From Babbitt to Baghdad

My Father met my  mother in 1956 while stationed in Germany . His radar unit was stationed at an old Luftwaffe airfield at Erding, Germany. My mother still lived at the farm outside of Hoenpolding which was 10 kilometers away. She worked at the base cleaning the billeting units. She rode her bicycle to and from work everyday. My father met her at a dance in Erding. After awhile, she invited him to the family farm. The farm had been in the family name for over 300 years. My mother had 6 sisters and 1 brother. The farm was 80 hectors and grew hay for their milk cows. My German grandfather had also served in uniform. He served in the German cavalry and survived 5 years of war.

My father was a very intelligent man and quite a talker. He learned how to speak German  quickly.  He loved to talk of the farm and Germany. He spoke German pretty much fluently. Whenever we revisited Germany later in his life, he would speak good German everywhere we went.  If the schnitzel was good, he always told the cook in German, and they would  reciprocate by giving him a free tall glass of beer and telling him to keep the beer glass. My mother’s China cabinet was full of German beer mugs and glass.

During Vietnam my father would send my mother tape recordings in German because she could not read and write English well.

My father loved Germany. He loved skiing in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps. He loved the people, the food, and his newly acquired relatives. My parents would be married in an old German Catholic Church in Bavaria in 1957. My sister would be born on Amarillo Air Force Base, Texas on 24 July,1958. I would be Born May 4th ,1960 at Westover, Air Force Base three days after Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union.

After Westover, the family was stationed at Glasgow Air Force Base, Montana. Then we would move to Babbitt, Nevada the summer of 1963. A few months later, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be assassinated. I was only 3 years old at the time, but my dad told us later that Kennedy’s assassination was a traumatic event. I was the same age as John junior, and my sister was the same age as Caroline  Kennedy. The Kennedy “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech was close to my mother’s heart.

Our first trip back to Germany was in 1965, We would fly on a Pan Am jet across the ocean to Paris and then on a piston engined prop job to Frankfurt. Even at 5 years old, I remember the noisy engine.

Babbitt, Nevada was a Federal housing project that was built to house the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot employees.  The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot is the largest ammunition storage facility in the US.  The housing project had streets that were named after US Naval ships. We lived at 1202 Lexington avenue. It was the last duplex unit on Lexington, avenue. The Strategic Air Command radar site my dad worked at was a block away.

We had no phone, a black and white TV, and only two stations. There was only CBS and NBC. Walter Cronkite was on CBS and Walt Disney was on NBC. We did not get ABC. I remember the Vietnam body count, and the NBC peacock in black and white. Walt Disney was on at 7 PM Sunday night.  We always had to take baths before we could watch Walt Disney. At 8pm, we had to go to bed while my father watched the FBI with Efrum Zimbalist jr. Sometimes we would get to watch the FBI.

Atop the old refrigerator sat the AM radio.  It was white with big red knobs. It was a tube type radio and could only pick up one station. There would always be a moment of silence when Elvis came on. My German mother loved Elvis.

I remember how my dad could actually fix a tube type TV or radio. he had attended the New Hampshire technical institute and studied electronics before he enlisted.  At the radar site, he was always training people. He could talk about every aspect of electronics. He also taught gun safety. later, he would have a part time job cutting hair at the base BX. To save money, the enlsited would bring their kids to my dad for hair cuts. It was always the same. Inevitably, the kids would all get the Milty cut of bleeding on the sides and short on top. After awhile, many kids in the neighborhood had LBJ/Milty style crew cuts. I would be 12 years old when I finally said to hell with your crew cuts.

When the TV burned a tube out before “Old Yeller” or “The yearling” it was a family crisis. If it went out during Daniel Boone, Bonanza, or Gun smoke,  it was damn tragedy.  I remember my Daniel Boone coon skin hat and musket. Of course this became a Dasiy model 1895 Winchester bb gun. This in turn became a Marlin 3030 or 12 gauge shotgun.

Babbitt, Nevada was a safe community. My sister and I would walk to school every day. Even at 5 years old, we would run all over the neighborhood.  All the parents knew who you were and where you lived. Even in a previously segregated community, everyone looked after the children regardless of color or ethnicity. We knew every family on ever street by name.

We had to be home at 5 pm for my mom’s good cooking. If one did not make it home at 5 pm, one would almost get the belt. Plus my mom would be pissed. My dad had a home made belt made from a deer he had shot in the Belknaps of New Hampshire. My 5 foot tall German mother new how to use it.  Her specialty was hitting the legs with the belt. As an ADHD psycho brat, I was used to the belt. Even the Mineral county school district teachers loved to beat on me. I cannot remember how many times Nevada teachers paddled my ass. Today, a kid that suffered from my level of ADHD would have been under severe medication. In Nevada, humiliation and the paddle got the job done.  The paddling only made me mentally tougher.

The Mineral county Primary school was only a few blocks away. Mineral county only had one classroom per grade. I remember only  15 kids per class. My classmates were the sons and daughters of every military service ,as well as ,Federal employees and local whites, blacks, Hispanics and Paiute Indians. I would attend school with the same classmates year after year.  I was the big mouth in the class with the Napoleonic complex. I was very small as a child. In fact, I did not make it past 5 feet until 10 grade. Today, I am close to 6 feet and 250 pounds with the Napoleonic complex of a 4 foot tall  75 pound 6th grader.

For a child, Babbitt had everything. We had a wooden baseball stadium complete with dugouts and a grand stand. We had a massive playground at the Safeway.

The playground was 2 acres of grass, huge swings, a huge metal missile with three levels, a huge slide and a huge carousel. The swing set had to be 20 feet high with sturdy chains. One could literally swing the height of a house. The playground carousel was huge. If there were 5 or 6 kids on it, we could get it going so fast that the riders would get pinned to the side posts from centrifugal  force. So, as long as the kids kept spinning the carousel, one was pinned. This was predicated on kids of equal body weight on opposite sides of the carousel. Sometimes a big kid would show up and spin the carousel for several minutes. After awhile, the kids would be sick from dizziness and beg to be let off.

