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Follow Up: How Many Airmen Made Up a B-17 Crew in WWII

Some new information about the change in structure to B-17 crews during WWII has come to my attention from two 384th Bomb Group Association volunteers, Researcher and Combat Data Specialist Keith Ellefson and Historian John Edwards.

My original post, How Many Airmen Made Up a B-17 Crew in WWII, was published July 3, 2019.

Keith found a document that was simply titled “Administration” and marked SECRET that offered an interesting theory, one I had never considered. He identified the document as one from the 447th Bomb Group based in Rattlesden, Suffolk, England from the inclusion of a second topic on the same page titled Beautification Program, which mentioned the Ground Executive of the station, Lt. Col. Wilfred Beaver.

The topic regarding crew makeup was titled Nine Man Crew. It read (with a few minor typographical corrections and some format changes for readability),

On 20 July 1944, a program was instituted to reduce the weight of combat aircraft. With a decrease in weight, the operational efficiency of our planes would increase. As a part of the weight reduction program one waist gunner was removed from each plane.

The obvious result was a plethora of surplus gunners assigned to the Group. Measures were established to eliminate all excess gunner personnel. In order to best utilize the services of surplus gunners who were not permanent members of combat crews and not required as gunners for operations, it was necessary to accomplish one of the following:

  1. Release surplus gunners to the Zone of the Interior, if they had already completed 25 or more missions.
  2. Reclassify surplus gunners to other ground military occupational specialties in which they were skilled. (Absorption of these men in vacancies afforded in the various Tables of Organization of units on the Station was mainly the problem here encountered.)
  3. Transfer to other commands in this Theater where gunners were needed.

At the present time, a surplus still exists on this Station, but the process of depletion has been inaugurated.

I had not considered that the weight of one gunner, probably in the range of 130 to 150 pounds or more, plus the weight of his flying gear, could have made that much difference to the amount of fuel a B-17 would use over the course of a mission.

According to The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft by David Donald, as noted in Wikipedia, the empty weight of a B-17G is 36,135 pounds. Gross weight, and I’m not quite sure what that entails, is noted at 54,000 pounds. Maximum takeoff weight is 65,500 pounds.

The inclusion of one extra 150-pound gunner seems pretty insignificant to me, but perhaps being able to carry another 150 pounds of ammo or bombs, or being just a little lighter to increase air speed, was more important than an additional gunner to defend the ship, especially since the improvement of American fighter planes reduced the incidence of enemy fighters attacking the formation at that point in the war.

The amount of fuel that could be placed in the tank of a B-17 was limited and that fuel limit in combination with the weight of the ship would directly affect the distance the formation could travel into enemy territory. By reducing the weight of the aircraft, the formation could reach further targets. Well, maybe that does make more sense than I initially considered.

The 384th Bomb Group had instituted the change in crew makeup from ten to nine by reducing the number of waist gunners from two to one several months before the 477th, in the middle of May 1944. Keith noted that,

I am certain that reduction in crew size would have been a directive from 8th AF level with maybe some wiggle room for implementation at the lower echelons.

At Keith’s suggestion, I also asked John Edwards to weigh in on the subject and he added his insight, first on crew requirements,

Crew requirements were levied on the training air forces in the ZOI [Zone of the Interior] by the GHQ AAF [Army Air Forces Group Headquarters] as received from the combatant numbered air forces. This would be a request for crews. AAF would approve the requested strength based on the air war plan and the numbered air force’s mission.

After deciding how much of the pie each AF could have, the AAF issued broad goals for the number of pilots by type and navigators and bombardiers in proportion. The personnel allocations would be to fill the pipeline to each AF and how best to reach the manpower allocation for each.

and then regarding crew composition,

Crew composition was a different issue. When the B-29 training program kicked off in April 1944, AAF realized that a dedicated crew and a certain composition was required compared with the other four engine types. This impacted B-17 and B-24 crews.

Procurement policies were changed as the war went on to either increase or decrease the flow of personnel in the pipeline in specific specialties. When the first big change in crew number occurred, it was based on the bombardier vs. the togglier. A change in tactics by 8AF [the 8th Air Force] revised crew composition.

