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WWII Timeline – Spring 1944

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at April – June 1944 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Spring 1944

April 5, 1944

Siegfried Lederer, a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau, escaped to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Terezin, Czechoslovakia where he warned the Elders of the Council about Auschwitz.

April 6, 1944

The Lyon (France) Gestapo, headed by Klaus Barbie, raided the Jewish children’s home at Izieu. The home was a refuge for children who had come to France to escape Nazi persecution. Fifty-one people were arrested during the raid and forty-four of them were children. They were all first sent to Drancy, and then were one of the last transports from France to Auschwitz. Only one survived.

April 7, 1944

Two days after Siegfried Lederer’s escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau, two more Jewish inmates, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, escaped and made it safely to Czechoslovakia. Vrba submitted a report to the Papal Nuncio in Slovakia which was forwarded to the Vatican, and received there in mid-June.

Paul Joseph Goebbels, German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda, took overall control of Berlin.

April 8, 1944

Soviet troops began an offensive to liberate Crimea.

April 14, 1944

A total of 5,200 Greek Jews were moved in the first transports of Jews from Athens, Greece to Auschwitz.

April 17, 1944

The Japanese began their last offensive in China, attacking U.S. air bases in eastern China.

April 22, 1944

In the Japanese theater, the Allies invaded Aitape and Hollandia in New Guinea.

April 28, 1944

German E-boats (the western Allies name for the fast German attack craft or fast boat, Schnellboot) attacked Allied forces training for D-Day at Slapton Sands, in Southwest England, killing more than 600 US Army and Navy personnel (1/3 the number killed on D-Day on Utah Beach).

May 1944

Nazi SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s agents secretly proposed to trade Jews for trucks, other commodities, or money to the western Allies.

May 8, 1944

Rudolf Höss of the Nazi SS returned to Auschwitz to oversee the extermination of Hungarian Jews on the order of Heinrich Himmler.

May 9, 1944

Soviet troops recaptured Sevastopol.

May 11, 1944

The Allies attacked the Gustav Line south of Rome.

May 12, 1944

The Germans surrendered to the Soviets in the Crimea.

May 15, 1944

The Germans withdrew to the Adolf Hitler Line in central Italy.

The Nazis began the deportation of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz. Eventually, 440,000 Hungarian Jews would be deported with two-thirds of those murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

May 16, 1944

Hungarian Jews arrived at Auschwitz. German-Austrian SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, arrived to personally oversee and hasten the extermination process. An estimated 100,000 Jews were gassed in the following eight days, by May 24. By the end of the month, May 31, the SS reported collecting 88 pounds of gold and white metal from the teeth of those gassed. By the end of June, half the Jews in Hungary (381,661 persons) had arrived at Auschwitz.

May 18, 1944

The Allies captured the town of Monte Cassino in the province of Frosinone, Italy after four months of battle and the cost of 20,000 lives.

May 19, 1944

Around fifty of the Stalag Luft III Allied POW underground tunnel escapees were executed. Almost all of those who escaped were recaptured, with about twenty returned to the camp to serve as a warning to other prisoners.

May 25, 1944

The Germans retreated from Anzio, on the coast of Italy, south of Rome.

May 26, 1944

Charles de Gaulle proclaimed his Free French movement to be the “Provisional Government of the French Republic.” The new government was recognized by Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, and Norway, but an infuriated Roosevelt and Churchill refused to recognize it and retaliated by excluding de Gaulle from the final planning for Operation Overlord (codename for the Battle of Normandy, which was launched on June 6, 1944 with the Normandy landings).

May 27, 1944

The Allies invaded Biak Island, New Guinea.

June 1944

The Nazis carefully prepared and “beautified” the Theresienstadt Ghetto (in Terezín located in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) and its Jewish inmates for a Red Cross delegation visit which resulted in a favorable report.

June 4, 1944

Allied troops liberated Rome, the first Axis capital to be liberated.

June 5, 1944

The first B-29 Superfortress combat mission was flown as seventy-seven planes bombed the Japanese Makasan railway yards in Bangkok, Thailand.

June 6, 1944

D-Day (Operation Overlord), the long-awaited Allied (Allied Expeditionary Force of British, American, Canadian, Polish, and Free French troops) invasion of Normandy, on the northern coast of France, began before dawn with naval and aerial bombardments. The British 6th Airborne Division landed near Caen, and 12,000 U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Division troops were dropped on the Cotentin peninsula overnight June 5/6.

The first wave followed when five divisions (156,115 men) landed at the Normandy beaches code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah.

Naval support for D-Day included 1,213 warships (including seven battleships and 23 cruisers), 1,600 auxiliary ships, and 4,126 landing craft. The British and American Air Forces flew 14,674 sorties that day.

Opposition included five German infantry divisions with about 50,000 men, 100 tanks, and assault guns in bunkers and on the beaches.

The Americans on Omaha Beach suffered especially heavy casualties, but the surprised Germans were overwhelmed and most of the allied objectives were reached and secured by nightfall. The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and Navy Kriegsmarine provided very little opposition.

June 7, 1944

British troops liberated Bayeux, five miles inland from the Normandy coast. All beachheads were reported established.

June 9, 1944

The Soviet offensive against the Finnish front began.

