This is the story as told by Jack Nowaki, our pilot
Much sooner than we wanted the time came to move on to my next assignment which we knew would be overseas.
I had been assigned to a crew as Co-Pilot, we trained together for several weeks and became well acquainted. Elmonte Miller was Pilot, Bernard Hodgkiss, Navigator Spiris Katsiginis, Bombardier. Our Engineer and Top Gunner was Jackson Weese, Radio was John Lohr. Charles Cunningham was in the Ball Turret, Marvin Johnson, Tail Gunner and in the Waist Positions were John Cascone and Edward Whiting.
When orders came for us to leave Rapid City, we were no longer allowed to leave the base. We were to report to Kearney, Nebraska July 12, 1944. We were required to travel by troop train, no cars and no dependents could accompany us.
So once again Polly was on her own to arrange transportation home. The afternoon after I left she was to board a train to Columbus. She had to pack settle up with the Tourist Court and yes get rid of our Ford. To do this she made a for sale sign drove to the heart of town parked the car in front of the local drug store and went inside to wait.
Soon a local man came along, noticed the for sale sign and started looking the car over. Polly went out and sold it to him for $100.00. I often wondered what would have happened had no one come along to buy the car before it was time for her to board the train home. Polly always said she never worried about this because she had no doubt that she would sell it.
Meanwhile I was on a troop train, headed for Kearney, Nebraska. No one was allowed to leave the train. We had kitchen facilities and personnel set up in a box car. All these train trips were tiresome and this one was no exception. Our stay at Kearney lasted only a few days. We were told that from now on that our movements were secret, we could tell no one what we were doing or where we were going.
At Kearney, we were assigned a brand new aircraft, B-17 #43-38l64, it was a beautiful shiny plane, with bomb bay fuel tanks indicating we were going to be flying long distances.
On July 16, we were handed our orders, loaded our new airplane and took off on the first leg of our trip to England. This first leg was to take us over northern Ohio on our way to Greiner Field, Manchester, New Hampshire. I was so tempted to make a slight detour to the south and buzz my house in Columbus, but thought better of it.
Our flight took 9 1/2 hours and was uneventful.
On July 2O,we left Manchester for a 5 hour and 15 minute flight to Gander Lake, Goose Bay, Newfoundland.
We were delayed in Goose Bay for several days. Our time was not wasted however, as we attended ground school every day. We did get a little sight seeing, swimming, etc. in our off times.
Finally on July 3O, late in the evening, we took off for the European Theater of Operations. Our flight was 12 hours duration, 7 of which were night flying. The only event of interest was the flying over a convoy of merchant ships headed east. There seemed to be a hundred ships in this group. We flashed our code identification for fear they might think we were an enemy aircraft, but there was no reaction from them.
Our flight took us into Nuts Corner, Ireland, where we left our brand new airplane and took off by train to the coast, where we loaded on to a large ferry boat which took us to Scotland, from here we were taken by train to a base very close to London.
Here we were assigned to the 379th bomb group (Squadron 526) Bomb Group H. First Division Army Air Force Station 117 at Kimbolton England. We arrived there
August 18 1944.
At Kimbolton, we flew almost every day on practice missions, flying high altitude formation, on instruments and night flights.
Finally on Sept. 8, 1944, our crew flew its first combat mission. This first mission was to Ludwigshafen, Germany and lasted seven hours and thirty-five minutes. Conditions were clear, but the mission was what I at the time called mild. Our aircraft sustained only one hole, no one was injured and we saw no enemy fighters. Our second mission, however was a different story. On Sept. 13, we were sent to Merseburg, Germany to the oil works there. Again the skies were clear, but not like our first mission, the antiaircraft fire was intense. Our airplane sustained over 200 holes. We were lucky however as we were the only plane in our squadron to make it back to our base.
We made the entire return trip alone, and I can tell you this was a very scary experience. Among those lost was my friend Stanley Davidson who was also on his second mission.
I will not try to tell you details of all my 35 missions, there were some we called milk runs, some were rough and some were very frightening.