Now when 10 guys become 9, that was further based on a tactical change in that the effective box formations negated the need for two waist gunners. That would mean the crew composition in summer 44 was an average 9 guys which meant a gunner would be the TOG [togglier] so you had a net loss of one guy.

Early on, each B-17 in the mission formation had a specially trained bombardier who would take over flying the aircraft from the pilot at the IP, the Initial Point of the bomb run, and continue to do so until he spotted the target and dropped his bombs, at which point he would return control of the aircraft to the pilot.

Later in the war, only the lead aircraft in the formation had to carry a qualified bombardier and the remaining aircraft were manned by either trained bombardiers or toggliers, who would watch for the lead bombardier to drop his bombs and follow suit by toggling the switch to drop theirs.

Toggliers and non-lead bombardiers did not take control of the aircraft from the pilot during the bomb run and most often toggliers were not officers, but were enlisted men, likely surplus waist gunners, who sat in the bombardier seat and released the bombs with the formation.

This change also led to many officers who were originally trained as bombardiers, but didn’t qualify as lead bombardiers, to retrain to become navigators rather than waste their talents as button-pushers.

John continued,

Now in theater the CCRC [Combat Crew Replacement Center] or later RCD [Replacement or Reinforcement Control Depot] would make the assignments for crews based on personnel allocations according to TO&E [Table of Orgainization and Equipment] strengths.

From there, the AF would allocate crews by division then on down the line to the group. At this point, the big change occurs – each group HQ would create the operational crew composition based on it’s needs (like the other levels and assuming all these ideas agreed and 8AF correctly stated the requirement AND the ZOI filled it that way).

As a rough rule, each group could do as they pleased within the manning construct of the TO&E. The group started getting 9 man crews in late February just at or about other groups did, but remember, the personnel pipeline was filled with 1943 trained guys (whole crews) and groups still being trained up in the states.

In the end of all this, you still have the mission change requirement increase [from 25 to 30 to 35 missions required to finish a tour] so there are more ‘bodies’ on hand to fill up crews, rebuild them or create spares pools.

Note

In researching this subject, I became curious about the Combatant Numbered Air Forces. I happened to find a document online in PDF format named Air Force Combat Units of WWII edited by Maurer Maurer, originally published in 1961, and reprinted by the Office of Air Force History in Washington, D.C. in 1983.

Starting on this 520-page document’s page 457 (page 471 of the PDF file) is a description of each of the numbered Air Forces 1 – 15 and 20. Check the index at the end for the un-numbered Air Forces, as well. This comprehensive document covers not only the Air Forces, but the Commands, Divisions, Wings, and Groups – see the Table of Contents on the document’s page xiii (PDF file page 13).

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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WWII Timeline – Spring 1940

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at April – June 1940 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Spring 1940

April and May 1940

Soviet secret police committed a series of mass executions of Polish military and intelligence officers in April and May of 1940 in several areas. Because of the later discovery of the first mass graves in the Katyn Forest, the executions have come to be known as the Katyn Forest Massacre. The number of victims has been estimated to be about 22,000.

April 5, 1940

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain unwisely claimed,

Hitler has missed the bus, a German invasion of the West is now unlikely to succeed.

April 9, 1940

The Nazis invaded Denmark, with a Jewish population of 8,000, and Norway, with a Jewish population of 2,000.  Denmark surrendered the day of, or day after, the attack. Norwegian leader Vidkun Quisling moved to create a pro-Nazi government.

April 27, 1940

Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

April 30, 1940

The gates were closed on the Lodz Ghetto in occupied Poland, sealing it off from the outside world with estimates ranging from 164,000 to 230,000 Jews locked inside. Lodz was reported to be one of the largest ghettos in all of German-occupied Europe, second only to the Warsaw Ghetto.

May 1, 1940

Rudolf Höss was selected as Kommandant of Auschwitz.

May 7, 1940

President Roosevelt directed the U. S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet to remain at the ready off the coast of Hawaii.

May 10, 1940

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister.