June 10, 1944

The Nazis massacred the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, population 652, in France. A Nazi SS Division (Das Reich) surrounded the village and ordered everyone to gather in the town square. The Nazi commandant accused them of hiding explosives and announced a search and check of identity papers.

The men were locked in barns and the women and children were locked in the church. The men were executed with machine guns. The Nazis then set fire to the entire village, including the barns and church, to cover up the massacre, burning the few male survivors in the barn, and the women and children in the church, alive. A total of 642 townspeople – 245 women, 207 children, and 190 men – were slaughtered. A few men in the barn and a few townspeople who were not in the town at the time of the massacre survived.

The village of Oradour-sur-Glane was never rebuilt, and still stands as a silent monument to Nazi atrocities.

June 12, 1944

Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Eastern Occupied Territories, ordered the kidnapping of 40,000 Polish children aged ten to fourteen during the “Heuaktion” (Hay Action). They were first imprisoned in a camp in Poland and then transferred to Germany to be used as slave laborers in the Reich.

June 13, 1944

One week after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the first German V-1 rocket (“buzz bomb”) raid on Great Britain was launched against London. The ‘V’ stood for the German word Vergeltungswaffen, meaning weapons of reprisal. The British nicknamed them “buzz bombs” due to the distinct buzzing sound made by the pulse-jet engines powering the bombs.

Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger directed the development of the V-1, which resembled a small aircraft, by German scientists at the Peenemünde research facility on the Baltic Sea.

After launch from a short-length catapult, the bomb then climbed to about 3,000 feet at speeds up to 350 miles per hour. As it approached its target, the buzzing of the V-1 could be heard on the ground. Then the engine would cut out and in a moment of silence, the bomb plunged toward the ground, ending with the explosion of the 1,870 pound warhead.

During this first V-1 bombing campaign, up to 100 V-1’s fell every hour on London. Over the next eighty days, more than 6,000 people were killed, over 17,000 injured, and a million buildings destroyed or damaged.

V-1 bombing raids occurred constantly at all times of day and night, and in all types of weather, terrorizing the populations of London and parts of Kent and Sussex.

According to German records, of the 8,564 V-1’s launched against England and the port of Antwerp, Belgium, about 57 percent hit their targets. Anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons, and fighter planes intercepted the remainder.

Using mainly slave labor at the huge underground V-1 factory near Nordhausen, the Germans built over 29,000 V-1 bombs. In Operation Crossbow, nearly 2,000 Allied airmen were killed in bombing raids against V-1 launch sites and factories.

June 15, 1944

The U.S. Marines invaded Saipan in the Mariana Islands.

June 15/16, 1944

The first bombing raid on Japan since the Doolittle raid of April 1942 was carried out with forty-seven B-29’s based in Bengel, India, targeting the steel works at Yawata, Japan.

June 18 – 22, 1944

The “Auschwitz Report,” written by Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, the two Slovak Jewish prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944, went public worldwide through media channels in Switzerland.

June 19 – 20, 1944

American aircraft carrier-based fighters shot down 220 Japanese planes in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, nicknamed the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” by American aviators. Only twenty American planes were lost.

June 22, 1944

The Soviets launched a massive offensive in eastern Byelorussia (Belarus). They destroyed the German Army Group Center and by August 1, drove westward to the Vistula River across from Warsaw in central Poland.

Operation Bagration (the Soviet summer offensive) began.

June 27, 1944

U.S. troops liberated Cherbourg, France.

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.

Escape from Auschwitz

German E-boat

Hitler Line

Theresienstadt Ghetto

Oradour-sur-Glane

Most recent post from the series:

Winter 1944

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

 

Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 1 of 3

Continuation of my post from two weeks ago, Gremlins.

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner on a B-17 crew in WWII. He was a member of the John Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England. On their sixteenth mission, their ship, 43‑37822, was knocked down by the ship of the James Brodie crew, 42‑31222, nicknamed Lazy Daisy, in a mid-air collision. Three men survived on Lazy Daisy, but my dad was the sole survivor of 43-37822.

Although Dad always recounted that Lazy Daisy had been hit by flak before the collision, I am not certain that is the only reason she veered out of formation and into his ship. I decided to research the complete mission record of Lazy Daisy to determine if something in her maintenance history pointed to any specific problems (aka gremlins) with the ship.

I found plenty of issues and developed lots of theories about Lazy Daisy and her gremlins, but before I delve into the depths of the 384th Bomb Group’s mission reports and the failures that plagued Lazy Daisy, I want to back up for a bit and review something I found late in my research.

A pilot of the 546th Bomb Squadron named Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor began his career with the 384th Bomb Group as a co-pilot. His first mission commanding his own ship as pilot was his sixteenth credited mission. On his seventeenth, he was given Lazy Daisy as “his ship,” so I assume he was the one who named her. Taylor piloted Lazy Daisy on her very first mission on December 5, 1943, which by the way he aborted due to engine problems – but I’ll get to that in due course.

In this photo, Sidney Taylor is standing second from left. The aircraft is ID’d as likely being Lazy Daisy.

