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The Grafton Underwood Airfield – Runways and Hardstands

In WWII, the 384th Bomb Group was based in the UK village of Grafton Underwood’s back yard. Seventy-plus years later, most of the war-era buildings are long gone, but their foundations lie sleeping, waiting to be uncovered and made visible again by the hands and aching backs of many who seek to commemorate this important place and the lives who passed through here during the long-ago war.

As the earth attempts to reclaim her once-peaceful space and erase the existence of the use of her land for war, efforts are ongoing to save what time has not yet destroyed or man has not yet demolished so that the history of this place will be remembered by future generations, generations of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who served here.

We must not forget what happened here and why the people came to use this land for this purpose. We must remember their great deeds of valor, the lives lost, the lives saved, and learn a lesson about sacrifice and freedom.

The main reason for the 384th Bomb Group’s existence at Grafton Underwood revolved around the airfield’s runways, the point of take-off for mission targets and the point of return for the B-17’s and the weary crews that came home.

Take-off was normally early morning. Very early or the previous overnight, the ground crews readied the B-17’s with final repairs, filling fuel tanks, and loading bombs and ammunition.

After breakfast and briefing, the airmen arrived at their designated aircraft and performed final preparations for the day’s missions. The pilots ran through their checklists, the gunners checked the guns, and the navigators and bombardiers studied the route and coordinates for the bomb drop. Pilots started the engines and watched for the flare signalling departure.

The 384th Bomb Group’s first commander, Budd Peaslee, shared his memories of these mornings in the closing words of his 1963 book, Heritage of Valor. Commander Peaslee described not the look of the airfield, but the sound and feel of it when the 384th war machine was in full force and preparing for battle.

Commander Peaslee likened the sound of the B-17 engines to “musical thunder” and described the taxi and take-off of the flying fortresses as causing the “very earth to tremble.” He pronounced the source of the sound as “seeming to emanate from all things, visible and invisible,” and he compared the B-17’s “great deep-throated engines” to their later jet replacements’ “flat, toneless roar.”

Eighteen years after the 384th left Grafton Underwood at the end of the war, Peaslee described the runways as “ancient” and “weed-choked.” But those runways have not disappeared to this day. Fifty-six years past the publication of his book, and seventy-four years past the end of the war, the runways just north of the village can still be seen in satellite images.

After all of the B-17’s departed for the day’s mission and the business of waiting for their return began, the runway, though now silent, was the center of the group’s universe, the ultimate determiner of the mission’s success or failure.

On paper, the success of the mission was determined by how close the bombs had come to their targets and what kind of destruction the formation had brought to the enemy’s door. In reality, if one B-17 or one man had been lost and not returned to touch down on the runway or sleep in his bunk that night, the loss would be felt exponentially throughout the base, from crew mates, to cooks, to the Commander.

As soon as the last of the B-17’s wheels left the morning mist-covered ground, thoughts would turn to wonder how many would not return today. What familiar faces around the base would be no more? Eating, sleeping, socializing, and any other function of human life was secondary to the take-off and return of the B-17’s and their crews. The runway symbolized why the airmen were there, why the ground crews were there, and why the people of Grafton Underwood had to share the backyard of their pleasant village with this instrument of war.

This year’s 384th Bomb Group reunion will be the group’s eleventh junket to Grafton Underwood and other nearby WWII sites and will be my first. I will be able to see and stand upon the runways of which I have only imagined, have read about, and have seen in photos and on maps.

This map of the runways and hardstands was obtained from the archives at RAF Hendon and donated by Kevin Flecknor and Robin Dodson.

Site No. 1 Airfield – Runways and Hardstands

The runways and the fifty hardstands, where the aircraft stood ready, are detailed on the map as Site No. 1 Airfield.

The 384th Bomb Group was made up of four bombardment squadrons – 544, 545, 546, and 547. Each had a separate area of hardstands for their designated ships.

  • The 544th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 1 – 9, 49, and 50.
  • The 545th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 10 – 23.
  • The 546th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 24 – 35, and 41.
  • The 547th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 36 – 40, and 42 – 48.

Though the numbering system of division looks a little disjointed in a list, a review of where the hardstands are placed on the map will show why the division was made as it was. What’s not clear is why the number of hardstands was not more equally divided between squadrons. The 544th Bomb Squadron had the least amount, eleven, and the 545th Bomb Squad had the most, fourteen.

Thanks to Google Earth, we can see what the airfield map looks like superimposed on a map of the area today.

Image © 2018 Google

Note: Click on the images to open to full screen. (Then use your browser Back button to return to this post). 

Special Thanks to 384th Bomb Group Volunteers

The map of the runways and hardstands was obtained from the archives at RAF Hendon and donated by Kevin Flecknor and Robin Dodson. Hardstand identifications provided by Mark Meehl.

Note: The boxed numbers indicate the runway identifiers (magnetic compass heading to nearest 10 degrees).

Friends of the 384th

To view the progress of the Grafton Underwood Airfield building preservation and site cleanup and maintenance, please join the Friends of the 384th on Facebook.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and then regarding crew composition,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John continued,

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

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

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

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

Note

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The Next Generation Meets

On Sunday, June 2, 2019, the children of the waist gunners of both ships involved in the 384th Bomb Group’s mid-air collision of September 28, 1944 over Magdeburg, Germany met for the first time.

