Category Archives: Robert Mitchell
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Robert “Bob” Mitchell on the phone. Bob served on two missions in WWII with my dad, George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group, and I hoped Bob remembered my dad. Bob did not remember my dad specifically, but he did tell me an interesting story involving the Buslee crew, which I’ll get to in a minute. Until then, I’d like to share with you what I have learned about – and from – Bob Mitchell.
Robert “Bob” McKinley Mitchell, Jr. was born November 21, 1921 to Robert McKinley and Vadie Olivia Stewart Mitchell of Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama. Sheffield is a small town in northern Alabama between Muscle Shoals and the Tennessee River.
In 1930, the Mitchell family lived at 1209 Atlanta Avenue in Sheffield. Robert’s father was a clerk at the post office, while Robert’s mother was busy raising four children. Robert was the oldest at eight, followed by Muriel at five, Opal at four, and Ruth at two.
In 1940, the Mitchell family still resided at 1209 Atlanta Avenue. Robert’s father was still with the post office, and his mother was now employed as a florist. The family had grown by three more children, and the brood now consisted two boys and five girls: Robert (18), Muriel (15), Opal (14), Ruth (12), Shirley (9), Elizabeth (5), and Thomas (1).
Bob and his high school sweetheart, Joyce Willette Lowe, were married March 21, 1942 in Colbert County, Alabama. Willette was named for her father, William. Bob and Willette knew Bob would be going off to war and decided that they wanted to be married before he left. For a time, Willette worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
Bob enlisted in the Army Air Forces on September 8, 1942 at Fort McClellan, Alabama. His enlistment record listed his civilian occupation as a “semiskilled inter-industry metal working occupation.”
Bob’s Army Air Forces training included aircraft maintenance training on T38 and T40 turboprop engines at Craig Field, Alabama, instructing aircraft maintenance in Texas, gunnery school at Kendall Field in Florida, and final B-17 bomber crew training in Louisiana.
Bob was assigned to the Frank L. Allred crew, 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #107 dated June 8, 1944. The 384th Bomb Group was stationed in Grafton Underwood, England. Bob’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 748 – Army Airplane Mechanic/Gunner, Flight Engineer. During crew training, one of the enlisted crew needed to be assigned to the ball turret and Bob volunteered to man what is considered the most dangerous position in a B-17.
The Allred crew and Bob’s first mission was the 384th Bomb Group’s Mission 136 on June 15, 1944. The target was a railroad viaduct in La Possonnièrre, France. The objective of the mission was to cut one of the enemy troop’s main supply routes. The mission was successful, and the Allred crew aboard Hotnuts returned safely to Grafton Underwood.
In all, Bob Mitchell completed 35 missions over France and Germany, but the 384th’s Mission 170 on August 3, 1944 was the closest call for the Allred crew. The 384th’s targets were NOBALL V-1 launch sites in Fleury, Flers, and Fiefs, France. NOBALL was the allied code name given to the manufacturing, storage and launching facilities of the German V-1 Flying Bomb and the V-2 Rocket.
There were three formations that mission – “H”, “I”, and “J” groups. The “H” group hit their target at Fleury and the “I” group hit theirs at Flers. The “J” group, of which the Allred crew was part, was unable to bomb their target at Fiefs due to the weather.
As a result, the Allred crew aboard Devil’s Brat had to return to base with battle damage and a full load of bombs. According to Bob Mitchell, not only did they still have their bombs on board, but the plane caught fire. They crash landed at RAF Chailey, East Sussex just after they crossed the English Channel, still 140 miles from Grafton Underwood.
All of the crew got out of the plane before the bombs exploded and all were uninjured except for the engineer/top turret gunner, Raymon L. Noble, who cut his arm on one of the props. Noble didn’t fly another mission for over a month.
Bob Mitchell’s thirty-fifth and final mission with the 384th Bomb Group was Mission 201 on September 28, 1944 to a steel manufacturing plant in Magdeburg, Germany. He was scheduled to fly with the Buslee crew that day. He had just filled in for the Buslee crew’s ball turret gunner the day before, September 27, on Mission 200.