Back L-R: Lt. James Miller (CP), Lt. Sidney Taylor (P), Lt. Albert Rymer (B), Lt. Robert Chapin (N)
Front L-R: Murray Stamm (RO)?, unidentified 1, unidentified 2, unidentified 3, unidentified 4, unidentified 5
To Be Identified: Virgil Wallace (TT), George Stropek (BT), Lorin Schekel (TG), Sidney Ukrain (FG), Robert Drennan (FG)
Aircraft: Probably B-17G 546th BS 42-31222 BK*D Lazy Daisy; James Flynn crew chief
Courtesy of 384th Bomb Group photo gallery

As I said, late in my research I stumbled across something I found very interesting. It was a very in-depth pilot narrative that Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor wrote following his first mission as pilot on November 29, 1943. He and his crew were aboard B-17G 42-37781 Silver Dollar. It was Silver Dollar’s first mission, so maybe she was supposed to be Taylor’s ship, but after the mission, she was out of commission for three weeks, so on his next mission, he was assigned Lazy Daisy.

Taylor only had nine missions left to complete his tour of twenty-five and he completed six of those, including his twenty-fifth and last mission, piloting Lazy Daisy. By the time he left Grafton Underwood for home, he knew Lazy Daisy’s gremlins well.

The reason I want to share Taylor’s narrative of the November 29, 1943 mission is that it points out so well two of the most dangerous “enemies” that airmen of WWII had to go up against. When you think of the men going into battle in the air, you likely think of the barrage of flak they had aimed at them or the enemy fighter jets who tried to bring them down, and the damage to the aircraft caused by these enemy actions.

But there were three other things that the crews had to contend with that could be just as deadly. Two of those things were the bitter cold and the lack of oxygen at high altitude. I’ll get to number three later. Sidney Taylor and his new crew had to contend with both cold and oxygen issues on their first mission together.

Like you, I understand the problems, but I never really comprehended the seriousness of these challenges until I read Taylor’s narrative. So I want to include Taylor’s words and the words of others from that November 29, 1943 mission to Bremen, Germany to bring the point home.

The mission was the 384th Bomb Group’s Number 38, the 8th Air Force’s Number 143. The target was the sea port and submarine building base at Bremen, Germany. The mission was led by Col. Dale O. Smith, the thirty-two year old commanding officer of the 384th. In post-mission summary reports, I read their descriptions of what that mission was like,

  • The new enemy to contend with was the intense cold, which they all agreed bothered them much more than the flak or the enemy fighter opposition.
  • Co-pilot Lt. Francis J. Witt, Jr:  “I won’t thaw out for six months. It was cold, bitter cold – about 55 below. I’ve never been so cold in my life.”
  • Pilot Darwin G. Nelson: “The flak and fighters didn’t annoy us half as much as that penetrating cold. They used to say it was cold back home in Minnesota, but that was mid-July weather compared to what we went through today on that long ride to Bremen.”
  • Several of the fliers were overcome due to a combination of the cold and frozen oxygen system. However, they were all revived and were none the worse for their experience. [Lt. Taylor had landed away at Coltishall, so his crew’s experience was not recorded in Grafton Underwood at the time of the post-mission briefing.]
  • Vernon Herman Kaufman, ball turret gunner of the Earl Allison crew, was overcome, but rescued by the crew’s top turret gunner and placed in the radio room where he was revived.

Lt. Taylor, as you’ll read below, didn’t make it back to Grafton Underwood that day with the formation on his first mission as pilot, so the summary report didn’t include his comments or experience. He did, however, pen a very detailed account of what happened aboard his ship. Please consider this an educational opportunity into what B-17 air crews experienced during WWII and what we can learn about the man who first took Lazy Daisy into combat as his ship.

* * * * *

Narrative by Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor, pilot, A/C 7781, mission to Breman, Germany, 29 NOVEMBER, 1943.

We were flying as briefed with the formation until we crossed the English coast on the return journey. We flew at 1,500 feet from assembly until we crossed the English coast going out, at which point we began our climb. The rate of climb was as briefed to 27,800 feet, which was 800 feet higher than the altitude for which we were originally briefed, but which was necessary because of the clouds. Before reaching the enemy coast we began to have slight difficulty with certain members of the crew because of the extreme cold. The Left Waist Gunner’s eyes froze and he thawed them out on several occasions. After each thawing they froze immediately again.

As we approached the I.P. we saw several wide concentrations of flak ahead of us and around the wing that preceded us. We flew over what we presumed to be the target. The target was obscured by clouds so it was impossible for us to be sure where we were, and in that area we were subjected to moderate flak, which was fairly accurate; not extremely accurate, but not wild. Our ship suffered minor damage from flak at that point. The damage consisted of a hole in the bomb-bay doors; the door covering the camera well was blown open and up into the radio compartment, and the magento harness on No. 3 engine was torn by a piece of flak. The ship operated all right after that damage. It was not affected at all. We then circled what we presumed to be the target area and on passing over the area again all of our bombs were released along with the rest of our Group. Because of the clouds bombing results were unobserved.

About the time that bombs were away our left aileron control cables were shot away, and we did not see the plane that attacked us. It came from the rear and I do not think that it attacked our ship specifically. I think it attacked ships behind us, but one bullet hit us and cut our control cables on the left aileron. That resulted in our being thrown out of the formation, because we could not control the ship. While out of the formation we were not subjected to any attacks. We regained control of the ship and brought it back into formation in the position which we had formerly occupied. We then had a head-on attack, and, chronologically, it was just after we got into formation, by FW 190, the color of which was brown, and I think it had a white spinner with a ring around it, but I am not sure. That ship made a pass at us from 12 o’clock, level, and broke away below our ship. As it broke away it attacked our low Group.