L to R: George Edwin Farrar, Cindy Farrar Bryan, Harry Allen Liniger, Jr., and Harry Allen Liniger, Sr.

That’s me, Cindy Farrar Bryan, daughter of George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, on the left and Harry Liniger, Jr., son of Harry Allen Liniger, Sr. of the Brodie crew, on the right. Harry is pointing to his dad’s name on a plaque in the garden of the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA. The plaque is dedicated to the James Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group.

On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, the Buslee crew’s 43-37822 and the Brodie crew’s 42-31222 (also known as “Lazy Daisy.”)

The only survivors of the Brodie crew were navigator George Hawkins, tail gunner Wilfred Miller, and waist gunner Harry Liniger.

The front section of the nose of the Brodie crew’s “Lazy Daisy” was carried away, and with it, the togglier. Hawkins managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun. Waist gunner Harry Liniger was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. The explosion also severed the tail of the ship and tail gunner Wilfred Miller rode the tail assembly down and later chuted from the tail section.

The only survivor of the Buslee crew was waist gunner George Edwin Farrar, my dad.  He believed that the other ship must have hit right in the center of their ship, as they were knocked half in-to.  At the time they were struck, Dad was knocked unconscious and fell about 25,000 feet, before he knew he was even out of the ship.

Both Liniger and Farrar (and also Miller) were confined as POWs in Stalag Luft IV and survived the 500-mile, 86-day Black March across Germany to their liberation in May 1945. Hawkins was so severely injured in the collision that he was confined to the hospital during the whole of his time as a prisoner of war.

Now that Harry and I have finally met, we’d like one day to meet the children of George Hawkins and Wilfred Miller, the only other survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision over Magdeburg. To those children, if you feel the same, please contact me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 2

The continuation of “What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1” published on May 22, 2019.

Recap:

On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, 43-37822 and 42-31222 (also known as Lazy Daisy.) The Buslee crew, with my dad George Edwin Farrar as waist gunner, was aboard 43-37822. The Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy. Dad told me the story of the mid-air collision many times when I was a child and he always said the reason for the collision was that the “other ship” was hit by ground fire, which caused it to veer off course and into his ship.

In the high-level group narrative documents for the mission, I discovered,

  • Bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point
  • A second bomb run had to be made on the target
  • The group was behind schedule 20 minutes
  • CPF (possibly means Continuous Predictive Flak or Continuously Pointed Fire) and barrage type flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate
  • The Wing leader was hit by flak and the deputy had to take over the lead, causing the Lead section to break up
  • The Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section
  • Coming off the target, the Wing was on a collision course with another unidentified Wing
  • As reported by a 351st Bomb Group crew member, a Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of the formation, creating much prop wash

Quite a bit of information was gleaned from the high-level post-mission documents, but there was much more detail about the collision in the Visual Observation section of the Tactical Interrogation Forms that each pilot filled out in the post-mission briefing, which I will add to what I have already reported.

B-17 formation flying was tricky in itself, but it became even more difficult and dangerous when things out of the ordinary happened as they did on September 28, 1944. Not that there were many “ordinary” missions, but mid-air collisions were just one of the ways a B-17 could be brought down in addition to flak from ground fire, rockets, and enemy fighter attacks.

384th Bomb Group in Formation
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

The 384th Bomb Group’s formation on September 28, 1944 was made up thirty-six (36) crews and aircraft, twelve (12) each in three groups, Lead, High, and Low. Both the Buslee and Brodie crews were part of the High Group.

Below are each of the Lead, High, and Low Groups’ formation charts, a list of each crew and aircraft, and narratives I found recorded in various sections, but mainly the Flak and Visual Observations sections, of each pilot’s Tactical Interrogation Form, along with several comments from crew members pertinent to the Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision found on the Technical Failure report.

LEAD GROUP

September 28, 1944 Lead Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

Frink, Horace Everett, Commander, and Davis, L K, Pilot, of 44-8007

Wing Leader and PFF ship was hit by flak just after bombs away. Forced to land away in Brussels due to flak damage and therefore not available for post-mission briefing reporting.

Rummel, Brian D, Pilot of 44-6476

Just after bombs away the lead ship had direct hit in #4 supercharger & the formation scattered because of his slow air speed. Two B17’s collided & both went down. No chutes seen.

Henderson, William V, Pilot of 43-38616

No observations regarding the collision, but he did note,

ME109 went down, attacked by 2 P51’s

Tracy, Edward H, Pilot of 42-97251

Saw one B17 break in half at Target. No chutes.

Salley, Thomas R, Pilot of 42-97510

2 B-17’s collided. No chutes were seen. One man came out but no chute. High Gp, High Sq.

Cepits, Francis F, Pilot of 42-107121

2 planes go down.

Duesler, Donald B, Pilot of 42-102500

2 B17’s from high group went down. One ship was hit by a direct flak burst & broke at the waist & fell on the second a/c. Both went down in flames.