Of the 35 missions" there were only 7 or 8 when we received no holes from enemy fire. Our gunners fired at enemy aircraft on only 2 or 3 missions. We like to credit this to the fact that we flew tight formation and our group had a great reputation for shooting down German fighters. When the enemy fighters
saw the large yellow triangle with a black K in it on our tail they avoided us.
The B17 carried 13, 50 caliber machine guns so a group flying tight formation could bring almost 300 machine guns to bear on an enemy aircraft. Even though many B17s were shot down during the war, they shot down more enemy planes than any other allied aircraft.
A typical mission started when your crew was put on alert the evening before. You were then awakened very early on the morning of the flight and had breakfast and went on to the briefing. Here we assembled in a meeting hall similar to a small theater. Various crew members attended various briefings.
At the Pilot's briefing, the officers in charge entered onto a stage and rolled down a large map, perhaps 8' high x 16' wide. On this map was our base and from it a red ribbon depicting our route to the target. When this map came down the groans from the crews was in direct proportion to the reputation of the target. '
We were given all pertinent information, call letters of the day. Expected weather condit1on, Bomb load and type, gasoline load, Distance to target, route out and back (usually different. Altitude, expected enemy ground fire and aircraft. Each Bl7 has a slot in their squadron's formation, and position each formation was to fly in our own group, and the groups' slot among the groups' going to this same target.
All other facts, watches synchronized, take off time, time at rendezvous, time at initial point. (This is where you make your final turn onto the final leg to the target.) While on this leg of your trip, you cannot vary your direction or your bombs will miss your target; and finally, time over the target, and the expected time of the mission.
We went from the briefing room to the supply room where we packed up our flight bags. These bags contained our Flight suits, boots, oxygen mask, flack helmets and flack suits, parachute, etc.
I learned on my second mission that electrically heated flight suits were of no use when your electricity is shot out. So from then on I dressed warm enough to get along without it. The temperature at 30 thousand was frequently thirty to forty degrees below zero or colder.
In addition to all the gear in my flight bag, I carried a heavy steel plate to sit on. I didn't want flack coming up
from below, hitting me where it could hurt most. I also carried an extra pair of shoes in the event I would need to walk home and an escape kit with maps and compass which I still have.
From the supply room, we boarded trucks or jeeps for the ride out to our aircraft. We flew in several different ones, but most of our missions were in "White Lightning II, which had over 60 missions on it when we arrived. Many aircrafts had flown many more than that. Our crew would arrive in two or three different vehicles, and we would all go to our assigned tasks to pre-flight the plane. The ground crew chief would give us his report, then walk around the plane with us checking it out.
When all was in readiness we would watch for the flares telling us to start our engines and taxi to the end of the runway. Each B17 took off in the order required for them to fall into their proper slot in the group's formation. The lead aircraft would fly a very large circle and each plane would fly a slightly tighter circle in order to catch up. By the time the' group leader had made his turn onto the heading to the target all the groups following aircraft should be in their proper slot in formation.
From here it was a slow steady climb for these airplanes heavily loaded with gasoline, ammunition and bombs. As we reached ten thousand feet, we put on our oxygen mask. Most of the crewmen could wear back pack parachutes. The Pilots and Ball Turret used chest packs which we kept under our
seats ready if needed. The Bombardier left his nose position and went to the bomb bay to arm the bombs. Then back to the nose.
As we neared enemy territory each man put on his flack suit and took up his proper position in the aircraft.
Probably the most dangerous part of the mission was after we turned from the initial point toward our target onto the bomb run. Here the aircraft could not vary from its course or the bombs would miss their target. The lead plane was flown by automatic control of the bomb sight in his plane. His bombs were dropped when the cross hairs of his bomb sight crossed the target.
All the other aircraft dropped their bombs manually as soon as the lead plane dropped his. The instant "bombs away" was announced the lead Pilot would turn the planned direction to the desired heading home. Now because much of our gas was by now consumed and our bombs were gone, our planes were much lighter and could fly some faster which we did.