About the time we had reached the I.P. the Pilot [Taylor, referring to himself] was informed by the Right Waist Gunner that the Ball Turret Gunner’s oxygen supply was at 100 lbs. pressure. The pressure in the Ball Turret dropped rather rapidly, and we were unable to refill it. The refiller nipple on the Ball Turret oxygen supply was broken. The Pilot then instructed the Right Waist Gunner to assist the Ball Turret Gunner in getting out of the Ball Turret. The Ball Turret Gunner personally informed the Pilot that he would get out. About 15 minutes later the Co-Pilot checked to be sure that the Ball Turret Gunner was all right and had gotten out. At that time we were informed by the Right Waist Gunner that the Ball Turret Gunner was in extreme difficulty and that they were unable to get him out of the Ball Turret. After repeated efforts by both Waist Gunners and the Radio Gunner to get the man out of the Ball Turret, the Pilot was informed that it was impossible to get him out and that they believed that he was dead. During this time the Left Waist Gunner was suffering from seriously frozen hands and face and feet, and also was irrational probably as a result of anoxia. The Pilot instructed the Right Waist Gunner to administer artificial respiration to the Ball Turret Gunner. This was done intermittently, and all together for not over five (5) minutes. About the time that we crossed the enemy coast on the way out the Pilot was informed that it was reasonably certain that the Ball Turret Gunner was dead. At this time both the Pilot’s and Co-Pilot’s oxygen system registered only 100 lbs. each.

As soon as I felt sure that we were clear of the Frisian Islands we left the formation and descended through breaks in heavy cumulus clouds to 800 feet.

From the time we reached an altitude of approximately 26,000 feet until we descended to about 12,000 feet, the Navigator was in a semi-conscious condition and unable to use either arm. By the time that we had reached an altitude of 800 feet on the return journey, the Navigator had completely recovered, and by means of radio fixes we determined our approximate position. At this point, even though I had every reason to believe that we would safely make England, I instructed the Radio Operator to send an S.O.S. on the MF/DF frequency, which he did. Also the emergency IFF was turned on. Having determined our approximate position, a course was plotted by the Navigator, and we took up a Mag. heading of 281°, which we held until we hit the English coast. As we flew over the North Sea we passed immediately over one 50-foot Air/Sea Rescue Launch, which flashed something on the Aldis Lamp. We were unable to read the message on the Aldis Lamp due to the fact that we were passing over him so rapidly and were so low. However, we presumed that he challenged us with the challenge of the day. We made no reply to his challenge because we were out of range so fast.

As we flew at an altitude of 800 to 1,000 feet we came upon another B-17 flying at approximately the same altitude and on approximately the same course. That B-17 apparently followed us in, for it was obvious that he began flying on us.

We reached the coast four or five miles east of Cromer. By that time it was about 5:15 [PM English time], and a combination of darkness and extremely poor visibility made navigation difficult. Our gasoline supply was low, but not dangerously low. About two or three minutes after we crossed the coast a searchlight was turned on almost directly beneath us and directed us to a field which was about 10 miles away. The name of the field was Coltishall, an R.A.F Interceptor Station. When we reached the field we contacted the Tower on command set 6440. The field lights were turned on and we landed safely.

After we had landed we discovered that Colonel Smith and Captain Algar [both aboard A/C 42-30026 Battlewagon], who had been leading the Group, had landed immediately before us.

We examined the dead man and his equipment and found that he had vomited in the Ball Turret, in his oxygen mask, and on the floor of the ship as he was being removed from the Turret. The vomit was filled with blood. Both Waist Gunners suffered from frostbite and nervous shock and were removed to a U.S. Hospital at Wynondham. The body of the Ball Turret Gunner was kept for two (2) days at Coltishall. The following day the Assistant Engineering Officer of the 546th Squadron arrived with a crew of workmen and began repairing Captain Algar’s ship and my ship. The second day after we landed Captain Algar’s ship was in condition to fly and he flew home. The following afternoon our ship was ready, and we flew home.

The two Waist Gunners are still in the hospital at Wynondham, and the body of the Ball Turret Gunner was removed from Coltishall by Captain Foley.

S.P. Taylor,
1st Lt., AC,
Pilot,
A/C 7781

* * * * *

Author’s Notes

Taylor’s crew members on the 29 NOV 1943 mission to Bremen were,

  • Robert J. Conn, waist gunner. This was Conn’s only mission with the 384th Bomb Group. He did not return to duty with the 384th after his hospitalization following the 29 NOV 1943 mission.
  • Sidney Charles Ukrain, waist gunner. This was Ukrain’s first mission with the 384th Bomb Group. He went on to complete his tour with the group after 31 missions.
  • Joseph Albert Kuspa, ball turret gunner. Kuspa was born Jan 27, 1921 and was from New Carlisle, Indiana. He died on this mission, November 29, 1943. This was his first and only mission with the 384th Bomb Group. He is buried at the Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England, Plot F Row 2 Grave 50.

The Taylor crew endured both flak and German fighters on the 29 NOV 1943 mission, but it was the cold and (likely cold-induced) problems with the oxygen system that proved deadly.