Duesler also noted on the second page of the form in the “Facts concerning our a/c destroyed” section, the reasons,

flak & collision

Hassing, Eugene Theron, Pilot of 42-102501

2 A/C from high sqdn high group collided. 1A/C lost right wing, the other broke in half. No chutes seen. All parts burning when A/C fell into undercast.

Mead, Frank Willard, Pilot of 42-102620

No observations regarding the collision, but one of Mead’s crew reported on the Technical Failures report,

Two bomb runs made on 3 of the last 4 missions. Circled right through the flak today.

McDaniel, Clifford F, Pilot of 42-107125

Saw 2 ships collide – go down.

Green, Loren L, Pilot of 42-31484

No observations regarding the collision

Doran, William Elmer, Pilot of 43-37971

No observations regarding the collision

Hale, Kenneth Oliver, Pilot Flying Spare 43-38501

Filled in for Rice in the High Group – see next grouping

HIGH GROUP

September 28, 1944 High Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

Johnson, William T, Commander and Toler, Harold M Pilot, of 43-38016

Reported at the time of 1217, at the location of Helmsledt (approximately 30 miles west of Magdeburg), and at an altitude of 28,000 feet,

2 17s. One crashed into each other. Both went down.

Groff, Richard Hubert, Pilot of 43-38615

Ball turret gunner Robert Mitchell was aboard this ship flying just to the left of the Buslee ship.

2 B-17’s fr our Gp in sharp climbing bank to right #2 in Ld Sq High Gp collided with #2 High Sq High Gp. Lt. Brodies left wing hit Lt. Buslees tail and cut part of wing off & Lt. Buslee’s A/C broke off at waist.

Buslee, John Oliver, Pilot of 43-37822

Collided with 42-31222 aka Lazy Daisy

Combs, William Felix, Pilot of 42-102661

This CBW [combat wing] was pretty well scattered & 2 B17’s collided. One was OD (olive drab) color. They are thought to be from High Sqdn., High Group. No chutes seen, both planes went to pieces.

Blankenmeyer, William J, Pilot of 42-39888

Chester Rybarczyk (original Buslee crew navigator) was aboard this ship.

Group was forced to pull up to avoid collision with another group (Red diagonal strip & letter J in white triangle). Ball turret of one ship hit tail of the other, tearing off both tail and ball turret. Both ships went down. 4 chutes seen.

The group with the tail symbol Triangle J was the 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the Eighth United States Army Air Force, based at Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, during World War II.

Gabel, Raymond J, Pilot of 43-38062

James Davis (Buslee crew bombardier who replaced original crew bombardier Marvin Fryden) was aboard this ship.

2 B-17’s (384th) seen to collide rt after bombs away & fell about 50 feet & wings came off & started turning. The other spun down to 10,000 feet on fire. 3 chutes observed out of plane with wings off. None out of other.

Carlson, Walter E, Pilot of 42-97320

No observations regarding the collision, but one of Carlons’s crew reported on the Technical Failures report,

Collision of B-17s due to pilot error in evasive action after bombs away.

Rice, Robert E, Pilot of 43-37703/Hale, Kenneth Oliver, Pilot Flying Spare 43-38501

Rice turned back due to personnel illness and was replaced by Hale, Kenneth Oliver, Pilot Flying Spare 43-38501

No observations regarding the collision.

Patella, Joseph David, Pilot of 44-6141

Right after bombing, diving off target, ran into another group, lot of prop wash, formation broken up by very sharp turns & prop wash. 2 A/C – 1 from high squadron, the other unknown, collided. Both A/C broke up. No chutes seen.

Johnstone, William A, Pilot of 42-97941

A/C 222 & 822 mid air collision. No chutes seen. Both ships broke up.

Johnstone reported the observation of the collision at 1218 at the target area. He also reported barrage and CPF flak “after bombs away” at the same time of 1218.

Gross, Kenneth Eugene, Pilot of 43-38548

Co-pilot Wallace Storey, who after the war reported Brodie’s plane almost hitting him and seeing it hit Buslee’s plane, was aboard this ship.

No observations regarding the collision reported, but Gross did report tracking black flak at the target area.

Brodie, James Joseph, Pilot of 42-31222

Collided with 43-37822

LOW GROUP

September 28, 1944 Low Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

Booska, Maurice Arthur, Commander and Bean, Donald W, Pilot of 43-38542

2 B17s from High group collided & both fell apart & went down in flames. No chutes.

Reported accurate CPF flak, black gray, big brown bursts at the same time as the observation of the collision at 1211.

Sine, George H, Pilot of 42-38013

2 A/C from high group in collision. 1 broke in half at radio room. A/C clipped wings went down in spin, then hit again. One broke up. Possibly one chute seen.

Hicks, Ralph B, Pilot of 42-102449

2 A/C in our Hi Group collided and blew up. No chutes seen.

One of Hick’s crew reported on the Technical Failures report,

It is thought that 2 A/C in high group collided because lead group formation scattered when lead A/C left formation at target area.

Goodrick, Gene Robert, Pilot of 44-6135

No observations regarding the collision reported.

Majeske, Charles P, Pilot of 42-37788

No observations regarding the collision reported, but he did record accurate tracking black white flak all around A/C [aircraft] at the target.

