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July 23, 1943

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I love a good mystery. I hope someone can solve this one for me because I’m not getting anywhere trying to solve it myself. Among the few mementos my dad saved from WWII was this tag. One side reads “19” and the other side reads “7-23-43 GERMAN LINER.”

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, entered the Army Air Forces on June 4, 1942, but did not go overseas to fight in the European Theater until July 1, 1944. Aside from his own training, he spent some time stateside as a gunner instructor. His brother, Bob, enlisted in the Navy on May 8, 1943 and served on the USS Intrepid in the Pacific Theater.

I don’t ever remember my dad showing me this tag or explaining the history of it. Now I’d like to know where it came from and how it came to be in his possession.

When I look up July 23, 1943 in WWII history, the only entries I can find on a list of shipwrecks from that date and regarding a German ship are from the Kriegsmarine (the Nazi Navy from 1935 to 1945):

  • World War II: The Type A Marinefahrprahm F146 was sunk on this date
  • World War II: The Type A Marinefahrprahm F432 was sunk on this date
  • World War II: The Type A Marinefahrprahm F546 was sunk on this date
  • World War II: The Type 1935 Minesweeper M-152 struck a mine and sank in the Gironde estuary, France

Could this tag have come from one of those ships? If anyone has any insight into where this tag came from, please either leave a comment or e-mail me. I will be forever grateful.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

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Black Thursday and the Silver Discs

During some internet research on Col. Budd J. Peaslee, first commander of the 384th Bomb Group, I was sidetracked by an interesting and unusual report from the second Schweinfurt raid of October 14, 1943, which is commonly referred to as Black Thursday.

The 384th Bomb Group put up three squadrons (twenty-one aircraft assigned) on that mission. Five aircraft aborted, five were unused spares, six were knocked out by the enemy and failed to return, and three were lost due to bad weather over East Anglia when the crews, unable to locate a suitable place to land in England, bailed out and abandoned them to crash.  Only five completed the mission and four of them landed at other airfields. The only fortress to make it back to Grafton Underwood that day was 42-30026, Battlewagon.

B-17F 42-30026 BK*J, "BATTLEWAGON"

B-17F 42-30026 BK*J, “BATTLEWAGON”

Aboard Battlewagon on Black Thursday was the group lead, made up of these men of the 546th Bomb Squad:

  • Squadron Commander George Warren Harris, Jr.
  • Pilot Philip Morris Algar
  • Navigator Frank A. Celentano
  • Bombardier James Clifton McClanahan
  • Radio Operator Francis Gerow
  • Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Roland B. Laviolette
  • Ball Turret Gunner Kenneth Mitchell McKay, Jr.
  • Tail Gunner Richard Vance Wolf*
  • Flexible Gunner Casmer Robert Majewski
  • Flexible Gunner John Francis Schimenek

*Note:  Richard Vance Wolf was the Algar crew’s co-pilot, who flew as an observer in the tail gunner position when the crew led the mission.

Harris, Algar 42-30026 BATTLEWAGON - 30 July 1943 Kassel (A/C Industry) – Not in Photo: Lt. S. Taylor (OBS/TG) OR 14 October 1943 Schweinfurt (Ball-bearings) – Not In Photo: Lt. R. Wolf (OBS/TG) Back L-R: Capt. George Harris (AC/CP), 1st Lt. James McClanahan (B), 1st Lt. Frank Celentano, 1st Lt. Philip Algar (P) Front L-R: Sgt. Francis Gerow (RO), Sgt. John Schimenek (FG), Sgt. Casmer Majewski (FG), Sgt. Kenneth McKay (BT), Sgt. Roland Laviolette (TT) Aircraft: B-17F 546th BS 42-30026 BK*J Battlewagon; Roland Flynn crew chief

Harris, Algar 42-30026 BATTLEWAGON – 30 July 1943 Kassel (A/C Industry) – Not in Photo: Lt. S. Taylor (OBS/TG)
OR
14 October 1943 Schweinfurt (Ball-bearings) – Not In Photo: Lt. R. Wolf (OBS/TG)
Back L-R: Capt. George Harris (AC/CP), 1st Lt. James McClanahan (B), 1st Lt. Frank Celentano, 1st Lt. Philip Algar (P)
Front L-R: Sgt. Francis Gerow (RO), Sgt. John Schimenek (FG), Sgt. Casmer Majewski (FG), Sgt. Kenneth McKay (BT), Sgt. Roland Laviolette (TT)
Aircraft: B-17F 546th BS 42-30026 BK*J Battlewagon; Roland Flynn crew chief

And now on to the “interesting and unusual” information I found…

One of the results for my search on “Col. Budd J. Peaslee” was a book written by Martin Caidin titled “Ghosts of the Air: True Stories of Aerial Hauntings.” The book is available on Amazon and you can see a preview of it here.