And for that third problem I mentioned earlier that air crews had to contend with, by now I imagine you know I’ll soon be showing you how these mighty aircraft and their crews could be brought down out of the sky by mechanical failures, the dreaded gremlins.

Sources

Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor, 384th Bomb Group Personnel Record

Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor, 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery

American Air Museum in Britain: Sidney Taylor

Stay tuned for Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor’s and other pilots’ of the 384th Bomb Group’s trouble with Lazy Daisy’s gremlins…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

WWII Timeline – Winter 1944

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1944 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1944

January 6, 1944

Soviet troops reached the Polish border and advanced into Poland.

January 9, 1944

British and Indian troops recaptured Maungdaw in Burma.

January 17, 1944

The Allies launched their first attack against the Nazis at Cassino, Italy.

January 22, 1944

The U.S. Fifth Army successfully landed two divisions at Anzio in Italy, 30 miles south of Rome.

January 24, 1944

American president Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board to help Jews under Nazi control. His action was due to political pressure.

January 25, 1944

German politician and lawyer, Hans Frank, who served as Gauleiter (a regional party leader or Governor General) of Poland, recorded on this day in his diary,

At the present time we still have in the General Government perhaps 100,000 Jews.

Frank, who at one time was personal legal adviser to Adolf Hitler, was referencing the fate of the 2.5 million Jews originally under his jurisdiction. After the war, Frank was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. He was executed on October 16, 1946.

January 27, 1944

The German siege of Leningrad ended after nearly 900 days, since July 8, 1941. Soviet soldiers broke through the German line of defense and recaptured hundreds of towns and villages in the region of Leningrad. Estimates of hundreds of thousands to more than one million civilians are thought to have starved to death in the city during that time.

January 31, 1944

American troops invaded Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.

February 1944

Nazi SS leader Adolf Eichmann visited Auschwitz.

February 1-7, 1944

American troops captured Kwajalein and Majura Atolls in the Marshall Islands.

February 15, 1944

Due to an error in translation, the Allies bombed and destroyed the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy.

February 16, 1944

On orders of German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the Nazis carried out a counterattack against the Allied beachhead at Anzio, Italy.

February 17/18, 1944

American aircraft carrier-based planes destroyed the Japanese naval base at Truk in the Caroline Islands.

February 20, 1944

American aircraft carrier-based and land-based planes destroyed the Japanese base at Rabaul.

February 20-25, 1944

During “Big Week,” the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and British Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command carried out a joint bombing campaign in a sequence of raids against Nazi Germany. The 384th Bomb Group of the 8th AF participated daily in missions against,

  • Aircraft Industry in Leipzig, Germany
  • Junkers Aircraft Plant & Airfield, Aircraft Industry in Bernburg, Germany
  • Fighter Field & Aircraft Storage Depot, German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in Werl, Germany
  • Aircraft Factory, Aircraft Industry in Halberstadt, Germany
  • Aircraft Factory, Aircraft Industry in Aschersleben, Germany
  • Ball-Bearing Plant, Bearings Industry in Schweinfurt, Germany
  • Aircraft Assembly Plant, Aircraft Industry in Augsburg, Germany
  • Ball Bearing Plant, Bearings Industry in Stuttgart, Germany

February 23, 1944

American aircraft carrier-based planes attacked the Mariana Islands.

February 24, 1944

Merrill’s “Marauders” (U.S. 5307th Composite Unit, also known as Unit Galahad) began their ground campaign into northern Burma. The unit was named for US Army General Frank Merrill. 

March 4, 1944

The Allies bombed Berlin in the first major daylight bombing raid of WWII on Berlin. The mission was originally scheduled for the day before, March 3, but the 8th Air Force recalled it after entering enemy airspace, due to a fuel shortage caused by unexpected maneuvering necessitated by the weather.

Soviet troops began a major offensive along the Belorussian front.

Merrill’s “Marauders” fought their first major action in Burma.

March 5, 1944

British army officer General Orde Wingate’s groups began operations behind the Japanese lines in Burma.

March 15, 1944

The second Allied attempt to capture Monte Cassino, Italy began.

The Japanese began an offensive toward Imphal and Kohima in northeast India.

March 18, 1944

In an air raid, the British dropped 3000 tons of bombs on Hamburg, Germany.

March 19, 1944

Believing Hungary, with its Jewish population of 725,000, intended to leave the Axis, Adolf Eichmann arrived with his Gestapo “Special Section Commandos.” The Nazis occupied Hungary and forced Admiral Miklos Horthy, the regent, to appoint a pro-German minister president, General Dome Sztojay.

March 24, 1944

British army officer General Orde Wingate flew to assess the situations in three Chindit-held bases in Burma and on the return flight the USAAF B-25 Mitchell bomber on which he was flying crashed in India. He and nine others died.

Overnight March 24/25, seventy-six Allied airmen escaped German POW camp Stalag Luft III through an underground tunnel.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a statement condemning both German and Japanese ongoing “crimes against humanity.”

The United Nations are fighting to make a world in which tyranny and aggression cannot exist; a world based upon freedom, equality, and justice; a world in which all persons regardless of race, color, or creed may live in peace, honor, and dignity.

