George Marshall Hawkins, Jr. and Frank Dominic Furiga, both airmen of the 384th Bomb Group in World War II, met not at Grafton Underwood, the 384th Bomb Group’s airbase in the Midlands of England, but in a POW hospital after both were injured when bailing out of their respective aircraft during bombing missions to Germany.
The two men, George of the 545th Bomb Squadron and Frank of the 547th Bomb Squadron, became friends during their captivity and remained friends after the war.
George Hawkins was the navigator of the James Joseph Brodie crew and was involved in the crew’s mid-air collision with the Buslee crew’s B-17 on 28 September 1944. Frank Furiga, a bombardier-turned-navigator, was also on that mission and witnessed the collision.
George and Frank wrote letters back and forth to each other after the war and Frank urged George to write up his recollection of the collision. Frank kept George’s letters, and Frank’s son, Paul Furiga, discovered them in his father’s wartime mementos and shared them with me.
The following is what George Hawkins wrote in a letter to Frank Furiga, “an account of my 1944-45 visit to Germany,” some time after Christmas 1983.
September 28, 1944
Following ‘Bombs away’ and while making a shallow formation turn to starboard, our lead ship suddenly racked up into a tight right turn … so abrupt that my pilot(s) were forced to increase the bank of the turn and pull up over the lead ship to avoid a collision. Ship #3 (flying the lead ship’s left wing) increased its bank and, riding high in turn, probably went to ‘full throttle’ in an attempt to catch up to the lead ship. Unfortunately, we were also high, in a tight turn, and playing catch up.
Standing at my position, I watched as #3 came right down our flight path and we had impact … their pilot compartment coming right up into our ship’s belly. I’m sure they had the lead ship in sight but never saw us at all. We must have been just above the co-pilot’s view through his starboard window. As soon as I spotted them coming in I hit the mike button and yelled to Brodie and Vevle to pull up, but as I talked the nose cabin deck buckled up under me, and I was pinned to the starboard side of the ship just forward of the inboard engine. On impact, our togglier and the Plexiglas nose disappeared.
I fought to free myself but to no avail … the wreckage and the air pouring into the opening in the nose made any movement impossible. Shortly thereafter the ship fell off into a spin and we started down. I can only assume that my body weight increased due to the centrifugal force build up … and this coupled with the structural damage suffered by the nose section led to a rupture of the air frame … and I was sucked out of the ship and was able to make use of my chute. I landed at Erxleben, a small town northwest of Magdeburg.
One added note: I flew all my missions using a chest chute. I wore the harness and hung the chute pack on the fire wall near my station. A day or two prior to the Magdeburg flight I had myself fitted for a back pack … one that fitted so tightly and was very uncomfortable to wear during a long flight. Well, I had it on that day. I have never been able to remember why I made the change, but I will always be thankful that I did.
The next day I was reunited with Miller (tail gunner) and Liniger (waist gunner) and we were driven by truck to the German hospital in Magdeburg where I was dropped off. They then went on to a camp.
George Hawkins continued his story with information about his hospitalization and imprisonment until the end of the war, which I will report in my next post.
Thank you to Paul Furiga, son of Frank Furiga, for sharing George Hawkins’ letters with me.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022