All through our approach to the target area, ground fire could be encountered. It might be heavy or light. Our course was always la1d out to avoid this fire as much as possible, but as we neared the target we might need to fly over concentrations of many hundreds of the enemies' antiaircraft guns.
Frequently we could see a box or barrage of anti-aircraft shells just ahead of us, and we knew as we approached that the next salvo would be much closer and we would fly directly into a subsequent salvo. As I sa1d earlier, there were only few missions on which we did not get hit frequently, many times. From time to time we would see our friendly fighter escort.
If our mission was deep into Germany, none of our fighters could escort all the way in and back out. The P.5ls, P.47s, then the P.38s, we were glad to see them again on our way back from long missions.
Occasionally we carried chaff, or window which was strips of aluminum about 3/8 of an inch wide and 16' long. Lead groups usually drop this to disrupt the enemies' radar.
On other bombing missions, we might carry propaganda leaflets to drop on the cities, along with our bombs.
We had to remain alert for our trip home because they never quit shooting at us as long as we were in range of their guns. And we never knew when we might encounter enemy fighter planes.
When we reached and crossed the English Channel, we always breathed a sigh of relief.
Of the 35 missions, there were four occasions on which we could not make it back to our base. Once because of the length of our mission, we were all running out of fuel. We landed at Manston, a huge field on the eastern most tip of England. Planes were landing in all directions, we were able to land on the main runway as two of our engines quit on our final approach we were so low on gas.
Another landing away from home was due to fog at our home base. We landed on one of the few fields in England that was equipped with F.I.D.O. which was a system of fires along each side of the length of the runway. The fires helped light the runway and the heat was supposed to disperse the fog.
You could see the two rows of fire and knew you must land between them, but we could not see the runway until we were almost up on it. Most of the away from home and many of the others were night landings due to the short days and length of our missions (average length about 8 hours.)
On Christmas Eve, 1944, we landed on an English base near the Channel. There were many crews of us and we were all sent into this large Gymnasium type room and were sitting around on the floor. There were English anti aircraft crews nearby firing at buzz bombs that were flying overhead. Their projectile would explode overhead and the fragments would fall back onto the roof of the building we were in. We had been up now for about 16 hours and had nothing to eat since about 4 a.m. and were all starving. Suddenly the door opened and Q 0.1. walked in with a plate of food in each hand. He looked at the crowd and asked, "Is there anyone here from
Columbus, Ohio. When I said I was he looked at me, and asked where in
Columbus. I told him the south end and he asked me what grade school I had
attended. When I said Beck Street, he handed me the plate of food. He lived on Ninth Street across' from Spohns Tin Shop, knew them well and he too had gone to Beck Street School. A little late, a convoy of G.I. trucks arrived to take us the 80 or 90 miles back to our base. By now it was 8 or 9 o’clock and very dark. I rode in the cab of the lead truck with a map and a flashlight. Our truck had no headlights due to the black-out, So we drove about 3 hours in pitch dark. Several times I had to climb out of the truck to read road signs to be sure e were on the right road. We arrived back at our base and finally got to bed about 3 or 2 AM Christmas morning. My 23rd mission was to Gelsenkirchen. My Father’s birth place. Our group was to lead the 8th Air Force on this mission and to fly lead plane, A General came up from
headquarters; he wanted a pilot to fly in the tail gunner position to report what was going on behind him. I was selected for the job. For 7 hours I flew backwards, but I got another mission. Our crew flew the first 4 missions together then I went to fly with a few other crews. Spiro Katsignis was made a lead bombardier and never flew with us again. I was made first pilot and after a few more missions with various crews, Monte Miller went to our Squadron Commander and asked to be allowed to fly Co-Pilot for me. So I finished up flying the rest of our tour with my old crew as Pilot with Miller as Co-Pilot. On January 3, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, we bombed enemy supply lines at St.Vith Begum. This was as close as I came to being injured in combat. An anti-aircraft shell burst just above our cockpit, a large fragment came through the top of the plane through the sleeve of my fur lined jacket and came to rest on my watch band. It did not even break the skin. (I still have the piece of flack). My 35th and last mission was to Padenborn on an. 17, 1945. Our tail gunner and I were the first members of our crew to complete our tour of duty. After landing and parking the plane and cutting the engines, I remained in my seat enjoying the feeling of relief that came with completing my 35 missions. Before climbing out of the plane, on impulse I pried the control wheel cover off and put it in my pocket. I had not seen it for 45 years until we cleared out Mom’s house recently and found it in a dresser drawer. When I dropped down from the nose hatch the rest of the crew was waiting, they picked me up and carried me to a nearby mud puddle and threw me in. I didn’t mind one bit. Two weeks later I received my promotion to 1st Lt. Even though my missions were completed, I had to wait about three weeks for my orders back to the states.
