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Electrically Heated Flight Suits

LION Apparel, in conjunction with General Electric, worked with the U.S. Government and the military during World War II to design and manufacture the first electrically heated flight suit. These suites made it possible for airmen to survive the brutal cold of high altitude flying. Without these suits and gloves, flesh would freeze instantly to any metal the airman touched.

The web site of the 303rd Bomb Group has excellent pictures and detailed descriptions of the suits. The “High-flying Wardrobe” of the F-2 version of the heated flying suit included:

F-2 Heated Flight Suit Components

  1. Jacket
  2. Jacket insert, heated
  3. Trouser
  4. Trouser insert, heated
  5. Helmet
  6. Shoes, felt
  7. Shoe insert, heated
  8. Glove, heated
  9. Rayon glove inserts
  10. A-12 [or A-9] mittens
  11. Scarf
  12. Lead cord
  13. Woolen shirt
  14. Light socks
  15. Long underwear

Please check the 303rd Bomb Group’s site for pictures of the actual articles of clothing.

History of the Heated Flying Suit

The Army Air Corps developed the first electric heated flight suit in 1918, and some further development work was done in the 1920’s. The “unsatisfactory” C-1 model was standardized in 1938, due to renewed interest in long-range, high-altitude bomber development. At this point, there were a number of problems: inadequate materials – particularly wiring, unreliable temperature controls, and insufficient aircraft power output. Damaged wires could cause injuries to the suits’ wearers. In 1943, up to 75% of frostbite was caused by electric garment failures.

In the mid-1940’s, LION Apparel and General Electric developed new heated flying suits, the E-1 for the B-24, B-25, and B-26 with their 12-volt battery system, and the F-1 for the B-17, with its 24-volt system. Both were one-piece coverall-type garments worn under the standard two-piece winter flying suit. Electric heated gloves and shoes were also included. Like an electric blanket, the wires were sewn into the wool fabric. Each suit had a 2-foot power cord and a 6-foot extension cord. Gloves and shoes had electrical connectors. These version 1 suits experienced wiring breakages. Wired in a series, a single break would cause the entire suit to lose power.

In a B-17, the number of suits that the aircraft could support was governed by the aircraft’s power system. The priority went to tail and ball turret gunners, and if the aircraft could supply ample power, to the waist gunners as well.

The F-2 electric heated flying suit was standardized in August 1943. It was comprised of four main pieces – electric heated jacket, electric heated trousers, unheated outher jacket, and unheated outer trousers. The inserts were made of OD (olive drab) wool blanket material and incorporated more flexible wiring than in previous suits. It was wired in parallel, rather than in a series, to eliminate failure problems with breakages. Without current, the suit was comfortable down to 32°F. With current, it was comfortable down to -30°F. It also had a connection to plug in a B-8 goggle or oxygen mask heater. The F-2A suit added thermostats to control the heat in February 1944.

The F-3 suit was a further improvement, providing comfort at -60°. The F-3 improved on the electrical controls and fittings and the parallel wiring system, which still supplied half the heat if one of the two circuits failed. The F-3A continued to improve the electrical controls, fittings, and wiring.

Notes

Thank you to the 303rd Bomb Group for posting such wonderful pictures and information on their site.

Source of historical information was  “US Army Air Force (1)” by Gordon L. Rottman.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

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Anoxia

Earlier this year, on April 15, 2015, I attended a lecture at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Ocala. The speaker was Jay Dean, Ph.D., director of the Hyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory and Professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology, Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida.

Dr. Dean’s topic for the evening was “Your Body in Flight During World War II: How American Physiologists Learned to Protect the Health of Airmen in the World’s First High Altitude, High Speed Air War.” My interest in this topic was, of course, what this meant to my dad, George Edwin Farrar, a waist gunner on a B-17 crew who routinely flew missions over Germany from his base in Grafton Underwood, England.

Anoxia is the absence of oxygen. The human condition resulting from the lack of oxygen in the blood stream is called hypoxia. High altitude flight in WWII would not have been possible without the creation of the oxygen mask as bombers in those days were not pressurized.

