I have previously written about my dad’s time as a POW during WWII, both during his confinement in Stalag Luft IV and during his 86-day march across Poland and Germany to his liberation. The 500-plus mile march started on February 6, 1945, and for my dad, George Edwin Farrar, ended on May 2, 1945.
On the morning of May 2, 1945, Day 86 of the march, the prisoners’ morning started as usual, awakening early, with some prisoners searching the farm for food, eggs that could be eaten raw, or potatoes that could be carried to the next stop. On this day, the Germans distributed canned sardines and commanded the prisoners to pack up and walk to the end of the farm lane to the main road where they would be liberated by the British 8th Army, the Royal Dragoons, shortly before noon.
The 76th anniversary of Dad’s liberation day will be this coming Sunday and this year I have a piece of history to hold in my hand as I reflect on this day and what his liberation and freedom meant to my father those many years ago.
Dad kept this WWII German Air Force (Luftwaffe) officer’s peak cap as a souvenir of his experience as a POW during the war. I don’t recall him ever showing it to me or telling me about it.
It wasn’t until my sister and I were cleaning out my mother’s attic after her death in 2004 (Dad had died in 1982) that we found it in a footlocker with a few other items from his military service. My sister kept those things when we divided up the family heirlooms and I forgot about them over the years.
My sister recently reminded me she had these things of dad’s from the war and offered them to me to add to my collection of his WWII memorabilia. I am sure I know how my dad came to be in possession of this Nazi military cap. Once the prisoners were liberated and realized they would soon be going home, they all collected some souvenirs to bring home with them.
In the Shoe Leather Express, author and former POW Joseph O’Donnell wrote, that his first souvenirs were a “military map of Germany and a German canteen and kit.” He noted that “other G.I.’s were gathering souvenirs such as swords, bayonets, and guns.”
A Luftwaffe officer’s cap must have seemed a fitting symbol, a victory prize, for an enlisted serviceman of the American Army Air Forces in the Allies’ defeat over Nazi Germany on the day of his liberation. But it was never something he showed off with pride or even shared the existence of when he told his stories of the mid-air collision, of being a POW, or enduring the forced march. Like many of his memories of that tragic time in his life and our country’s history, it remained buried and not spoken of until long after his death.
Previous Post: Liberation Gudow
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to write more about the multiple air force divisions of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) during WWII, and I’m doing so today.
A very good source of information is available in PDF format on the internet, a 520-page volume called Air Force Combat Units of World War II, edited by Maurer Maurer and published by the Office of Air Force History in Washington, D.C., in 1983.
This work describes US air force combat units, divided by and described by Groups, Wings, Divisions, Commands, and Air Forces. I have included a link at the bottom of this article in the Sources section to this volume for those interested in learning more, but today I’m noting only information at the highest level, the different air forces themselves.
All descriptive information below is taken directly from and is credited to this volume.
The various numbered air forces which operated during World War II by theater of operation were:
EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (ETO)
Eighth Air Force (Strategic Operations)
Constituted as VIII Bomber Command on 19 Jan 1942. Activated in the US on 1 Feb 1942. An advanced detachment was established in England on 23 Feb and units began arriving from the US during the spring of 1942. The command conducted the heavy bombardment operations of Eighth AF (see US Strategic Air Forces in Europe) from 17 Aug 1942 until early in 1944. Redesignated Eighth AF on 22 Feb 1944. Afterward, engaged primarily in bombardment of strategic targets in Europe. Transferred, without personnel, equipment, and combat elements, to Okinawa on 16 Jul 1945. Although some personnel and combat units were assigned before V-J Day, the Eighth did not participate in combat against Japan. Transferred, without personnel and equipment, to the US on 7 Jun 1946. Remanned and re-equipped as part of Strategic Air Command.
My dad, George Edwin Farrar, served in the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force.
Ninth Air Force (Tactical Operations)
Constituted as V Air Support Command on 21 Aug 1941. Activated on 1 Sep 1941. Redesignated Ninth AF in Apr 1942. Moved to Egypt and began operations on 12 Nov 1942, participating in the Allied drive across Egypt and Libya, the campaign in Tunisia, and the invasions of Sicily and Italy. Moved to England in Oct 1943 to become the tactical air force for the invasion of the Continent. Helped prepare for the assault on Normandy, supported operations on the beach in Jun 1944, and took part in the drive that carried the Allies across France and culminated in victory over Germany in May 1945. Inactivated in Germany on 2 Dec 1945.
