Loading
Enter data and click "Search" to open search window


Home Page «
Contact Us «
Terms of Use «


Current Newsletter «
450th Forum «
Film & Books «
Reunion Pictures «
Site Updates «


Main Roster «
POW's «
Escape Statements «
Cemetery Listings «
Orders «


450th History «
Missions Flown «
S2 Reports «
Pilot-Bombardier Reports «
Operational Analysis «
Navigator Logs «
Aircraft Pictures «
Accident Reports «
M.A.C. Reports «
Crew Pictures «
Ground Personnel «
Veteran's Biographies «
Unidentified Personnel «
Veteran's Stories «
Target Pictures «
Miscellaneous Pictures «
Newspaper Articles «
331st Air Service «
1st C.C.U. «


Current Guest Book «
Archived Guest Book «


Search Page «
Links Page «


Augie Crew
720th Squadron



Augie Crew

A NIGHT WITH GOD AND A LIBERATOR

By John R Gray

 

            It was 12:30 a.m. of December 23, 1944. We were called out to take off for destination unknown. We were Crew #8336, a crew of a B-24 bomber. We had met at Casper, Wyoming to take O.T.U. training. There we had been assigned our crew number.

            There was our pilot, Augie; co-pilot, Dick; navigator, Bob; engineer, Greco; nose gunner, O'Keefe; tail gunner, Squeak; waist gunner, Shelton; ball turret gunner, Kane; I was the radio man, Johnny.

            We had left Casper to go to Topeka, Kansas, for overseas assignment. There we were given, as Kipling would say, the Tommy Adkins treatment. Our wives (two of us were married) were there and Dick's fiancée. We were wined and dined as "the bands began to play." Our crew was one of ten to be assigned a brand new B-24 Liberator to fly overseas. The twenty other crews of the thirty at Casper would go by train and ship.

            We had taken off from Topeka, opening our secret orders after circling for twenty minutes. The orders sent us to Manchester, New Hampshire. Our final destination merely, "G.I.O."  We had been called out at Manchester and followed the same circling procedure and found our orders from there taking us to Gander, Newfoundland. We were briefed here for several days on procedures in flying to Iceland, Brazil, the Azore Islands and to Ireland.

            We had gone to bed the night of December 22, as usual, in our steam heated Canadian barracks never dreaming of what the night would bring.

            We were awakened at 11:30 p.m. by a Captain who told us to get ready for take off. We got up grumpily, packed, and proceeded to the plane under a cold, star-filled sky, the snow crunching under our feet as we walked. The ten planes were ordered to take off at ten minute intervals and circle the usual twenty minutes and then to open the secret orders. These instructed us to proceed to the Azore Islands. We had been briefed on radio frequencies, flight altitudes and weather. The only report of clouds was a weak cold front over the Atlantic about half way of the journey. Nothing to cause concern. The distance is approximately thirteen hundred miles. I had looked at my Air Corps watch on the way to the plane – it read 12:30 a.m.

            We were now settled comfortably in our places flying at ten thousand feet. Squeak had bedded down in his sleeping bag in the tail "stinger" of the plane. Bob was in the nose navigator area. I was at the radio desk on the flight deck, behind and to the right of the pilot and co-pilot. Greco was sitting on the step directly behind the pilot compartment. Kane was in the waist behind the bomb bay. O'Keefe and Shelton were playing cards on the flight deck to my left. The steady roar of the four big engines was a comforting blur. On the ground, dog may be man's best friend – in the air it's those engines.

            Suddenly my legs hit the bottom of the radio table. I looked up to see the altimeter whirling in descent. On interphone I heard Augie ask Dick for full power. The altimeter needle now read eight thousand feet. We had lost two thousand feet in a matter of seconds.

            I heard Augie ask, "What happened, Dick?" Dick said, "Damned if I know." We climbed back to ten thousand feet and Dick cut the power to cruising range. My heart rate followed the revolutions of the engines. The card game which had stopped momentarily proceeded.