In the meantime in most of Europe and in parts of Asia the systematic torture and murder of civilians — men, women, and children — by the Nazis and the Japanese continue unabated. In areas subjugated by the aggressors, innocent Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Dutch, Danes, French, Greeks, Russians, Chinese, Filipinos — and many others — are being starved or frozen to death or murdered in cold blood in a campaign of savagery.

The slaughters of Warsaw, Lidice, Kharkov, and Nanking — the brutal torture and murder by the Japanese, not only of civilians but of our own gallant American soldiers and fliers — these are startling examples of what goes on day by day, year in and year out, wherever the Nazis and the Japs are in military control — free to follow their barbaric purpose.

In one of the blackest crimes of all history — begun by the Nazis in the day of peace and multiplied by them a hundred times in time of war — the wholesale systematic murder of the Jews of Europe goes on unabated every hour. As a result of the events of the last few days hundreds of thousands of Jews, who while living under persecution have at least found a haven from death in Hungary and the Balkans, are now threatened with annihilation as Hitler’s forces descend more heavily upon these lands. That these innocent people, who have already survived a decade of Hitler’s fury, should perish on the very eve of triumph over the barbarism which their persecution symbolizes would be a major tragedy.

It is therefore fitting that we should again proclaim our determination that none who participate in these acts of savagery shall go unpunished. The United Nations have made it clear that they will pursue the guilty and deliver them up in order that justice be done. That warning applies not only to the leaders but also to their functionaries and subordinates in Germany and in the satellite countries. All who knowingly take part in the deportation of Jews to their death in Poland or Norwegians and French to their death in Germany are equally guilty with the executioner. All who share the guilt shall share the punishment.

Hitler is committing these crimes against humanity in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere under Nazi domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide these pursued victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what he can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch, and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.

In the meantime, and until the victory that is now assured is won, the United States will persevere in its efforts to rescue the victims of brutality of the Nazis and the Japs. Insofar as the necessity of military operations permit, this government will use all means at its command to aid the escape of all intended victims of the Nazi and Jap executioner — regardless of race or religion or color. We call upon the free peoples of Europe and Asia temporarily to open their frontiers to all victims of oppression. We shall find havens of refuge for them, and we shall find the means for their maintenance and support until the tyrant is driven from their homelands and they may return.

In the name of justice and humanity let all freedom-loving people rally to this righteous undertaking.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt – March 24, 1944

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.

Hans Frank

The 900-day Siege of Leningrad

The Bombing of Monte Cassino

8th AF Mission of March 3, 1944

384th Bomb Group Mission List, 1944

Stalag Luft III

Most recent post from the series:

Fall 1943

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

Gremlins

Thousands of feet above the earth, in the deep cold of high altitude and the silence of nothingness, save for the rush of the wind against man’s warbirds with their thundering engines, the childhood monsters emerged from the closet and the beasts arose from under the bed.

Sounds like the start of a horror movie, doesn’t it? In a way it was.

Long ago, in times of war, at high altitude, the creatures who evolved from these closet-monsters and under-bed-beasts became legend and were called gremlins.

Gremlins were maniacal creatures who were masters of technology and machinery with a propensity to create all manner of aircraft malfunctions.

I was familiar with the name “gremlin” from a young age from my father’s WWII tales of his B-17 nicknamed Tremblin’ Gremlin, but I never really considered the significance of the little creatures and how they were viewed by pilots until I ran across an entry about “The Mythical ‘Gremlins’” in my World War II Chronicle book. It read,

Faced with unexpected and seemingly inexplicable mechanical problems during WWII, RAF pilots added a supernatural, gnome-like creature to world folklore: the “gremlin.” Perhaps more than semi-seriously, pilots discussed gremlins, their mischievous expertise, and methods of placating and controlling them. Gremlins were nothing but a myth. But … they were said to often ride on wings, sometimes manipulating ailerons to tip the plane.

Riding on wings? Manipulating ailersons to tip the plane? That really struck a note with me because I had been immersed in researching the mechanical problems of the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17 Lazy Daisy, the B-17 that collided with my dad’s on September 28, 1944.

While reviewing mechanical issue after mechanical issue in the mission reports of that aircraft, I was leaning toward the thought that had B-17’s been covered by the lemon law in 1944, the 8th Air Force would have been due a refund for that ship.

But now, here was a better explanation than that the aircraft was a little too prone to mechanical problems. Lazy Daisy must have had a massive infestation of gremlins. And those gremlins may have boarded the plane in America, before she made her hop across the pond to England, because she experienced engine problems from her very first mission.

I’ll get to the Lazy Daisy’s specific problems in a follow-up post in a couple of weeks, but my research into gremlins made for such interesting reading, I wanted to learn more about them.

I learned that, contrary to the information in my World War II Chronicle book, it seems gremlins existed long before WWII. The British newspaper The Spectator reported,

The old Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and the newly constituted Royal Air Force in 1918 appear to have detected the existence of a horde of mysterious and malicious sprites whose whole purpose in life was…to bring about as many as possible of the inexplicable mishaps which, in those days as now, trouble an airman’s life.

In 1923, a British pilot who crashed his plane into the sea blamed gremlins who followed him aboard, sabotaged the engine, and messed with the controls, causing the crash.

