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.
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.
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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.
1st Lt., AC,
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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.
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