US Strategic Air Forces in Europe (originally Eighth Air Force)
Constituted as Eighth AF on 19 Jan 1942 and activated on 28 Jan. Moved to England, May – Jun 1942, and engaged primarily in bombardment of targets in Europe. Redesignated US Strategic Air Forces in Europe on 22 Feb 1944. Afterward, coordinated AAF activities in the EAME Theater, exercising some operational control over both Eighth AF (originally VIII Bomber Command) and Fifteenth, and some administrative control over Eighth AF and Ninth. Served with the occupation forces in Europe after World War II. Redesignated United States Air Forces in Europe in Aug 1945. Directed USAF operations in the Berlin airlift, Jun 1948 – Sep 1949.
MEDITERRANEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (MTO)
Twelfth Air Force (Tactical Operations)
Constituted as Twelfth AF on 20 Aug 1942 and activated the same day. Moved to England, Aug-Sep 1942, and then on to North Africa for the invasion of Algeria and French Morocco in Nov 1942. Operated in the Mediterranean theater until the end of the war, serving with Northwest African Air Forces from Feb to Dec 1943, and afterward with Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. Inactivated in Italy on 31 Aug 1945.
Fifteenth Air Force (Strategic Operations)
Constituted as Fifteenth AF on 30 Oct 1943. Activated in the Mediterranean theater on 1 Nov 1943. Began operations on 2 Nov and engaged primarily in strategic bombardment of targets in Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans until the end of the war. Inactivated in Italy on 15 Sep 1945.
CHINA-BURMA-INDIA (CBI) THEATER OF OPERATIONS
Tenth Air Force (Burma-India)
Constituted as Tenth AF on 4 Feb 1942 and activated on 12 Feb. Moved to India, Mar-May 1942. Served in India, Burma, and China until Mar 1943 when Fourteenth AF was activated in China. Then the Tenth operated in India and Burma until it moved to China late in Jul 1945. Returned to the US, Dec 1945 – Jan 1946. Inactivated on 6 Jan 1946.
My father’s brother, my uncle Carroll Johnson Farrar, Jr., served in the 315th Service Squadron of the 10th Air Force.
Fourteenth Air Force (China)
Constituted as Fourteenth AF on 5 Mar 1943 and activated in China on 10 Mar. Served in combat against the Japanese, operating primarily in China, until the end of the war. Moved to the US, Dec 1945 – Jan 1946. Inactivated on 6 Jan 1946.
Twentieth Air Force (Strategic Operations)
Constituted as Twentieth AF on 4 Apr 1944 and activated the same day. Some combat elements moved in the summer of 1944 from the US to India where they carried out very heavy bombardment operations against targets in Japan, Formosa, Thailand, and Burma. Other combat elements began moving late in 1944 from the US to the Marianas, being joined there early in 1945 by the elements that had been in India. Headquarters, which had remained in the US, was transferred to Guam in Jul 1945. From the Marianas the Twentieth conducted a strategic air offensive that was climaxed by the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. After the war the Twentieth remained in the theater and eventually became part of Far East Air Forces. Served in combat for a short time at the beginning of the Korean War but later was concerned primarily with logistic support for the operations of other organizations and with air defense for the Ryukyus. Inaczivated on Okinawa on 1 Mar 1955.
PACIFIC OCEAN AREA (POA)
Fifth Air Force (Southwest Pacific Area – SWPA, Far East Air Force – FEAF)
Constituted as Philippine Department AF on 16 Aug 1941. Activated in the Philippines on 20 Sep 1941. Redesignated Far East AF in Oct 1941, and Fifth AF in Feb 1942. This air force lost most of its men and equipment in the defense of the Philippines after 7 Dec 1941. Later in Dec 1941 headquarters and some crews and planes moved to Australia, and in Jan 1942 they were sent to Java to help delay Japanese advances in the Netherlands Indies. The Fifth did not function as an air force for some time after Feb 1942 (the AAF organizations in the Southwest Pacific being under the control of American-British-Dutch-Australian Command and later Allied Air Forces). Headquarters was remanned in Sep 1942 and assumed control of AAF organizations in Australia and New Guinea. The Fifth participated in operations that stopped the Japanese drive in Papua, recovered New Guinea, neutralized islands in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Netherlands East Indies, and liberated the Philippines. When the war ended in Aug 1945 elements of the Fifth were moving to the Ryukyus for the invasion of Japan. After the war the Fifth, a component of Far East Air Forces, remained in the theater, and from Jun 1950 to Jul 1953 it was engaged in the Korean War.