The park swing was so large that we could put a wooden pallet from behind Safeway on it.  We would use two swing seats and expand them. Then we would put the wooden pallet between the seats. The spacing of the wood boards would lock it into place. Then, several kids could jump on it. So, 4 or 5 kids would be on this pallet swinging 12 feet in the air. Then like characters in “Lord of the flies,” we would try to knock each other off to see what happens when a seven year old gets ejected at 10 feet from the ground.

In the Babbitt housing project, there were playgrounds every few blocks.  Each had an awesome selection of playground  equipment.

The baseball stadium was  the most epic however. We had a huge covered grandstand, lights, a score board, back stop, and real dug outs. The grass was green, and we even had a snack bar and game announcer over loud speaker. My first team was called the Dodgers. We had real blue and white baseball uniforms, and blue hats. That year, we were beat by Paiutes from Shurz, the Black Aces. They had a little league pitcher that had the fastest curve ball in the state of Nevada. The next year, I was on the Naval base team and we were called the Stingrays. We beat both Shurz teams that year. That year, I became the catcher instead of an outfielder. Our teams were made up of every ethnicity and branch  of service. Little league fosters belonging and team building skills. These style of inclusive activities are  positive and nurturing for children in general.

If we weren’t playing baseball or  hanging out at the Safeway park, we were playing in the tree line that circled the base and housing. Once we were tired of that, we would go lizard hunting in the desert or walk to Walker lake.Soon, we would have horses and minibikes. My first minibike was a Briggs and Stratton 2 horse power with no suspension. My dad bought it for $40. By then, we were living on the base at 400B Connoly  drive. When I needed gas, I would simply ride it to the base gas station. Gas on the base was 20 cents a gallon, so a fill up was 10 cents. To get the money, I would go through the trash can outside the Marine barracks, Post exchange, or swimming pool snack bar, and look for coke bottles.  It was either that or checking every vending machine or phone booth for left change. Back then, a coke bottle was worth a nickel. A nickel bought a big hunk or a box of lemon heads. 3 coke bottles meant a full tank of gas and a Hershey bar, 5th avenue or  a handful of bubble gum or penny candy.

I remember when grape flavored bubble gum came out. One of my heroes was Bazooka Joe. On Friday and Saturday nights everyone would head to the drive in theater or the Jolly Cone. Then there was having dinner at the El Capitan. Another enjoyable event was camping and fishing in the Sierra Nevada’s 50 miles away.  It was only a short drive to Mono lake, Levining and the east portal of Yosemite and Tioga pass.

We started camping at June lake, Silver lake, and Grant lake, but the fishing at Lundy lake was much better and way closer to Hawthorne. Lundy lake had some of the best fishing anywhere.  There was good fishing on the lake, but the river below the dam was epic. We would catch stringer loads of German Browns.

Several families from the base would haul their travel trailers and tents for a 3 day weekend of fishing, barbecuing, and burned marshmallows. The Breck family had 8 kids. The other families might have had 2 or 3. Either way, there would be 15 kids with fishing poles and BB guns running a muck.

We would always make it back before the sun started to go down because, there would be a huge fire, plenty of tinfoil and lemons for the trout. Everyone, would quickly clean the days catch. Then, the trout would be put onto a big piece of Reynolds wrap. The trout would get a piece of butter, fresh ground pepper, and a lemon slice. It would be sealed up and placed on the coals along with corn on the cob, and hot chocolate. After the trout meal, it was marshmallow time.

For an ADHD child, river fishing is a real treat. I mean, I could not wait until I had my fishing pole in hand. I knew exactly what to do and what to take. Within minutes of arriving at camp, my sister and I would be out of sight.I can still smell the new canvas of the Pup tent that I used. Back then, a Coleman sleeping back was well made, well insulated, and made in the USA.

By the time the sun went down, all the kids were tired from running up and down miles and miles of pristine river. We did not care about the surface that we were sleeping on.In the morning, we would wake up to a huge breakfast cooked over an open fire. Then it was off to the river for another 12 hours running a muck.

The little town of Hawthorne, Nevada was surrounded by high desert. In the back ground and just a mile away was Mountain Grant. It rose quickly from about 4000 feet to 11,400 feet. Several canyon roads accessed the high valleys of Mount Grant. All one needed was the key to the gate, and one could drive to the top of the mountain. One year, a bunch of folks from Hawthorne and the Naval base got together and did a trail ride to the high meadows of the mountain. Dozens and dozens of horses were involved. At the time, we had two horses Chipper and Swinger. One was a brown and white gelding real Nevada cow pony  and the other was a black and white mare. It took us two days of riding to reach the high mountain pasture area. Once there, the group availed itself to evening fires, tasty dinners and big early morning breakfasts. The camp cook had a huge cast iron griddle. He would cook everything over the fire, and feed over 20 people.

I was at a full gallop heading across a meadow when Chipper and I came upon a cattle loading trench. Chipper stopped immediately, and I went over his head and landed in the ditch on my back. I was OK. A cattle loading ditch is an angular cut into the earth so a truck can back into it and load cattle. Little britches rodeo would become a slight obsession. I had one of the fastest and most talented horse in Mineral County. Chipper could herd cattle, barrel race and poll bend like a champion. He could also carry a 250 pound man all day. We ended up selling him to a fella that lived by Lucky boy pass. The last time I saw him, he was standing in a foot of horse shit. That broke my heart. I still have anxiety about not being a better child and taking better care of this animal. I was a spoiled brat.  My parents did everything they could to shield us from the real world. Nevada was our little oasis. A place where children could run and play like there is no tomorrow.

I remember when Hot wheels and Hot wheel tracks came out. Soon, all the neighborhood kids would get together and build massive Hot wheel tracks. My dad had built a flat top garage next to the the federal housing duplex we lived in. He had just purchased a 1966 Ford Country Sedan with a 289. and a sand storm had ruined the paint job. So he built a garage to put it in. We would climb on top of it and build our Hot wheel track. By the time we had finished building the track, it would start on top of the garage and end across the yard, over the sidewalk and onto the street. It would have a huge loop and then a jump at the end. The only thing that would interrupt the racing event was my mom’s  home-made koolaid pop cycles.

