of your own crew
or you yourselfwounded,  it was all you could do to react to your own circumstances. That was your priority. The big picture was painted by someone else. Each Group had an Assistant Operations Officer, assigned to sit in the tail gunners turret of the Group Air Commanders lead plane on a bicycle-style seat and track his Groups activities, but even he could not see everything. It was all he could do to write down what he witnessed, as it happened. Later, at the base in Horham, the Intelligence officers would do what interviews were appropriate and he would write up a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) for the Groups records. But thats about all that anyone could do. It was something, it was more than had ever been done before, but it was never enough.

     Tuesday, February 22:  38 aircraft went to Schweinfurt, Germany. 24 completed the mission; six were damaged. None were lost. Wednesday was a day of rest
no missions for the 95th. Thursday, the Group again had a mission to Rostock, home to two German attack fighter plants. 27 aircraft went out, 26 returned home safely. One was lost.
     Then came Friday, February 25: Lt. Bannerman was assigned to fly his initial sortie as co-pilot for an experienced commander. In this case it was Lt. Shirley L. Calloway. This would give the Group assurance of his flying and leadership abilities, and he would get his first taste of combat. They were going to Regensburg, Germany.19

     It was an enormous operation, called a “maximum effort.” The Eighth Air Force dispatched a total of 707 bombers along with hundreds of fighter escorts. A total of 290 B-17
s, from various Bomb Groups, were sent to Regensburg alone. On that one day, 83 of the B-17s were damaged, 12 were lost. Four crewmen were confirmed as Killed In Action, 12 were Wounded in Action, and a staggering 110 were Missing In Action. Terrifying. Impossible to forget. And this was just his first sortie. However, Lt. Bannerman had the Right Stuff, and he successfully finished his first sortie. He was signed off to fly First Pilot from that day forward.


Truman Smith

     There was another First Lieutenant Pilot, a Truman J. Smith, who would also be assigned to the Mighty Eighth Air Force in April of 1944. He was even younger than Dick—only 20 years old. He went to another Bomb Group (the 385th) located in Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England. Truman and Dick may not have known each other, but they flew some of the same missions over Germany. And in this war they were all a band of brothers. They experienced much the same things in combat.
     Long after the war, Lt. Smith wrote a book which he called The Wrong Stuff.  It’s very intense and highly readable. It details his wartime adventures and misadventures as a combat pilot in the Mighty Eighth Air Force. His writing gives us, in gripping detail, a glimpse at just what it meant to be in a combat crew on these missions, flying at 20,000 feet (“20 angels”) and higher, in an unpressurized and unheated airplane. Oxygen masks were required, and a leak in the hose meant you were dead in 30 seconds if it went undetected. So little air and so much noise, the only way to communicate was by way of an intercom system, known as the Interphone. Electrically heated flight suits, the precursor of the electric blanket, were an absolute necessity. The temperature of the air they were flying in was more than 50 degrees below zero. Then there was the constant threat of FLieger Abwehr Kannonen (“Flak”) from the ground and from an assortment of attack fighter from the air, including the Focke-Wulf 190, which the Germans called their “Butcher Bird.” And, these threats increased exponentially as the Fortresses neared their targets. To make a bomb run, they had to leave the stream formation of their Combat Wings and break into individual Group formations, thus losing much of their safety in numbers. Each group was now on its own, playing for very high stakes. Kill or be killed. A running battle with attack fighters could break out at any time and last from 30 minutes to three hours. The most critical, and very scary, time was the actual bomb run itself, over the target. It started at a predetermined Initial Point (IP) in the sky and ran for perhaps ten to twenty miles in a straight line, ending at the Rallying Point (RP).


          The reason the bomb run was so frightening is the vulnerability the crews felt.
      For five to ten minutes, the planes would be flying straight and level. To insure
      accurate bombing, absolutely no evasive action was allowed on the bomb run.
      If there was flak, even flak so thick "you could walk on it," so be it, they flew right
      through it. Flak over a target was the worst because the crew could see the dark
      puffs of the flak up ahead, they knew that the gunners down below had the right
      altitude, and yet they had to fly right through it on the bomb run.