Bob had requested to fly with friends from the Allred crew, Raymon L. Noble and Carl H. Redcay, for his last mission, but it didn’t look like his request was going to be honored. September 28 was also Redcay’s thirty-fifth and last mission, but Noble still had one more mission to go.
Bob was aboard Lead Banana ready to go with the Buslee crew when a jeep pulled up to the plane. The driver let one man out of the jeep and told Bob to get in. At the last minute, his request had been granted and he was driven over to Lorraine to fly with his Allred crewmates on his final flight. The September 28 mission to Magdeburg was the mission where the Brodie crew in Lazy Daisy collided with the Buslee crew in Lead Banana.
My interest in Mission 201 stems from the fact that my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor aboard Lead Banana. Only three men aboard Lazy Daisy survived. I continue to look for information and theories about the mid-air collision. New information from Bob gave me another perspective on the accident.
Lorraine was to the left of Lead Banana in the formation. Coming off the target at Magdeburg, Bob was still in position in the ball turret of Lorraine, looking out the ball turret’s window, thinking about the fellow in the other ball turret. As he watched the fellow in the ball turret of Lead Banana, he saw the collision occur. He saw the ball turret of Lead Banana knocked off the plane and watched as it fell away.
After witnessing the horrific event, Bob understood the significance of his reassignment from Lead Banana to Lorraine that day. With Bob’s thirty-fifth and last mission with the 384th Bomb Group complete, he was able to return home to his wife, Willette.
When he returned to the states, even though he had completed thirty-five missions with the 384th, his WWII service was not complete. He went back into training to fly missions in the Japanese theater. Fortunately, before it was time for him to ship out, WWII ended and so did his military service. Bob’s WWII decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the European Theater Medal with Five Bronze Stars.
One of Bob’s favorite post-war memories was meeting aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was the speaker at an event Willette was involved with. Bob introduced himself and told Lindbergh that as a child in Sheffield, Alabama, Bob had been the recipient of some candy thrown by Lindbergh out of an airplane. Lindbergh remembered the flight, and he and Bob enjoyed several hours of conversation at the event.
Robert McKinley “Bob” Mitchell, Jr. died last week, May 12, 2015. He was 93 years old. When I talked to him in April, I could hear the pride he had in his service with the 384th and the love he had for Willette, his wife of seventy-three years. For Bob, the war is over. Rest in peace Robert Mitchell.
Robert McKinley Mitchell, Jr. is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in his native Sheffield, Alabama.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015
The Buslee and Brodie crews were involved in a mid-air collision on September 28, 1944 during the 384th Bomb Group’s Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. The Buslee crew flew this mission aboard aircraft 43-37822, Lead Banana. The Brodie crew was aboard 42-31222, Lazy Daisy. The two planes collided after bombs away and coming off the target.
Nearly part of the day’s tragedy himself, Lt. Col. Wallace A. Storey, USAF (Ret.), witnessed the collision between Lead Banana and Lazy Daisy.
The following excerpt from the book, A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force by Lt. Col. Wallace Storey, USAF (Ret.) and Mrs. Martha L. Storey, is provided for use on The Arrowhead Club website by the kind permission of the authors, who assert full ownership of copyright for the material. Use of this material is limited to the following provisions. This excerpt is intended for unrestricted private use. Please copy and use as needed to support your WWII research. If you wish to incorporate this information in a commercial product of any kind, request authorization from Lt. Col. Wallace Storey, USAF (Ret.) in advance.
September 28, 1944
On this day the 384th Bomb Group was dispatched to bomb the Krupps Steel Manufacturing Plant at Magdeburg, Germany. This was a heavily defended target and a long flight of almost ten hours. On this mission there was a tragic occurrence illustrative of some of the little discussed risks of combat flying that sometimes happened but, fortunately, was never repeated on any of my missions.
After being awakened at 0310 we had breakfast and briefing and were in our planes at 0610 as the “start engine” flares arched from the 384thBG control tower—or “Cherub” as was its call sign. Of course, the radio was not used for aircraft control as the group departed so as to avoid alerting the German defenses any earlier than necessary. Once we were airborne the fact that the 8th was assembling was soon evident to the enemy but any delay increased the chances of deception.
