SecondWorldWar.nl

Personal recollections from world war two veterans and civilians.

DONALD E. DAY USAAF 8TH AF 458th BG (B-24)

Our base was located in a suburb of Norwich. England called Horsham/St.Faith rear an inlet on the East coast called The Wash. We were fortunate in that we took over an existing Royal Air Force base.

"The sound was deafening, the ground trembled and the majestic power of all those planes flying in perfect formation was frightening."
The details of how I came to arrive at my Squadron HQ alone are fuzzy but I handed in my travel orders and was directed to some buildings across the runway. The base was not operational so I started to hike across the field lugging a large, soft-sided bag called a B-4 bag and a large duffle bag with all my worldly possessions. It was very early in the morning and the whole place was silent until I heard a soft rumble that grew into a roar as first one and then ten and then thirty and then hundreds of B-245 came over the horizon and overflew our field at low altitude. I dropped my bags and just stood there awestruck. The sound was deafening, the ground trembled and the majestic power of all those planes flying in perfect formation was frightening. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to know that they were coming after me with evil intent. At that moment I realized that we were no longer playing games. This was War. I am no author and I can't really find the words to express the stupendous emotional impact.

I crossed the rest of the runway and found a brick, two-story house among many, that had once been Married Officers Quarters for the RAF in peacetime. The ground floor consisted of a Utility room (with a large cast-iron pot built over a low firebox, a laundry sink and the electrical service board), a kitchen and a dining room with a coal-burning fireplace. A stairway off the living room led up to a bathroom at the head of the stairs and one large and one small bedroom each with it's own small fireplace. This was the home for 12 men. The enlisted men from one crew had the ground floor and our crew (# 17) had the first floor. Four men slept in the living room and big bedroom and two men slept in the Kitchen and small bedroom. Thank goodness we didn't have to live in half-round corrugated metal buildings called Nissen-huts.



I told you what comprised a crew. A Squadron consisted of 18 crews. It had a squadron headquarters and its own mess-hall. A Group consisted of 4 Squadrons or 720 combat men along with the attendant ground personnel of armourers, mechanics, cooks and Military Police. It also had hangars for repair work. (Ordinarily the planes were dispersed around the airfield in concrete and earth. revetments about 15' high.) A Wing consisted of 3 Groups. Our Wing was the 458th (us), 466th and 467th.

Note: the B-24 had very large twin vertical rudders. Each Groups' rudders were painted differently for easy identification. 458 was bright red with a wide vertical white stripe down the center, 46e was red with a Diagonal white stripe and 467 was red with a horizontal white stripe. The Bright red and white motif identified our Wing.

A Division consisted of ? groups and the 8th Air Force consisted of two Divisions: The First made up of B-17s and the Third made up of B-24s. The reason for separating the Heavies was speed. The B-24 cruised about 5-10 mph faster than the B-17 and over a time span the logistics made a difference. I.E. at 25.000 feet, after 4 hours, the fighter escort had to look for us 30-40 miles deeper into Germany than the B-17s.

The 5th Air Force also operated out of England using A-20s and 8-25s (twin engine planes) for low-level missions. The American fighters were the P-47 (Thunderbird) a Tough, medium-range, blunt-nosed plane with a radial engine. the P-38 (Lightning) a fast, twin boom, twin engine fighter with a good range but not as manoeuvrable as it should have been, and the best of all, the P-51 (Mustang) which was a sleek, fast, long-range fighter which could compete very well with the German ME-109s and FW-190s. Well ! wasn't that nice and technical and boring.

"One of our crew found his girl-friend down on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. He took the brush away from her, drilled a hole in it and attached an old Mop handle so she could scrub standing up. It was a seven-day wonder."
I think I was a typical young soldier. I had always heard about the British Empire and European Civilization and expected everything to be modern. To my surprise I found this just wasn't so. The standard of living of the common Englishman was drastically lower than what we were used to. I came from a very ordinary family and yet we had a telephone, electric washing machine, vacuum cleaner and automobile. The people we came to know and respect had none of these. As usual the forward Americans went out to make friends. And we did. We were too unsophisticated to know that some things "just weren't done" such as introducing yourself to a stranger. One of the big shocks was running into the class system. In America money and background are nice but not essential. You are free to go as far as you want as fast as you want and fall flat on your face if you make a mistake. We couldn't fathom people who would not aspire to better things just because their fathers were of a certain station and they didn't want to be 'beyond themselves'. No wonder they considered us brash. They took us to their hearts though. Norwich was only about 1 1/2 mile from our base and we could get a ride into the Haymarket Square or even walk in. Soon each crew had more or less discovered their own Pub and made friends with the local people. One of our crew found his girl-friend down on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. He took the brush away from her, drilled a hole in it and attached an old Mop handle so she could scrub standing up. It was a seven-day wonder. They were very labor-intensive. when we needed a ditch alongside our runway to lay electrical cable for lights, they did it by hand. And they stopped for their tea. and it took them more than a week. We would have brought on a ditch-digging machine and been done in two days.