          Sometimes on the bomb run it wasn't flak but fighters that got to the crews.
      Once on the bomb run the bombers would have their bomb bay doors open and the
      enemy fighters could see that. They would then know that the bombers were on
      their bomb run and would be forced to fly straight and level making them an easier
      target. On some missions, when the bombers were heading out to hit a very
      important and heavily defended target, they would encounter both flak and enemy 
      fighters.
20

     Another thing adding to the stress was the fact that there was no chance for effective medical aid for anyone seriously injured or wounded. These ships were hours away from a hospital. In the event of a serious casualty, the only alternative was to actually heave the crewman out of the aircraft, in the hopes that his parachute opened properly, he didn’t die of exposure or shock on the way down, and that he would land on some compassionate farmer’s land, where he might receive aid. (Of course, he could just as likely be pitch-forked to death.) If he lived, he would probably become a Prisoner of War. As Truman Smith put it, “Now it might seem hopeless that some Germans, who had suffered unmercifully from American bombs, would care enough to save the life of a Yank airman, yet, they did it! Yes, they did! 21
     The flights these men made were almost surreal in their horror. This was a brutal and unforgiving place, an ice cold Hell. There was terror at every turn, and sudden death hid in those fluffy white clouds. It was the stuff of nightmares and post traumatic stress. And it was all true. For this, a 1st Lieutenant was paid $240.00 per month in combined Flight Pay and Combat Pay. Enlisted men, a lot less. Of course, there was always the Life Insurance for your beneficiary.


Quackenbruck, Germany

       On Saturday, 8 April 1944, the day before Easter, Truman Smith and Richard Bannerman—along with a host of others—were assigned to a bombing mission over Quackenbruck, Germany. It was Dick’s 12th sortie. He had already been awarded the Air Medal for completing his first five sorties, and an Oak Leaf Cluster attachment for the next five. But this was Truman’s first sortie. In his book, he gives us his thoughts as he flew toward Quackenbruck. His first visit to Hell.



      “The B-17 F’ model has twelve .50 Caliber machine guns. The B-17 G’ model has thirteen .50 Caliber machine guns. The way the aircraft are staggered in formation reduces, but does not eliminate, the chances of shooting into each other. So with 30 aircraft put up for the Quackenbruck mission, we had almost 400  machine guns for protection—as long as we maintained Group integrity’; which meant keeping the herd’ packed together in tight formation.



     “The key word was together.’ But having been given twenty-seven tons of an old war-weary bucket of bolts,’ I doubted we could even get her up to our assigned altitude of 27,000 feet and keep together’ with the others.
     “And if that wasn’t enough, we were also expected to ride this slow and heavy flying bomb’ just five miles above Germany for most of the day in order to drop our three tons of bombs onto a well-defended target before they could blow us up.
     “It didn’t take a lot of experience to figure out just who the odds favored. At the time, I didn’t know whether three tons of  bombs made a bigger bang than ten tons of 100-octane fuel. But then, it really didn’t make much difference since I was riding right in the middle of it all!
     “Another worry on my mind was that we were going to try to do this tricky job at only a hundred-and-fifty miles an hour. I wondered, Do these people really know what they’re doing?’
     “Of course they didn’t. It was all an EXPERIMENT’! The British had already proved to their satisfaction that daylight bombing could not be done. So, it was no wonder that the Eighth Air Force had the highest casualty rate of all U.S. Forces.”22


     On another mission, the young Lt. Smith tells us about a potential life threatening configuration of his equipment, “I discovered another paradox when I tried putting on my flak vest, because the vest fits over the parachute harness. This meant that the vest would have to be removed before I could snap the parachute onto the harness, which was necessary before I could use the parachute. All of which would have to be accomplished during a panic when disaster struck and the G’ forces inside a distressed airplane would throw everything out of kilter.”23   

     Truman Smith flew yet another sortie a few weeks later. On this mission, his Group sent 28 ships up. Seven did not return, their crews Missing In Action. His graphic narrative:


                 I took the opportunity for a "Crew Check" and each station from
          tail to nose acknowledged. We were all in good shape
so far.
                 HOLY SHIT!!! The goddamned twin fifties in our top turret, their
          muzzles just inches above my head, cut loose!
                 B-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-M!
                 I almost jumped out of my skin and my heart seemed to knot and
          stop.
                 I was staring straight forward at the leader of the Bandits in his
          fucking FW-190! Pink flashes on his wings meant he was shooting at
          me!