Chapter Two is “Black Thursday.” It recounts the mission and quotes Budd Peaslee several times. It also recounts the unusual and mysterious appearance of the silver discs on the bomb run.

Not one or just a few bombers, but entire groups of B-17s encountered small formations in the air that should not have existed…

It is recorded in the official histories of the Air Force…”as one of the most baffling incidents of World War II, and an enigma that to this day defies all explanation.”

At this moment the pilots and top-turret gunners, as well as several crewmen in the Plexiglas noses of the bombers (gunners and bombardiers), reported a cluster of discs in the path of the 384th’s formation, and, closing with the bombers.

The discs in the cluster were agreed upon as being silver-colored, about one inch thick and three inches in diameter.

Caidin continues the description of the phenomenon, bringing fortress 42-30026, Battlewagon, with Commander Harris and the Algar crew on board, into the story.

Boeing B-17 Number 026 closed rapidly with a cluster of discs. The pilot jinked the aircraft violently, attempting to evade an imminent collision with the discs. The sudden and violent maneuvering of the B-17 proved the maneuver futile.

The pilot reported at the intelligence debriefing that “my right wing went directly through a cluster with absolutely no effect on engines or plane surface.”

The intelligence officers pressed their questioning. The pilot stated further that one of the discs was heard to strike the tail assembly of the airplane.

Neither the pilot, nor any member of the crew that heard the disc striking the tail, felt or witnessed an explosion of any kind.

The pilot explained further that about twenty feet from the discs – a report confirmed by other pilots and crew members – they watched a mass of black debris of varying sizes, in clusters of three by four feet, floating past their aircraft.

An excerpt from the official intelligence report states:

348th Group reports a cluster of disks observed in the path of the formation near Schweinfurt, at the time there were no E/A [enemy aircraft] above. Discs were described as silver colored — 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. They were gliding slowly down and very uniform cluster. A/C 026 was unable to avoid them and his right wing went directly through a cluster with absolutely no effect on engines or plane surface. One of the disks was heard striking tail assembly but no explosion was observed. About 20 feet from these disks a mass of black debris of varying sizes and clusters of 3 by 4 feet. Also observed 2 other A/C flying through silver discs with no apparent damage. Observed disks and debris 2 other times but could not determine where it came from.

For decades, this story has been the subject of UFO writers. Nowadays, Andy Roberts reports that the objects are thought to have been either a new type of flak being used by the Germans, a colored flak that threw off unusual fragments, or something dropped by the Germans in an attempt to disrupt radar or radio communications among air crews.

I can’t even begin to speculate what the silver disks were, but I can see what happened to a 384th Bomb Group crew who flew through a cluster of them. I haven’t seen any other discussion about the silver discs include any information about that crew, but here’s what I found.

After flying through that cluster of silver discs, Commander Harris and the Algar crew were the only 384th Bomb Group crew to return to their home base at Grafton Underwood that day.

On May 19, 1944, after nineteen missions, Squadron Commander George Warren Harris, Jr. was promoted to Major. He retired as a Lt. Colonel and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters. Harris died in 2003 at the age of eighty-six.

The other members of the crew aboard Battlewagon on Black Thursday all completed their tours. Every one of them. The Algar crew flew the 384th Bomb Group’s first mission on June 22, 1943. They beat the odds and survived WWII. That was quite a feat for an air crew in the early days of the European theater.

Oh, and the Battlewagon? She, too, survived WWII. Her last mission was on April 25, 1944 and then she was returned to the US.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

 

8th Air Force Reunion 2016

My intended subject for this week’s post was Budd Peaslee, the first Group Commander of the 384th Bomb Group. However, it is not ready for publication, so I shall detour this week to the subject of the 2016 Eighth Air Force Historical Society Reunion. This year’s reunion will be held at the Sheraton Westport Lakeside Chalet in St. Louis, Missouri between October 19 to 22.

