Eugene Spearman flew two missions to Bremen with the 384th Bomb Group. The first was on March 11, 1945 (that’s 71 years and 2 days from today) to a Vacuum Oil Plant. The second, and the subject of Eugene’s story, was a few weeks later on March 30. The target of the March 30 mission was a Submarine and Warship Yard Machine Shop.
Mission to Bremen
I would like to take you back in time to when I, as a 19-year-old, found myself living in a small quonset hut with fifteen other young men in the Midlands of England. The hut had eight double bunk beds in it and I had an upper bunk. Some of the young men had flown almost all the required thirty-five missions and others had flown varied amounts. The location of the base was Grafton Underwood near Kettering, England, home of the 384th BG and 544th Sqn. The larger town nearby was Northampton.
While picking cotton on my father’s hill farm near Coffeeville, MS a couple of years before, I was scolded by my father because I took so much time watching (from horizon to horizon) the young pilots flying the AT-6’s as they flew from Columbus to Pine Bluff, Ark.
Just after completing high school, I went down to Greenwood and volunteered in the Cadet program. After basic at Keesler and being scratched from making the trip to Clemson and later to Penn State for more training, I was sent to radio school in Sioux Falls, S.D., and later to Gunnery school in Yuma, Ariz., then to Avon Park, FL, where I met the rest of the nine-man crew and took about six months of operational training. Later we picked up a new B-17 at Hunter Field, GA and after buzzing the bombardier’s home at Staten Island, N.Y., we landed at Bangor, Me. Then we went on to Goose Bay, Labrador, and Iceland, and then to Edinburg, Scotland, where we turned in the new B-17. We rode in trucks all night to Stone, England, near Birmingham, which was a distribution center. Later we were assigned to the base at Grafton Underwood.
About three or four o’clock in the morning, a sergeant would come into the little hut and wake the crewmen that were flying the mission that day. On March 30, 1945, after I had already flown twenty-three missions the sergeant woke me up and said, “Spearman, be down at briefing at 4:00 am. You are flying in the Ed Nicolai crew.” I got dressed and went outside and got on my little English bike and rode down to the mess hall. We called it Tomaine Tavern. I wondered how many other airmen had ridden this same little bike. You acquired the little bikes by going down to the flight line and getting one that some previous crewman left because he did not return from the trip over Germany. After breakfast we went to briefing where the flight commander would tell us the target for the day. If it was a rough target you would hear some aw’s and groans. Today it was the submarine base at Bremen. Next the weather officer would tell us about the weather over the target as well as at the base when we returned. Then a navigation officer would talk about the route in and out of Germany.
Then with a “Good Luck Boys-Hit the Target” send off, we would file out, pick up equipment, parachutes, etc., and ride trucks out to the dispersed planes. Dressed in the heavy flight suits, I always thought everyone looked like stuffed toad frogs.
We then taxied out to the end of the runway and awaited our signal for take-off. Standing just outside the plane during most of my missions even in rain or snow stood a man, Bro. Billy, holding a Bible. His being there was such a blessing for me. Just knowing that someone was praying for me made me feel better.
And then we roared down the runway and into the air. The 384th history log showed the mission to Bremen was the 300th mission that was flown by the 384th BG. There were 39 aircraft from Grafton Underwood and the total bomb load of 500-lb bombs was 105 tons. The elevation at target was 26,000 ft and bombing was by PF. Flak was moderate and accurate. We were in the left hand wing position and made a left-hand turn off the target and were struck by flak shortly after releasing our bombs. Pilot was slightly injured when cockpit plexiglass and copilot controls were hit. Waist gunner hit by flak in upper chest but saved by flak suit. Tail gunner was KIA when flak hit the tail section. Two engines were knocked out and plane left formation and dove into some clouds and came out “on the deck.” Landed at Eye with some 200 holes in plane. Plane was called “Snuffy,” and was S.N. (serial number) 42-32106. We were crew #143. This plane, which I thought would have been scrapped due to flight damage, was later repaired and returned to service.
The pilot, Ed Nicolai, and I flew back to the USA after the tour of missions (34) was completed. I invite you to view on your computer 384thbombgroup.com for “the rest of the story.”
© Eugene Spearman, 2016
The tail gunner killed on mission 300 was William R. Peeler. It was his twenty-fourth mission. He was the first of the Ed Nicolai crew to be killed in action.
Aircraft 42-32106 went by three names: Snuffy, Worry Bird, and VOAN. After mission 300, it went back into service only two weeks later, on April 14, 1945. It flew 123 combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016