Brown, Bert Oliver, Pilot of 42-38208

No observations regarding the collision reported, but one of Hick’s crew asked on the Technical Failures report,

Why were two wings making run at target at same time?

Rowe, George B, Pilot of 44-6105

2 Gp A/C crashed. Silver A/C cut in half at radio room & wings folded off. OD (olive drab) just went straight down & disappeared in overcast. 1 chute seen from silver A/C.

Keller, Marion W, Pilot of 43-37990

Saw 2 B-17 collided. One came from 7 o’clock, other from 4 o’clock & appeared to collide sideways. Both went down. No chutes seen. No additional info. No markings seen on tails. Too far away.

Owens, Robert Clare, Pilot of 43-37843

No observations regarding the collision reported, but he reported,

2 E/A (enemy aircraft) shot down by escort and P-51 blown up by flak over target.

Farra, Robert L, Pilot of 44-6294

Below barrage. 2 planes collided above us.

Wismer, Richard Glen, Pilot of 42-32106

Was not in the formation at the target. Returned early. Aircraft suffered mechanical failure; bombs dropped at 50°45’N,9°25’E, Germany, in enemy territory with unknown effect. Returned to base.

Fahr, John, Pilot of 42-107148

2 B-17 collided High Gp. High Sq. Both A/C went straight down. No chutes were seen.

Summary

In addition to the information I learned from the high-level post-mission documents, I also learned,

Reported Causes of the Mid-air Collision

  • The Wing Leader was hit by flak and his air speed slowed, causing the formation to scatter (Rummel)
  • Lead group formation scattered when lead aircraft left formation at target area (Hicks crew)
  • One ship was hit by a direct flak burst (Duesler). [There were many reports of flak at the target and the Wing Lead was undoubtedly hit by flak. Duesler’s is the only reported visual observation of Brodie’s ship being hit by flak.]
  • Group forced to pull up to avoid collision with another group (351st Bomb Group) (Blankenmeyer)
  • Right after bombing, ran into another group, a lot of prop wash, formation broken up by very sharp turns and prop wash (Patella)
  • Pilot error in evasive action after bombs away (Carlson crew)

Reported Collision and Damage

  • 2 B-17’s collided
  • Both went down
  • One B-17 broke in half
  • Ship hit by flak broke at the waist and fell on the second aircraft (Duesler)
  • 1 aircraft lost right wing, the other broke in half (Hassing)
  • Lt. Brodie’s left wing hit Lt. Buslee’s tail and cut part of wing off; Lt. Buslee’s aircraft broke off at waist (Groff)
  • Ball turret of one ship hit tail of the other, tearing off both tail and ball turret (Blankenmeyer)
  • 1 broke in half at the radio room (Sine)
  • Silver aircraft (Buslee’s) cut in half at radio room and wings folded off. Olive Drab aircraft (Brodie’s) went straight down and disappeared in overcast (Rowe)
  • Wings came off and started turning; other spun down on fire (Gabel)
  • Burning when fell into undercast

Chutes Seen

  • None
  • One man came out, but no chute (Salley), [likely Brodie crew togglier Byron Atkins]
  • 3 out of plane with wings off (Brodie’s); none out of other (Buslee’s) (Gabel)
  • 1 from silver aircraft (Buslee’s) (Rowe)

Why did the Brodie crew’s B-17 collide with the Buslee crew’s B-17? Many factors led to the disaster including a need for a second bomb run due to another wing flying underneath at the target on the first run, slightly being off schedule, the wing lead being hit by flak on the second run, slowing air speed, the deputy taking over and the formation breaking up, very sharp turns and prop wash, finding themselves on a collision course with another group coming off the target, a possible direct flak hit on Brodie’s aircraft, flak at the target, or just plain pilot error in a critical situation.

What happened to the two B-17’s of Buslee and Brodie? After the collison, at least one broke in half at the waist or near the radio room. The tail of Brodie’s was cut off as was Buslee’s ball turret. One or both lost one or both wings. They were both burning as they spun or fell into the undercast.

Was there any hope of survivors? Most witnesses did not see any chutes, but three were reported out of Brodie’s aircraft and one out of Buslee’s. One man was seen coming out of Brodie’s aircraft with no chute. The three survivors on the Brodie crew were waist gunner Harry Liniger, tail gunner Wilfred Miller, and navigator George Hawkins. Togglier Byron Atkins was likely the man seen coming from Brodie’s aircraft without a chute when he was knocked out of the nose. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was the one chute coming from Buslee’s aircraft.

Do I know much more now than I did before I saw the mission reports? Yes and no. The story, causes, and result of the mid-air collision mostly remains the same for me. But Donald B. Duesler, pilot of 42-102500, has provided me with the possibility that Brodie’s ship was hit by flak like my dad always said before it ran into his ship. (Although Duesler’s report seems unclear as to which ship was hit by flak as it was Buslee’s ship, not Brodie’s, that broke at the waist).

The families of the fourteen men who died on the two ships never really understood what happened to their boys, and I’m still not sure I really do either. Was it pilot error, was it flak, or could Lazy Daisy have suffered some sort of malfunction at a very inopportune moment? My next research will be into Lazy Daisy’s mechanical failures history and I’ll report what I find in a future post.

