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WWII Timeline – Summer 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at July – September 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Summer 1936

July 17, 1936

Civil war erupts in Spain. Fascist General Francisco Franco leads the “Nationalists” against the “Loyalists.” Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini assist by flying Franco’s troops from Spanish Morocco to Spain. They later also send planes and troops to help Franco fight the Spanish Republic.

August 1936

The Nazis set up an Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortions (by healthy women).

August 1, 1936

The 1936 Summer Olympic Games, which had been awarded to Germany before Adolf Hitler rose to power, begin in Berlin. During the Olympics, in an attempt to gain favorable public opinion from foreign visitors, Hitler and the top Nazis refrain from taking any actions against Jews.

August 7, 1936

The subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s non-fiction best-seller Unbroken, Olympic runner Louis Zamperini finished 8th in the 5000-meter men’s event at that Olympics with a time of 14:46:8. But Zamperini’s final lap of 56 seconds was unheard of. It was rare for a final lap in a 5000-meter race to be run in under a minute. Afterwards, Zamperini and Hitler shook hands, and Hitler said, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

September 15, 1936

Spain’s Loyalist government protests the shipment of arms to Germany’s and Italy’s Nationalists.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Wikipedia:  Louis Zamperini

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Spring 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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Site Map of Station 106 at Grafton Underwood

The last time I caught up with Mark Meehl was in October in Dayton, Ohio at the latest 384th Bomb Group Reunion. Both Mark and his brother Jerry attended as they have for many years. Mark and Jerry’s dad, Paul Edwin Meehl, was a ground crew chief assigned to the 384th’s 547th Bomb Squadron from early 1943 through the end of the war. He also transferred with the group to Istres, France at the end of the war in Europe.

Left to right: Mark and Jerry Meehl at the 2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion in Dayton, Ohio

Mark is the group’s archivist, is a researcher who specializes in ground personnel, and also maintains the master log of all combat sorties. Mark’s brother Jerry (Gerald) is also interested in military history and has written or co-written three books, one with 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Jack Goetz.

At the reunion, I mentioned to Mark that I wanted to attend the group’s next junket to England – in September 2019 – and hoped to find the site of some air base photos in my dad’s collection. Mark shared scans of a couple of maps of the Station 106 site plan at Grafton Underwood with me and using them I believe I may be able to stand in the very same area the photos were taken when I visit.

For starters, this map that Mark shared with me shows the entire site with runways, living areas, and the small village of Grafton Underwood.

Overall plan of the Grafton Underwood airfield and all the site areas.
Scan by Mark Meehl of original plans/maps courtesy of Matt Smith in England

Click on the image to open it to full screen. (Then use your browser Back button to return to this post). The legend for the map is:

  • Site No. 1 – Airfield and Hardstands
  • Site No. 1 – 547th BS & Maintenance Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Group Headquarters
  • Site No. 1 – Old Head Wood Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 1 – SE Area
  • Site No. 1 – Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Warkton Common Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 2 – Communal
  • Site No. 3 – Communal
  • Site No. 4 – Group Staff Quarters
  • Site No. 5 – Ground Echelon Quarters
  • Site No. 6 – Ground Echelon Quarters
  • Site No. 7 – W.A.A.F.
  • Site No. 8 – 544th BS Area
  • Site No. 9 – 547th BS Area
  • Site No. 10 – 545th BS Area
  • Site No. 11 – 546th BS Area
  • Site No. 12 – Sick Quarters
  • Site No. 13 – Sewage
  • Site No. 14 – Sewage

Mark also told me I could add the site map as an overlay on Google Earth, so armed with a few instructions from Mark, I came up with this…

Grafton Underwood site map overlaid on Google Earth map

I’ll be playing around with this feature of Google Earth some more and try to get better results, but I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt.

My dad was in the 544th Bomb Squadron, so one of my interests is in Site No. 8. I believe my dad’s photos were taken in this area, and I’ll explore that site in more detail in a future post.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Spring 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at April – June 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Spring 1936

May 2, 1936

The leader of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, fled the capital, Addis Ababa, as the country is overrun by Italian troops.

May 9, 1936

In an invasion that began October 2, 1935, Mussolini’s Italian forces conquer and annex Ethiopia.

May 12, 1936

Italy renounces its membership in the League of Nations.

June 17, 1936

Heinrich Himmler is appointed Reichsführer-SS, chief of the German Police. The second-most powerful man in Nazi Germany, he was head of the SS, the Gestapo, and all of the Third Reich’s police and security forces.

In 1936, Himmler spoke to his SS and instructed them:

I know there are many people in Germany who feel sick at the very sight of this black (SS) uniform. We understand this and we do not expect to be loved…All those who have Germany at heart, will and should respect us. All those who in some way or at some time have a bad conscience in respect to the Führer and the nation should fear us. For these people we have constructed an organization called the SD (SS security service) and in the same way…the Gestapo (secret state police)…

Unconditional and highest freedom of will comes from obedience, from service to our Weltanschauung (world view), obedience which is prepared to render each and every sacrifice to pride, to external honor and to all which is dear to us personally, obedience which never falters but unconditionally follows every order which comes from the Führer or legally from superiors…

He won their obedience and when the order came from Hitler to exterminate the Jews, they obeyed.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Winter 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Why Did the Caterpillar Cross the Pond?