Hotwheels tracks would give way to mini bikes.One of the coolest thing one could do in the desert is find a car hood, a rope and attach the stuff to a dirt bike. One of the older kids in the town had a 400 Bultaco two stroke. He would pull us across the desert. The shape of the  1940s Oldsmobile car hood allowed us to jump sage brush. Most of the time, however, we just ate sand. A little later, I would get a Yamaha mini enduro and all hell would break loose. The foothills of Mountain Grant would become our playground. We would ride for miles and miles and miles and up every knook and canyon.

On the base,we had a very nice football field with green grass. We rigged up a rope and sleeping bag combination. Then I would tow kids on the grass field with my mini enduro.

My father was an avid hunter and sportsman. During the 1960s, the Walker lake water level was mush higher. We would fish Navy beach at the South end of the lake. Back then, the water level at the treed area of Navy Beach was up to my chest close to the shoreline.Today, at Navy Beach, the area is covered with natural pasture land and the lake has lost 80 feet.  I remember when my father caught a 3 foot long Cut throat trout. It was almost as long as the bath tub at our Babbitt duplex. It had swallowed the hook line and sinker, so we had no choice but to eat it. Back then, we caught trout right off the beach. Swimming at Walker lake was a love hate relationship. We loved swimming and fighting for an inner tube place, but if one ingested the water, one would puke because of the PH level.

The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot had a place where they threw away wooden boxes and pallets. Sometimes, my father would  get copious fresh wood and huge boxes for building tree forts. The treeline was littered with tree forts. I once built a three story tree fort.  The Brecks built a huge tree fort out of a massive cargo container made of wood. It was in a huge Cottonwood tree close to the Hawthorne dog pound. The tree was located at a irrigation pipe that fed the entire tree line. The water came off of Cat Creek and Black Beauty reservoir. I was once captured by the Brecks and enslaved. So, Robert Brecks and I had to load up buckets of rocks for their ammunition and out fit the tree fort for long sieges. Alas, we came back later and attacked them with home made slingshots.

When GI Joes came out, I begged my parents for GI Joe with kungfu grip and lifelike hair. Instead of the GI Joe jeep, I had to settle for a faggie Ken-mobile. I cut that into a truck. My friends and I would set up elaborate breastworks in the tree line and man them with GI joes. It would look like a Vietnamese prison camp. Then we would blow up the GI Joes with firecrackers and BB guns. If we found a Ken doll, he would get tortured until he told us the secret. We were soldiers in training. A GI Joe could take a beating before it gave up the ghost.

My favorite bike was a 3 speed stingray with a banana seat and sissy bar. I outfitted that with a double canteen belt. I rode that bike all over Hawthorne, Babbitt and the base. I made a mistake and turned it into a chopper.

When I was a toddler, I rode my tricycle towards Hawthorne  from 1202 Lexington. I made it passed the radar site only to be picked up by Clarence the highway patrolman. He said, that I had my right blinker on and was about to turn onto highway 95 across from the airport.

I don’t remember our first dogs Nellie and Pawchie. Someone in Babbitt had poisoned them when we first came their. I do remember when we obtained Mitzie the cat. My mom climbed up a cottonwood tree to get her. She would be with us for over 20 years. Our first Dachshund was named Baron Von Cocktail. He had a crook in his tail. He hated me after I accidentally road over him with my bike. He would hang out with us in the treeline, but once we were at home, he avoided me like the plague. Our next door neighbor had a full sized dachshund named Alex. He must have been 30 pounds with a wonderful demeanor. He always hung out with us. He was hit by a car at his hind quarters when we came out of the treeline. I cried so hard. I can still remember how he was up on his front legs and looking at us for guidance. Everyone loved Alex.

As a child, I was very ADHD. I remember all of my teachers from Kindergarten to 7th grade. Each had an impact on me whether it was positive or negative. The last teacher I had was during seventh grade. She read us “Hiroshima”  and “Animal Farm!” She also liked to pick her nose. Imagine a class room of kids secretly watching the teacher. Like clock work, the teacher would dig into her nostrils and then pull out a huge booger. Then she would analyze it like a jeweler analyzes a diamond. After gazing at the booger like it was thing of beauty, she would dispatch the hardened mucous into her mouth. Sometimes, she would allow the booger to dry on her finger while she read to us. As soon as she was done reading  a page about the horse getting sent to the slaughter house, she would gobble it up like it was a prize. Every week day for the entire school year, we were treated to the teacher gorging on huge dried Nevada boogers. What a treat. Of course, the behavior would cure all seventh graders of picking their noses and eating boogers from then on.

In third grade, the teacher taped my mouth shut with masking tape and put me in the corner. She actually wrapped the tape around and around my head. When my dad found out, he went to the school and chewed her ass. My 6th grade teacher paddled me for throwing a snow ball.

My mother was 4 feet eleven and barley spoke English. She worked in the Mineral County school cafeteria. So, I got to see my mom every day at lunch time. All the kids would politely say “hello Mrs. Brodhead” as she spooned out a ball of  mushy salmon cake. We always looked forward to pizza or fish sticks day. In the little town of  Hawthorne, one was quite popular if one dished out the pizza or fish sticks….. It is all relative.

Mr. hardy was our Music teacher. He was one of my favorite teachers. I remember when Mrs. Odoms showed me how to take a pulse.

Once a month, we would go to the Fallon Naval Air station BX and commissary.  My dad had several ice chests, and the 1966 Ford country sedan had copious room for food. He would fill it up with food because Safeway was way too expensive. Every year, the Naval base ay Fallon would have a “Toy land!” They would dedicate a big room event room for just toys. When Christmas came around, the first order of business was to talk our parents into taking us to the Fallon NAS.

