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Late May 1945

Almost three weeks after my dad’s liberation, the Adjutant General sent this telegram to my dad’s mother.

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At the time of the telegram my dad was in France and expected to go to England before returning to the states. He wrote a longer letter to his mother from France in which he explained what had happened to him.  This is a portion of that letter.

 

I guess I can tell you a little about my missions now that the war here is over. I was knocked down on my 16th mission by another plane that ran into the side of us at 30,000 ft. I fell 25,000 ft. before I came to, and pulled my chute; it was a very nice ride. I didn’t think when Bob and I were kids and I told him he would never be a flyer, that some-day I would save my life with a parachute. I guess it was just meant to be that way.

I was the only man to live from my crew and we were flying lead ship of that group. Our bombardier was killed on our first mission when we brought a ship back from Hanover with 106 holes, and only one engine going. We crashed landed on the English coast. We had several other rough missions, but those were the worst.

By the way my last mission was at Magdeburg. When I hit the ground I received a little rough treatment from the Germans, but I expected it. I was in three German Hospitals for about two and a half months, but am in perfect shape now, that is as perfect as I ever was. We have been on the road marching since Feb. 6 and a lot of nights had to sleep in the open.

Well I guess that will be enough of my history until I get home on furlough. I just hope now that I will find every-one at home feeling fine, as I pray you will be every night. Even on the march, at night when we reached a barn at night I didn’t care how rough it had been that day or how rough it would be without food the next. The main thing that kept me going was the thought that some day I may have the chance to make you just a bit more happy, and that has been my thought ever since the day I was knocked down, and had hours to do nothing but think and look at fence.

I had better cut this as it is getting late and the lights here are very poor. And if I expect to do any more flying I had better take good care of them (my eyes). Tell every-one hello, and I will see you soon.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

 

 

 

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A Typical Mission by Eugene Spearman

Eugene Spearman, Radio Operator/Gunner in the 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron during WWII

Eugene Spearman, Radio Operator/Gunner in the 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron during WWII

Eugene Spearman, radio operator with the 384th Bomb Group, shares the last of his great stories of life in the 384th Bomb Group during WWII. He starts with the formation of his crew at Avon Park, Florida, and ends with his return trip to the United States. In between, Eugene revisits some of his previous stories and shares some new ones.

Crew 56

The four giant engines roared as we raced down the runway. This runway ended at the very edge of the lake. It was September 1944 and crew 56 was taking off on their first flight since they had banded together as a crew in Avon Park, Florida. Lt. Edwin Nicolai was the pilot and Lt. Ross was the copilot. All knew that we had four or five months of operational training to complete before we would be sent into combat. During that four months we made practice bombing runs, checking the skills of our bombardier, Lt. Robitzki, as well as cross-country missions testing the skills of our navigator, F/O Gilbert Parker. Also, practice missions were made where the accuracy of the gunnery crew could be checked. Under the leadership of our pilot, we were inspired to do our jobs so that the missions would be successful.

In January of 1945, we arrived at Hunter Field, Georgia, where we were given a new B-17. We flew from there to Dow Field, Maine, after buzzing the home of Lt. Robitzki on Staten Island; then on to Goose Bay, Labrador. There the snow was so deep that we had only a few inches of light above the top of the outside windows. Canadian ski troops dressed in white operated around the air base.

After a few days we took off on the snow-cleared runway, only to have a wing tip hit the snow bank on the edge of the runway. We made it into the air, but had to land again to check for structural damage. After a couple of days we again took off and headed to Rekyavick, Iceland. There I was assigned guard duty on the cold, damp, rocky side of the airport near the ocean, to guard our plane. There were no trees or grass anywhere in sight. Next we flew on to Edinberg, Scotland, where we left our new B-17 and took trucks on a long, cold ride down to a distribution center near Birmingham, England, called Stone, England. After a few days we were assigned to the 384th bomb group and 544th squadron base 106, at Kettering, England near Northampton in the Midlands.