The story spread over the years among pilots, many of whom had their own gremlin encounters. Still pre-WWII, author and aviator Pauline Gover in her 1938 novel The ATA: Women with Wings, declared Scotland to be “gremlin country,” where the creatures liked to create havoc by cutting the wires of aircraft.

With the high-altitude flying of WWII came more reports of gremlins when something unexplainable went wrong, but most of these reports were written off as stress of combat, products of the imagination, or hallucinations of pilots flying at high altitude due to lack of adequate pressurization.

During WWII, the British Royal Air Force’s high-altitude Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU) flew perilous photographic missions in the bitter cold over enemy territory. These pilots regularly saw and blamed gremlins for all sorts of mechanical problems. Somehow, the mechanical issues would be gone as soon as the aircraft landed and the gremlins departed.

During the Battle of Britain in the summer and fall of 1940, so many pilots reported gremlin activity that the British Air Ministry acknowledged the problem and attempted to investigate. The Ministry tasked “Gremlorist” Percy Prune, a pilot officer, to write an official document. Prune’s resulting service manual listed the creature’s various known exploits, instructed airmen how to placate and distract them, and offered ways to avoid accidents by suggesting the airmen take care not to display behaviors of bravado, arrogance, or over-confidence, which were thought attractive to the creatures.

Posters and bulletins were also created which often included the following poem,

This is the tale of the Gremlins
As told by the PRU
At Benson and Wick and St Eval-
And believe me, you slobs, it’s true.
When you’re seven miles up in the heavens,
(That’s a hell of a lonely spot)
And it’s fifty degrees below zero,
Which isn’t exactly hot.
When you’re frozen blue like your Spitfire,
And you’re scared a Mosquito pink.
When you’re thousands of miles from nowhere,
And there’s nothing below but the drink.
It’s then that you’ll see the Gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter,
Gremlins both young and old.
It’s no good trying to dodge them,
The lessons you learnt on the Link
Won’t help you evade a Gremlin,
Though you boost and you dive and you jink.
White one’s will wiggle your wing tips,
Male one’s will muddle your maps,
Green one’s will guzzle your glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps.
Pink one’s will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop,
There’s a spherical middle-aged Gremlin,
Who’ll spin on your stick like a top.
They’ll freeze up your camera shutters,
They’ll bite through your aileron wires,
They’ll bend and they’ll break and they’ll batter,
They’ll insert toasting forks into your tyres.
And that is the tale of the Gremlins,
As told by the PRU,
(P)retty (R)uddy (U)nlikely to many,
But a fact, none the less, to the few.
~Author unknown

Gremlins became even more well known when Roald Dahl, an airman in the 80 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force, who years earlier experienced an accidental crash landing in North Africa, published his first children’s novel, The Gremlins,  in 1943.

The gremlins plagued not only the British. They were reported by Axis as well as Allied airmen. Dad’s B-17, Tremblin’ Gremlin was not the only B-17 in WWII named after the mischievous creatures.

According to Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log (Fortlog), the names of twenty-five B-17’s in WWII included “Gremlin” in their nickname. See for yourself by following the link to the Fortlog in the Sources section below. And if you want to read more and see illustrations and various descriptions of gremlins, sources for doing so are also included below.

The airmen who claim to have seen or been the victims of gremlins insist they were very real, they were no figment of the imagination. After reading the pilot narratives of the mechanical failings of Lazy Daisy, from her first mission all the way through to her next-to-last, even though no gremlins were mentioned in those reports, I believe that the ship was infested with them. I believe gremlins took every opportunity to bring down that ship. And I believe that on September 28, 1944, they finally succeeded.

Stay tuned and in a couple of weeks, perhaps you’ll believe in gremlins, too.

Sources

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

The Vintage News

Wikipedia

Mysterious Universe

National D-Day Memorial

Shoe: Untied blog

Historynet

Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log (Fortlog)

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

WWII Timeline – Fall 1943

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1943 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1943

October 1943

The Danish Underground movement transported over 7,200 Danish Jews to safety in Sweden by sea.

October 1, 1943

The Allies entered Naples, Italy.

October 4, 1943

Heinrich Himmler, who was appointed chief of the German Police (SS) in 1936, delivered a speech about the “Final Solution” to SS Group leaders at Posen, saying in part,

…It is one of those things which is easy to say. ‘The Jewish race is to be exterminated,’ says every party member. ‘That’s clear, it’s part of our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, right, we’ll do it.’ And then they all come along, the eighty million good Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are swine, but this one is a first-class Jew. Of all those who talk like this, not one has watched, not one has stood up to it. Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet – apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness – to have remained decent fellows, this is what has made us hard.

We have taken from them what wealth they had. I have issued a strict order, which SS-Obergruppenführer Pohl has carried out, that this wealth should, as a matter of course, be handed over to the Reich without reserve.

We had the moral right, we had the duty to our people, to destroy this people which wanted to destroy us. Altogether, however, we can say that we have fulfilled this most difficult duty for the love of our people. And our spirit, our soul, our character has not suffered injury from it.

October 7, 1943

The Japanese executed approximately one hundred American POW’s on Wake Island.

October 13, 1943

Italy declared war on Germany.

October 14, 1943

Jews and Soviet POW’s broke out of the Sobibor extermination camp. At the time, three hundred made it into the woods, but only fifty of those would survive. Afterwards, exterminations at Sobibor ceased, but over 250,000 had already been murdered. All traces of the camp were removed and trees were planted.