                 ME!!! He wasn't firing at our Group, Squadron or our ship. The
          sonnovabitch was trying to kill me personally! I naturally wanted to
          shoot back, but all I had was a damned steering wheel.
                  B-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-O-O-O-O-O-M!
                  B-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-O-O-O-O-O-M!

                  I grabbed my chest, because I heard what seemed to be glass tinkling
           in the pauses between the bursts of the twin fifties.
                  PUNK ... BANG ... TWANG ... THUMP!!
                  We were in a hail of fifty-caliber spent shell casings spewing out of
          the ship above us. Only four inches long, the hundreds of falling brass
          casings from one of our own ships punched holes into the leading edge
          of our wing, engine cowlings and shattered our plexiglass nose. What
          I thought was breaking glass was brass casings from our own turret
          spilling into canvas bags attached below each gun to catch them.
                  The attacking Focke Wulf was long gone before I checked to see if
          my hand-to-chest had collected any blood.
                  It had not.
                  Maybe?
                  I checked on my feet and the rest of me. I seemed to be okay.
                  Although millions of times larger than the exploding twin fifties,
          the distance and thin air muffled the sound of the exploding B-17 just
          ahead of us.
                  FIREBALL RED against the white clouds! BLACK oily smoke! A
          PROPELLER by itself spun and slashed toward us like a giant whirl-a-
          gig, which fortunately missed our wing.
                  A DOOR! I ducked.
                  A BODY tumbled toward me and barreled past me!
                  PIECES!
                  PIECES! PIECES!
                  AWESOME ... !
                  It happened so fast that we flew right into the middle of the
          explosion and out the other side within fractions of a second!
                 Only by trying to replay it in my head in slow motion could I
          begin to understand its impact. But there was no time to dwell on it,
          because the Bandits were pouring in on us; guns blazing and us shooting
          back. It was truly a goddamned WAR!
24



Missions

     Lt. Bannerman, Lt. Smith and many others in the Eighth Air Force were assigned to an unending series of these horrific missions. They flew about twice a week. In March of 1944, the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) flew five consecutive missions over Berlin, the first of which, on March 4th, resulted in the Group being awarded their third Presidential Unit Citation and the Group lead, Lt. Col. Harry “Grif” Mumford, winning the Silver Star Medal. But the long days and short nights were not always filled with such glory and heroics. Not at all. Oftentimes, there was a foregone conclusion to all this madness....
 
     Back before Truman Smith joined the 385th Bomb Group, the Eighth Air Force required that a crew member complete 25 sorties before he could return to the States. When Lieutenant General James H.
Jimmy Doolittle took command in January of 1944, he made two drastic changes. He raised the quota to 30, then later to 35. His view was that the missions were becoming safer(!), but everyone knew that it was because he was running out of trained crews. The second change was even more important. He altered the American fighters’ primary role from one of protecting the bombers to one of seeking out and destroying enemy fighters proactively, wherever they might be. It was ultimate pursuit. This meant that fewer fighters were assigned as escorts, which in turn meant the bombers lost much of their protection, even as they were penetrating deeper into more fortified enemy territory. Group commanders complained bitterly, to no avail. The chain of command had to comply. It was inevitable, then, that the bombers became the “bait” which enticed the enemy fighters to come out and attack.
     Over time, Truman Smith did get his 35, and was anticipating his return home. He was offered a chance for a promotion to Captain and to become his squadron
s Assistant Operations Officer, but he turned it down. The catch: he would have been required to fly 30 more sorties. The Assistant Operations Officer usually flew in Group leads plane, sitting in the tail gunners turret, facing backwards toward the Group. From there, he would observe what was going on and communicate to the commander what was happening behind him. Truman decided, no thanks, Im going home. He completed his assignment in 1945, and he made his way back to the United States, ingloriously, as a passenger on a crowded Navy transport vessel, limited to two meals a day because of a shortage of provisions.