The Nazis invaded France, with a Jewish population of 350,000, Belgium, with a Jewish population of 65,000, the Netherlands, with a Jewish population of 140,000, and Luxembourg, with a Jewish population of 3,500. Hitler feared that the Allies were planning to use the neutral nations as staging areas for attacks on Germany.

The first RAF (British Royal Air Force) bombing raids over Germany targeted communication centers.

May 12, 1940

England and Scotland began detaining German and Austrian men, and eventually Italian men, ages sixteen to sixty, in interment camps.

May 13, 1940

New British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech in the House of Commons,

I would say to the House as I have said to those who have joined this Government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” You ask, what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength God can give us. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

The Nazis established bridgeheads (the strategically important area of ground around the end of a bridge which is sought to be defended) across the Meuse River in Belgium.

The Netherlands’ Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch royal family arrived in London, establishing themselves in exile after fleeing the Hague.

May 15, 1940

The Dutch Army of the Netherlands surrendered to the Nazis.

May 20, 1940

The largest concentration camp of the Nazis, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, was established.

May 26, 1940

Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British, French, and Belgian troops surrounded by the Axis powers from Dunkirk, France began.

May 27, 1940

Germany captured the port city of Calais, France, which is twenty-six miles across the English Channel from Dover, England.

May 28, 1940

Belgium surrendered to the Nazis.

June 3, 1940

The Nazis bombed Paris, and two hundred fifty Parisian citizens died from the air assault of two hundred Luftwaffe planes.

The Dunkirk evacuation ended with the total rescue of 224,686 British troops, and 121,445 French and Belgian troops.

Franz Rademacher sent out the first of several memos on the “Madagascar Project.”

June 4, 1940

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ended a speech before the House of Commons with,

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

June 8, 1940

The British aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, and its escort of two destroyers, the HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent, were sunk by German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. More than 1,500 sailors were lost on the three British ships.

June 9, 1940

Norway surrendered to the Nazis.

June 10, 1940

Italy declared war on Britain and France.

Canada declared war on Italy.

June 14, 1940

South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand joined Canada in declaring war on Italy.

The Nazis marched into Paris, beginning a four-year occupation. All remaining British troops in France were ordered to return to England.

The Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States June 14–18.

June 15, 1940

The U. S. Congress continued to refuse to intervene in the war in Europe despite pleas from France and Britain.

June 16, 1940

Marshal Philippe Pétain replaced Paul Reynaud as French Prime Minister.

Italy sank the British submarines Grampus and Orpheus.

June 17, 1940

Five Luftwaffe bombers attacked the Cunard luxury ocean liner Lancastria, which was being used to transport troops, of which 2,500 died.

The U. S. Navy requested $4 billion from Congress to build an Atlantic fleet equal in strength to its Pacific fleet.

June 18, 1940

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met in Munich. Hitler did not offer the large tracts of French land that Mussolini expected to be granted.

June 21, 1940

Italy invaded southern France.

June 22, 1940

France surrendered to and signed an armistice with Nazi Germany. In the agreement, Germany would occupy the northern half of France and the entire Atlantic coastline. A collaborationist regime with its capital in Vichy would be established in southern France,

June 23, 1940

Adolf Hitler toured Paris accompanied by architect Albert Speer.

June 28, 1940

Britain recognized General Charles de Gaulle, in exile in London, as the Free French leader.

The Soviet Union forced Romania to cede the eastern province of Bessarabia and the northern half of Bukovina to the Soviet Ukraine.

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

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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

Winston Churchill Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat Speech

Winston Churchill Beaches Speech

The Katyn Forrest Massacre

Civilian Internment

The Sinking of the HMS Glorious

Franz Rademacher’s Madagascar Project

Most recent post from the series:

Winter 1940

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

What Does It Mean?

Recently, a reader I was assisting in her search for information regarding the WWII service of her grandmother’s cousin ran across a military abbreviation with which I was not familiar, EUS. I began an internet search for the meaning of EUS. I expected the usual overwhelming list of responses from Mr. Google, but my search returned very few results. I should have known, but didn’t think of it beforehand, that Fred Preller provides that information on his 384th Bomb Group website in a very nice table of MACR and AR abbreviations.