On this mission, I was to follow ship #222, [42-31222]“Lazy Daisy”, flown by Lt. Brodie, on to the taxiway leading to the runway. He was to fly #2 position of the high element of our squadron and I was to fly position #3 (i.e. right and left wing respectively off of the lead plane,#941, [42-97941, “Marion”] of the element). Take off went well as we began our roll at 0720. The Group assembled without incident and we fell into line as briefed for the Wing Order of Battle.
Our 41st Combat Wing was made up that day of the 303rdBG in lead, followed by the 379th, with the 384th last. This order, which varied from mission to mission, was to prove fateful on that day. Just a few weeks earlier the Luftwaffe had begun a new tactic which they called “company front attacks”. They added extra armor and guns to three or four dozen Focke Wolfe FW-190 single engine fighters. They approached the 8th Air Force Groups head on in wedges of eight to sixteen planes so as to saturate the bombers’ defensive fire and sometimes disrupt their formation. Although we did not know it at the time, they had used this tactic against the 446th Group of the Second Division the previous day and inflicted the greatest loss ever suffered by a single group of the 8th Air Force in World War II—-25 B-24’s.
The German fighters used this tactic against the 303rd Group, the lead group in our Combat Wing, on the mission to Magdeburg on the 28th. The 303rd lost eleven B-17’s in this frontal assault. One of the lead pilots of the 303rd is quoted as saying “When we turned on our bomb run we were attacked by about 50 Nazi fighters en masse, coming at us as a solid bunch. Those guys were like mad men–with one idea–to knock us down in a suicidal attack”. There was a total of fifteen B-17’s that were lost that day from our Combat Wing. This amounted to a 13.9% loss of the l08 planes–the highest loss in the Wing of any of my missions.
Being the 3rd Group in the Wing we were fortunate not to be as heavily attacked as the other two Groups, but what happened led to confusion as we bombed the target. Flak was extremely heavy that day and the Wing had been somewhat disrupted by the heavy opposition. We found ourselves on a crossing course with another Group and just after “bombs away” the lead ship made a sharp descending right turn. Our high element, being on the inside of this steep turn, had to move quickly by reducing power while climbing slightly. Glancing to my right, I saw that “Lazy Daisy” was sliding toward me. I pulled back on the control column to climb out of her path while keeping my eye on the #2 ship of the lead element, Lt. Buslee in #337 [43-37822, “Lead Banana”], on whose wing our element was flying. I yelled to Gross to watch for him to come out on the other side and, sure enough, he slid under us and right into Buslee in the lead element.
I watched the two planes as they collided. It cut #337 [43-37822, “Lead Banana”] in half and the wings on #222 [42-31222, “Lazy Daisy”] folded up and both planes fell in a fireball. They were 18 men lost in those two ships. We didn’t see any chutes as we continued our turn to the right.
Some of the formations were broken up, both because of this and because of the fighter attack, but we did not have any further problem as we headed back home. Even though the 1st Division lost 23 planes, the Germans did not come out unscathed. There were 10 confirmed fighters destroyed, 7 probables, and 5 damaged by the B-17 gunners. Our crew was extremely lucky that day as “Lazy Daisy”, by all normal odds, should have collided with us and must have crossed under with less than five foot clearance as I pulled up. And for Buslee, flying on the last of his 35 missions, and for Brodie, and their crews it was the unluckiest of all days.
We were all happy to be safely back at Grafton Underwood as we touched down on the soil of England. Upon inspecting our plane we found two sizable Flak holes but, fortunately, they missed our fuel tanks and other vital points. Fighters and Flak were not the only dangers of combat flying. Taking off, assembling, and landing in extremely bad English weather (such as grounded the 8th frequently in 1943 but not later) formation flying in weather where only the adjoining plane could be seen and maneuvering large formations required great competency in the flight crews and, often, great luck as described in this mission.