Tuesday,  11 April 1944
 
     For his part, Richard P. Bannerman proved to be just as effective in his combat flying as he had been all through his training, and he won awards for his efforts. On 18 March 1944, he was awarded the Air Medal for his participation in five separate bomber combat missions over enemy occupied Continental Europe. On 6 April, he was again awarded the Air Medal, signified by an Oak Leaf Cluster attachment to the original ribbon, for participating in five additional bombing operations.  
     First Lieutenant Bannerman had performed extremely well in service to his county to this point. He, too, hoped to complete his quota of sorties over Germany and end his overseas assignment, finish his service to his country in the USA, go home to his wife and start a family. But everything changed on his 13th sortie. It came on a Tuesday, April 11, two days after Easter Sunday. He had written a letter home on Monday, telling about the church services he had attended.

  
   Truman Smith and Richard Bannerman were among the many thousands of pilots and crew members assigned to another colossal attack on the Third Reich. They were part of an enormous flying armada, consisting of almost two thousand ships, dispatched in three separate forces. This was Mission 298 for the Mighty Eighth Air Force and Mission 108 for the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), which was in the Third Division of the Eighth Air Force. (Lt. Smith, in the 385th Bombardment Group, was also in the Third Division. This was his longest sortie ever. He would log 11.00 hours of flight time.) Lt. Bannerman was Pilot in Command of the B-17 nicknamed Heaven Can Wait. Including him, there were ten crew members. Their sortie would also require several long hours of flying time, which he and his co-pilot, Second Lieutenant Wallace C. Lillo, would share in 15 minute intervals.
     As always, those with a sortie that day were awakened, by flashlight, very early in the morning. They dressed, shaved (to insure a tight fit of their oxygen masks) and ate breakfast at the mess hall. There was little conversation. They walked to the briefing room, where a curtain was pulled back and the mission was revealed with strings and pins on a large map. Today they were going all the way to Posen, Poland, far to the east. (Truman Smith was to bomb Stettin, Poland.) There were surprised whistles and groans. This was no milk run.
     After the briefing was over, they went to the equipment area where they were issued their parachute packs and their escape and evasion kits. They were required to leave all their personal effects behind “for safekeeping.” The dog tags stayed on. As a chilly dawn broke in Horham, they were trucked to their ships so they could prepare for their departure. Everything was precisely timed, to the minute, but it would take two hours to fully execute. As always, they would take off in a prescribed sequence, climb in a spiral to the assigned altitude and fall into a formation in their assembly area. When the entire Wing was assembled, it headed out across the cold North Sea toward enemy territory. When a Wing neared its target area, in preparation for the bombing run, it would realign into a more protective formation, known as a “Combat Box.” Dick’s squadron had been assigned to the Low Element of this Box, the so-called “coffin corner” of the formation. This was bad news, for it was a deadly place to be, easiest for enemy fighters to pick off.

     Every crew in every Group of every Wing knew what was expected of them, what they must do to stay alive. Everyone also knew, despite the safety in their numbers, what might happen. What would happen to some. For some, this would be a one way trip. And everyone aboard Heaven Can Wait was aware that three weeks earlier the Ball Turret Gunner, Joe Lintelman, had been Killed In Action in this very ship.  



 

 

 

      STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): Mission 298: 917 bombers and 819
      fighters are dispatched in 3 separate forces to bomb production centers (primarily
      fighter aircraft factories) and targets of opportunity in N Germany; 64 bombers are
      lost, one of the heaviest single-day losses of World War II. The bombers also drop
      2.4 million leaflets. Details are:

1. 341 B-17s are dispatched to hit aviation industry targets at Sorau (108 bomb)
and Cottbus (17 bomb); 127 hit Stettin, 20 hit Trechel, 16 hit Dobberphel and 23
hit targets of opportunity; they claim 12-2-3 Luftwaffe aircraft; 19 B-17s are lost,
3 damaged beyond repair and 190 damaged; casualties are 12 KIA, 13 WIA and
200 MIA.

2. Of 302 B-17s dispatched, 172 hit Rostock, 52 hit Politz, 35 hit the industrial
area at Arnimswalde and 15 hit targets of opportunity; they claim 34-20-19
Luftwaffe aircraft; 33 B-17s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 153
damaged; casualties are 2 KIA, 9 WIA and 330 MIA
.


