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Welcome to the Home of the 450th BG (H)
"The Cottontails"


E-Mail interview with Edward C. Gerner
720th Squadron, 450th BG (H)





Larry of 450thbg.com : Mr. Gerner, how did you happen to become a member of the 450 th Bomb Group?

Mr. Gerner : I WAS ASSIGNED TO A CREW IN BOISE, IDAHO. CARL MULHOLLAN WAS THE NAME OF THE PILOT I WAS ASSIGNED TO WHEN I REACHED BOISE. THE REST OF THE CREW WERE HOLLER, COPILOT; HEALY, BOMBARDIER; MAGNA AND JASPER, FLIGHT ENGINEERS; DAVIS, RADIO; AND MARTIN, COLEMAN, AND BRAUN, GUNNERS. WE TRAINED TOGETHER AND WENT OVERSEAS TOGETHER.

Larry of 450thbg.com : Did you receive some kind of navigator training, and if so, where?

Mr. Gerner : YES, I WENT TO NAVIGATION SCHOOL IN HONDO, TEXAS.

Larry of 450thbg.com : When you reached the war zone, where was the 450 th based?

Mr. Gerner : …WE FLEW TO TUNIS, STILL NOT KNOWING OUR FINAL DESTINATION. WHEN WE TOOK OFF FROM TUNIS, WE WERE TOLD NOT TO OPEN THE FOLDER GIVEN US UNTIL WE WERE IN THE AIR. THEN WE FOUND OUT OUR LAST DESTINATION WAS MANDURIA, ITALY.

Larry of 450thbg.com : Did you have any particular impressions about being a "Cottontail" then?

Mr. Gerner : WE SOON FOUND OUT THE COTTONTAILS HAD QUITE A REPUTATION.

Larry of 450thbg.com : Yesssss!!!! J

Mr. Gerner : "AXIS SALLY" WOULD COME ON THE RADIO EACH DAY AND TELL US WE BETTER GET OUT OF ITALY. WHEN WE ARRIVED ON THE SCENE, ENEMY FIGHTERS WOULD QUIT ATTACKING OTHER GROUPS AND COME AFTER US.

Larry of 450thbg.com : How did you feel about actually going to war and going into combat?

Mr. Gerner : WE WERE YOUNG AND KNEW IT HAD TO BE DONE.

Larry of 450thbg.com : What was life like on the base, when you weren't up flying a mission?

Mr. Gerner : THEY HAD OUTDOOR MOVIES AT NIGHT. THEY WERE ALL RIGHT, UNTIL THEY STARTED REVVING UP THE PLANE ENGINES AND ALL THE DUST STARTED TO BLOW.

WE PLAYED A LOT OF TOUCH FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL.

CAYWOOD KNEW HOW TO DEVELOP FILM SO HE AND I DEVELOPED A LOT OF PICTURES.

SOME CREWS WERE BUILDING THEIR OWN HOUSES OUT OF MATERIAL THAT LOOKED LIKE CONCRETE BLOCK, BUT YOU COULD CUT IT WITH A SAW.

THEY PUT A RADIO STATION ON THE FIELD AND PLAYED OUR KIND OF MUSIC.

Larry of 450thbg.com : How often did you fly a mission?

Mr. Gerner : I FLEW 24 MISSIONS IN THE FIRST 32 DAYS. AFTER I BECAME THE SQUADRON NAVIGATOR, I ONLY FLEW WHEN OUR SQUADRON LED THE GROUP, WHICH WAS ABOUT EVERY FOUR OR FIVE MISSIONS.

MAJOR BROWN WAS THE GROUP NAVIGATOR, WHOM I REPLACED ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS. I WAS ASKED TO TAKE OVER AS GROUP NAVIGATOR WHEN HE FINISHED, BUT I WANTED TO COME HOME. THERE WERE RUMORS THAT IF THE WAR ENDED HERE, THE WHOLE GROUP WOULD BE SHIPPED TO THE PACIFIC.

Larry of 450thbg.com : Generally, what was it like flying a mission?

Mr. Gerner : THE B-24'S TOOK OFF ONE MINUTE APART, AND CIRCLED OVER THE FIELD UNTIL THEY WERE IN FORMATION. WE WERE USUALLY BETWEEN 18,000 AND 24,000 FEET WHEN WE ARRIVED OVER THE TARGET. THE TEMPERATURE COULD BE AS LOW AS 50 BELOW 0.