WWII was the world’s first high-speed, high-altitude air war. As such, Dr. Dean noted that flying in unpressurized B-17’s, once the airmen were above 10,000 feet, the earth’s atmosphere could turn deadly. As altitude increased, barometric pressure decreased and oxygen levels dropped. Once an altitude of 10,000 feet was reached, the airmen would start using oxygen, except for on night missions, when they would start their oxygen while still on the ground as it improved their night vision.

At sea level, blood saturation with oxygen is 95% and the airmen would experience normal actions and judgment. By 11,000 feet, oxygen in the blood is reduced to 85%, resulting in poor judgment without awareness, as if after a few drinks. At 13,000 feet, it is down to 80% and mental errors and possibly tremors or shakiness occurs. At 18,000 feet, blood saturation with oxygen is at 70%, resulting in a danger of collapse, or passing out. Anything above 20,000 feet would not support life for very long.

A typical mission would be flown at altitudes of 20,000 to 35,000 feet or higher, requiring the use of oxygen by the air crew to survive. In addition to the lack of oxygen, the temperatures at these altitudes were extreme.

Dr. Dean explained that in the air war over Europe, at 23,450 feet, the temperature inside a B-17 would be around minus 13.5°F, in the warmer month of June. In January, it would only be around minus 36.4°F. Go up in altitude to 30,100 feet and the June temperature would drop to minus 39.5°F; in January, minus 60.9°F.

In addition to the possibility of frostbite at those temperatures, ice buildup inside the oxygen masks was another consequence of the brutal cold. While trying to fly the ship, or man their guns, bomb sights, and other equipment, the air crew had to make sure they were getting enough oxygen and continually knock the built-up ice from their oxygen masks.

In this photo, Chester Rybarczyk, navigator of the John Oliver Buslee crew, 544th Bomb Squad, 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force is shown wearing his oxygen mask on a mission over France.

Chester Rybarczyk on a Mission over France

Chester Rybarczyk on a Mission over France

To view Dr. Dean’s entire lecture, click here.

I will discuss the electric flight suits in a future post.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

Symbols

There are several symbols or insignia associated with the 384th Bombardment Group. The most prominent is probably the “Triangle P” symbol painted on the tail of the 384th’s B-17s. VIII Bomber command developed group recognition symbols in mid-1943. The 384th was assigned the “Triangle P” symbol, likely in honor of the 384th’s first commander, Col. Budd J. Peaslee.

Triangle P Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

Triangle P Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

The 384th also had a group motto. It seems that originally, the group’s motto was “Veni Vidi Vici,” meaning “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Col. Budd J. Peaslee wearing 384th Bomb Group motto patch. The patch reads "Veni Vidi Vici", meaning "I came, I saw, I conquered."

Col. Budd J. Peaslee wearing 384th Bomb Group motto patch. The patch reads “Veni Vidi Vici,” meaning “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

However, the group changed their motto after Group Deputy CO, Major Selden L. McMillin, better known as “Major Mac,” was shot down on the group’s second mission. After a crash landing in Holland, the crew was taken prisoner. In a postcard back to the base, Major Mac told Col. Peaslee to “Keep the Show on the Road.”

384th Bomb Group's Insignia from the Wing Panel

384th Bomb Group’s Insignia from the Wing Panel

Each of the bomb squadrons – the 544th, 545th, 546th, and 547th –  also had their own symbols.

544th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

544th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

545th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

545th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

546th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

546th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

547th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

547th Bomb Squad Insignia from the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel

 

And of course the symbol of the Mighty 8th Air Force, of which the 384th Bomb Group was a part, is shown off nicely in this patch:

Mighty Eighth Air Force Patch

Mighty Eighth Air Force Patch

Thanks to the 384th Bomb Group for sharing their wealth of information and photos.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

How to Bail Out of a B-17

In researching Floyd Vevle’s final mission, I became curious about how an air crew left a B-17 Flying Fortress if they needed to do so. Keith Ellefson pointed me to this link…

How to Bail Out of a B-17

…that has a very nice graphic and explains it very well. I will try to explain it as well here.