Copyright (C) 2002—Lt/Col. Wallace A. Storey
- I have included clarifications of aircraft serial numbers and names in brackets above.
- Correction: John Oliver Buslee, pilot of 43-37822, Lead Banana, was flying his 16th mission on September 28, 1944.
- The William A. Johnstone crew was aboard 42-97941, Marion.
- The Kenneth E. Gross crew was aboard 43-38548, name unknown. Co-Pilot Wallace A. Storey, was flying the plane and was able to see Lazy Daisy coming toward him from the co-pilot seat on the right side of the cockpit. His quick reaction saved his crew from an otherwise certain collision. The Pilot, Gross, may never have seen Lazy Daisy from his vantage point on the left side of the cockpit.
- The Richard H. Groff crew was aboard 43-38615, name unknown.
- The Harold M. Toler crew was High Group Lead aboard 43-38016, Lorraine. Robert M. Mitchell, who had served as Ball Turret Gunner twice with Buslee crew waist gunner George Edwin Farrar, was on the Toler crew on this mission.
Wallace A. Storey provided this diagram depicting the formation of the aircraft just prior to the collision:
To read more about Wallace A. Storey, click here.
With the exception of material in this post copyrighted by Wallace A. Storey, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2013
September 27, 1944 – 384th BG Mission 200.
The 384th Bomb Group Mission 200 was also known as Eighth Air Force Mission 650.
The Buslee crew flew this mission aboard aircraft 42-102449, Hale’s Angels.
The primary target was the railroad marshaling yards in Cologne, Germany.
- Pilot – John Oliver Buslee
- Co-Pilot – David Franklin Albrecht
- Navigator – William Alvin Henson II
- Bombardier – Robert Sumner Stearns
- Radio Operator/Gunner – Sebastiano Joseph Peluso
- Engineer/Top Turret Gunner – Lenard Leroy Bryant
- Ball Turret Gunner – Robert M. Mitchell
- Tail Gunner – Gerald Lee Andersen
- Waist Gunner – George Edwin Farrar (my dad)
On this mission, the Buslee crew was the High Group Deputy and Hot Camera Ship.
Chester A. Rybarczyk did not fly this mission. William Alvin Henson II replaced him as Navigator on this flight.
James B. Davis also did not fly this mission. Robert Sumner Stearns replaced him as Bombardier.
Henson had flown with the Buslee crew once before, on September 3, 1944. This was the first flight with the Buslee crew for Stearns.
Robert M. Mitchell replaced Erwin V. Foster as Ball Turret Gunner on this mission. This was the first time Mitchell flew with the Buslee crew, although he had flown with Farrar on September 19 as part of the William M. Reed crew.
Gerald Lee Andersen replaced Eugene D. Lucynski for the second time as Tail Gunner.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2013
September 19, 1944 – 384th BG Mission 196.
The 384th Bomb Group Mission 196 was also known as Eighth Air Force Mission 642.
Most of the Buslee crew did not fly this mission. Waist Gunner George Edwin Farrar flew this mission with the William M. Reed crew aboard aircraft 43-38062, Pleasure Bent. Tail Gunner Eugene D. Lucynski flew with the Joe Carnes crew on 42-37982, The Tremblin’ Gremlin. The remainder of the Buslee crew did not fly. Robert Mitchell flew as ball turret gunner.
The primary target was the railroad marshaling yards in Hamm, Germany.
The Tremblin’ Gremlin was struck by flak on this mission and the crew, including Lucynski, bailed out over Binche, Belgium and landed in allied territory. The Sortie Report states that all returned to duty except for the injured Ball Turret Gunner, James B. King, Jr., who was seriously wounded. However, Lucynski’s record on the 384th Bomb Group web site shows that this was his last mission and does not show that he completed his tour and returned home. Lucynski’s inclusion on The Tremblin’ Gremlin on this mission kept him off Lead Banana on September 28, when the Lazy Daisy collided with it coming off the target in Magdeburg.
This was the last mission for The Tremblin’ Gremlin.
Question – What happened to Eugene D. Lucynski after the September 19, 1944 mission?
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2013