I have not attended an 8th AF Reunion before, and I am looking forward to my first. For me, it will be an exploration into WWII as well as the Civil War. I’ll explain more about that in a minute. But first, a look at the reunion schedule.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Today, Reunion registration is open from 1:00 to 6:00 pm

1:00 pm Memorabilia/Gathering room opens and remains open throughout the reunion. Also, the 384th Bomb Group will have our own hospitality room.

6:00 to 7:00 pm Welcome Reception, followed by dinner on your own

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Today, Reunion registration is open from 8:00 am to noon, and from 1:00 to 6:00 pm

7:30 to 8:30 am Continental Breakfast

8:30 to 9:45 am Individual Group Meetings

10:00 to 11:30 am American Indians in WWII presentation

11:45 am to 4:00 pm Our Military Heritage tour (additional fee), including box lunch

Our Military Heritage Tour includes the Missouri Civil War Museum and a driving tour of Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. A boxed lunch is included.

Your first stop of the day is the Missouri Civil War Museum. Originally designed and built as an athletic and activity center for soldiers, it was later transitioned into a troop barracks for World War I and World War II. After abandonment in 1964, it took 60 years for a restoration project to transpire. Through grassroots efforts of fundraising and hard work, the Civil War museum came to fruition. Enjoy viewing the artifacts significant to the Civil War efforts in the Missouri Area.

Enjoy your boxed lunch while driving through the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The 4th largest cemetery in the nation, it was established after the American Civil War in an attempt to put together a formal network of military cemeteries. It started as the Jefferson Barracks Military Post Cemetery in 1826 and became a United States National Cemetery in 1866. The cemetery is administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the former site of Jefferson Barracks. It covers 331 acres and the number of interments as of 2014 is approximately 188,000. The cemetery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Cost is $45 per person—includes box lunch.

6:00 to 9:00 pm Cash Bar Open

7:00 to 9:00 pm Rendezvous Dinner, separate banquets by Group

Friday, October 21, 2016

Today, Reunion registration is open from 8:00 am to noon, and from 1:00 to 6:00 pm

7:30 to 8:30 am Full Breakfast

9:00 am to 1:00 pm Gateway to St. Louis City tour (additional fee), with lunch on your own

Your Destination St. Louis certified tour guide will trace the history of St. Louis beginning with the city’s original settlement, Laclede’s Landing. It is now a nine-block historic district filled with renovated turn-of-the-century buildings housing shops, eateries and offices. See the famous Gateway Arch, the Nation’s tallest monument, which commemorates the gateway to the west for thousands of 19th century pioneers.

Enjoy a view of the Old Cathedral, the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi. Across the street is the Old Courthouse, the setting for cases involving slavery, the fur trade and equal rights. Of these cases, the Dred Scott Freedom Trial is the most notable. You will pass Busch Stadium, home of the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Continuing west on Market Street, you will pass several of St. Louis’ civic buildings and plazas, as well as Citygarden, a unique urban oasis blending art, architecture and landscape. St. Louis Union Station, once the busiest rail terminal in the world. Today, Union Station has undergone a magnificent renovation and is home to a luxury hotel and restaurants. Next, enjoy a stop in the Central West End for lunch on own. The Central West End is filled with century-old homes, sidewalk cafes, shops, and galleries.

Cost is $25 per person.

2:00 to 3:30 AAM Duxford presentation

3:45 to 5:00 pm Q & A – WWII Vets

6:00 to 9:00 pm Cash Bar Open

7:00 to 9:00 pm Dinner Buffet and author Donald Miller presentation

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Today, Reunion registration is open from 8:00 am to noon, and from 1:00 to 6:00 pm

7:30 to 8:30 am Continental Breakfast

8:45 to 10:15 am General Membership Meeting

10:30 to 11:30 am Researchers/Webmasters Meeting

11:30 am to 4:30 pm Anheuser-Busch Brewery/Grant’s Farm Tour (additional fee)

Experience a visit to Grant’s Farm, the 281-acre estate of the late August A. Busch, Jr., which is operated by Anheuser-Busch Companies. The adventure begins at Grant Station where you will board a tram for a tour of the grounds. The 20-minute tram ride will wind through the Deer Park – a game preserve where antelope, buffalo and other animals roam in a natural 160-acre habitat. Pass Grant’s Cabin, a log home built by Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, and former owner of the land where Grant’s Farm is today. Your tram will then stop at the Tier Garten where you may enjoy elephant and bird shows. Then stroll to the historic Bauernhof which was built in 1913. Here you will have a chance to enjoy refreshments while viewing the elegant stables and the Busch family’s world-renowned carriage collection. A visit to the Clydesdale stallion barn will complete your visit.