Seventh Air Force (AAFPOA)
Constituted as Hawaiian AF on 19 Oct 1940. Activated in Hawaii on 1 Nov 1940. Redesignated Seventh AF in Feb 1942. Provided air defense for the Hawaiian Islands and, after mid-1943, served in combat in the central and western Pacific areas. Transferred back to Hawaii in Jan 1946. Redesignated Pacific Air Command in Dec 1947. Discontinued on 1 Jun 1949.
Thirteenth Air Force (Air Forces Pacific)
Constituted as Thirteenth AF on 14 Dec 1942. Activated in New Caledonia on 13 Jan 1943. Served in the South Pacific and, later, Southwest Pacific, participating in the Allied drive north and west from the Solomons to the Philippines. Remained in the Philippines, as part of Far East Air Forces, after the war. Transferred, without personnel and equipment, to Okinawa in Dec 1948 and back to the Philippines in May 1949.
AMERICAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS
First Air Force
Constituted as Northeast Air District on 19 Oct 1940. Activated on 18 Dec 1940. Redesignated First AF early in 1941. Trained new organizations and, later, replacements for combat units. Also provided air defense for the eastern US until 1943. Assigned to Air Defense Command in Mar 1946 and to Continental Air Command in Dec 1948, being concerned primarily with air defense until 1949 and with reserve and national guard activities thereafter.
Second Air Force
Constituted as Northwest Air District on 19 Oct 1940. Activated on 18 Dec 1940. Redesignated Second AF early in 1941. Served as both an air defense and a training organization in 1941. Afterward, was engaged chiefly in training units and replacements for heavy and, later, very heavy bombardment operations. Inactivated on 30 Mar 1946.
Third Air Force (Antisubmarine)
Constituted as Southeast Air District on 19 Oct 1940. Activated on 18 Dec 1940. Redesignated Third AF early in 1941. Trained units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations. Also had some air defense responsibilities during 1940 – 1941 and engaged in antisubmarine activities from Dec 1941 to Oct 1942. Assigned in Mar 1946 to Tactical Air Command to serve as a troop carrier organization. Inactivated on 1 Nov 1946.
Fourth Air Force
Constituted as Southwest Air District on 19 Oct 1940. Activated on 18 Dec 1940. Redesignated Fourth AF early in 1941. Provided air defense for the western US until 1943, and at the same time trained new organizations. Later, was engaged primarily in training replacements for combat units. Assigned to Air Defense Command in Mar 1946 and to Continental Air Command in Dec 1948, being concerned chiefly with air defense until 1949 and with reserve and national guard activities thereafter.
Sixth Air Force (Antisubmarine)
Constituted as Panama Canal AF on 19 Oct 1940. Activated in the Canal Zone on 20 Nov 1940. Redesignated Caribbean AF in Aug 1941, and Sixth AF in Feb 1942. Served primarily in defense of the Panama Canal; also engaged in antisubmarine operations. Redesignated Caribbean Air Command on 31 Jul 1946.
Eleventh Air Force (Alaska)
Constituted as Alaskan AF on 28 Dec 1941. Activated in Alaska on 15 Jan 1942. Redesignated Eleventh AF in Feb 1942. Participated in the offensive that drove the Japanese from the Aleutians, attacked the enemy in the Kuril Islands, and, both during and after the war, served as part of the defense force for Alaska. Redesignated Alaskan Air Command in Dec 1945.
The Office of Air Force History’s Air Force Combat Units of World War II
To review combat missions of the various air forces of the USAAF, please refer to:
Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945
Jack McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces
Except for entries from Air Force Combat Units of World War II, edited by Maurer Maurer and published by the Office of Air Force History in Washington, D.C., 1983, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
I am continuing my series of articles based on the entries from Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces. Both combat chronologies are excellent sources of information regarding combat missions in World War II and I thank the authors for sharing them online.
These articles are concentrated on the operations of the 8th Army Air Forces on the missions on which the John Oliver Buslee crew and James Joseph Brodie crew of the 384th Bomb Group participated. The statistics of other dates and missions and of other branches of the American Air Forces and theaters of operation of World War II are available through the links provided in this article to these two sources for those interested.
Today’s installment is the 7 August 1944 mission in which the Brodie crew participated.
WWII Combat Chronology – Monday, 7 August 1944
384th BG Mission 174/8th AF Mission 527 to Dugny (Paris), France.
Target: German Air Force (Luftwaffe), an Aircraft Fuel Depot.
The James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron participated in this mission. The Buslee crew did not participate.
Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 entry:
Shuttle mission continues from USSR. In accordance with Soviet request, tgt is oil refinery in Poland. 57 B-17’s and 37 P-51’s are dispatched. 55 HBs (2 return to base early) bomb refinery at Trzebinia. P-51’s engage 6 to 8 enemy ftrs over tgt and claim destruction of 3 of them. The airplanes return to FRANTIC bases in USSR. In UK 902 HBs, supported by 10 ftr gps, are dispatched to bomb oil dumps and bridges in France. Cloud conditions cause multiple aborts, but 483 HBs bomb 11 oil dumps, 5 bridges, 3 A/Fs, and an M/Y. 3 HBs are lost. 8 gps of FBs attack M/Ys and rail transportation N and E of Paris.
Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces entry:
EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (ETO)
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): 4 missions are flown:
- Mission 527 to fuel dumps and bridges in France, in which the Brodie crew participated
- Mission 528, a Micro H (radar system which combined the Gee-H and H2X radar functionality for use by pathfinders ) test mission
- Mission 529 to marshalling yards and railroads north and east of Paris
- Unnumbered leaflet mission over France during the night
Also, in the USSR, a shuttle mission is flown in accordance with a Soviet request; 55 B-17s and 29 P-51s attack an oil refinery at Trzebina, Poland without loss; the aircraft return to Operation FRANTIC bases in the USSR.
Mission 527: 905 bombers and 471 fighters are dispatched to hit fuel dumps and bridges in France but heavy cloud cover forces many aircraft to return with bombs and other formations to be recalled; 1 bomber and 5 fighters are lost; targets hit (number in parenthesis indicates bombers bombing) are:
Of 112 B-17s, 71 hit Montbartier and 34 hit St Loubes; 1 B-17 is damaged beyond repair and 26 are damaged; 2 airmen are WIA. Escort is provided by 123 of 139 P-51s; they claim 1-0-3 Luftwaffe aircraft in the air and 0-0-1 on the ground.
The primary targets of 224 B-17s are Nanteuil Bridge (36), Sens (26), St Florentin (25), Dueny (24), Bourron Marlotte (23) and Paris-St Quen (12); other targets hit are Chartres Airfield (23), Maintenon Bridge (23), Houden marshalling yard (14), Chateaudun Airfield (11) and Rouglaf (1); 1 B-17 is damaged beyond repair and 80 damaged. Escort is provided by 96 of 97 P-51s.
1 of 182 B-17s hits Montdidier Airfield; 35 B-17s are damaged; 1 airman is WIA. Escort is provided by 90 P-38s and P-51s.
Of 51 B-24s, 10 hit Andenne Bridge, 8 hit Semuse and 8 hit targets of opportunity; 1 B-24 is lost and 19 damaged; 11 airmen are MIA. Escort is provided by 34 of 35 P-47s.
The primary targets of 333 B-24s are Doullens Bridge (37), Saleux (24), Recques-sur-Course (23), Frevent Bridge (15), Rieme/Ertveld (11) and Langerbrugge (9); 12 also hit a factory near Wendelghem and 1 hits a target of opportunity; 1 B-24 is damaged beyond repair and 45 damaged; 8 airmen are KIA and 1 WIA. Escort is provided by 94 of 100 P-51s.
- Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945
- Jack McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces
Except for entries from Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
Last week, in a post about 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger, I included a drawing of Harry titled “Sparks Liniger” that was drawn by J. G. Forster. I believe Forster was John Graham Forster, a fellow radio student of Harry’s at radio school at Scott Field, Illinois.
I believe “Sparks” was derived at radio school as a nickname for Liniger from the obsolete (today) type of radio equipment called a “spark-gap” transmitter which generated radio waves by means of an electric spark.
Liniger’s fellow radio student, John Graham Forster, did not serve in combat in the same bombardment group as Harry. While in training in the states, servicemen (and servicewomen) were transferred to various stations around the country for different phases of their training and most likely lost track of others they trained with over time.
Regardless of whether they stayed in touch or lost track of each other, Liniger thought enough of the drawing to save it and his son still has it almost eighty years after it was drawn.
It is easier to learn more about men who served in combat together if those historical records have been gathered and presented for future generations by a historical association. But finding someone who served with a relative in a training setting can be quite difficult. Generally, those types of records or lists don’t exist.
So since I have been able to identify the artist who drew Liniger as “Sparks,” I’m going to take the opportunity to look into where Forster came from and a little of his WWII history as it serves to illustrate the differences in the backgrounds of those who were brought together to fight a world war and the enormous movement of those personnel as part of the American war machine to various points across the globe.