The B-17 had four exits from which the crew could bail out:

  1. A door below the nose of the aircraft.
  2. The bomb bay doors.
  3. The waist door near the rear of the aircraft on the right side.
  4. An emergency exit door in the tail of the aircraft.

If the crew were in their normal combat positions and needed to bail out, they would exit this way:

  1. Navigator and Bombardier from the door below the nose.
  2. Pilot, Co-Pilot, Top Turret Gunner/Enginner, and Radioman from the bomb bay doors.
  3. Ball Turret Gunner and Waist Gunners from the waist door.
  4. Tail Gunner from the tail gunner’s emergency exit.

And, of course, an official system existed for how the bailout should go. The order listed is not exact. Once a crewman finished performing his bailout duties, he was ready to bail out:

  1. The pilot called for everyone to put on their parachutes and bail out over the interphone and using bell signals.
  2. The tail gunner, waist gunners, and ball turret gunner bailed out. The ball turret gunner first had to exit the ball turret and hook up his chute as he did not have room in the ball turret to wear it.
  3. The pilot used the emergency release handle to clear the bomb bay.
  4. The pilot turned on the autopilot, reduced air speed, held the ship as level as possible, and monitored the crew’s evacuation of the aircraft.
  5. The co-pilot assisted the pilot. If the pilot was incapacitated, the co-pilot would take over the pilot’s duties.
  6. The navigator figured out the aircraft’s position and relayed the information to the radio operator (if time permitted).
  7. The bombardier assisted the navigator.
  8. The navigator and bombardier bailed out.
  9. The top turret gunner/engineer assisted the pilot if necessary. He notified the pilot once the navigator and bombardier bailed out.
  10. The top turret gunner/engineer bailed out.
  11. The radio operator sent a distress call and relayed the aircraft’s position (if time permitted).
  12. The radio operator bailed out.
  13. The co-pilot bailed out once the other crew members (other than the pilot) bailed out.
  14. The pilot bailed out once all the other crew members bailed out.

The “official” system of bailout often didn’t go as planned for many reasons. A few reasons were:

  1. Critically injured men were not able to bail out, although at times, they were assisted out of the plane by other crew members with their rip cords pulled, hoping the critically injured man would receive medical attention once he reached the ground.
  2. Parachutes were damaged or not hooked up properly.
  3. The centrifugal force of an aircraft in an uncontrolled spin would pin a crewman in place without a chance to make it to an exit.
  4. An aircraft might have blown up before the crew could exit. Some may have been blown out and parachuted safely to the ground.

Once a man had bailed out, he had to free fall for quite a distance before he could pull the cord and float safely to the ground. If he pulled the rip cord too soon, it would slow down his descent and he might die of anoxia (oxygen deprivation).

Arthur “Ozzie” Osepchook of the 384th Bomb Group made quite a memorable exit from the Silver Dollar on March 9, 1944. Ozzie was the Silver Dollar’s ball turret gunner. During “bombs away”, the high group inadvertently dropped its bombs on Silver Dollar, knocking the tail completely off in front of the stabilizer. The aircraft dived straight down into a spin with all four engines going.

Amazingly, Ozzie was able to get out of the ball turret and get his ‘chute hooked up, then was propelled toward the hole where the tail had once been. Unfortunately, Ozzie’s boots got stuck on mangled pieces of the aircraft and he couldn’t get free. Thinking quickly, Ozzie pulled the rip cord of his parachute, the chute opened, and pulled him right out of his boots and through the hole in the tail section of the ship. He landed safely – minus his boots – and suffered only a minor cut on one leg.

