As Eugene Spearman points out in his stories of his WWII missions with the 384th Bomb Group, one of the greatest threats to the flyers was flak.
In June 1944, when my dad’s crew was finishing up their final training and waiting for their assignment – to the European theater or the Pacific theater – he wrote one last letter home before starting the journey to their new base. He already knew all about flak, and it was already a concern. These are a couple of excerpts from that letter:
There is a lot of talk that we are not going to England, as we thought, but will find out at our next station.
There is one thing nice about not going to England, and that is we won’t run into as much flak anywhere else.
I want you to know that I haven’t waited this long to start asking God to help me. That is one thing I have never been too proud to do, and I think it helps a lot, too.
My dad, George Edwin Farrar, and the Buslee crew ran into heavy flak on his very first mission on August 5, 1944. The following excerpts are from a report of that mission in the Park Ridge (Illinois) Advocate dated September 1, 1944. Pilot John Oliver Buslee was from Park Ridge. The report shows an example of the damage that can be caused by flak.
Although mortally wounded, the bombardier of a B17 Flying Fortress calmly reported his injury to his pilot and then released his bombs on the target in a remarkable exhibition of sheer courage and presence of mind during a recent American heavy bomber attack over Germany.
The bombardier, 1st Lt. Marvin Fryden, 23, 6719 North Lakewood, Chicago, died later in an army hospital after his bomber, the “Tremblin’ Gremlin,” had reached England with only two of its four engines functioning, its fuselage riddled with more than 100 flak holes and with more than half of its crew wounded.
The “Tremblin’ Gremlin” was flying in a fortress formation attacking the German airfield at Langenhagen, north of Hannover. As the American heavies started their bomb run over the target, a heavy barrage of anit-aircraft fire suddenly exploded all around them.
One shell exploded at the side of the “Tremblin’ Gremlin’s” nose, and a fragment whirled through the bomber’s metal skin and struck the bombardier in the chest below his left shoulder. Lt. Fryden swayed and nearly toppled over from the force of the enemy steel entering his body, but he regained his balance and clutched his bomb release more firmly.
“I’m hit”, was all that the wounded airman reported over the inter-communication system to the pilot’s compartment.
Perhaps he was thinking of the slogan for bombardiers at this station – “Get the bombs on the target” – for he pressed the bomb release that sent the explosives, carried in the belly of his Fortress, plunging toward the German airfield…Lt. Fryden had accomplished the job that had brought him into central Germany.
The flight from England to the center of Germany was made without incident, but when the Fortresses initiated their bomb run in the vicinity of the target, ground defenses opened up with a thick curtain of flak that burst about the planes like black mushrooms popping out of the ground after a heavy rain.
A fragment from the same burst that wounded the bombardier, hit the navigator, 2nd Lt. Chester A. Rybarczyk, 21, 1118 Elum St., Toledo, Ohio behind the ear, but the injury was not serious.
“It was popping all over the place during the few minutes we were in the bomb run,” said Lt. Buslee, describing the flak. By the time we made our turn away from the target, more than half the crew had been hit and suffered injuries of varying degrees.”
The engineer and top turret gunner, Sgt. Clarence B. Seeley, 22, of Halsey, Neb., was the next of the nine-man crew to be hit. A jagged piece of steel ripped through the lower part of his right leg above the ankle. Another burst of flak alongside the nose sent hot metal flying into the pilot’s compartment. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Arthur J. Shwery, 20, Route 2, Janesville, Wis., was hit above the eye, and cut, while a fragment bounced off Lt. Buslee’s thigh, however, merely breaking the skin and inflicting a bruise.
The sixth crew member to be hit was the waist gunner, Sgt. George E. Farrar, 22, 79 East Lake Terrace, S.E., Atlanta, Ga. He was cut on the cheek and a small piece of flesh was torn off one finger.
While its crew was having its bad moments, the big silver-colored ship was taking a heavy pounding. The right inboard engine was hit and ceased to function; the radio compartment was riddled with holes and the radio equipment destroyed; the trim tabs that control the plane’s balance, was shredded; the hydraulic brake system was shot out, and part of the oxygen system was eliminated, necessitating that the men up forward use emergency supplies or tap other lines.
Probably the fact that the radio operator, Sgt. Sebastino Peluso, 20, 2963 West 24th Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., was bending over attending to a chore, saved him from becoming a casualty when the flak pierced the sides of the big bomber and so thoroughly smashed up his radio compartment. More than a dozen flak holes ringed his section of the ship.
Only the bombardier and top turret gunner were in need of immediate first aid treatment during the return trip, and the navigator, Lt. Rybarczyk, did as much as possible for Lt. Fryden, who retained consciousness during the entire mission. Sgt. Seeley attended to his own leg wound.
The left inboard engine went out as the “Tremblin’ Gremlin” reached the English coast and Lt. Buslee headed for the nearest airfield. With his brakes gone, he was faced with a ticklish landing, but he brought the plane in nicely on the concrete landing strip and slid it off onto the grass to reduce the speed of the freely-rolling uncontrollable wheels.
The other members of the crew not already mentioned, and neither of whom was touched by the liberal quantity of flak the German gunners planted in the sky over Langenhagen, were Sgt. Erwin V. Foster, 24, 356 West Water St., Elmira, N.Y., the ball turret gunner, and S/Sgt. Eugene D. Lucynsky, 24, 7307 North Dort Highway, Mt. Morris, Mich.
Lt. Fryden was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Fryden, 6719 North Lakewood, Mrs. Marilyn Fryden, lives at 2410 West 51st St. He was a graduate of Tuley High School and Central College, and worked for a cement company in Chicago as a laboratory assistant before entering the service. He was commissioned a second lieutenant October 10, 1942, and was promoted to first lieutenant October 9, 1943.
To see what flak looks like, click here to watch a flak training film for WWII pilots on YouTube. Thank you to Carl Lustig, son of 384th radio operator, David Lustig, for pointing out this great video to me.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016