Thank you to Keith Ellefson and Marc Poole for helping me decipher the handwriting of the pilots on their Tactical Interrogation Forms!

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1

On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, 43-37822 and 42-31222 (also known as Lazy Daisy.)

The Buslee crew, with my dad George Edwin Farrar as waist gunner, was aboard 43-37822. The Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy.

Dad told me the story of the mid-air collision many times when I was a child and he always said the reason for the collision was that the “other ship” was hit by ground fire, which caused it to veer off course and into his ship.

Many years later, I met Wallace Storey, a 384th Bomb Group pilot who witnessed the mid-air collision. I was surprised to hear Wallace say that Lazy Daisy could not have been hit by ground fire from flak guns as there wasn’t any flak over the target that day. As a result, I have been searching for the reason why Lazy Daisy veered off course ever since.

Two 384th Bomb Group researchers, Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson, have a special life mission – to obtain as many of the group’s mission documents as possible to share on the group’s website. On one of their trips to the National Archives, they copied the mission documents of Mission 201 and shared them with me. After reviewing the available information, I’m still not positive what caused Lazy Daisy to veer off course, but because of various post-mission statements and one pilot’s post-mission Tactical Interrogation report, I do see the possibility that my dad may have been right about the flak after all.

I’ll get to the pilot Tactical Interrogation reports in Part 2, coming two weeks from now, but first I want to share a few facts about the mission itself and a few things that may have contributed to the mid-air collision.

The mission map shared with the officers in the morning briefing showed the flight plan for the mission in red. The route actually followed was added in blue, post mission.

September 28, 1944 Mission Map, Mission 201
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

The Briefing Notes prior to the mission describe the primary and secondary targets.

P.T. [Primary Target] is the most important Krupp Steel Works in Germany. Located Magdeburg. It’s the main producer of the 25 ton Mark IV tank and also makes flak guns, armor plating and heavy sheels [shells?], it is a one plus priority. And employs 35,000 workers, there is a smoke screen N. of the city.

P.F.F. [Pathfinder Force] target is the Mar. [Marshalling] Yards, in the city of Magdeburg, and adjacent to your P.T.

Other Efforts.  You are the last of 12 36 A/C Wing of First Div. The 1st 6 groups of the 1st A.B.C. and 40th A.B.C. attack oil plant 4 miles No. of your target. The 94th A.B.C. bomb A/C fact. [Aircraft Factory] 3 miles No. of your target, 94th C, 41st A.B.C. bomb your target. Should PFF be used all groups will attack your PFF RR M/Y [Railroad Marshalling Yards] at Magdeburg.

The Lead Bombardier’s post-mission narrative explains the first problem with the mission. George K. Smith, 2nd Lt., Air Corps, Deputy Bombardier, Combat Wing 41st C described how the bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point.

Turned short of I.P. because of cloud coverage. Opened bomb bay doors at I.P. to encounter complete coverage on the bomb run. Ships flew under us so we couldn’t release our bombs. We flew out and made a 180 degrees turn to put us on a heading of 260 degrees heading back over the target. There was a little opening in the clouds over a part in a river, which I believe the Lead Bombardier killed his course. We dropped the bombs PFF and shortly after the Lead aircraft was hit by flak. Then we took over from our deputy Lead position to reform the Wing and start home. No flak was encountered on the way home.

The Navigator’s post-mission narrative indicated that the 384th was not on schedule and also noted flak at the target. Lt. Clarendon George Richert wrote,

Route flown as briefed to target. Behind schedule 20 minutes. Two runs on target due to deputy taking over.

Flak concentrations encountered (not scattered bursts).

  • Place: Target
  • Time: 1208 – 1211
  • Accuracy: Accurate
  • Intensity: Moderate

In his Operational Narrative, Major W. E. “Pop” Dolan, Station S-2 Officer, wrote,

Flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate. CPF (Continuous Predictive Flak) and barrage type fire employed. Black, gray bursts being notes.

Two of our A/C is missing. These two ships collided at the target to reasons unknown. Both ships were seen to break up and go down in flames. No chutes were observed.

In these selections from his Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, “Pop” Dolan offered more detail.

Two (2) of our aircraft are known missing.

Two (2) aircraft of the High Section, A/C 337-822 (Lt. Buslee, pilot) and A/C 1222 (Lt. Brodie, pilot) collided over the target and both ships were observed going down on fire and out of control. No chutes were observed.

Assembly of the Group and Wing was accomplished fifteen (15) minutes before departure time from our Base at 0823 hours, 7,000 feet without difficulty. We were ahead of “Cowboy-Baker” but we swung wide on the first Control Point and got in our correct slot in the Division at 0920 hours over Cambridge, 7,000 feet. We left the coast of England on course and on time at 0937 hours, Clacton, 9,000 feet. Speeds were S.O.P.

The route to the Belgian Coast was without incident and we crossed it at 1001 ½ hours, 51°10’N.-02°44’E., 15,000 feet. From this point into the I.P. [Initial Point of the final bomb run to the target] the mission was flown as briefed and without difficulty. No flak was encountered prior to the target and no enemy fighter attacks were made on our Wing for the entire mission.