And by the way, MACR stands for Missing Air Crew Report and AR stands for Accident Report.

Common WWII Military Abbreviations

 Abbreviation  Meaning
 ALW  Alive and well
 ASN  Army Serial Number
 DED  Missing and presumed (Declared) Dead, (Public Law 490)
 DL  Dead List
 DNB  Died, Non-Battle due to sickness or non-combat injury
 DOW  Died Of Wounds
 DOWRIA  Died Of Wounds Received In Action
 EUS  Evacuated to the United States
 EVD  Evaded (or escaped)
 FOD  Finding Of Death (same as DED)
 INT  Interned in neutral country
 IO  Initial Only, referring to a name
 KIA  Killed In Action
 KILD  Killed In Line of Duty
 KMAC  Killed, Mid Air Collision
 LWA  Lightly Wounded In Action
 MIA  Missing In Action
 NMI  No Middle Initial, referring to a name
 NOK  Next Of Kin
 POW  Prisoner Of War
 RMC  Returned to Military Control
 RTD  Returned To Duty
 SWA  Seriously Wounded in Action
 WIA  Wounded In Action

All of the above are from Fred’s list with the exception of KMAC, which I added as it pertains to the eight men aboard my dad’s B-17 who died in the mid-air collision on September 28, 1944.

In my search for the meaning of EUS, I did run across another very extensive list provided on the 416th Bomb Group’s website. (Scroll down to the MACR and AAR Crewmember Status table). You may not run into these abbreviations very often, but if there’s something you can’t find on Fred’s list, check the 416th’s. They actually present three different lists on the page:

  • Descriptions for some common WWII Acronyms, Abbreviations and Codes used by the 416th BG during WWII
  • MACR and AAR Crewmember Status
  • Enlisted and Officer Rank

The 416th’s list notes that the primary sources of their abbreviations list come from:

Hopefully, between these resources, most abbreviations we WWII researchers run across will be included, but I know not all will. I’m still looking for the meaning of CPF!

Links to Abbreviation Tables

Fred Preller’s 384th Bomb Group Site’s MACR and AR Explainer Table

416th Bomb Group Site’s Lexicon

Fold 3 Abbreviations

Aviation Archaeology Action Codes

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Winter 1940

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1940 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1940

January 1940

The antisemitic newspaper, Der Stürmer, quoted its publisher and prominent member of the Nazi party, Julius Streicher,

The time is near when a machine will go into motion which is going to prepare a grave for the world’s criminal – Judah – from which there will be no resurrection.

January 8, 1940

Butter, sugar, and bacon rationing began in Britain.

January 9, 1940

SS chief of Danzig and West Prussia, Richard Hildebrandt, told Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler that he instructed his troops to execute more than four thousand mentally ill Polish citizens.

The British ocean liner MV Dunbar Castle, with a crew of one hundred fifty and forty-eight passengers, hit a German mine and foundered off the English coast. The captain and two of the crew were killed, and two storekeepers were missing, but no other lives were lost.

January 16, 1940

Adolf Hitler issued orders to postpone his attack in the west until Spring.

January 21, 1940

The British destroyer HMS Exmouth was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Moray Firth. Capt. R. S. Benson, fifteen officers, and one hundred seventy-three crew were killed.

January 24, 1940

Chief of Nazi Gestapo Reinhard Heydrich was appointed to oversee the evacuation of all Jews from the Reich.

January 25, 1940

The Nazis selected the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) near Krakow, Poland for the site of a new concentration camp.

February 10, 1940

In Czechoslovakia, the Nazis prohibited Jewish-owned businesses from selling art, jewels, and precious metals, and forced the closure of Jewish-owned textile and leather shops.

February 12, 1940

The first German Jews were deported into occupied Poland.

Paper rationing began in Britain.

February 14, 1940

Britain declared it would outfit all merchant ships with guns.

February 15, 1940

Germany declared it would treat all British merchant ships as hostile combatants.

February 29, 1940

Food and gas rationing began in France.