En route to the King of Beers – the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, your Destination St. Louis tour guide will familiarize you with the rich history of the colorful Busch family. Situated in a 100-acre complex with over 70 red brick structures, the Brewery buildings are known for their unique architecture and several are National Historic Landmarks. During the 45-minute walking tour you will see the World Famous Clydesdales, the Beechwood Lagering Cellar, the Brew House, and the Bevo Packaging Plant. After visiting the Bevo Packaging Plant, a trolley will take guests back up to the tour center. No visit would be complete without sampling the family of Anheuser-Busch products during the tour!

Cost is $37 per person.

6:00 to 9:00 pm Cash Bar Open

7:00 to 10:00 pm Gala Dinner and Program

Sunday, October 23, 2016

7:30 to 8:30 am Full Breakfast

Sad goodbyes…

So, about the Civil War…

I was not a history buff at any point in my life until I started researching my dad’s WWII experiences. Now I devour any information I can find on the air war in WWII. But the Civil War? Never was a Civil War buff either. And I had relatives that fought on both sides of the war.

Recently, I have been researching those relatives and creating a family tree on Ancestry.com. When I got to one of my great-great grandfathers, Emeric Chase, I found that he was a cousin and follower of Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the Free Soil Party. The party was dedicated to keeping Kansas and other territories free of slavery.

Emeric Chase had married the former Nancy Winn, and by the start of the Civil War, they had six children. Emeric left home to fight with the Union Army in Company F, 9th Kansas Cavalry. Nancy and five of their children (one had died in infancy) moved back to her family’s home in Meigs County, Ohio.

Great-great Grandpa Chase did not die a heroic death. He died from an unknown (to me) disease in the Union military hospital in St. Louis and was buried in the Jefferson Barracks Military Post Cemetery. To make the situation even sadder, his wife had died several months earlier and with Emeric’s death, they left their five children orphans, ranging in age from three to thirteen.

In reviewing the tours I could take during the reunion, I did not find any particular interest in visiting the Jefferson Barracks Military Post Cemetery. But now that I know I actually have a relative who fought in the Civil War buried there, I will be taking the tour and hope the bus will stop long enough for me to pay my respects to my great-great grandfather, Emeric Chase, who now resides in Section 33, Site 3147.

More Reunion Information

The cutoff date for registering for the reunion is September 15, less than a month away. Complete information about the reunion, fees, and hotel reservations is available at the Eighth Air Force Historical Society reunion page: click here.

Fred Preller, 384th Bomb Group Webmaster, emphasized a couple of points for 384th Bomb Group attendees to the 8th AF Reunion:

  • Be sure to mark “384th BG” on your reunion registration form (in the “BG or FG Affiliation” blank). The Society uses this to allocate banquet space and hospitality rooms.
  • When making your hotel reservation, be sure to specify the Sheraton Westport CHALET, as there is another Sheraton that is serviced by the same number on the hotel info sheet.
  • Attendees are NOT required to be members of either the 384th BG or the 8AFHS to attend this reunion.
  • For those who plan to come, be sure to reserve your hotel room NOW. Remember, the reservation can be canceled up to two days prior to arrival without penalty – but if you delay, you may have to stay in an overflow hotel “down the road someplace” (I don’t know where that would be). You can delay registration until September, just don’t forget…
  • WWII Veterans who register for and attend the reunion will receive a check from the 8th AFHS for $250 when they check in at the registration desk. This just about covers the registration fee and the cost of meal package #1! The Society is doing this to honor all WWII Veterans, and to encourage their attendance.

Christopher Wilkinson, fellow 384th BG Nexgen, offers this invitation and additional information to 384th BG family and friends:

For all of those new and re-found 384th BG family members and friends: please seriously consider attending this event. Many of us only began attending in the past 10 years or less, so you will have fast and strong friends with similar experiences at this gathering. We are a warm group, not nosy but inclusive of those who are supporters in the heritage and legacy that the men of the 384th BG created. You’ll be in great company, and we’ll make sure you’ll feel welcome. Please join us!