At the I.P., we were notified by Buckeye-Red that target weather would be approximately 8/10ths which was accurate. We made our run from the I.P. to the target in Wing formation on PFF. When we approached the target, there was another Section making a run 90° to us on the same target. They passed over the target at the same time we did directly underneath us and we were unable to drop because we would have dropped on them. We therefore made a turn and started a second run in Wing formation. Bombs were away on PFF at 1211 hours from 26,000 feet. However, in the opinion of Capt. Booska, Low Section Leader, it is possible that today’s bombing may have been visual as there was a break in the clouds directly over the target one (1) minute before bombs were away. As it is presumed that the Lead Wing Bombardier landed in Belgium, our reports will state that PFF bombing was accomplished. Magnetic heading of bombs away was 265 degrees. Some crews observed the results through breaks in the clouds and they state that the bombs hit in the target area. Flak at the target was moderate and accurate.

After we dropped our bombs, and swung off the target, the Wing Leader informed the Deputy to take over as the former had been hit by flak. At this point, the entire Lead Section started to break up. We were on a collision course at the same time with another unidentified Wing and the Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section. The High and Low reassembled and flew alone until we finally picked up the Lead Section ten (10) miles ahead of us. I called the Deputy Leader to slow down, which he did, and we assembled back into Combat Wing formation. After this, we had no other difficulties and the rest of the mission was flown as briefed and without incident. We departed the Belgian Coast at 1437 hours, 10,500 feet and recrossed the English Coast at 1508 hours, 1,000 feet.

And finally, the 384th Bomb Group’s S-2 Summary of Eye-witness Accounts summarized what happened to the two aircraft in the mid-air collision.

Brodie:  Aircraft broke up near tail assembly and went down in flames. Aircraft was burning and slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the clouds.

Buslee:  Pieces of tail and wings falling off. Plane in flames from engines. Going down in flames spinning into the clouds.

As for the statement, “We were on a collision course at the same time with another unidentified Wing,” in “Pop” Dolan’s Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, one of the pilots’ Tactical Interrogation reports described the tail symbol of the 351st Bomb Group. The 351st’s Intelligence S-2 Report for what was their group’s Mission 211 noted,

Two Triangle “P” ships were observed to collide just after the target. One chute was seen.

And a 351st combat crew comment from their aircraft 956-L remarked,

Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of formation, creating much prop wash.

Summary of information from the September 28, 1944 Mission 201 documents:

  • Bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point
  • A second bomb run had to be made on the target
  • The group was behind schedule 20 minutes
  • CPF (Continuous Predictive Flak) and barrage type flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate
  • The Wing leader was hit by flak and the deputy had to take over the lead, causing the Lead section to break up
  • The Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section
  • Coming off the target, the Wing was on a collision course with another unidentified Wing
  • As reported by a 351st Bomb Group crew member, a Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of formation, creating much prop wash

To be continued with the mission’s individual pilot Tactical Interrogation Form visual observations and combat crew comments…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Number of Missions to Complete a Tour

When can I go home? The answer to the most important question most WWII airmen wanted to know differed depending on when they began their service.

For the airmen of the 384th Bomb Group, those who began their service “early on,” starting with Mission 1 on June 22, 1943, a tour was twenty-five missions per John Edwards, the 384th Bomb Group’s historian. But that magic number of twenty-five only lasted until the end of March 1944.

The number of missions to mark a completed tour and a ticket stateside was upped to thirty on April 1, 1944, but this number lasted for only a couple of months.

By June 6, 1944, a 384th Bomb Group airman had to survive thirty-five missions to complete his tour.

But the magic number of 25, 30, or 35 wasn’t set in stone. The 384th’s webmaster, Fred Preller, adds,

For those affected by the change during their combat tour, some increase was inevitable. I know of some (my Dad, for instance) who were required to fly some more missions based on how many they had already completed – but not the full increased number.

For Fred’s dad, Robert Preller, a completed tour meant thirty-three missions. Flying his first mission on May 27, 1944, he probably expected to wrap up his tour at Number 30, as that was what was in effect on his first mission. But thirty was changed to thirty-five by his seventh mission, and though he didn’t have to fly the full thirty-five, he did fly three more for his total of thirty-three.

Michael Faley, historian of the 100th Bomb Group (the group famously known as the Bloody Hundredth), notes similar dates for the increase in missions for a completed tour,

From June 1943 to March 19, 1944 the tour of duty was 25 missions. From March 19, 1944 – July 1944 it was 30 missions and from July 1944 to the end of the war it was 35.

By the time my dad, George Edwin Farrar, got to Grafton Underwood, home of the 384th, he knew he would have to fly thirty-five missions before he went home.

When he wrote home on August 14, 1944, Dad had only flown four missions, but he wrote,

I sure hope I can finish up and get home by Christmas, or the first of the year.

It is the only letter I have from his time at Grafton Underwood, but I know every letter must have mentioned his desire to come home, and he must have thought he could complete thirty-one more missions in the next four months.

But, of course, he didn’t come home by the end of the year. He spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and his mother’s birthday as a prisoner of war and didn’t make it home until the middle of 1945.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

A B-17 Navigator Oversleeps

In the overnight hours between Thursday, July 20 and Friday, July 21, 1944, the 384 Bomb Group prepared for Mission #163 to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Airfield at Schwäbisch Hall, Germany.