 

 

 

A B-17 Story Part 23

It is Saturday night in America’s “Biggest little City”.  A well kept Hispanic American veteran sits in a wheelchair playing a one armed bandit dollar machine. The man’s short sleeve shirt reveals his massive and ripped arms from years of using his wheel chair. His leg had been amputated between the knee and the hip which made a  prosthetic leg quite awkward. For years he had used  a cane and a fake leg, however , now in his late sixties,  Petie  Contreras preferred a manually powered wheel chair. As a teacher, he found it easier to focus on teaching when he was not standing on good leg 8 hours a day.

Every year, a student would challenge him to an arm wrestling contest and would be easily defeated.

Pete would attend the University of Arizona and earn a degree in math. Later he would earn a masters degree in mathematics and also coach baseball. His central Phoenix baseball teams were the best teams in Arizona and took state several times. Pete would be promoted to school principal and then the superintendent of Phoenix public schools.

Tonight, the Cal Neva has not been so kind to him. He has stuffed almost $50 into this machine and it has only given back a few silver dollars here and there.

Jack, walks up to Petie and places his hand on his shoulder. ” The rest of the crew is at the buffet and waiting for you”, Jack tells the ex math teacher from central Phoenix. Pete replies. ” OK, let me get rid of this last dollar and we can head over there!” With the warmth and comfort of Jack’s hand  still on his shoulder, Pete inserts his last dollar into the stingy machine and pulls the handle. Just then, the once stingy machine rolls a red, white and blue seven and all hell breaks loose. Pete has hit the jackpot. The machine gives him close to $17,000 dollars. After settling with the cashiers cage, Pete and Jack head to the all you can eat seafood buffet. The best seafood buffet in Reno.
Waiting at the table in Stetson Cowboy hats, are several of his fellow B-17 aircrew members from WWII. Well, all except Col. Bud Walsh who had passed away a decade before. Each stand and greet the disabled veteran and shake his hand. There is Paolo, and the Venice beach boys. Forney is there and so is Owens. When Pete pulls up to the table, Paolo stands up and walks around to Pete. He then taps on Pete’s shoulder and presents him with a nice big hug and a huge basket of Italian sausage and cheeses. The rest of the crew laughs and lift their bag of Paolo treats.
Later that evening, Jack, Pete, Paolo, and the Venice beach boys settle into a game of single deck 21. At first, the going is rough  and the dealer cleans up. But then, Paolo flips a 21. For the next several hours and until 2AM, the B-17 crew eats up one dealer after another. Soon, each have mounds of chips worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The pit boss cant believe the run of luck and paces back and forth. When one of the late night early morning dealers comes in, he puts her at the table. She is a raving red head beauty in her late 50s, but is very well kept. She has a wonderful smile, friendly demeanor, and  hazel green eyes that are gorgeous, kind, and enchanting to the WWII veterans. Soon the luck begins to run thin and then the sting of the hot dealer arrives. About this time, and with $2500 in winnings, Pete calls it quits and the rest of the crew follows his lead.

In the morning, the crew will take a trip to Virginia City and visit every single shop.The following day, They will visit Lake Tahoe and spend the day swimming and sitting on the beach. The evening meal will be at the buffet at Harrahs casino.  Then , after another good nights sleep, they will head back to Jack’s spread in Yerrington and to the makeshift RV park Jack  has set up for them. Of course, they then sneak off to the Walker river and fly fish at the elbow. That night, it is prime rib at the Gold nugget in Yerrington and some more 21.

Pete, loves Jack’s ranch. He loves the copious horses and never misses the chance to ride. His leg has just enough stub left for him to stay in the saddle. His favorite horse is one of Jack’s brown and white appaloosa quarter horses. The horse is over 25 years old but very well kept and fit. Jack’s daughter rode this horse in Nevada rodeo’s since she was a child. Now that she was off to college, the horse needed riding.

Pete would spend his winnings on a 30 foot used motor home. During the summer months, Pete and his wife would escape the heat of Phoenix and stay at Jack’s ranch. They would help with chores of all kinds. In the evenings, Pete would ride the appaloosa and sit high in the saddle. Before long, Pete and the horse “Wiskey John” would have an unbreakable bond. Jack called Pete the Spanish Conquistador every time he saw Pete high in the saddle. .

A B-17 Story Part 22

It was February 14th, 1945 and a clear day over Dresden. This day only a half dozen German fighters would meet the massive air armada. Jack Williams had healed from his wounds during the Munich mission and was now on a different aircrew. His gun was silent and there was very little flak on the bomb run over Dresden.

” Bombs away,” the Bombadier declares over interphone. Behind him Jack can see another 400 B-17s and B-24s dropping their pay loads. In about a minute, hundreds of bombs will drop on central Dresden. Then the British Royal Air Force will finish the job with thousands of  incendiary bombs later that night. Jack looks for a moment, but he is no longer interested in the products of war.

Jack had an identity before he became an airman. Many of his fellow enlisted friends were younger and  fell subject to all of the military propaganda and conditioning. Many simply loved to fly and be part of an air wing. They loved the status of aviator. They were proud to be airman. They had nothing before, and now were Army Air Corps aviators. J, on the other hand, started to hate the confines  of the B-17. He simply did not like flying and performing a mission was like getting a tooth pulled. In fact, he hated it. he knew the job had to be done, but that was about it.

The air armada turns to the east and heads back to England. In just a little while, they will be over American held territory. German fighters are all but gone and most of the Flak guns have been moved to Berlin. Today was just a walk in the park. A small amount of Flak begins.

Jack is day dreaming about Elko, Nevada, and how his horse Chip is doing. He thinks of his mother and his little brothers. He then thinks of the woman he had a fancy for at that store in Elko. He has sent all of his money home. Unbeknownst to Jack, his mother has purchased dozens of extra female calves with his money.  By the spring of 1945, she has tripled his war paychecks and also has a sizable breeder heard for him when he gets back. During the war, Abby was able to contract with the US military and sell all of her beef at a premium.