3. 274 B-24s are dispatched to hit aviation industry targets at Oschersleben
(121 bomb) and Berenburg (99 bomb); 9 bomb aviation industry targets at
Halberstadt, 9 bomb Eisleben and 5 hit targets of opportunity; they claim 27-2-1
Luftwaffe aircraft; 12 B-24s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 63 damaged;
casualties are 5 KIA, 9 WIA and 122 MIA. Escort is provided by 124 P-38s,
454 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47s and 241 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51s;
the fighters claim 51-5-25 Luftwaffe aircraft in the air and 65-0-67 on the grounds:
no P-38s are lost; 7 P-47s are lost and 16 damaged, 7 pilots are MIA; 9 P-51s
are lost and 13 damaged, 9 pilots are MIA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







     25
 




     Of those 33 B-17s lost in the second force, seven aircraft were from the 95th Bomb Group. Four were from Dick’s own Squadron, the 412th, led by 1st Lt. James H. Hubbs. And among those four lost was Heaven Can Wait. She would never make it back to Horham. This was her last flight.


Rostock, Germany

       Because this “maximum effort” was so large, American fighter escort capacity was inadequate. Only the First and Second Divisions, flying due East toward Germany, were fully escorted. They would fly what was known as the “stream.” (The German fighter pilots called it the “bomber Autobahn.”) The Third Division, heading for Poland, took a northerly route over Denmark and the Baltic Sea. They had to go it mostly alone. On this mission, the 95th, composed of 38 ships, would be flying with the other two Groups which made up the 13th Combat Wing. Operations Officer Lt. Col. Mumford would serve as the Group lead for the 95th. Three Wings comprised the enormous First Division, with over 300 B-17’s.

   1.Lead Element  2.High Element  3.Low Element  4.Low Low Element
            There was always the threat of sudden enemy aircraft attacks along the way, and they often took their toll. Shortly after noon, the 95th lost two ships over the Baltic to enemy aircraft, twin-engine Messerschmitt 410’s equipped with rockets and machine guns. The Americans pushed on, but now the weather had became an additional obstacle. There were vary hazy conditions at altitude and a solid undercast on the enemy mainland. The Wing leads soon realized that these layers of clouds and the heavy contrails the ships would create flying through them made executing a bombing run in tight formation impossible, so they decided to abandon the primary target, Posen, and hit a “Target of Opportunity.” Rostock, Germany, was selected.
     The reports filed after the mission (now in the custody of the National Archives) present tangled accounts of what transpired, but it appears the 13th Wing actually lost the other two Wings in the weather and decided to fly to Rostock alone. During this time, Lt. Col. Mumford may not have kept his Squadron leaders sufficiently informed, making it difficult for them to determine what the Wing’s intentions were. The Wing circled over the coastal city of Kolsberg, alternately making climbing and descending turns in the clouds, finally setting off toward the new target. They eventually found a break in the undercast and descended through it. It led them to partly cloudy skys, but by now the formation was dangerously spread out lengthwise. That night, one pilot would tell the Group interrogator, “Had the turns been called, much of our difficulty might have been avoided today.”

     They reached Rostock at 1320 hours (1:20 o’clock in the afternoon.) There were only scattered cumulous clouds over the city. It was time to leave the stream formation and break into individual Groups for the bombing run. An Initial Point was established, but the 95th Bomb Group had become loose and ragged, not tight in the protective Combat Box like it should have been on a bomb run. In addition, the Flak at Rostock was “accurate and intense.” A Fortress was hit, and it dropped from the formation engulfed in flames. Only four chutes emerged. The formation became looser still. Nevertheless, the run had to begin. The 95th Bombardment Group was in for six minutes of Hell.
     Now they met the real fury of the enemy: over 50 German fighters, whose pilots were later described as “aggressive and experienced.” There were Messerschmitt 410’s, Messerschmitt Bf 109’s, Junkers 88A’s and the deadly Focke-Wulf 190’s. The enemy had learned a new tactic: assault the formation from the front and attempt to take out the pilots. Their attack came from 11 o’clock high; it was almost head on and difficult to defend against. Just as Heaven Can Wait declared “bombs away,” two Focke-Wulf’s roared right toward the American formation....