            Then in about a minute all hell broke loose. My legs again caught the bottom of the desk. I looked over Augie's shoulder at the altimeter. The needle now was in a rapid whirl. Augie cried, "Full power." I saw Dick hit the throttles. The needle still whirled. Augie's shoulders heaved as he shoved the wheel clear forward. The altimeter needle now spun. I saw six thousand, five thousand, four thousand. The needle on the airspeed was climbing in relation. The red line on the B-24 was at 269 miles per hour. I noticed the needle pass this in a rapid sweep. It hit three hundred, three hundred fifty, four hundred, four hundred twenty-five. Augie nudged Dick who glanced over and by some instinct knew what was wanted. He grabbed his wheel and I saw both pilot and co-pilot strain to pull those wheels back. The noise was terrific. I heard a tremendous crash beside me and thought, "Oh, my God, the right wing is gone." The plexiglass in the top turret, to my left and overhead, let go. The deck of cards, to the last one, made a funnel-like tornado and disappeared out of the turret. I thought, "How funny that is." O'Keefe and Shelton were actually floating in the air beside me. Then, "Crunch!"  My head suddenly took a notion to push down into my chest. I couldn't keep it up. I could not lift my arms. I thought, "No one will ever know what happened to us. God, take care of my wife."

            I rolled my eyes to the altimeter again. It read five hundred feet. Now the plane began to respond and level out. The needle began to climb – one thousand, two thousand, three thousand. Then the coolest voice from one of the nerviest guys I've ever met came over the interphone. "Augie, will you quit playing around up there. I can hardly write." It was Bob. I looked around. We had all been petrified, but with that voice we sprang into action. Everyone grabbed Mae West's and their parachutes and quickly put them on. We found this as useless as locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

            Greco found the bomb bay doors open. He tapped me on the back. "The hydraulic won't close the bomb bay doors. Give me a hand." He got out the manual crank and we tried our best but they would not close. He stepped out on the cat walk, reached to the outside and said, "My God! We lost the bomb bay doors." He afterward laughingly said he threw a fish off of the cat walk.

            (I might explain that the altimeter, relying on air pressure for activation, would not keep up with a rapid change. With this leg, it is probable we were from fifty to one hundred feet above the water when the dive ended).

            We all began to take stock of what had happened. It was still pitch black and about 4 a.m. We had fourteen radio antenna systems on the B-24. The pilot told me to contact the other planes if I could. I could hear them clearly as they were probably no more than a mile to ten miles away. I tried to call them on several sets to no avail. Finally, I decided to let down the trailing wire antenna for the liaison set. This should have been capable of reaching seven hundred fifty miles under the most adverse conditions. As I started to call, Squeak called from the waist, "There's sparks flying back here all over the side of the plane." The trailing wire weight had broken off from the strain and with no weight the wire was slapping the plane side. When I transmitted the radio frequency, it was causing regular lighting flashes. I found the only antenna intact was the stub mast of the British VHF set. This was capable of reaching only fifty to seventy-five miles. I asked Bob how far we were from the Azores. He told me about seven hundred miles from Gander, six hundred miles from Azores. We were isolated.

            We had been navigating mostly by radio, with the radio compass and other radio means, Bob now had to take over the celestial navigation. Thank God for his ability.

            In the brief period of our fall many strange, impossible things had happened. Although to me it seemed like at least five minutes from the time we had started to fall until we began to pull out it couldn't have been over thirty seconds.

            The tail section of this B-24 had a "stinger" rather than a turret, as the older planes had. There were two 50-caliber machine guns in a plexiglass bubble. There was a heavy canvas partition closing these off from the waist which was closed with a heavy zipper. Squeak had been sacked out in here with the zipper closed. When we straightened out he was in the waist in his sleeping bag, leaning against one of the waist guns. This was impossible as the partition was not torn and the zipper was fastened!

