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2019 384th Bomb Group Junket to England – A Teaser

A group of thirty-nine folks recently traveled to England for the 384th Bomb Group’s Junket XI. Three of the group’s veterans – navigator Henry Sienkiewicz, ball turret gunner Len Estrin, and tail gunner Henry Kolinek – attended along with wives, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and friends of the group.

The group was accompanied by Arena Travel tour manager Rick Hobson and toured the Thorpe Abbotts airfield, home of the Bloody Hundredth; the market town of Lavenham; the village and air base of Grafton Underwood, where the 384th was based during WWII; the Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show and Imperial War Museum; the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley; and the town of Cambridge.

I will share more photos and stories of the trip very soon, but for now, as I’m pouring through the 1,000+ photos that I took during the junket and during a subsequent trip to Scotland, I’ll just share these few.

The entire group gathered on the steps at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley, including our three attending veterans on the front row, left to right, Len Estrin (with Len’s wife Helen), Henry Sienkiewicz, and Henry Kolinek. Our group of thirty-nine from the States was joined by many of our 384th friends in Britain and Arena Travel tour director Rick Hobson.

384th Junkateers at Madingley American Cemetery in Cambridge, England

I previously met a few folks from the UK, like Neill and Bridget Howarth, Kevin Flecknor, and Rob Long, during their travels to the States for 384th Bomb Group and 8th Air Force reunions, but prior to our junket have only known many of the UK folks through the 384th’s Facebook Group. What a treat to finally meet so many of them in person!

I caught up with old friends Neill and Bridget Howarth and met Facebook friend Jason Mann, all of whom orchestrated much of our visit to England, especially our visit to and tour of Grafton Underwood.

Neill Howarth, Cindy Bryan, Bridget Howarth, and Jason Mann

I also met in person for the first time British Facebook friends and friends of the 384th Graham Butlin, Snowy Ellson, Alan Dickens, and Tony Plowright, and the one thing I did learn was that my visit to the UK was far too short.

I met my dad’s Stalag Luft IV POW roomate Lawrence Newbold’s son Steve and grandson Paul.

Paul Newbold, Cindy Bryan, and Steve Newbold

I met Richard Denney and his aunt June.

Richard Denney, Cindy Bryan, and June Denney

The stories of my connections to the Newbold’s and Denney’s will be coming soon. These were the most anticipated and emotional of meetings for me.

Of course, the highlight of the trip to England was our day at Grafton Underwood, meeting the Newbold’s and the Denney’s, and our tour of the airbase from the back of a WWII Willys jeep.

Cindy and Bill Bryan in a WWII Willys Jeep in Grafton Underwood, England

At the Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show, we climbed inside the UK’s B-17 Sally B and took a photo of some of our group in front of her.

384th Junketeers at the 2019 Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show

We walked down the road in Grafton Underwood from the Village Hall to see the stained glass window in St. James the Apostle Church.

Bill and Cindy Bryan in front of the 384th Memorial Window at St. James the Apostle Church in Grafton Underwood, England

That’s all I have for now, but I’ll be writing more and posting more photos in the next “post-mission briefing”…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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The 75th Anniversary of Dad’s Last Week at Grafton Underwood

George Edwin Farrar

The last seven days my dad, George Edwin Farrar, spent at the 384th Bomb Group’s Grafton Underwood air base were pretty busy, although the previous week, he only flew one mission (number 196), targeting the railroad marshalling yards in Hamm Germany.

He spent the weekend of September 23 and 24, 1944 enjoying the 384th Bomb Group’s 200th Mission Celebration.

Saturday, September 23 events included an award banquet in the Officers’ Mess with guest speaker Brigadier General Robert F. Travis, dancing in Hangar #1 for the enlisted men with music by George Elrick & his BBC Orchestra and other entertainers, dancing in the Officers’ Club for the officers with music by the Flying Yanks Orchestra, and dancing in the Zebra Club for Zebra Club members with music by the Stratton-Audley G.I. Band.

Transportation to the party was provided from several locations (Northampon, Kettering, Woodford, Corby, Brigstock, Lilford, Newport Pagnell, Finedon, and Geddington) for civilian guests.

Sunday, September 24 was a day of “novelty events,” including a sack race, a three-legged race, a relay race, a piggy-back race, a wheelbarrow race, and a slow bike race. Also on the schedule were a bicycle derby, a baseball game – Station 106 vs. 8th AF All Stars, Scotch bagpipe band & Highland dancers, and a U-S-O stage show at the Station Theater featuring an all-American cast including MC & comedian Artie Conray, comedy act Drohan & Dupree, and accordionist Ferne Downes.

The 200th Mission Celebration weekend was in advance of the actual 200th mission date, and in fact, occurred between Mission 197 to the railroad marshalling yards in Mainz, Germany on September 21 and Mission 198 to the railroad marshalling yards in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on September 25. Daddy flew Mission 198, but then missed Mission 199 on September 26 to a steelworks factory in Osnabrück, Germany.