Arthur J. "Ozzie" Osepchook, 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squad

Arthur J. “Ozzie” Osepchook, 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squad

42-37781 SILVER DOLLAR

42-37781 SILVER DOLLAR

Arthur "Ozzie" Osepchook signs the 384th Bomb Group's Wing Panel

Arthur “Ozzie” Osepchook signs the 384th Bomb Group’s Wing Panel

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

Floyd Martin Vevle

The story of the Vevle twin brothers in the 8th Air Force, continued…

To recap, Lloyd Vevle was a co-pilot in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England. Lloyd lost his life on the 384th’s September 28, 1944 mission to Magdeburg, Germany. Involved in a mid-air collision, Lloyd could not bail out of his B-17G and his body was recovered near Ostingersleben, Germany. His parents were likely notified of his death on January 28, 1945.

Less than 100 miles from Grafton Underwood, Lloyd’s twin brother, Floyd Vevle was part of the 390th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force based in Framlingham, England. Floyd was co-pilot of the Alvin J. Morman crew.

On January 14th, 1945, the 390th Bomb Group flew a mission to Derben, Germany. The target was an underground oil storage depot. The Morman crew was aboard B-17G 44-8426 and was made up of:

  • Pilot, 1st Lt. Alvin J. Morman
  • Co-pilot, 1st Lt. Floyd M. Vevle
  • Navigator, 1st Lt. Jack A. Simon
  • Togglier/Nose Gunner, 1st Lt. Robert C. (or G.) Springborn
  • Radio Operator, T/Sgt. Robert G. Hehr
  • Top Turret/Engineer T/Sgt. Mario J. Manfredini
  • Ball Turret, S/Sgt. James F. Stieg
  • Tail Gunner, S/Sgt. Samuel W. Barton
  • Waist Gunner, S/Sgt. Leon J. Cousineau

Floyd Vevle crew photo

Nearing the I.P. (Initial Point of the bomb run) at about 1240 hours, their squadron was attacked by approximately one hundred German FW 190’s and ME 109’s in the area between 5300N-1200E and 5220N-1250E at about 1240 hours.

With information from the Missing Air Crew Report, MACR11719, I will try to piece together the series of events that took place aboard 44-8426.

As a result of the enemy aircraft attack, the interphone system of communication was disabled and a wing was on fire. The crew resorted to the use of signals to convey to each other that the ship was going down. Radio Operator, T/Sgt. Robert G. Hehr and Waist Gunner, S/Sgt. Leon J. Cousineau were either killed instantly or mortally wounded in the initial attack, or succumbed to anoxia (oxygen deprivation).

Tail Gunner S/Sgt. Samuel W. Barton bailed out first, likely from the tail gunner’s emergency exit. Reported by an unknown crewmember, Barton observed Cousineau before he left the ship and said Cousineau was in a daze.

Top Turret Gunner/Engineer T/Sgt. Mario J. Manfredini made his way to the front escape hatch where he met Co-pilot 1st Lt. Floyd M. Vevle. Vevle motioned Manfredini to bail out before him. Vevle, standing behind Manfredini, was wearing his parachute and was himself prepared to bail out. Manfredini noted that Pilot 1st Lt. Alvin J. Morman was “still at the controls trying to keep plane level when I jumped.” Morman was also observed wearing his chute. Manfredini does not know if Vevle followed him out, but reported that Navigator, 1st Lt. Jack A. Simon did follow him out and that Togglier/Nose Gunner, 1st Lt. Robert Springborn followed Simon.

Simon reported that “with the engineer [Manfredini] gone, I entered the escape hatch and stood up beside Lt. Vevle and verified by signs that we were going down (wing fire not visible from nose) and that he and the pilot, Lt. Morman were alright. With that information I left the ship. The togglier, Sgt. Springborn, leaving the ship only seconds later apparently, states that no one was standing in the escape hatch, and though from his position he could not be sure, he does not believe there was anyone in the pilots compartment. (From personal conversations later). The engineer [Manfredini] also verified at the time of his leaving the ship the pilot and co-pilot were uninjured.”