Jack is sick of being a gunner and flying on airplanes. He cant wait until the war ends so he can go home. No airplane could ever replace the smell of Nevada sage or pulling German Browns out of the Ruby marshes. No airplane could ever replace house and home. Jack thinks airplanes are bullshit and prefers a saddle or an old Ford pickup. Jack is sick of the military. He is sick of dealing with officer gibberish and big mouth enlisted weenies from the city. He is biding his time. That very moment, a FLAK shell bursts within 10 feet of his canopy at the tail of his aircraft. Jack is startled from his day dream as his canopy becomes ridden with holes and Flak smoke. A piece of shrapnel strikes Jack’s left upper chest, and then deflects out his left tricep, nicking the aft lower section of his shoulder socket. Another piece of debri cuts through his left ear. A tiny piece of canopy plexi glass goes through the side of his voice box and lodges in the back of his neck.

At the end of the mission, Jack is again carted off to a hospital in England. He spends weeks recovering , but his shoulder will require additional surgery back in America. He will also require surgery on his throat because of infection. He ends up on a hospital ship and is transported to Washington DC and Walter Reed hospital. It is determined that there is a surgeon at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Colorado that can do the surgeries. Jack is transported on a DC-3 to Denver. The surgeries will go well, but rehabbing his shoulder will take a year and he wont regain full use for years to come.

Jack is medically retired and discharged from the service on May 4th 1946. He will take the train from Cheyenne ,Wyoming to Elko, Nevada so he can check on his horse.Jack arrives at the old Elko train station on May 15th. The weather is gorgeous and the Nevada desert is full of desert flowers and prairie grass. The journey from Wells to Elko brings tears to his eyes. When the Ruby dome and Ruby range come into view, Jack begins to sob uncontrollably.

When the train arrives at Elko, the Sheriff is there to pick him up. Jack is told that Chipper is at a coral next to a feed lot just outside of town. The outfit that Jack had worked for at Shanty town had gone out of business in January when the beef sales to the government were reduced. The fellas he worked with were now scattered from Smoky valley to Pine valley.  The foreman had dropped Chip off to what he thought was a good horse coral. Instead, Chip was moved to a coral at the feed lot.

When Jack arrives at the coral, he is eager to see his horse. What he finds is terrible. Chip is coraled in a very small fenced area. The stall has not been cleaned of horse shit for years. Feces ridden mud engulfs  the feed trough area. The water tub is low, dirty, and ridden with algae and all manner of digust.  Chip is skinny. His ribs show through his mangy coat. On his belly, there are copious fly eggs. His hooves are over grown, water soaked, and splitting. His mane and tail full of knots. Before Jack left Chipper had a very fat back and the backbone could not be felt.

Jack approaches Chipper at the fence. Chipper looks up and immediately whinnies. When Jack comes closer, Chipper seems to be breathing abnormally from being fed on the ground. Jack becomes enraged and heads towards the coral office. When he enters the office, he asks who is taking care of the brown and white gelding. The office fella answers, “that would be me.”   “How much do I owe you”, Jack asks. Oh, that horse is mine now, nobody has paid the bill for close to 6 months,” the fella replies. About this time, Jack in his full dress Army Air corps uniform cold cocks the guy with a smashing right hook. The fella hits the floor. Jack places his knee in the man’s sternum and then stuffs a twenty dollar bill in the guy’s mouth. he then heads to the door. The man  pulls the money from his mouth and asks the Sheriff what he was going to do about this. The Sheriff, replies, I haven’t seen a thing and he turns to follow Jack out the door. The Sheriff then turns and states,” I told you months ago to take care of this horse. You are lucky that Jack has a bum shoulder or he would have beat the shit out of you!”

Jack heads to the coral, retrieves Chipper and leads him away from the filth and stench of the feed lot. He will hand walk Chip to a friend’s field 5 miles away and let him loose in the pasture with plenty of grass and fresh water. Then he heads into town to have a steak, a beer and a good nights sleep. In the morning, he will visit the J.M. Capriola Company and buy some good feed, horse balm, some hoof cutters, and a steel horse brush. Then he will spend an hour trying to talk them into selling him a Capriola saddle that is collecting dust in a corner. The saddle had been a display saddle before he even went off to war. They settle on a price after Jack gives in to buying a new blanket and hackamore.  He will also, retrieve his personal stuff and bed roll from a an old girlfriend’s house.  She has everything for him including his 410/.40 which has been cleaned and oiled.

While in Elko, Jack puts $200 down on  a brand new red 1946 Ford truck and buys a  good used  horse trailer for $50 bucks. He will take Chipper to the Ruby Marshes and nurse his horse back to health. Theywill spend a month at Ruby in the abandoned bunk house before taking the truck, trailer and Chip to Pine valley. Jack will try to work as a ranch hand but his arm and shoulder is too week to even hold on to the saddle horn.  he decides to head to Carson City via  Austin and highway 50. He is not alone. He has a beautiful gal by his side and he is taking her to meet his family. In another 6 months, Chipper is fat and healthy and the best cow pony in the state of Nevada. In another 6 months, Jack  is attending the University of Nevada Reno. He has also purchased a  200 acre spread in Yerington  on contract. The spread would have Walker river rights and aquifer water.

He  married to the woman he loves. To Jack, his small VA pension is a wonderful gift and the money will go along way in Nevada. Jack would graduate from  University of Nevada Reno, and become a veterinarian. The love of his life would give him 4 girls and 1 boy.

A B-17 Story Part 21

It was a crisp cold night in Bavaria on December 2nd 1948. Snow blanketed the cobble stoned streets of Neuburg.  Smoke from wood burning stoves rise silently out of stone chimneys and into the evening air. It was quiet save for a few  US military trucks travelling the streets here and there. The hum of a VW engine echoes off the walls of the stone houses and diminishes. .