Mission 200 finally arrived on September 27, targeting the railroad marshalling yards in Köln (Cologne), Germany. Dad flew that one and that was the last mission on which he returned to Grafton Underwood.

The next day, on September 28, 1944, Mission 201, targeting a steelworks factory in Magdeburg, Germany, would be his last, cut short by a mid-air collision between his and another of the groups B-17’s. His next stop, after interrogation and a hospital stay, would be the Stalag Luft IV POW camp in Gross-Tychow (now Tychowo), Poland, and then the long walk home, a five-hundred mile, eighty-six day march across Germany to liberation.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Grafton Underwood Maps and Site Plans Booklet

Note:  This post is a duplicate of a permanent page I added a few weeks ago, but I am repeating it today as a blog post in honor of the 384th Bomb Group Junket XI visit to England, of which I am a part.

We will be visiting Station 106 on Saturday, September 21 and touring the remains of the air base. I know I will be referring to the maps as I see, for the first time, the air base on which my dad served in WWII. I will be walking on the same ground Dad once did, seeing the remains of a piece of his history from seventy-five years ago.

The WWII-era site plan for Grafton Underwood (Station 106) was mapped out in 1944 into fourteen separate sites, with Site No. 1 sub-divided further into seven areas. Our 384th Bomb Group NexGen Archivist, Mark Meehl, extracted individual maps with numbered keys from the site plan and kindly shared them with me. The individual sites are:

  • Site No. 1 – Airfield and Hardstands
  • Site No. 1 – Group Headquarters (HQ Area)
  • Site No. 1 – Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Southeast Area
  • Site No. 1 – 547th BS & Maintenance Technical Site
  • Site No. 1 – Warkton Common Bomb Stores
  • Site No. 1 – Old Head Wood 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 Bomb Squadron Area
  • Site No. 9 – 547th Bomb Squadron Area
  • Site No. 10 – 545th Bomb Squadron Area
  • Site No. 11 – 546th Bomb Squadron Area
  • Site No. 12 – Sick Quarters
  • Site No. 13 – Sewage
  • Site No. 14 – Sewage

On my upcoming visit to Grafton Underwood, I wanted to have a handy map guide to take with me during my tour of the air base, so I have combined Mark’s individual maps into a PDF document that I could print into a small booklet.

Thinking others, especially those visiting Grafton Underwood for the first time, might like their own copy, I am including a download here. To download a copy of the 384th Bombardment Group, Station 106, Grafton Underwood, England, Maps and Site Plans, click this thumbnail of the cover page:

The download is in PDF file format and may be viewed as a digital image on a computer, tablet, or phone with a PDF reader, or may be printed in any format desired, however, the document prints best as a 5 ½-inch by 8 ½-inch booklet.  Note: download before printing to print the booklet format!

In the booklet format, the location keys appear on the page opposite the corresponding map, in most cases.

To print a 5 ½-inch by 8 ½-inch booklet on letter-size paper in Adobe Acrobat Reader, set the following printing preferences:

  • Page Sizing & Handling to Booklet.
  • Booklet subset to Both sides for duplex printers (see note below for non-duplex printers).
  • Sheets from 1 to 13.
  • Binding to Left.
  • Orientation to Portrait.
  • Optionally, check Print in grayscale (black and white)

After printing, fold pages in half (one at a time is easier), maintaining page order.  Staple along the left side about 1/8-inch from the left edge in three places:  one inch from top, in the middle, and one inch from bottom.  Optionally, cover staples with one-inch wide masking or other tape.

Note:  If printer is not a duplex printer capable of automatically printing on both sides of the page, choose Front side only to print the front sides of the pages, then reload those pages (check your printer manual for proper paper orientation for reloading) and choose Back side only to print the back sides of the pages.

Acknowledgements and Final Notes

Cover artwork courtesy of Marc Poole.

Maps and site plans courtesy of Quentin Bland, Ken Decker, Robin Dodson, John Edwards, Kevin Flecknor, Mark Meehl, Fred Preller, Matt Smith, the 384TH Bomb Group Photo Gallery, and the RAF Hendon Archives.  Hardstand identification and key transcription courtesy of Mark Meehl.

All maps are oriented North up.

To see the complete Station 106 site plan in detail, download the high resolution digital map images to a computer or tablet and zoom in as the print size in the map booklet is not conducive to viewing the complete large format site maps and they were not included. Maps and site plans may be found on and downloaded from Photos.384thBombGroup.com in the 384TH During WWII album, Station 106 Maps sub-album.  The Station 106 Airfield Area map and Station 106 Domestic Area map are particularly detailed drawings with keys.