Air personnel were awakened to begin their preparation process – breakfast, briefing, picking up flight gear and equipment, and assembly at their designated aircraft – as usual for each mission.

But one navigator fell back asleep after being awakened. William Alvin Henson II was awakened at 0150 – that’s 1:50 in the morning. After the orderly who awakened him told him that breakfast was at 0230, Bill Henson fell back asleep.

No one missed Henson or reported him missing until the pilot of his aircraft did so at engine time. Pilot, Lt. Alfred H. Cole, who had recently been promoted from co-pilot to pilot of his own crew, called the tower. Cole’s usual navigator, Harry Simons, wasn’t assigned to Cole’s crew that mission and Bill Henson was to replace him.

The tower advised Cole to taxi on time and he did so until he was nearly in takeoff position. Cole called again and was advised to wait in the dispersal area.

Someone found Henson still asleep in bed and awakened him at 0620. Henson must have had to skip breakfast and hustle to operations to get his briefing materials, control points and maps, but didn’t receive a flight plan. He headed to the Tremblin’ Gremlin with the rest of the Cole crew aboard and waiting for him to take off. Henson arrived at 0645 and they took off at 0655.

Henson had to put his navigation skills to work to search for the formation, but without success. The formation crossed the English coast at Felixstowe at 0821, altitude 15,000 feet, without them. By 0835, Cole realized they were not going to locate the formation and decided to turn back. They landed back at Grafton Underwood at 0954.

544th Bomb Squadron Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Alfred Charles “Coach” Nuttall determined the abortion was justified on the part of the pilot, but stated that the…

Navigator is held responsible and will be required to fly an extra sortie to complete his tour. The Squadron duty operations clerk is also held partly responsible since he did not double check barracks. He will do night duty for one week. It is also felt that the Group Duty Navigator should have discovered that this navigator was not present at briefing. In calling roll at Navigators briefing, he should have discovered that this navigator was absent.

544th BS Operations Officer Major George H. “Snapper” Koehne, Jr. agreed with the abortion justification ruling.

What did the punishment of flying one extra sortie (mission) for the simple act of falling back asleep mean for navigator Bill Henson? Well, if Henson had begun his tour earlier in the war, he would have completed his tour of duty of 25 missions on September 27, 1944 with the 384th’s Mission 200, and been sent home. As it turns out, on his 26th mission, Henson was aboard 43-37822 with my dad’s crew and was killed in the mid-air collision over Magdeburg.

As horrific as the thought of dying because you fell back asleep is, that wasn’t the case for Henson. By the time Bill Henson was assigned to the 384th, the number of missions to complete a tour had been increased to 30, and he still had several more to go before he could return home. He did get awfully close, though.

Navigator William A. Henson’s Statement in Full

I was awakened at 0150. The orderly told me that breakfast was 0230 so I went back to sleep and was awakened a second time at 0620. Came to operations and obtained control points and necessary maps but no flight plan. Went to ship and took-off as explained by pilot. Gave heading of 130° in order to meet formation at Splasher # 7. Couldn’t get Splasher # 7 on radio compass. Circled in what I thought was apparent area of Splasher # 7. Saw balloon barrages at approximately 0800 and realized we were sout[h] of London. Gave heading to Felixstowe and arrived there approximately 0830 and realized formation had left. Plane was equipped with gee box but on my first gee fix plotted west of Northampton, so I thought it was inoperative. Later fixes proved to be correct. Request all responsibility of abortion.

Pilot Alfred H. Cole’s Statement in Full

At engine time the navigator had not yet arrived. I called the tower and was advised to taxi on time – I taxied until nearly in take-off position at which time I called Cherub again and was told to wait in Dispersal #46.

The navigator arrived at 0645 and we took off at 0655. At 0835 we had not yet located the formation and it became apparent that were not going to find it. I decided to turn back.

Other Sources

William A. Henson’s personnel data from the 384th Bomb Group website

384th Bomb Group Website mission data

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Site Map of Station 106 at Grafton Underwood

The last time I caught up with Mark Meehl was in October in Dayton, Ohio at the latest 384th Bomb Group Reunion. Both Mark and his brother Jerry attended as they have for many years. Mark and Jerry’s dad, Paul Edwin Meehl, was a ground crew chief assigned to the 384th’s 547th Bomb Squadron from early 1943 through the end of the war. He also transferred with the group to Istres, France at the end of the war in Europe.

Left to right: Mark and Jerry Meehl at the 2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion in Dayton, Ohio

Mark is the group’s archivist, is a researcher who specializes in ground personnel, and also maintains the master log of all combat sorties. Mark’s brother Jerry (Gerald) is also interested in military history and has written or co-written three books, one with 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Jack Goetz.

At the reunion, I mentioned to Mark that I wanted to attend the group’s next junket to England – in September 2019 – and hoped to find the site of some air base photos in my dad’s collection. Mark shared scans of a couple of maps of the Station 106 site plan at Grafton Underwood with me and using them I believe I may be able to stand in the very same area the photos were taken when I visit.

For starters, this map that Mark shared with me shows the entire site with runways, living areas, and the small village of Grafton Underwood.