This reunion is for a combination of the 8th and the 384th. Reception happy hour is usually without a meal, but might have some light snacks. 384th BG are having our own separate meeting room for our own “stuff”, drinks and memorabilia. The 8th AFHS have their own separate room for their “stuff”. This might seem confusing, but the 384th do this so that we can have a specific place to see each, talk and learn about 384th specific topics. I’ve never been to an 8th AFHS reunion, but the 384th BG reunion participants bring 384th memorbilia, uniforms and other ephemera to share with others. I assume that’s what the 8th AFHS is also doing. Its like a mini, temporary museum about the 8th Air Force. Like the 384th’s memorabilia, its on display for the duration of the reunion.

See you in St. Louis?

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Commanders and Missions

Budd J. Peaslee (December 18, 1942 to September 6, 1943)

Col. Budd J. Peaslee

The 384th Bomb Group flew 21 missions while Budd Peaslee was commander of the group. Peaslee led 7 of those missions, 33% of the missions flown while he was commander.

Julius K. Lacey (September 6, 1943 to November 23, 1943)

Col. Julius K. Lacey

The 384th Bomb Group flew 15 missions while Julius Lacey was commander of the group. Lacey led 2 of those missions, 13% of the missions flown while he was commander.

Dale O. Smith (November 23, 1943 to October 24, 1944)

Col. Dale O. Smith

The 384th Bomb Group flew 177 missions while Dale Smith was commander of the group. Smith led 25 of those missions, 14% of the missions flown while he was commander.

Theodore R. Milton (October 24, 1944 to June 16, 1945)

Lt. Col. Theodore R. Milton

The 384th Bomb Group flew 103 missions while Theodore Milton was commander of the group. Milton led 10 of those missions, 10% of the missions flown while he was commander.

Robert W. Fish (June 17, 1945 to October 18, 1945)

Lt. Col. Robert W. Fish

The 384th Bomb Group flew no missions while Robert Fish was commander of the group. Fish did not take command until after the end of combat operations.

In all, the 384th Bomb Group completed three hundred sixteen missions. Seventy of those were flown in 1943, one hundred ninety-nine in 1944, and forty-seven in 1945. The first mission was flown on June 22, 1943. The last mission was flown on April 25, 1945. That’s three hundred sixteen missions flown in the span of six hundred seventy-four days.

Photos courtesy of 384thbombgroup.com.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

384th Bomb Group Commanding Officers

The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on December 1, 1942 at Gowen Field, Idaho. Five men led the group as Commanding Officer during its existence in WWII. I plan to write more about each Commander in future posts, but here is a summary.

Col. Budd J. Peaslee

Col. Budd J. Peaslee was the first Commander of the group from December 18, 1942 to September 6, 1943. Col. Peaslee was a veteran pilot who had extensive flying experience, including the B-17. He led the 384th into combat on their first mission on June 22, 1943. The group’s symbol, the Triangle-P was developed to honor Col. Peaslee.

Col. Peaslee was born in 1902 and died in 1983.  He is buried in the Garden of Memories in Salinas, Monterey County, California.

Col. Julius K. Lacey

Col. Julius K. Lacey was the second Commander of the group from September 6, 1943 to November 23, 1943. He was a temporary replacement for Col. Peaslee.

Col. Lacey was born in 1904 and died in 1992. He is buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, Plot: Section 4 Site 25-A.

Col. Dale O. Smith

Col. Dale O. Smith was the third Commander of the group from November 23, 1943 to October 24, 1944.

Col. Smith was born in 1911 and died in 1998. He is buried in the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, Orange County, New York, Plot: Section VI, Row B, Site 100.

Lt. Col. Theodore R. Milton

Lt. Col. Theodore R. Milton was the fourth Commander of the group from October 24, 1944 to June 16, 1945.

Lt. Col. Milton was born in 1915 and died in 2010. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, in Plot: Section 54, Site 6379.

Lt. Col. Robert W. Fish

Lt. Col. Robert W. Fish was the fifth and last Commander of the 384th Bomb Group from June 17, 1945 to October 18, 1945.

Lt. Col. Fish was born in 1917 and died in 2008. He is buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas in Plot: Section 49, Site 104. (Note: this is the same cemetery in which Col. Lacey is buried).

Photos courtesy of 384thbombgroup.com.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016