Off down a narrow alley way in the distance, the sound of a bicycle being negotiated through the doorway of a guesthouse could be heard. While the heavy wooden door was open, one could hear the robust chatter and clatter of  folks enjoying a beer and schnitzel.  One could see the haze of German cigarettes cast between light and dark as the smoke drafts into the alley way. A deep hardy laugh erupts with several individuals cheering the joyous evening. . Once the door was closed, all was quiet again. The stench of cigarettes would rise and dissipate.

This night, there was not a cloud in the sky and one could see beautiful stars shining brightly. Breathing in the cool brisk air was both refreshing and comforting. Peace was at hand.

Gone were the days of stifling 120 degree heat at the “Battle of El Alemain”.  Gone were the days when one could cook an egg on the steel of a Panzer 3. The smoke filled shacks and frozen streets of  Stalingrad gave way to the smoked filled German gasthuas. Tins of grotesque gelatin filled military meat rations gave way to fresh fare. Gone were the days of the SS, Gestapo, and train cars headed to the gas chambers of Dachau, Auschwitz and other countless death camps.

. The German war machine was replaced by the Marshal plan. Germany would rise once again, but not as a military power but an economic powerhouse.Germany had lost 4 million German soldiers. Millions more were wounded and scarred for life. Dozens of cities were reduced to rubble. The German economy all but destroyed. Many families would lose all of their sons. In Dresden, for example, entire families were slaughtered by American bombers as they sought refuge in the city’s central park while the rest of the city burned. Dresden would see the loss of 400,000 people. This would not be a repeat of the “Treaty of Versailles” or the seeds of it’s aftermath. Germany was beaten. The Nazi party was dead and no amount of propaganda could revive centuries of the Germany’s Teutonic war mentality. Germany’s militant history would be replaced with a liberal government that would allow Muslims to overrun the border. Muslims hell bent on taking free hand outs and out breeding native Germans in their own country.

No family in Germany was untouched by the war. A generation of German men were killed off. One would notice this during the day when all one saw were single woman going to work on bicycles.

During the wonderful winter evening, at the bread store, Maria was dishing out her prized blaukraut to her family around the large wooden table. Maria’s father Helmut was chewing on a piece of blaukraut juice soaked bread and demanding another heaping spoonful. Maria’s mother Renate was content with just a ladle full, as she cut up a slice of boiled dumpling for the babies. Just then, the back door of the living quarters swung open and Franz enters with an arm load of wood for the 500 pound steel stove.  “Danke”, Maria declares.

In the corner, Herbert sits on a wooden bench and reads to Maria’s boys. His good leg resting firmly on the floor while his other leg is just a horizontal stub. A fake leg sits idle at his side. The left side of his face and earlobe show the healed and scarred remains of burns. Herbert turns the pages with scarred  hands. He utters a few lines and then breaks out into laughter. His nephews adore and love Herbert and follow suit with their own laughter.

Maria orders the boys and her brother to the table. The room smells of Maria’s schnitzel. Tonight, they are cooking fresh swine from a local farm. The breading is made from Maria’s special recipe. The meat has been beaten and tenderized with a kitchen mallet and then soaked in fresh eggs from the hens out back. She rolls the meat into the egg batter and then covers the meat with seasoned bread crumbs. On the stove, sets a large cast iron pan with fresh melted butter. It is hot enough now and Maria fills the pan with the prepared schnitzel. On the side, she has paprika gravy, and brown mushroom gravy with the hint of vinegar. In another pan, she is cooking a dozen potatoes that have been in the cellar since August. The potatoes will get a mixture of bacon, bacon fat, distilled vinegar and onion.  In a large pot, she has made two dozen breaded dumplings.Maria’s boys sit between Franz and Herbert as Maria serves them dinner. Soon their plates are full of really good cooking. Their stainless steel cups full of cold fresh milk. The first order of business is to cut up the dumplings . Then Maria comes along with a ladle full of brown mushroom gravy and dumps  a gob on the tasty boiled bread balls. Herbert prefers the hot paprika. The young boys like the brown mushroom gravy. Franz prefers simply lemon of which they have none.

Herbert cannot help but think about the war and his time as a German POW. He had barely survived his time at a British hospital in Cairo. The pain associated with his burns was excruciating. Many times he had succumbed to infection only to come out of it by shear will power. In the POW camps, he was forced to eat the worst food imaginable next to comrades who had not changed their underwear for a month. The stench of human body odor masked the smell of the POW rations.

By the fall of 1945, he was back at the family store.  Now he was sitting in his warm family home and having a good dinner with loved ones. He was sleeping on his own bed with the luxury of a homemade down comforter. Defecating in a trench was replaced with the trusty two-holer out back. After a few years, he was fitted with a fake leg. He still wore his Wehrmacht boots. A freshly pressed German uniform hung in the hall closet.  Herbert was not a Nazi. He was a German soldier.Maria sits down and utters, ” gutten appetite!” The rest of the family responds in kind and they dig in. They are together as a family again. Maria’s daughter Beate is just over 3 years old and sits between Renate and Maria. Her head barely as high as the table. .Franz junior is 6 months old.  He is sitting in a high chair with a food smeared bib on his chest. He is a healthy and stout Bavarian  boy. They all have each other. Out of the ruins of war, they have each other and a new Germany to believe in.

A picture of all three boys in German uniforms sets on the fireplace mantle.

The family talks about the business and buying a farm as they finish up their dinner.All of a sudden, the family hears a knock on the back door and are startled. No one comes to the back door save the family. Perplexed and uncertain, Franz opens the door slightly and looks out. In the darkness there is a man. Franz sensing danger angrily asks the dark figure what he wants and that they are closed for the evening. The dark figure states’ ” I am sorry, but this used to be my home. My name is Max and I used to live here. Do you know where my family is? “Max Is that you”,  Franz asks. My name is Franz and I am married to Maria. I have never met you. Franz turns to the family and says” it is Max, your brother!