Overall plan of the Grafton Underwood airfield and all the site areas.
Scan by Mark Meehl of original plans/maps courtesy of Matt Smith in England

Click on the image to open it to full screen. (Then use your browser Back button to return to this post). The legend for the map is:

  • Site No. 1 – Airfield and Hardstands
  • Site No. 1 – 547th BS & Maintenance Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Group Headquarters
  • Site No. 1 – Old Head Wood Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 1 – SE Area
  • Site No. 1 – Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Warkton Common Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 2 – Communal
  • Site No. 3 – Communal
  • Site No. 4 – Group Staff Quarters
  • Site No. 5 – Ground Echelon Quarters
  • Site No. 6 – Ground Echelon Quarters
  • Site No. 7 – W.A.A.F.
  • Site No. 8 – 544th BS Area
  • Site No. 9 – 547th BS Area
  • Site No. 10 – 545th BS Area
  • Site No. 11 – 546th BS Area
  • Site No. 12 – Sick Quarters
  • Site No. 13 – Sewage
  • Site No. 14 – Sewage

Mark also told me I could add the site map as an overlay on Google Earth, so armed with a few instructions from Mark, I came up with this…

Grafton Underwood site map overlaid on Google Earth map

I’ll be playing around with this feature of Google Earth some more and try to get better results, but I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt.

My dad was in the 544th Bomb Squadron, so one of my interests is in Site No. 8. I believe my dad’s photos were taken in this area, and I’ll explore that site in more detail in a future post.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

2018 384th Bomb Group Reunion

When I returned from the 384th Bomb Group’s 2018 reunion in Dayton, Ohio, I posted a few photos here.

I have now had a chance to sort through the three hundred-plus photos I took and have posted about five dozen in the group’s photo gallery. The link is to the main album, which contains all photos contributed by reunion attendees. My photos, at least for now, are in the sub-album “Cindy Bryan’s Photos.” These may be rolled up into the main album in the future, so if you don’t see my sub-album, you can assume all my photos have been moved into the main album.

Here are just a few more of my photos from the 2018 Reunion in Dayton, but you can see lots more using the photo gallery link to the group’s online photo gallery.

Friday, October 19 – Our visit to the National Museum of the US Air Force

After a short bus ride from our reunion hotel, we gathered around the 384th Bomb Group memorial outside the museum. An honor guard presented the colors and taps was played.

Honor guard at the 384th Bomb Group memorial at the National Museum of the USAF

The five 384th Bomb Group veterans who attended the reunion posed for a photo on this cold Dayton morning.  Attending were (left to right):

  • Peter Bielskis, Ball Turret Gunner, 27 Missions
  • Henry Sienkiewicz, Navigator, 35 Missions
  • William Wilkens, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, 30 Missions
  • John DeFrancesco, Pilot, 35 Missions, POW
  • Donald Hilliard, Radio Operator, 16 Missions

Veterans of the 384th Bomb Group pose behind the group’s memorial at the Museum of the USAF
Left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, William Wilkens, John DeFrancesco, and Donald Hilliard

Never missing an opportunity to photograph our veteran heroes, our group posed inside the museum in front of the Memphis Belle (see previous post), and with UK friend of the group, Neill Howarth, in front of the museum’s soaring stained glass backdrop.

In the Museum of the USAF, left to right: Peter Bielskis, Henry Sienkiewicz, Neill Howarth, John DeFrancesco, William Wilkens, and Donald Hilliard

Saturday, October 20 – Our visit to the Champaign Aviation Museum at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio

Our group got a close look at the restoration work on the museum’s B-17 Champaign Lady, getting a hands-on educational opportunity in our favorite subject, the Flying Fortress. We held parts in our hands, crawled through the work-in-progress fuselage and ball turret, and, of course, took more photos.

We even had the opportunity to meet two local WWII Army Air Forces veterans from different bomb groups, Red Ketcham and Art Kemp, who were also based in England during the war. You can see their photos in the gallery.

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: Neill Howarth and John DeFrancesco

Our 384th veterans gathered in front of Champaign Lady

At the Champaign Aviation Museum, left to right: William Wilkens, Henry Sienkiewicz, John DeFrancesco, Peter Bielskis, and Donald Hilliard

The obvious “stars” of our group are our veterans, but as the number of surviving veterans dwindle, it is up to the next generation of children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in our group to carry their memory forward.

In addition to our five veterans, twenty-seven family members and five friends of the group gathered in Dayton this year. It is not just our country’s history we celebrate when we gather, it is our family history, too. Others like me seek to learn everything we can about our relatives’ involvement in that time long ago, not just for ourselves, but so that we can pass this knowledge down for generations to come.

Left to right: Fred Preller (son of 384th pilot Robert Preller), Cindy Farrar Bryan (daughter of 384th waist gunner George Edwin Farrar), John DeFrancesco (384th pilot), and Keith Ellefson (nephew of 384th ball turret gunner Raymond Orlando Wisdahl)

It took several days for me to return to “normal” from the travel between Florida and Ohio, and the reunion itself. But after my immersion of several days into the WWII air war over Europe, it will take me much longer to return to 2018 from 1945. Part of me is still there in that different world in that long ago time.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018