Another thing that surprised us was the devastation. Norwich made shoes, and an army moves on its feet, so the Germans Made a point of taking out the shoe factories. From the air we could see whole areas of the city where they didn't even bother to try and clean up the debris. We were also shamed by their toughness. When we arrived a tour of duty was 25 missions and then you were cycled back to the States. Their attitude, and rightly so, was 'This is a war. You fight until you are wounded or killed and when you heal up you go back and fight some more' They didn't think this was special. This was just what you did.

A Bomb mission over Germany:

It is 3:30 AM. A voice says "crew 17 - breakfast at 4 briefing at 5 are you awake? You get dressed. Long underwear, long socks, shirt, trousers, a vest, a silk scarf, a jacket. You leave as quietly as possible to avoid disturbing the crew on the ground floor. It is cold and dark out and as you walk towards the mess hall the cuckoos in the hedgerows complain. Breakfast is Powdered eggs and Spam brown bread and coffee. You are trying to wake up but not think about what is coming. You get to the Ready Room and wait. At the front of the room is a large board covered with a white sheet. After everybody is there an officer comes in and pulls the sheet aside. You watch, as a red tape crawls across a map of Europe and pray that it isn't too long. This is your mission path. It has several legs and turns to confuse the enemy and accommodate crossing the coast where (you hope) there is still a pap in the flak defenses. Sometimes the Germans have plugged a cap with railroad mounted guns. You get-your take-off time your target, bomb load, altitude, navigational headings and times and radio frequencies. You also get an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) code. You are told what kind of fighters you can expect as escort and when and where they are supposed to show up. Everybody takes notes. Today YOU are going after a synthetic petrol producing plant in central Germany. Armament is 12 500# armor piercing bombs with variable time-delay fuses and 2,700 gals of petrol. The B-24 is rated at 8,800 lbs of bombs and 2,280 gallons of gas, but it can't do both, so you trade off between gas and bombs. Briefing over you go to your locker and pull out your heated-suit. It is supposed to be good for -20 F but a good many times at 25,000 feet the thermometer in your plane which will register to -40 (where Fahrenheit and Celsius cross) is knocking on the peg. You put on pants and a jacket which have connections for felt boots and gloves. Experience has taught you to put on another pair of socks, silk gloves inside the felt and take a bath towel and a balaclava to the plane with you.. You get the guts of two, caliber 50 machine guns grab a truck or a jeep which is circling the field and drop off at your plane. You check your guns and install them, then check the operation of the turrets and see if the correct bombs have been loaded. Check the shackles from which they hang or help load them if it is just being done. The fuses should have red noses. This denotes a time-delay (1/10th of a second to 144 hours) fuse that cannot be removed without exploding the bomb. Everybody does his job and checks up on everybody else. When everything is done ten men line up under the wing for pee call. It is going to be a long time before you get home.