Franz swings the door wide and Max enters the room. He is older and quite thin with a beard. He removes an old Soviet made hat. His gloves have holes in them. He is wearing a heavy wool jacket and wool pants. His boots are Soviet military and taken from a dead inmate at POW work camp. They are several sizes too big, but several layers of socks keep them snug. They would fit better if he had toes. The family is speechless as they watch Max remove his gloves. Several fingers are missing from frost bite. Max’s face is scarred above the lip, his smile reveals several missing teeth on one side of his mouth. Compliments from the but of a Russian made carbine. He smells to high heaven. A years worth of body smells inundates his clothes and he looks and smells like a dirty beggar from the streets of Frankfurt.

Max gazes into his mothers eyes and she starts to cry. Max’s eyes have lost the luster of his mother’s boy. Once a sparkling blue eyed German boy in leather shorts, Max now had the eyes of an old man far beyond his years. Over 90,000 German troops marched out of Stalingrad and into Russia. Max was one of only 6,000 that returned.  For 5 years, Max lived in disgusting Soviet gulags and slept on wooden boards. He had witnessed the death of hundreds of German POWs at the hands of Soviet guards, disease and malnutrition.Max survived because he could cook for hundreds and the guards liked his bread. After 5 years in the Soviet Union, Max was transported by a cattle car to Berlin and dumped off. The Berlin airlift was in full swing, but he was allowed to cross into West Berlin. he would be among the 2 million German POWs that were repatriated.

Helmut rises. He cries, “My son!”  and then embraces his boy. Next, the entire family is hugging and kissing Max . They pull the old coat from his body and throw it out the back door. Maria retrieves a several large galvanized tubs. A few are filled with water and placed on the stove. Franz heads out side and retrieves another arm load of wood. He fills the stove and they begin to heat several gallons of water.

Max is led to the wash room. He is very familiar with the large oval galvanized tub. He cherishes the smell of stone tile and the cleanliness of the room. A room that he had washed himself in since he was a boy. Soon the tub is full of hot steaming water. Max lowers himself into the tub and begins to wash and shave himself. A half hour later, max emerges from the wash room with clean clothes, and nice shave. The clothes hang loose on his body. They are the clothes he wore before entering the Wehrmacht and being carted off to Stalingrad. The clothes are clean and the familiar essence of German detergent soap reasserts it’s familiarity.

Max, notices that his old clothes are now burning in the fireplace. The vision reminds him of the large fires that the Stalingrad POWs would build on their death march.  He winced at the thought of dead POWs being thrown into these fires after they had froze to death. He remembered the smell. he remembers stepping over the hundreds of frozen German Soldiers that would freeze to death and die every night. He remembers the stench of the camps. Now, he would bury his nose into the freshly washed shirt and force the memories from his mind.

Max slowly re-nters the the main room and  sits at the table. Maria and Renate have set a plate of food for him. They have also brought out some canned cucumbers from the garden.  His mother Renate stands behind him and runs her fingers through his hair and applies the warmth of her palms to the side of his face.  Maris sits next to him cutting up the schnitzel and bread dumplings for her little brother. Helmet goes to the cellar and grabs a case of local beer.

Max, grabs the fork and knife and looks into his family’s eyes as they look on.  The index finger and thumb of his right hand are still intact, but his three remaining fingers are of varied lengths. His pinky finger just a nub. His left hand is pretty much the same as he slowly forks a piece of  the schnitzel. He takes a bite and slowly chews the food. The wonderful taste and familiarity flood his senses. He swallows and then pauses silently as the family watches intently. . Max begins to break down and cry. He is home!!!

A B-17 Story Part 20

When Walsh’s aircraft was hit, the lead position defaulted to the Richardson Crew of the 728th.

“Navigator!” “Pilot”  ,  Richardson declares over the aircraft interphone system.  “Yes sir” responds the navigator. “Where are we and how far are we from the bomb run?”  Richardson continues. The naviagator again keys his mike and states,” Ok see that lake to the south, that is the Bodensee. To the east of us there is a river and then two other lakes. I reckon we are right over the top of Memingen. We are now approximately 70 miles from the target area. At our current air speed, we are about 25 minutes from target and 15 minutes from the IP.

Lets go ahead and make a slight heading adjustment of 10 degrees to the north. This will line us up with Untermietingen  and then the IP at the Lech river.”Richardson comes up on the master radio and tells the rest of the B-17 cell to turn to a heading that is 10 degrees from current heading.“OK”, thats good for now the lead navigator tells the pilot. Meanwhile, the savage attack by German fighters continues. Several German ME109 G and  FW190 squadrons had joined the fight. All told between 75 and 100 German fighters were attacking the B-17 cells.

Richardson looks out his side window just as a ME109G unloaded it’s MK108 cannon on the B-17 to the left of him. The 40 mm explosive round impacts the wing of this B-17 between the number 3 engine and wing root. The wing folds immediately and stretched flight control cables cutting through aircraft skin wedge the left wing aileron to full up.  The B-17 fuselage starts to roll wildly. The pilots struggle to feather the 1 and 2 engines, but the air speed of the aircraft and the intact left wing create a windmill effect. The B-17 then noses down while rolling close to 50  revolutions per minute. Inside the aircraft, the waist gunners are being flung from fuselage wall to fuselage wall.  Any crewmen that was strapped in, remain stationary. Once the aircraft starts to descend vertically the waste gunners fall to the bomb bay racks with the body of the aircraft rotating around them like the tail of a wallowing a fish.  By now, they are both unconscious from repeated head impacts to aircraft structure.

The pilots weren’t able to open the bomb bay doors. They just stay strapped in and unable to do anything because of rotational forces.The flight engineer was hanging on the the 50 caliber at the upper ball turret . His waist was folded and his legs flat against the top of the fuselage.Below at the bombardiers deck,  the nav and bomb nav  have unstrapped to exit the crew entrance, but now find themselves entangled between the Norden bomb site and the nose of the canopy. Unable to over come the rotating mass they can only move inches at a time and then have to deal with a changing axis of rotation and g force.