 
     Several months later, Millie would receive a letter from (now Captain) James H. Hubbs, Dick’s Squadron Leader. He still grieved over that horrible day, the day he led six ships into harm’s way and only his and one other came back. 



       

          
Dear Mrs. Bannerman:

                I can understand your desire for any bit of information that
        I could divulge.
               You have probably  heard a lot about that particular mission.
               It was quite a messed up affair and tho it is hard to condemn
        anyone in such circumstances I still am a bit bitter about the
        leadership that day of the Group formation.
                As you probably heard I was leading the low squadron and
        during the running battle that took place we were having to draw
        considerable extra power to keep up and the consequence being
        that the formation was loose, inviting considerable fighter opposition.
               As best I remember, I kept hearing over my interphone from
         my gunners that another and another would pull out of formation
         and fall behind or that their wing was afire and chutes were
         coming out. The ships that day were all under control when they
         left the formation and that nearly everyone got out of the planes.
         I can't say just when your husband left the formation. Of course
         under the stress of attack myself and having two gunners aboard
         my ship wounded I was not able to keep close tab on the rest of
         the formation.

         . . .  
            
           
 




 

 

 

 

    
          

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






       Meanwhile, Captain David E. Olsson, the Group’s Assistant Operations Officer, was trying to keep tabs on the entire Group, as best he could from his position in the tail gunner’s turret of the Group lead’s aircraft. He was constantly on the interphone, reporting to Lt. Col. Mumford what was happening inside (and outside) their Group. And he was manning the machine guns. And he was making notes, trying to keep track of almost 30 ships. So much was happening all around him, it was difficult to keep up. (Hubbs told his interrogator that evening that the “Sky was full of chutes.”) Olsson did, however, notice that Heaven Can Wait was in trouble and had pulled out of formation. He wrote,

 

       A/C had a hole in the right aileron and another in the right wing
       where the main gas tanks are located. A/C winged over to the left
       and back in a slicing dive....

 


                  



    

 



 


Eighth Air Force Historical Society

Missing  95BG aircraft on 1944-04-11:

108


  April 11, 1944


                   8AF 298


 Aviation targets in Germany 

MODEL

SERIAL #

A/C NAME

 GROUP

SQUADRON

MACR REPORT #

 B-17G

      42-39869

 HEAVEN CAN WAIT

   95BG

 

               3806


Notes:

  42-39869 Delivered: Long Beach 25/9/43; Gr Island 6/10/43; ass 412BS/95BG [QW-R] Horham 15/10/43; 
  Ball Turret Gunner: Joe Lintelman (KIA) 18/3/44; 42m, MIA Rostock 11/4/44 Pilot: Rich Bannerman, 
  Co-Pilot: Wallace Lillo, Navigator: Tom Smecik, Bombardier: Irving Wilson, Engineer / Top Turret Gunner:
  Phil Rashead,
 Radio Operator: Tom Gopigian, Ball Turret Gunner: Ray DeYaeger, Waist Gunner: Roland  

  Carlson, Waist Gunner: Chas Skully, Tail Gunner: John Backowski; Enemy aircraft, crashed Dummersdtorf,
  near Bandelsdorf, six miles SE of Rostock, Germany. MACR 3806, HEAVEN CAN WAIT.

 

Source:

   B-17 Master Log - Dave Osbourne

 26




Lansdowne, Pennsylvania

     Two weeks later, back in Lansdowne, Millie’s mother Cecil, a very good artist, was heading home after her art class. She had just finished her latest painting and was bringing it home with her. She intended to send it to her daughter, Shirley Crandley, who lived with her husband Joe and their children up in Cranford, New Jersey. When Cecil let herself in, she found Millie sitting on the couch in the living room, teary-eyed, in shock. Millie showed her mother a telegram she had gotten from the United States War Department. After reading the telegram, her mother felt so sorry for her that she changed her plans and gave Millie the painting instead.
     Millie always had terrible feelings about that painting. Not for the painting itself, but for the memories it brought back each time she saw it. Years later she would send it to Shirley herself.
 
