Budd Peaslee – Part 3 was published March 1, 2017 here. (Scroll to the end of this post for links to the entire series).
In late April 1943, Budd Peaslee received orders from the Second Air Force Headquarters detailing the coordinated movements of his 384th Bomb Group to their base in England. Key officers would be dispatched first to Atlantic City, New Jersey. There they would be instructed in the procedures required to move such a large group. They would greet the ground troops who would travel by troop train the following week to a then-undisclosed location on the East Coast. The air personnel would first proceed to a final staging air base at Camp Kearney, Nebraska.
Following the staging, ground troops would arrive at the point of embarkation via ground transportation, followed by a voyage by ship to England. Air personnel would travel to England via air in their new B-17’s.
On May 9, 1943, movement began to the staging point at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. The ground troops were at Camp Kilmer for three weeks, and departed May 26 by train for the Port of New York. In fear of German submarines waiting to send them to watery graves, they boarded the Queen Elizabeth and departed the United States on May 27. An escort of destroyers guided them on their way, but turned back the first night out of New York.
After a three and one-half week journey across the Atlantic, on June 2, 1943, the Queen Elizabeth and her precious cargo arrived at the Firth of Clyde and dropped anchor off Greenock, Scotland. The crew staggered ashore on their sea legs and then set off for their final destination.
At Camp Kearney, Nebraska, the air personnel were fitted with new flying gear, and the B-17’s were serviced, checked, and inspected.
In late May 1943, Major Selden McMillin and a hand-picked crew left for their undisclosed location in England. It was their duty to travel ahead of the group to prepare for the entire group’s arrival at their final destination.
A few days later, the rest of the group took off for Presque Isle, Maine. First to take off was Group Commander Budd Peaslee in a B-17F, serial number 43-0063. The aircraft almost immediately experienced engine problems and the crew had to land after less than five minutes in the air and just prior to the takeoff of the next bomber in line. The remainder of the group departed Camp Kearney with Budd Peaslee and his crew forced to wait for repairs, grounding them until the next day.
Aircraft 43-0063 was still experiencing problems the next day, but nothing more could be found wrong with the plane. Midway between Toledo and Buffalo, manifold pressure dropped unexpectedly and the crew had to land in Rome, New York for repairs. A check of the engines the next morning showed everything to be operating normally, so no repairs were made before the crew departed for Presque Isle, where they successfully arrived without further incident.
The day following the arrival of Budd Peaslee and the crew of 43-0063, the group joined the bomber stream to the next destination of Gander, Newfoundland. The route took them across New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and on a two hundred mile overwater flight across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the southern tip of the island of Newfoundland. Part of the bomber stream was then routed to Goose Bay, Labrador.
Peaslee’s aircraft flew perfectly until time for landfall. Aircraft 43-0063 began to slowly lose power as fog was forming over the base. They were redirected to land at a base in Stephenville on St. George Bay, which was clear of fog.
Shortly after daylight the next day, Peaslee and his crew were again airborne. He caught up with the rest of his unit at Gander, as the weather had grounded everyone for several days.
Once the weather changed over the Atlantic, the air crews of the 384th Bomb Group were set to take off. They had to fly above 12,000 feet to avoid a storm. The flight path would be directly across the North Atlantic. Landfall would be northern Ireland, then across the North Channel to the Irish Sea and Firth of Clyde to Prestwick, Scotland.
At takeoff, the engines of 43-0063 ran smoothly, having been once again pronounced perfect by the aircraft mechanics. But four hundred miles from Gander and twelve hundred miles from Ireland, the Number 4 engine was going bad again, with power continuing to drop, causing the ship to veer off course. They had to drop to an altitude of 8,000 feet and reduce air speed, but decided to continue on their course on three engines.
The bomber stream continued four thousand feet above Peaslee’s aircraft. Shortly after daybreak, 43-0063 began to receive radio signals from a station in Ireland. The radio compass indicated that the station was a considerable distance south of the aircraft heading. The navigator believed the ship to be on course and a check with a radio station at Prestwick, Scotland confirmed his belief, so the heading was not changed. The crew later learned that a false radio station had been set up in enemy-occupied France to lure ocean-crossing aircraft off course. Peaslee’s crew would not have been the first to be lost through this deception had they believed the ruse. Instead, they landed safely in Scotland only three hours behind schedule.
All of Peaslee’s group successfully arrived in Prestwick except for Kelmer Hall’s crew. They experienced engine failure in flight and attempted to return to base, but a second engine failed causing them to ditch in the sea. The aircraft broke up and sank, but the entire crew made it into the rubber rafts, spending a cold night afloat. The next morning, a search ship sighted them and the crew was rescued.
The next morning following their arrival in Scotland, the group was guided to their home base of Grafton Underwood in the Midlands of England by Colonel Chuck Marion of the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command. With so many American bases in the area, new crews often landed at the wrong one, so they would follow Marion in group formations.
Peaslee’s aircraft was checked by the mechanics in Prestwick and pronounced ready for flight. About mid-point in takeoff, the Number 4 engine died, but became airborne on three engines.
From Prestwick in southwest Scotland, the bomber stream flew along the coastline of the Irish Sea south toward London and the English Midlands. Sixty miles north of London, over Grafton Underwood, Budd Peaslee made radio contact with flight control, established the landing pattern, and the aircraft of the 384th Bomb Group landed in their new home. They were greeted by familiar faces, the ground crew that they had not seen since Sioux City, Iowa. It was the first week of June and the 384th Bomb Group had arrived in England and was ready to go to war.
To be continued…
“Heritage of Valor” by Budd J. Peaslee
Budd Peaslee – Part 1 was published January 4, 2017 here.
Budd Peaslee – Part 2 was published February 1, 2017 here.
Budd Peaslee – Part 3 was published March 1, 2017 here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
Excerpts from Heritage of Valor by Budd J. Peaslee, © Budd J. Peaslee, 1963