During this time I made several flights that were not combat related. One morning during this waiting period, while I was still in bed, the group was taking off on a mission in a snow storm. I was awakened by a terrible crash. The air raid sirens sounded and the public address system cried, “ Seek cover, seek cover.” I rolled out of bed onto the floor just as the entire compound shook from a great explosion.
One of our aircraft had crashed on take off into a nearby squadron compound. Now the bombs were exploding one at a time. These explosions went on for a couple of hours. It was good luck that the squadron was off on the mission. It was also good luck that the plane veered left rather than right, for it would have plowed into the barracks I was in. As it was I believe 19 people were killed.
During my 8 months in England, I left the base only three times on passes. Once I went into the nearby town of Bovington where I had dinner and went punting on the Thames. Twice I went to London, where I toured the city, visited book stores, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Nelson Square, Madam Tuso’s Wax Works, Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street, etc. I saw Glen Miller in the same dining rooms, just two days before he disappeared. I didn’t go back to London because I didn’t care for the “Buzz Bombs and V2 Rockets” landing every now and then. This is a good place to tell my hat story!
When I was back in Rapid City in the spring, a friend of mine had a leave and was going home for a visit. He borrowed my cap for his tip. He returned several days later without my cap. He had gone to a restaurant where someone had picked it up.
Now in England, 7 or 8 months later, while on one of my two trips to London, I went into the public wash room of the officers club where I was staying. There on the counter was an officers cap. Since I was the only one there, I picked it up and checked the inside band for the owners name. To my great surprise, there was my name and serial number. It was my old cap 7000 miles and 8 months later. So I put it on and walked out. I still have it.
There was one day during my stay in England when I felt bad and went to morning sick call. It turned out that I had a slight fever, so the doctor would not let me go back to the barracks but sent me to the base hospital. The ward was so full that I was put in the center of the walk way between the rows of beds on each side of the room.
That night, while I was sleeping, a nurse came into the room, put a thermometer in my mouth and went back out. I went back to sleep and the thermometer fell out of my mouth. Sometime later I heard the door open. It was the nurse coming back The sound of the door opening and her heels clacking on the floor woke me. I reached down, felt the thermometer and put it back in my mouth. The room was so dark she did not see me do this. She came straight to me took the thermometer out of my mouth and with her flashlight red the recorded temperature. She let out a gasp, turned and ran out of the room. I can still hear her heels clacking as she ran away. Soon she and the doctor came running into the room, the lights all came on and they ran to my bed. The doctor grabbed my arm and checked my pulse. I jerked up in bed and said “What’s the matter” Apparently the thermometer must have registered about room temperature, which was about 65 degrees. They thought I was dead, we were all greatly relieved to find I was not.
On February 7, 1945, I left Kimbolton to the port of debarkation and my trip home. I don’t remember the actual date I left England. I returned to the United States on the steam ship Mariposa. It had been a luxury liner, although not one of the larger ones.
It was a little over 600 feet long. She was not fast enough to travel in a straight line, but had to zigzag to avoid enemy submarines.
I enjoyed the crossing very much though it took 8 days and the seas were very, very rough.