Question:  Why did the caterpillar cross the pond?

Answer:  To save the lives of airmen who were forced to bail out of disabled aircraft, like George Edwin Farrar of the 384th Bomb Group of the USAAF 8th Army Air Forces and Lawrence Edgar Newbold of the RAF 50 Squadron in WWII.

I recently wrote about Lawrence Newbold here. Lawrence was forced to bail out of his Avro Lancaster on March 18, 1944 on a mission to Frankfurt. Six months later, my dad, George Farrar, was thrown from his disabled B-17 on September 28, 1944 on a mission to Magdeburg. Dad and Lawrence were assigned as fellow POWs in Room 12 of the Stalag Luft IV prison camp.

I even more recently was able to connect with Lawrence Newbold’s family in England and his grandson Paul Newbold kindly shared a photo of Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me.

Lawrence Newbold’s Caterpillar Club card and pin
Photo by Paul Newbold

Seeing Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin jogged my memory of how important a wonderful invention – the parachute – was to the airmen of WWII and specifically to my dad and to me. If my dad hadn’t been wearing his in his midair collision of September 28, 1944, he would not have survived, married my mother, and had me or my sister.

During WWII, several companies manufactured and sold parachutes to both the American and British military. The Irvin Air Chute Company was one of them, as was the Switlik Parachute Company.

In 1919, Leslie Irvin, a stuntman from California, borrowed a sewing machine and made the first “free drop” parachute, which he demonstrated himself to flying safety experts. He so impressed them that the American and British Air Forces adopted the parachute as standard equipment. Irvin established his first American factory in Buffalo, New York that year and his first European factory in Letchworth, England in 1926. The Irvin Letchworth factory produced a peak of nearly 1,500 parachutes a week during the height of WWII.

Both the Irvin and Switlik companies began Caterpillar Clubs which awarded certificates and pins as testimony to the life saving ability of the parachute. The requirement for each was that the applicant must have bailed out of a disabled or flaming aircraft under emergency conditions.

The name of the club came about because in the early days of the parachute, they were made from pure silk. The clubs used the symbol of the silk worm caterpillar, which descends slowly by spinning a silk thread to hang from.

By WWII, silk could no longer be imported from Japan and the parachutes used by American and British airmen were primarily made of nylon. Regardless of the material used in the construction of their parachutes, after the end of WWII, by late 1945, there were 34,000 members of Irvin’s Caterpillar Club.

Airmen serving in WWII did not receive any training for bailing out or using their chutes other than a set of instructions. Though the Parachute Instructions (full instructions at the end of this article) suggest “It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger,” most airmen didn’t strap them on until they heard an alarm or instructions from their pilot to bail out. Chutes were uncomfortable to wear and got in the way of an airman’s duties.

My dad must have been wearing his chute, which was a chest chute, or at least had one side of the pack strapped on, because I don’t think he would have had time to grab it when, and if, he saw another B-17 in his formation heading straight for him.

In the stories he told me when I was a child of the collision and his time as a prisoner of war, he said the reason he was the only survivor aboard his flying fortress was because he was the only one who “still had on his chute” after dropping the bombs on their target. He was knocked unconscious in the collision and awoke in free fall 5,000 feet from the ground to the sound of his mother’s voice calling his name. After hooking up his chute and taking in the view of the countryside below him, he lost consciousness again and didn’t awaken until he lay injured on the ground, being beaten by an older German woman.

On his parachute ride down, he did not see the B-17 from which he had been thrown burning and spinning into the clouds. He did not see the ball turret knocked from the ship with the helpless gunner inside falling to Earth. The ball turret was too small for most gunners to wear their chutes inside the capsule. Even if my dad’s crew mates had been wearing their chutes, the centrifugal force of the spinning ship likely would have pinned them inside and prevented them from bailing out. They also may have been knocked unconscious in the horrific collision 25,000 feet above the ground, unable to find and strap on their parachutes.

But like Lawrence Newbold, my dad survived, thanks to his parachute, to also become a member of the Caterpillar Club. Dad joined both Irvin’s and Switlik’s clubs.

From the Irvin Air Chute Company…

Dad’s Caterpillar Club card issued by the Irvin Air Chute Company

One of Dad’s Caterpillar Club pins, likely from Irvin

From the Switlik Parachute Company…

Dad’s Caterpillar Club certificate issued by the Switlik Parachute Company

One of Dad’s Caterpillar Club pins, likely from Switlik

George Farrar and Lawrence Newbold endured Stalag Luft IV together, they survived the Black March together, and both became lifetime members of one of the most exclusive clubs in which no one wants to have to face the first requirement to become a member, having to bail out of a disabled aircraft in an emergency to save one’s life.

Parachute Instructions for B-17 Crews as presented at Stalag Luft I Online (link below)

  1. Handle the parachute pack gently and do not allow it to get wet or greasy.
  2. It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger.
  3. Jumping Suggestions
    • Make delayed jumps.
    • Dampen oscillation.
    • Face downwind.
    • Keep feet together.
    • Unhook snaps during descent if over water.
  4. Use static lines to bail out wounded personnel.
  5. Three short rings on alarm signal indicates “Prepare to bail out.” One long ring is the signal for “Bail Out.”

Source:

Stalag Luft I Online

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018