     The usual way for the Army Air Force to notify the next of kin that their loved one was killed, wounded or missing in action was by telegram, hand-delivered, to be followed up later with an official letter. Whenever the telegram delivery boy came around, descending on a neighborhood like the grim reaper, everyone knew what it meant, and it always caused a stir. For whom would the bell toll? This day, the grim reaper had stopped at the Bannerman home. Panic stricken and bewildered, Millie had gone to the Walden home to tell her mother.
     The telegram itself was a horror. Since the War Department rarely had any details about the incident they were reporting on, no additional information was given. Just a stark couple of sentences in frank, unflinching language. To those who received these telegrams, it came like a dagger to their hearts
. 




                                             





Continued in Robert Joseph Arvin 1918 - 2001







Researched and written by Robert Joseph Arvin, Jr.

© Copyright Memorial Day, 2013



 

 

 

Notes

  1.    George Q. Flynn, The Draft, 1940-1973 (1993), p 18, 21, 49-50
  2.    Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II; 
         VI Men and Planes (1955, reprinted 1983), p. 628
  3.   
Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings, A History of the Aviation Cadet Program (2005),
         p 47 (www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-026.pdf)
  4.    Wikipedia
  5.    Wikipedia
  6.    http://militaryyearbookproject.com/references/old-mos-codes/wwii-era/usmc-wwii-
         codes/aviation/658-link-trainer-instructor
  7.    Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings, A History of the Aviation Cadet Program (2005),        
         p 36  (www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-026.pdf)
  8.    Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings, A History of the Aviation Cadet Program (2005),
         p 42 (www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-026.pdf)
  9.    Wikipedia: Army Air Forces Training Command
10.    Eugene Fletcher, The Lucky Bastard Club, A B-17 Pilot in Training and in Combat,
         1943-1945
(1992),  p 209-201. First Lt. Fletcher was assigned to the Eighth Air Force,
         Third Air Division, Thirteenth Combat Wing, 95th Bombardment Group (H), 412th
         Squadron. This is the very same squadron to which 1st Lt. Bannerman was assigned.
         They flew on some of the same missions.
11.    Wikipedia: 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing
12.    Wikipedia: Army Air Forces Training Command
13.    Roger A. Freeman, Mighty Eighth War Diary (1981),  p 2-4
14.    Truman J. Smith, The Wrong Stuff, The Adventures and Misadventures of an 8th Air
          Force Aviator
(1996), p 83
15.    Truman J. Smith,  The Wrong Stuff  (1996),  p 12
16.    Rickard, J (17 October 2012), 95th Bombardment Group (Second World War),
         (www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/95th_Bombardment_Group.html)
        
See also the 95th Bombardment Group’s website: www.95thbg.org/
17.    John C. Walter, My War, The True Experiences of a U.S. Army Air Force Pilot in
         World War II 
(2004), p 114. John Walter was also in the 95th Bombardment Group.
18.    Wikipedia
19.    
(www.95thbg.org/95th_joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=123&Itemid=420)
20.    (www.b17queenofthesky.com/positions/bombardier.php)
21.    Smith, The Wrong Stuff,  p 44
22.    ibid.,  p 22
23.    Ibid.,  p 45
24.    Ibid.,  p 90
25.    (www.8thafhs.com/db/get_one_mission.php?mission_id=844)
26.    Eighth Air Force Historical Society 
         (www.8thafhs.com/db/get_mia_aircraft.php?acgroup_id=95BG&mission_date=1944-04-11)
         
Also, see also the website of the website of the 95th Bomb Group, Horham, Heritage
          Association (www.95thbg-horham.com/) for an extensive collection of images of the
          95th Bomb Group, including the nose art of “Heaven Can Wait.




Images
    


The
original documents pertaining to this and many other missions of the Eighth Air Force during WWII are
in the custody of The National Archives at College Park, MD

Some images created at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, GA (http://mightyeighth.org/)
and at the National Museum of the US Air Force (http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/)

Outstanding images of the interior of the B-17G “Sentimental Journey” can be found at the website of the Commerative Air Force, Arizona Wing, Aviation Museum in Mesa AZ (www.azcaf.org/pages/sentjourn.html)

Nissen hut, designed by Peter Nissen in the 1930’s. See  http://rhruins.blogspot.com/2010/11/british-military-huts-and-sheds.html

See YouTube video of a bombing run: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEm49EgG1hs




Arvin Ancestry Biographical Sketches