By this point, the following crew members have bailed out of the ship:

  • Tail Gunner, S/Sgt. Samuel W. Barton
  • Top Turret/Engineer T/Sgt. Mario J. Manfredini
  • Navigator, 1st Lt. Jack A. Simon
  • Togglier/Nose Gunner, 1st Lt. Robert Springborn

Surviving crew members believed that Vevle and Morman may have engaged the autopilot and gone to the rear of the ship to help other crewmen still on board.

Simon reported what happened next, information he gleaned from conversations with Ball Turret Gunner S/Sgt. James F. Stieg. Simon wrote, “Despite the visible fire, he [Stieg] remained at his position in the turret until he was wounded in the leg.”

Stieg continued the story. When Stieg emerged from the ball turret, he noted that Hehr “was wounded.  Last seen slumped over the radio table.  Being seriously wounded myself, I was unable to crawl to him.” Additionally, Manfredini reported that Stieg said Hehr was wedged between his table and chair. He was not trying to get loose, so Stieg thought that he was either dead or wounded severely and unable to get out of the plane. Stieg wrote that Cousineau “was fatally wounded by enemy aircraft.”

Simon continued: “Manning a waist gun against fighters which continued to attack, until wounded again, he [Stieg] then tried to get out the waist escape hatch, but was unable to get the door off, because the emergency release would not operate. He estimates this action consumed approximately fifteen minutes… Being unable to get out, and in a weakened condition, he endeavored to protect himself from flames then entering the fuselage when the ship blew up hurling him into space where he was able to parachute to safety.”

Stieg elaborated, “He [Cousineau] was fatally wounded by enemy aircraft. He was lying next to me on the waist floor prior to the ship’s nosing over and going down – but all of a sudden I heard an explosion and evidently it blew me clear.” After being blown out of the aircraft, Stieg parachuted to the ground near Potsdam. Ball Turret Gunner S/Sgt. James F. Stieg was the fifth and last crewman to leave the plane alive. When asked in the questionnaire if he bailed out, James F. Stieg wrote, “No – blown out and parachuted to safety.”

Simon continued, “Because of the erratic flight of the aircraft, he [Stieg] assumes that the ship was flying out of control. Although he did not go forward of the radio room, he feels that there was no one in the pilot’s compartment.” Though he didn’t feel anyone was in the pilot’s compartment, Stieg did not report seeing either Morman or Vevle in the waist. By this time, Morman and Vevle, if they had remained in the pilot’s compartment, may have been killed in the continuing attack or may have succumbed to anoxia.

Simon reported that “When I bailed out, I landed a few kilometers southeast of the small town of Freysach (spelling?) Germany. It is my understanding that Sgt. Manfredini, Sgt. Springborn, and Sgt. Barton all landed within a few miles radius.”

Barton, Manfredini, Simon, Springborn, and Stieg all became prisoners of war. Stieg was hospitalized. All of them eventually returned home.

Springborn “thought aircraft struck the ground in a small lake” and Manfredini “was told [the] plane exploded in air.” Stieg reported that the aircraft “struck the ground near Potsdam, Germany when it exploded.”

Cousineau, Hehr, Vevle, and Morman were assumed to be in the ship when it struck the ground or blown out when it exploded. Hehr and Cousineau were in the waist, Vevle and Morman may have still been in the cockpit. According to Stieg, Hehr and Cousineau were dead. The condition of Morman and Vevle was not known.

Simon reported that “The only additional information was obtained from the German colonel who interrogated me, who for some unexplainable reason called me in just before my release from the interrogation center to inform me of the disposition of my crew. According to his statement, the bodies of Lt. Vevle, Lt. Morman, Sgt. Cousineau and Sgt. Hehr were found in the airplane. The others were accounted for as prisoners of war except for Sgt. Stieg, regarding who whereabouts he was uninformed. At that time, it was later learned from Stg. Stieg, he was in a hospital in Berlin. It is possible that a more exact position of where the aircraft crashed may be obtained from Sgt. Stieg.” German authorities at the Interrogation Center told other survivors that Lt. Vevle, Lt. Morman, Sgt. Cousineau, and Sgt. Hehr were found in or near the wreckage of the airplane.