Keep the show on the road…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

544th Bomb Squadron Living Area at Grafton Underwood

The map of the living area of the 384th Bomb Group’s 544th Bomb Squadron shows the air raid shelter, living quarters, latrines and ablutions (showers). I have highlighted the air raid shelters, latrines, and shower buildings (or at least which ones I think they are) to try to identify the locations of the following photos.

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 356-358 Officers’ Quarters
  • 359-360 Officers’ Latrines
  • 361 Picket Post
  • 362 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrines
  • 363-367 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 368-370 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 371-375 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 376-377 Airmen’s Latrines
  • 378-380 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 381-383 Sergeants’ & Airmen’s Ablutions
  • 384 M & E Plinth

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, saved several photos that I believe must have been taken in this area. A few show an air raid shelter with what looks like barracks to the left a tent to the right.

This photo shows the air raid shelter in the background with a tent to the right. The children in the photo are the local Grafton Underwood children of the Denney family, Bert, Roy, and June.

544th Bomb Squad area with Air Raid Shelter in the background. The children in the picture are the Denney children, left to right: Bert, Roy, and June.

This photo was taken from a different angle and shows barracks to the left and shows a walkway leading to a tent to the right. That’s Bert Denney climbing the air raid shelter in the background.

L to R: (I believe) David Albrecht and Carl Guinn
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

In the next photo, Lenard Bryant and Carl Guinn stand in the same area with Bert and June Denney standing at the top of the air raid shelter in the background.

L to R: Lenard Bryant and Carl Guinn
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

A couple of other photos, which I believe were also taken in the 544th Bomb Squad living area have different backgrounds. In this first one, my dad and three other members of the John Buslee crew look to be standing in front of a latrine or shower (ablutions) building with tents in the left of the background. This also leads me to believe Dad’s enlisted crew was housed in a tent rather than a Nissen hut.

Left to right: George Edwin Farrar, Lenard Leroy Bryant, Erwin V. Foster, and Sebastiano Joseph Peluso. In the background (left) are tents, and (right) a latrine.

This photo looks to have the same tents in the background.

L to R: Carl Guinn and (I believe) John Bregant
Courtesy of George Edwin Farrar’s WWII photo collection

The buildings in the first photos are not Nissen huts, so I could be wrong about where on the base the photos were taken. I’d like to be able to find the location of these photos on the base. I’ll have that opportunity later this month when I visit the UK and hope to have some current day views of these locations to post when I return.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Airmen’s Living Quarters at Grafton Underwood

Airmen of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII who were based in Grafton Underwood, England were divided into four Bombardment Squadrons – the 544th, 545th, 546th, and 547th. Each squadron had a separate area of living quarters, primarily Nissen huts and tents. At least one crew occupied each dwelling, and often multiple crews. The officers and enlisted men had separate dwellings.

This area map of the base shows that the living quarters of the 545th, 546th, and 547th Bomb Squadrons were fairly close to each other with the living quarters of the 544th Bomb Squadron some distance southwest of the other three squadrons.

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

The above map was obtained from the RAF (Royal Air Force) Hendon Archives and this and other Grafton Underwood Station 106 Air Base maps I publish come courtesy of many folks including Quentin Bland, Ken Decker, Robin Dodson, John Edwards, Kevin Flecknor, Mark Meehl, Fred Preller, and Matt Smith. Hardstand identifications and other keys and identifications are courtesy of Mark Meehl. The original maps may be viewed and downloaded from Fred Preller’s 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery.

For a closer view into the separate living quarters area for each bombardment squadron, I am including a detailed map followed by the key to the numbered locations.

544th Bombardment Squadron (Site No. 8)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 356-358 Officers’ Quarters
  • 359-360 Officers’ Latrines
  • 361 Picket Post
  • 362 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrines
  • 363-367 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 368-370 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 371-375 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 376-377 Airmen’s Latrines
  • 378-380 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 381-383 Sergeants’ & Airmen’s Ablutions
  • 384 M & E Plinth

545th Bombardment Squadron (Site No. 10)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 436 Picket Post
  • 437-440 Officers’ Quarters
  • 441 Officers’ Ablution & Latrines
  • 442-447 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 448-450 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 451 M & E Plinth
  • 452 Sergeants & Airmen’s Ablution & Drying Room
  • 453-472 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 473-476 Airmen’s Latrines

546th Bomb Squadron (Site No. 11)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 482 Picket Post
  • 483-485 Officers’ Quarters)
  • 486 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrines
  • 487-491, 493 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 494-496 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 497 Sergeants & Airmen’s Ablution & Drying
  • 498-518 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 519-522 Airmen’s Latrines

547th Bombardment Squadron (Site No. 9)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 389-390 Officers’ Quarters
  • 391 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrine
  • 392 Fuel Compound
  • 393 Picket Post
  • 394-400 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 401-403 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 404 M & E Plinth
  • 405-425 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 426 Sergeants’ & Airmen’s Ablution & Drying Room
  • 427-430 Airmen’s Latrines

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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

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