I usually research and write about those who served in the Eighth Air Force in WWII, and mostly about the specific B-17 heavy bombardment group in which my father served, the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy). But there were many other divisions of the United States Air Forces serving in different parts of the world during WWII, and this is a good opportunity to introduce the subject, which I will write more about at a later date.
John Forster was a third generation American. He was named after his grandfather, John Graham Forster of St. Louis Parish, Kent County, New Brunswick, Canada. Grandfather John immigrated to America at eighteen years old, settled in Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and married and raised a family there. Grandson John was born there in 1922.
In the 1940 Waltham High School Yearbook, John’s Senior year, he noted his first ambition was to,
Go round the world and see our 48 states
He liked nice girls and baseball, planned to enter an art career, and was Art Manager of the Senior Play.
In 1942, John enlisted in the United States Air Corps. After his training, including his and Harry’s time at radio school, John was assigned to the 764th Bomb Squadron of the 461st Bomb Group.
But the 461st was stationed nowhere near Harry’s 8th Air Force base with the 384th in Grafton Underwood, England. In fact, the 461st was not even part of the 8th Air Force, but was instead part of the 49th Bombardment Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force. The 461st flew B-24 Liberators and the group was known as the “Liberaiders.”
The Fifteenth Air Force operated in the WWII Mediterranean Theater of Operations and mainly operated out of bases in southern Italy. The 461st was based at Torretto Field, about 12 km (about 7 1/2 miles) south of the town of Cerignola, Italy.
John Forster was assigned to the Carl J. Schultz crew as radio operator/gunner. The Schultz (#3-1) crew consisted of:
- Carl J. Schultz, Pilot
- William R. Baird, Co-Pilot
- James R. Merkel, Navigator
- Joshua Loring, Jr., Bombardier
- John G. Forster, Radio Operator/Gunner
- John W. Rice, Engineer/Gunner
- William F. Sanders, Gunner
- Glenn A. Sligar, Engineer/Gunner
- Don R. Trail, Gunner
- William R. Vaitkunas, Gunner
On 23 March 1945, John Forster participated in the 461st’s Mission 200 to bomb a high priority target, the Kagran Oil Refinery in Vienna, Austria. Thirteen of the 461st’s thirty aircraft were hit by flak over the target and the lead bombardier, Lt. Rosulek, was wounded just before bombs away.
On this mission, William Baird was pilot of the unnamed B-24J 44-41091 with Dwight B. Olson serving as his co-pilot. Other original crew members included John Rice, Glenn Sligar, William Sanders, William Vaitkunas, and of course, John Forster. Substitutes, besides Olson, included Edward T. Wenslik as Bombardier, Richard C. Davis as Navigator, and Marlin R. Smith as Gunner.
At about the time of bombs away, the Number 2 engine of 44-41091 was hit by flak and knocked completely off the ship. They dropped back in the formation with a fire in the wing. Following an unsuccessful attempt to put out the fire, they lost altitude and dropped about 5,000 feet. Five chutes were seen to emerge before the plane went into a dive and exploded.
Davis, the Navigator of the crew, reported that he was reunited in the next few days with all of the crew except for Lt. Baird, the pilot. A German guard reported that Baird was found dead with an unopened chute some distance from the wreckage of the aircraft.
One of the crew wrote in his Individual Casualty Questionaire that,
Lt. Baird … went beyond the “call of duty” that day in fighting the ship to keep it from going into a spin, and then momentarily leveling it out with the trim tabs giving us all, the nine of us, time to jump.
With the exception of Baird, the entire crew was held prisoner of war at Moosburg, Stalag VIIA. All were liberated from Moosburg on 29 April 1945 and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike in La Harve, France to begin their journey back to America.
Forster did become an artist after the war. In the 1952 Waltham Massachusetts City Directory, he listed his occupation as artist. He married a nice girl and had seven children.
John Graham Forster died on 24 June 1982 at the age of 59 in Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. He is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, Middlesex County, Massachusetts in Section 23-N, Lot 48-A.
I don’t know if he ever saw all of our “48 states” (or additionally Alaska and Hawaii), but he did see quite a bit of the world, including Italy, France, Austria, and Germany, and saw things he couldn’t imagine during high school from the radio room of a B-24.
Thank you to Chuck Parsonon, Admin of the 461st Bombardment Group’s Facebook group for providing me with information for this post.
Thank you to the folks running the 461st Bombardment Group website for the excellent information on the group and its service members you provide.
Last week’s post, Harry Liniger’s Letters and Guardian Angel
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021