The form-up plane takes off. it is painted with bright red, blue and yellow circles so it stands out. Climb aboard, start the engines The sound of four 1,250. horse radial engines is a physical thing. Taxi in line. One plane takes off on the right side of the runway and the next on the left to avoid prop wash from the preceding plane. Your turn. The crew in the rear is up against the bomb-bay bulkhead to center the weight as much as possible. You really sweat take-off because the planes are always overloaded and they just stagger into the air. Find the form-up plane and your place in the formation. Wrap the bath towel over the silk scarf and tuck it in. Put on the balaclava climb into your turret. Load your guns. (1,250 rounds per gun fired at a rate of 850 round per minute Can't waste it.:) Continue to circle until your group and the wing is assembled. Start climbing. 'OXYGEN' 10.000 feet and you clip the oxen mask over your face. Remember to squeeze it every few minutes or it could freeze up. 'FEET WET' you are crossing the English coast. "TEST
"'TAIL TO NAVIGATOR 4-6-7 PLANE IS HIT. DROPPING BEHIND AND LEFT. GEAR DOWN. TWO, THREE, FOUR FIVE, SIX, SEVEN MEN OUT. DAMN! SHE BLEW!, "
FIRE" guns rattle a short burst. "CHECK" "waist ok, tail ok, nose ok ,ball ok, top ok, radio ok." Silence. 'FLAK AT 12 O'CLOCK'. Into Belgium. Little gingerbread men appear suddenly in the formation. At a close burst the plane rocks. You clear the coast and the barrage falls away. The plane flying on your wing is so close you can see the pilots faces. Time masses, its cold and the wind beats on your back. A speck! 'FIGHTERS 8 O CLOCK HIGH' Watch. 'LITTLE FRIENDS 47s' The escort is here. Stay alert. Oxygen check. 'NAVIGATOR TO PILOT- IP (Initial Point of bomb run. you must fly straight and level at 165 mph) IN 12 MINUTES' 'ROGER' 'NOSE-FLACK AT 2 O'CLOCK'. 'TOP-LITTLE FRIENDS ARE LEAVING'. The formation spreads a little. 'NAVIGATOR TO PILOT - IP IN 1 MINUTE, ALTITUDE 24,000, HEADING 135 SPEED 165' 'ROGER' The flak is pouring up, some of it so close you can hear it. Some really big bursts. Has to be 155s. You're sitting on your flack jacket. 'NAVIGATOR - IP'. PILOT IT'S ALL YOURS IKE' 'ROGER' the bombardier now controls the plane. 'DOORS OPEN'. 'BANDITS AT 12 HIGH' a burst from the nose. 'BANDITS NOW AT 10 HIGH ' they are looking for somebody asleep. 'BANDITS ON ATTACK RUN'. BOMBS AWAY! ' the tail gunner has been kneeling at the open bottom hatch with a large camera. Suddenly he clicks it twice, throws it aside, and heads for his turret. 'CLOSE THE DOORS WE'RE. GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE'. The plane banks steeply left. The wingman has gone down and right. In a few minutes you are out of the barrage and trying to reform. 'NOSE - 16 BANDITS AT 11 HIGH. FWs - ON A RUN'. The 467th is at 7 o'clock low.

'TAIL TO NAVIGATOR 4-6-7 PLANE IS HIT. DROPPING BEHIND AND LEFT. GEAR DOWN. TWO, THREE, FOUR FIVE, SIX, SEVEN MEN OUT. DAMN! SHE BLEW!, FIVE CHUTES OPEN. SIX CHUTES. THATS ALL.' ROGER' 'TOP - LITTLE FRIENDS ARE BACK -51s. DOGFIGHT AT 5 LEVEL'. You're headed home. All have to do is stay alert and suffer. You're so cold you can barely stand it. One more flak barrage at the Channel. 'FEET WET'. 'FEET DRY' Beautiful England below. Descending. Getting warm. Break the ammo and fire your guns dry. Pull and bag them. You are in the pattern. A plane with wounded is firing red flares and Pets priority landing. Your turn. Pete greases it on, taxis to the revetment and shuts them down. The absence of noise is almost as painful as the start up. A jeep pulls up. 'Casualties?' 'None'. He pulls away. Everybody has a white spot where the oxygen mask was circled by black dirt.

"A jeep pulls up. 'Casualties?' 'None'. He pulls away."
The rest of the routine is Debriefing where the whole crew talks to an Intelligence officer. we describe the enemy fighters and how the 467th plane went down. Before debriefing we can get a cup of coffee and a shot of whiskey. Some of my crew doesn't drink, so some of us get two. Than you clean your guns. Then you eat. Usually Spam, canned mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, brown bread and powdered milk or coffee.. It is going on 6 PM. and light out. You go home and sleep. Tomorrow you will go into your pub and they will know that, today, you all came back, because they count you off (30 planes) and count you on. The days 27 or 28 come back they leave you alone for a while. Do this 30 times and you can go home. And we did. But they didn't send us home right away because we flew our last 2 missions on D-DAY and they held on to us for a while just in case.

In early fall of 1944 we boarded the old SS America and sailed from Liverpool to Boston.- I was given a short leave and reported from that to Atlantic City N.J. for reassignment. I took the mental and physical tests for pilot and after I qualified - I had to volunteer for a second tour of duty before entering training. I was sent to Siloxi, Miss to wait for a class. Training was divided into 4 parts. Pre-flight (San Antonio, Tx), Primary (Tulare,Ca). in light aircraft (Stearmans). Basic (Bakersfield, Ca) on heavier aircraft (AT-6s - look like a Japanese Zero). and Advanced where they would decide whether you would be a fighter or a bomber pilot. I had passed all my flight checks for Advanced when V-J Day came. I had enough service and combat points that I was eligible for immediate discharge and I had had enough of the army, so they sent me to Houston, Tx and got rid of me. There!

That's my life in WWII.