March 7, 1940

The Cunard luxury ocean liner Queen Elizabeth safely reached New York after a harrowing crossing of the German U-boat infested Atlantic.

March 12, 1940

Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviets and ceded the northern shores of Lake Lagoda and the small Finnish coastline on the Arctic Sea to the Soviet Union. The cost of the Russian aggression which resulted in the treaty was 25,000 Finnish lives and nearly 70,000 Soviet lives. After the end of hostilities, a half million Finns left the Soviet-occupied territory.

Seventy-two of one thousand German Jews deported to Poland died during an eighteen hour march in a blizzard in Lublin, Poland.

March 14, 1940

Hermann Göring ordered all German citizens to relinquish all metals that could be turned into war materials.

March 16, 1940

The Nazis bombed the Scapa Flow (a body of water in the Orkney Islands) naval base near Scotland.

March 18, 1940

Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini met to discuss Italy’s entry into the war. They determined that Mussolini’s troops would attack France.

March 30, 1940

Japan established a Chinese puppet government controlled by Wang Ching-wei, a defector from the Nationalist cause, in Nanking. The US refused to recognize it.

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

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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

Loss of the MV Dunbar Castle

Loss of the HMS Exmouth

Most recent post from the series:

Fall 1939

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

How Many Airmen Made Up a B-17 Crew in WWII

Ask anyone how many airmen made up a B-17 crew in WWII, and you’ll likely get a response of ‘ten.’ The ten airmen on the crew would be,

  1. Pilot
  2. Co-pilot
  3. Navigator
  4. Bombardier
  5. Top turret gunner/Engineer
  6. Radio operator
  7. Ball turret gunner
  8. Tail gunner
  9. Right Waist/flexible gunner
  10. Left Waist/flexible gunner

When my dad was completing his crew training at the Ardmore Army Air Field in Ardmore, Oklahoma in the Spring of 1944, his crew – the John Oliver Buslee crew – trained as a crew of ten. They flew to England, delivering a new B-17 to the 8th Air Force, as a crew of ten. They were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group as a crew of ten.

But on the date of their first mission on August 4, 1944, the Buslee crew flew as a crew of nine. With a more experienced pilot lending a hand to pilot John Buslee, David Albrecht was bumped out of his co-pilot seat onto another crew, another B-17.

And, following a change in the makeup of B-17 air crews on combat missions out of England, only one waist gunner manned the waist guns of the plane. Buslee crew waist gunner Lenard Bryant was selected to fly that first mission, leaving my dad as the only member of his crew behind on the ground that day.

If Dad didn’t awaken when the rest of the enlisted men on his crew got that tap on the shoulder rousing them from sleep that morning, he probably awoke to find himself alone in his barracks.

What a letdown that must have been for my father that day, and a blow to his morale, to be the only man on his crew left out of the action. He got his chance the next day, August 5, 1944, and probably wished he had been grounded for that one, too. His ship, The Tremblin’ Gremlin, returned from Langenhagen, Germany with 106 flak holes, and the bombardier lost his life on that mission.

At that point in the war, American fighter planes were providing more protection to the formation from the German fighter planes, and waist gunners were deemed to be needed less to defend the formation. The radio operator was expected to man the left waist gun in time of need.

So, wondering at what point the group began flying missions with only one waist gunner, I looked it up in the 384th Bomb Group website’s mission database. On May 15, 1944, Mission 108, target NOBALL (V-1 Launch Site) of CROSSBOW (V-Weapons) in Mimoyecques, France, two waist gunners manned the waist, defending the ship. On the 384th’s next mission four days later on May 19, 1944, Mission 109, to an industrial target in Berlin, the waist held only one waist gunner on most of the ships.

When my dad and his crew of ten were training in Ardmore, the 384th had already changed their crew makeup on missions to be a crew of nine, with only one waist gunner. Of course, at the time Dad and his crewmates were in training on the B-17, they didn’t know if they would be assigned to the European theater or the Pacific theater. I don’t know if the number of B-17 crew members differed between the theaters, but to me, that’s one possible explanation as to why the military would keep training crews of ten and then reduce them to crews of nine before entering combat.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019