We enlisted men were assigned to a little quonset hut where other crewmen were assigned. Some of the other crewmen in the hut had flown from one to 34 missions and had plenty of stories to tell about different targets in Germany that they had bombed and about flak and fighter planes they had faced in bombing the target.

Our trips to the flight line and mess hall were made on little English bikes. These we acquired by going down to the flight line and getting one that a previous crew member who failed to make the return flight from over Germany had left.

One crew member near my bunk was superstitious and wore the same socks on every mission. Another also wore the same overalls. Another insisted he had completed his required 35 missions, but operations personnel records showed he had only completed 34, so when he refused to fly the next mission, he was put on AWOL, and was assigned to garbage detail at the base.

It seemed like the weather was always rainy and cloudy. This made the take off and getting into formation a real challenge. On our first attempt we were unsuccessful and had to abort the mission and drop our bombs in the North Sea.

By early February the missions came real often. Early in the morning, an operational sergeant would come into the little quonset hut and say, “Wake up, Spearman, you are flying in the Nicolai crew today. Be down at briefing at 4:00 am.” After the mission, we would be debriefed. There we were given a small glass of cognac to unwind and asked to tell about any unusual event we saw on the mission, such as enemy fighters, V2 rockets, B-17s falling, etc.

One thing that I was thankful for was that a minister or priest stood holding a Bible beside the runway just before we released the brakes and raced down the runway on every mission, rain or shine. On every mission there was flak, but as the missions added up, the sighting of enemy fighters seemed to decrease. Fighter escort by the P-51’s and P-47’s was always a welcome sight, but one friendly P-51 just got real close and slid almost into the space between the right wing and tail to wave at me. I was glad to see him move out a few feet. Most of the flak were dark puffs in the sky and especially over the target, but occasionally the white tracking flak would start closing in on us. This would cause the tail gunner or ball turret gunner to yell for me to throw out more chaff. Chaff was a bundle of little eight-inch aluminum strips that looked like more B-17s on the German radar.

The ball turret gunner, Pete Bongiorno, credited this chaff for saving my life over Dresden once. Most of the missions we received flak holes somewhere in the plane, but until the 3-19-45 mission to Plauen, our crew remained safe. On this mission, Lt. Robitzki, our bombardier, was asked to fly with the Lt. Kramer crew as lead bombardier. (Lt. Kramer’s plane was sighted over Belgium at about 11,000 ft. headed back to England after the mission. His plane never did get back to the base, and is presumed to have gone down in the English Channel).

On our 25th mission on an attack on the submarine pens at Bremen, the flak seemed to zero in on our plane, No. 42-32106. First one engine went out and then another. Flak hit the cockpit and slightly wounded the pilot and shatttered the plexiglass windshield. It would have wounded the copilot if he hadn’t just relinquished control of the plane. Flak struck the tail of the B-17 killing Sgt. Bill Pleeler, and knocked the waist gunner down and backward. Some two hundred holes were counted in the plane. One unexploded shell went throught the left wing just outside my station. The fabric was ripped off the trailing edge of the left wing. Later the waist gunner and I found the little piece of shrapnel that hit his flak vest on his right shoulder. Even though it was real small, Charles Whitworth kept it as a good luck symbol.

With two engines out, and losing altitude, our condition was extremely critical. Some of the control cables had been severed. Some thoughts were given of going to Sweden or Switzerland, but finally “Nick” dove the plane into some clouds and headed back toward England at an extremely low altitude. Since I grew up on a farm in Mississippi, I could relate to what I saw just below the crippled B-17. There was a farmer plowing two horses single file just below us and the plane had caused his horses to “run away” [made him lose control of them]. Except for the skill shown by the pilot and navigator during this mission, and the durability of the plane, we would have crashed. I had witnessed other planes firing the red flares on the return to the air base, but this time we were the ones firing the red flares to indicate killed in action or wounded on board.