            We had been furnished box lunches at Gander. Squeak and O'Keefe had put theirs in the waist on the floor. When they gained their composure and appetites, they started a search for their boxes. Finally they found them. They were on the radio deck twenty feet from where they had placed them, but side by side in exactly the same position they had been in on the floor.

            As the sun began to rise, we could see the holes in the plane. The right wing has a hole beside the fuselage through which a large sized man could stick his head and shoulders. The deicer boots had exploded from the leading edge of the wings. The nose turret had disintegrated and the plexiglass from this and the top turret had literally riddled the aluminum skin with holes.

            By about 6:30 a. m. things were half way normal. The worry now became the gas supply. None of the other nine planes were in sight. The Atlantic Ocean is an unfriendly, desolate, gray-green expanse. It looks cold. Augie asked Bob how far we had to got. The navigator estimated two hundred miles, adding that he hoped he was right. The added drag from the open turrets and holes was using the gas fast. Finally we contacted Blue Jay tower on the Azores with the VHF set. This was remarkable from about one hundred fifty miles. We asked for emergency landing privileges, if we made it. We explained we were riddled with holes. Permission was granted to go straight in without regard to pattern.

            "Hey, what's that?"  We all had been straining our eyes for a glimpse of something that looked like land. Ahead and to our right were some tiny dots. They were the Azores! "Are we on the right heading?" Augie asked Bob. In a few minutes Bob corrected our heading by only three degrees. He had guided us by the stars for nearly seven hundred miles and had hit those tiny pinpoints within such a slight deviance. "We've got only ten minutes gas left," Augie said. "Get on those Mae Wests, get on your parachutes and be ready to ditch or jump."

            Very slowly the dots grew larger in the bright morning sun. One engine started to spit. "We're coming in," Augie said, and in what seemed an eternity our wheels were rolling on the steel clad runway. The big bird rolled to a stop. No time was lost in "hitting the dirt" and I must confess we laid down and kissed the dirt through the holes in ramp.

            A jeep pulled up with a Colonel, the Commanding Officer of the base there. He shook hands with each of us and then immediately started to interrogate. We found the reason for such excitement and why the C.O. himself was there to greet us. When they heard of all the holes in our plane they had concluded that the Germans had developed a new long range fighter that could attack in the middle of the Atlantic. This had, with cause, created a deep concern.

            The Colonel said, "You boys don't have to worry about missions. You've had the roughest you'll ever have to fly." He told us to get plague shots and pick up passes for the run of the island – something as far as I know – no other combat crew ever received.

            The other crews took off the next day. We spent Christmas Eve on the Azores, the most lonesome but the most thankful Christmas I've ever spent.

            After our plane was patched up, we flew it twelve hundred miles mostly over water to Marrakech, Africa. The engineering officer here inspected the plane and found the tail spar bent thirty degrees. It was built to stand fourteen G's so the pressure in our pull out had been terrific.

            Piecing together what happened, there is only one explanation. We hit the top of a cumulo nimbus cloud, losing two thousand feet the first time in a down draft. We then must have flown into a second cloud with terrific down drafts. Augie, realizing we did not have power, even with full power, to keep altitude put the plane in a dive to gain flying speed. When he tried to pull out, he couldn't. Worried that with the wheel clear ahead we might turn over on our back, he had called on Dick to help pull it out. The Davis wing pulled us out!

            There have been arguments galore about the qualities of the B-24 Liberator as against the B-17 Flying Fortress. I will not argue this. I am sure that all of us of Crew #8336 have given thanks to God and to the Liberator many times, however, for bringing us back alive.

 

- published in the Winter 1971 Liberator Club Briefing Magazine



Information courtesy of the 450th Association Archives




If any information is being used out of context or if you would like to use some of this information, please contact the Webmaster

Terms of Use and Disclaimer Statement

Copyright © 2000 - 2018, Mark Worthington & the 450th Bomb Group Memorial Association