The questionnaire filled out by survivors of the crash asked each respondent to explain Pilot Lt. Morman’s fate in part or wholly on supposition. Responses included:

  • “By remaining at the cockpit site until reasonably sure that all had left the ship it is probable that successive fighter assaults reported by the lower turret gunner resulted in the pilot and co-pilot being hit and wounded badly or killed. This is purely an assumption.”
  • “Anoxia victim trying to help crew members while ship on auto pilot.”
  • “Believe he was trying to hold the plane in level flight so crew could get out.”

Responses to the same question regarding Co-pilot Lt. Vevle included:

  • “By remaining at the cockpit site until reasonably sure that all had left the ship it is probable that successive fighter assaults reported by the lower turret gunner resulted in the pilot and co-pilot being hit and wounded badly or killed. This is purely an assumption.”
  • “I was the last man to leave the ship and as I glanced back toward the pilots compartment I couldn’t see his feet. He must have going back in the ship succumbed from anoxia [deprivation of oxygen].”
  • “Believe that for some reason unknown to me he went back either to the cockpit or was trying to make his way back to the waist to warn other crew members since interphone and the alarm system were shot out.”

Responses regarding Waist Gunner Sgt. Cousineau included:

  • “Dead either from wounds or [lack of] oxygen.”
  • “Apparently killed by one of the initial assaults which put the plane out of control (fire).”

Responses regarding Radio Operator Sgt. Hehr included:

  • “Apparently killed by one of the initial assaults which put the plane out of control (fire).”

Manfredini also reported on the tragic death of a member of another 390th crew. “S/Sgt. [Victor] James Perrotta killed while trying to escape at Dulug Luft at Wetzlar, Germany.  Saw it happen.”

The entire squadron of eight aircraft, of which 44-8426 was a part, was lost. Killed aboard 44-8426 were:

  • Pilot, 1st Lt. Alvin J. Morman
  • Co-pilot, 1st Lt. Floyd M. Vevle
  • Radio Operator, T/Sgt. Robert G. Hehr
  • Wait Gunner, S/Sgt. Leon J. Cousineau

Taken prisoner and eventually returned home were:

  • Navigator, 1st Lt. Jack A. Simon
  • Togglier, 1st Lt. Robert C. (or G.) Springborn
  • Top Turret/Engineer T/Sgt. Mario J. Manfredini
  • Ball Turret, S/Sgt. James F. Stieg
  • Tail Gunner, S/Sgt. Samuel W. Barton

One source (http://www.fieldsofhonor-database.com/index.php/american-war-cemetery-henri-chapelle-v/50115-vevle-floyd-m) states that Floyd Vevle was initially buried at the Wachow Community Cemetery, but that after the war, his body could not be found.

Even though the German Colonel at the Interrogation Center reported that four bodies were found in the crash, MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) 17119 which covers the loss of the crew, does not report that his body was found at the crash site. MACR11719 shows that Robert G. Hehr, Leon J. Cousineau, and Alvin J. Morman were found dead near the place of the crash, 3.5 km west of Wachow and 20 km northeast of Brandenburg. Interment was January 16, 1945 in the community of Wachow. Floyd Vevle’s name was not included among the dead.

MACR11719 Page 18

MACR11719 Page 27

Within a 109-day period of WWII, Oliver Vevle lost both of his twin sons, Lloyd and Floyd. Both in the 8th Air Force. Both Co-pilots. Both killed in action over Germany. Floyd is still considered missing.

Floyd Vevle is memorialized on the Tablet of the Missing at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. Floyd earned the Purple Heart and the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters.

Floyd’s twin brother, Lloyd Vevle of the 384th Bomb Group, is buried in Plot C, Row 37, Grave 20 at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupre, Belgium. Like his twin brother, Lloyd earned the Purple Heart and the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters.

Thank you to Keith Ellefson, combat data specialist for the 384th Bomb Group research group for providing me with a copy of MACR11719.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015