THEY HAD ELECTRIC SUITS YOU COULD PLUG IN, BUT THE SHOES WERE LIKE BEDROOM SLIPPERS. THERE WERE REPORTS SOME CREWS WERE SHOT DOWN AND HAD TO WALK OVER MOUNTAINS IN BEDROOM SLIPPERS. SO THEY STARTED TYING A PAIR OF GI SHOES TO THEIR PARACHUTE.

Larry of 450thbg.com : What kind of gear did you carry?

Mr. Gerner : AT FIRST WE WORE CHEST PACK CHUTES. YOU ONLY WORE STRAPS. YOU SET THE CHUTE IN THE PLANE AND BUCKLED IN ONLY WHEN NEEDED. THEN THERE WERE REPORTS THAT SOME CREWS WERE BLOWN OUT OF THE PLANE AND ONLY HAD THE STRAPS ON. THE CHUTE WAS STILL IN THE PLANE. THAT'S WHEN MOST OF US SWITCHED TO BACK TYPE CHUTES.

Larry of 450thbg.com : I can understand that. J

Mr. Gerner : WE WORE HEAVY CLOTHES, A MAE WEST OVER THE WATER, A FLAK JACKET, A THROAT MIKE, AND A HELMET. WE PUT THE OXYGEN MASK ON WHEN WE GOT TO 10,000 FEET.

THE ENEMY WOULD START SENDING UP FLAK BEFORE YOU REACHED THE TARGET. THE SKY WOULD BE COMPLETELY BLACK. YOU KNEW YOU HAD TO GO THROUGH IT TO DROP THE BOMBS.

TOWARDS THE END THE FLAK WAS MORE OF A CONCERN FOR US THAN ENEMY FIGHTERS. THEY DIDN'T HAVE TOO MANY FIGHTERS LEFT BUT THE FLAK WAS GETTING MORE AND MORE ACCURATE.

Larry of 450thbg.com : Which missions were the easiest, and which were the hardest?

Mr. Gerner : THEY WERE ALMOST ALL TOUGH AS LONG AS THEY WERE SENDING UP FLAK. IF YOU WENT TO VIENNA OR MUNICH OR ANYWHERE NORTH, YOU HAD TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING BACK OVER THE ALPS.

THE PLACE NO ONE CARED TO GO WAS PLOESTI. IF YOU READ THE BOOK, THE SIEGE OF PLOESTI , YOU WILL FIND THAT THE 15 TH HAD 3781 SHOT DOWN; ONLY 1185 SURVIVED AND RETURNED HOME.

Larry of 450thbg.com : Did you always have escorts, or rarely?

Mr. Gerner : NOT ALWAYS.

Larry of 450thbg.com : What aircraft were they?

Mr. Gerner : P51 AND P38.

Larry of 450thbg.com: How good were the escorts?

Mr. Gerner: They were great. They didn't have the range of the bombers so we usually met them along the way. They were always there for us.

Larry of 450thbg.com: If you were attacked by enemy aircraft did the bombers maintain their course or try to avoid the fighters?

Mr. Gerner: We held our course. The enemy liked to work on single planes. They looked for planes to drop out of formation then attacked them.

Larry of 450thbg.com: When you were on a mission what did the crews talk about?

Mr. Gerner: We had throat mikes for talking but we were all business.

Larry of 450thbg.com : What is a "milk run"?

Mr. Gerner : I FLEW MY LAST MISSION ON SEPT. 15 OVER LARISSA, GREECE. COMPLETE CLOUD COVERAGE AND WE HAD TO RETURN WITH THE BOMBS. NOW THAT WAS A MILK RUN.

Larry of 450thbg.com : We certainly appreciate your willingness to recount your real life experiences with us, as we are a historical Warbirds squadron. How do you feel about this preservation effort we are making?

Mr. Gerner : I WANT TO THANK ALL OF YOU FOR KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF THE COTTONTAILS ALIVE. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

Larry of 450thbg.com : We'll certainly do our best, Mr. Gerner. Thanks again for your time and effort here.



Left to Right:
Krasnow, Gerner, Cope

Cope, Gerner, Krasnow

Left to Right
Back Row: Krasnow, Gerner, Cope
Front Row: The laundry girls, Patricia & Josephine Giovani

Rest camp at Santa Cerera
Left to Right
Back Row: Cope, Camp Worker, Campbell
Front Row: Camp Worker, Gerner


Photographs courtesy of Mart L. Cope, 720th Squadron


Link to Crew Photograph

Link to Italy Pictures taken by Ed Gerner




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