On one of our missions we were to bomb an airbase in Germany at a lower than usual altitude, around 19,000 ft. Since they, at briefing, had told us there was to be no flak, I decided to remove my flak suit and stand up and watch the bombs fall on the target. Just as we released the bombs, several big black clouds of flak appeared and shook the plane. I immediately sat back down and put the flak suit on, resolving to not believe those briefing officers again.

I, along with the pilot and copilot, always wore a back parachute. The rest of the crew wore a front chute that snapped on when you got ready to jump out of the plane. After the morning briefing, you always were asked to pick up your parachute as you went out to the plane. On my last mission, when I was asked which chute I wanted, I requested my back chute and asked for and was given a front chute also. I really wanted to be prepared on that last mission.

After the morning briefing, we were given a chance to pick up a candy bar. I always chose a Milk Way candy bar and placed it on my radio table to eat only after the wheels touched down on the return to home base. On one mission just after we too off, the ball turret gunner, Peter Bongiorno, came by my station and before I could stop him, ate my candy bar. This was a major disaster to me, and I was afraid my luck had run out. I sure was glad when that mission was over.

After my missions, the pilot “Nick” and I were given orders to fly back to the States. After we had flown about eight hours, and while others on the flight back home were up near the cockpit, leaving me alone in the radio room the plane suddenly dropped violently and bounced me all around the radio room. My thoughts were that I had survived all those missions and now I would be killed returning home. Then the plane settled down and I made my way up to the cockpit, where they were laughing and celebrating because they had sighted the good ole USA.

Two of the original crew 56 members had made the round trip.*

  • Edwin Nicolai, Pilot
  • Eugene Spearman, Radio Operator

* Other members of the original crew came back to the States later in 1945.

© Eugene Spearman, 2016

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Grafton Underwood Site Plans

Eugene Spearman’s story “Our New Home at Grafton Underwood” (see my April 27, 2016 post) prompted me to start looking at how the Grafton Underwood Airfield was laid out. I found a few site plan documents which I’ll include now. In future posts planned for June of this year, I will try to identify or define what some of the locations on the plan are and include whatever pictures I can that would be helpful to envision the airfield during WWII.

Station 106 from Gallery

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GU From Facebook

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Hardstand locations

Hardstandsc

Hardstand identifications provided by Mark Meehl.

N.B.: The boxed numbers indicate the runway identifiers (magnetic compass heading to nearest 10 degrees).

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GU_Airfield_Area_Compressed

Photos used by permission of the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Early May 1945

Seventy-one years ago this week my dad, George Edwin Farrar, and the group of Stalag Luft IV prisoners of war with which he was on the forced march across Germany, were liberated by British soldiers. This is the 15-word message my dad sent home to notify his family that he was alive and was free.

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In the fifteen words to which he was limited, it reads:

Dear Mother.  Was liberated May Second. Am in good health. Will be home soon. Love, S/Sgt. George E. Farrar.

That same week, he penned a short letter home.

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It reads:

Dearest Mother:

I guess you have heard through the government that I was liberated.  I was liberated by the English May 2nd and have been treated very nice since.  I should be home soon, and having some of the nice meals you fix.  That I have dreamed of for all-most a year.  Life was a bit hard here, but it is all over now.  I have been on the road marching since Feb. 6th with very little food, but am not in bad condition.  I hope that every-one at home are o.k. as I have been thinking of every-one each day.  Tell Gene I hope he had a nice birthday, and I was thinking of him on that day.

I’ll sure have a lot of things to tell you when I get home, and I am really going to stay around home.  I guess I’ll have to get a new watch when I return as I had to sell mine for bread when I was on the march.

I hope you can read this, as I am writing on an old German gas mask case, and it is a bit rough, so will close until I have a better chance to write.

Love to all,
Ed

I’m not certain when either of these posts were received by my dad’s family in Atlanta, Georgia, but in 1945, Mother’s Day was on May 13. If either arrived prior to that date, I’m sure it made for a very happy Mother’s Day for his mother, Raleigh May George Farrar.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016