The second American air raid on Schweinfurt was carried out at the culmination of seven days of intense Allied bombing. More than 3,000 Airmen took part in 8th AF Mission 115/384th Bomb Group Mission 32. The mission, also known as Black Thursday, was to destroy Schweinfurt’s ball bearings factory.

According to the Mission Comments on 384thBombGroup.com,

The 384th Bombardment Group (H) put up three squadrons on today’s mission. However, six aircraft aborted, reducing the number that bombed the primary target. A further six aircraft were knocked out by enemy action. An all-too-familiar situation faced the returning crews – bad weather over East Anglia. Three Aircraft were lost when the crews, unable to locate a suitable place to land in England, bailed out and abandoned them, while most of the remainder landed at other airfields.

October 16, 1943

Jews were rounded up in Rome, Italy, with over one thousand sent to Auschwitz.

October 25, 1943

The Japanese opened the Burma-Siam railway, also known as the Death Railway. It was 258 miles (415 km) long and ran between Ban Pong, Thailand and Thanbyuzayat, Burma. It was built to support the Japanese Empire forces in the Burma Campaign of WWII. The railroad was built with Southeast Asian civilian laborers and about 61,000 forced Allied POW laborers. It was called the Death Railway because about 90,000 civilian and 12,000 Allied prisoner laborers died during the construction.

October 26, 1943

Japanese Emperor Hirohito stated that the United States was “rising from its defeat” at the beginning of the war and that Japan’s military situation was now “truly grave.”

November 1943

The Riga, Latvia Ghetto was liquidated.

The U.S. Congress held hearings regarding the U.S. State Department’s inaction regarding European Jews despite the many reports of mass extermination.

November 1, 1943

U.S. Marines invaded Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

November 1-2, 1943

A naval battle (which was a result of Allied landings on Bougainville), called the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, also known as Operation Cherry Blossom, was fought near the island of Bougainville in Empress Augusta Bay in the Soloman Islands.

November 3-4, 1943

The Nazis (the SS, the Order Police battalions, and the Ukrainian Sonderdienst) murdered 42,000 to 43,000 Jews at the Majdanek, Poniatowa and Trawniki concentration camps in occupied Poland during Operation Harvest Festival.

November 4, 1943

The Nazi newspaper, Der Stürmer, published by Julius Streicher, reported,

It is actually true that the Jews have, so to speak, disappeared from Europe and that the Jewish ‘Reservoir of the East’ from which the Jewish pestilence has for centuries beset the peoples of Europe has ceased to exist. But the Führer of the German people at the beginning of the war prophesied what has now come to pass.

The U.S. began to manufacture plutonium at a reactor facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

November 6, 1943

Soviet troops recaptured Kiev in the Ukraine.

November 11, 1943

Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Höss was promoted to chief inspector of concentration camps. The new Kommandant, Arthur Liebehenschel, divided up the Auschwitz complex of over 30 sub-camps into three main sections.

November 15, 1943

Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered all Roma people (often referred to as Gypsies) in Germany to be deported to concentration or death camps.

November 18/19, 1943

The first British Bomber Command air raid in the Battle of Berlin was carried out overnight. The RAF attacked Berlin with 440 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers and four de Havilland Mosquitos. Due to heavy cloud cover the damage was not severe.

November 20, 1943

U.S. troops invaded Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.

November 22 – 26, 1943

American President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Churchill, and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek met in Eqypt for the Cairo Conference to discuss strategy for the Burma front. They outlined the Allied position against Japan and announced that all areas seized by Japan since 1894 would be returned to the former owners.

November 23, 1943

Japanese resistance ended on Makin and Tarawa.

November 28 – December 1, 1943

The Big Three – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin – met at the Tehran Conference in Tehran, Iran.  Topics during the four-day conference included:

  • Confirmation of the decision for the U.S. and Britain to invade Western Europe (a “Second Front”) in the Spring of 1944
  • Plans for the invasion of Southern France
  • A promise by Stalin to join in the war against Japan when Germany was defeated

December 2, 1943

The first transport of Jews from Vienna arrived at Auschwitz.

December 12, 1943

Adolf Hitler sent Nazi General Erwin Rommel (the “Desert Fox”) to mobilize forces along the French coast at Normandy to defend against the anticipated Allied invasion.

December 15, 1943

American troops landed on the Arawe Peninsula of New Britain in the Solomon Islands.

December 16, 1943

The chief surgeon at Auschwitz reported the completion of 106 castration operations.

December 17, 1943

President Roosevelt signed the Magnuson Act in gratitude for Chinese assistance in the Pacific Theater. The Magnuson Act repealed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and allowed for limited Chinese immigration to the United States.

December 24, 1943

Allied commanders of the “Second Front” were announced: American General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force and British General Sir Bernard Montgomery as the Commander-in-Chief of the 21st Army Group.

December 24-26, 1943

The Soviets launched offensives on the Ukrainian front.

December 26, 1943

1st Division Marines invaded Cape Gloucester in a full Allied assault on New Britain in the Solomon Islands.

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.

Heinrich Himmler’s Speech at Posen

384th Bomb Group: Second Schweinfurt Raid/Black Thursday

Wikipedia: Magnuson Act

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1943

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020