Once the B-17 hits another airspeed regime, it begins to transition from a roll to a combination of a roll, yawing, porpoising and a  flat spin. The center of the axis is where the wing used to be. The tail section spins round and round in an oval orbiting pattern.  This motion propels the navigators to the opposite end of the Bombardiers deck and then back to the nose again. This ceremony is repeated  dozens of  times. The flight engineer is flung from the upper ball turret to the aircraft windscreen.The pilots unstrap from their seats, and soon, they and the flight engineer are wedged between the control column and copilots seat. The G force from rotational acceleration  effect pins them to copilot’s side windscreen and their fate is sealed.

The radio operator unbelts and attempts to make it to the gunners window, but soon finds himself rolling around the fuselage like a pinball in a pinball machine. By shear luck, he is ejected from the aircraft through a waste gunner window albeit unconscious. During the exit from the gunners window, the radio operators shoot canister is damaged and may not open.Amazingly, the tail gunner makes it to his escape hatch and exits the aircraft.Inside the tube, the waste gunners continue to  be flung around the fuselage, The navigators are pinned at the nose, and the pilot, copilot and flight engineer are entangled, wedged and impaled at the copilot’s control column.The Belly turret gunner was left screaming the whole time as the new crew forgot about him. At 10,000 feet, he attempted to get someone’s attention by firing off his guns.The bombardier remains conscious as the B-17 falls to earth. With his face pressed against the nose canopy glass, the  last thing he sees is the green grass of the countryside as the dead B-17 approaches the ground at over 120 miles an hour.  The impact crushes the nose of the aircraft to the pilots aft bulkhead. The impact detonates the entire bomb load and  the aircraft wing explodes as well.

The radio operator becomes conscious at 5000 feet and pulls his chute to no avail. He impacts the ground. The gunner’s chute opens and he can see the whole event unfold. He would land and roll out only 300 yards from the burning wreckage. Soon a truck load of old German soldiers and adolescent boys find him and take him away.

5 miles above, the fighters have left the fight and the FLAK begins….“pilot,” “navigator”,  signals the navigator. “Go ahead nav,” the aircraft commander replies! ” Okie dokie, set heading marker to 090 degrees and make a 5 degree course adjustment to the  right . “Nice, alright see that  u bend in the small river ahead of us, that is the Amper river. Just past that point is a pasture between some hills, and that is the beginning of the bomb run. Straight ahead will be the Munich rail head” ,The Navigator finishes. “I knew you Navigators were good for something, well done Captain, the aircraft commander responds.

The lead aircraft informs the cell.“OK it is about time I give control of this air machine to the Bombardier. Bombing fella, it is all yours, and the pilot relinquishes command to the Bombardier.The Bombardier is on the Norden bomb site. He can see the smoke stacks  and the emissions rising from countless buildings. Today, some of the exhaust is rising straight up with zero wind effect. It is a clear day with flak hitting all around the aircraft.

The western terminus of the rail head is only minutes away.“Bomb doors open,”  the bombardier declares over inter-phone. Then like clockwork, all 36 aircraft in this combat formation open their doors. Each of the 36 bombers in the lead cell is now being piloted by the  Bombardier and they all make slight course adjustments.

With full control of the autopilot, the bombardier makes a 2 degree course adjustment and he is right on the money. The wind meter aloft indicates a 10 knot tailwind. He makes his adjustments to the Norden. Below, the main rail head of Munich is coming into focus. An added bonus? A massive train is heading into the marshaling yard. In addition, there are literally dozens of trains coming and going on dozens of tracks leading into the center of the city.

The Bombardier states ” This is going to be very accurate!” “Bombs away” as he pushes the bomb release button. The release according to the Norden was right on the boiler stack of an arriving train that was entering the main terminal area.It will be about 30 to 40 seconds before the bombs will hit the target area.  All 35 remaining B-17s in the lead cell drop their  bomb loads. Many had to tighten up the station keeping in the formation to be on target. The seconds tick by. To the north, the pilot sees some smoke stacks off in the distance. Unbeknownst to the pilot, he is looking at the crematorium smoke stacks of Dachau.

After the bomb release, the bombardier tells the pilot the aircraft is yours, now lets get the hell out of here.  The lead tells the bombing cell  a new heading over command radio, he then banks to the right and exits the target area to the south where the flak batteries are not as formidable. Several seconds later, the bombs begin to hit.  For the next 20 minutes to 30 minutes, B-17 bomb loads will rain down on Munich.Today, it was clear in a million but the tail winds would but several bomb loads long. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of bombs would fall on hundreds of buildings  up to 2 miles away.

Then, the trailing cell will bomb the city for another 30 minutes. The entire B-17 air armada would bomb Munich for 90 minutes.Today, the lead aircraft will hit the very center of the main Munich Bahnhof. The Bahnhof would have no less than a dozen tracks with 5 trains waiting for passengers and cargo. The marshaling yard would also be full of military trains. After only a few minutes, the entire main Munich Bahnhof is a disaster area.

The view from the last B-17 would find a path of destruction that is 15 miles long and a mile wide.  Buildings paralleling the rail road tracks were gutted to their root cellars. Hundreds of building were on fire. Dozens and dozens of locomotives up ended and destroyed. A months worth of BMW fighter engines destroyed or strewn about. Boxcars loaded with troop rations burning to the ground. Tiger tanks bound for France to fight Eisenhower laying on their sides. Thousands of feet of track destroyed and unusable.
Once the the B-17s left the area, the German people began the work to rebuild the Haupt Bahnhof and get the cargo moving. One track would be fixed and then the next. Cranes would hoist the products of war back onto repaired rail cars. Workers would work through the night cutting, and welding. Within weeks it would be up and running and support the German war machine. Then the warning horn would sound as another 1200 American bombers would show up on the horizon.  By May 1945, Munich would be a gutted city in ruin.

A B-17 Story Part 19

Forney jumps from the right seat of the aircraft and Col. Walsh takes command of the aircraft. Walsh  sits down, grabs the yoke,  straps in, puts on his mask and calmly keys the mike.  “navigator, aren’t you supposed to be down stairs finding me a heading?”  Paulo in the left seat with his head ducked behind the instrument panel to avoid the blast of cold air replies, ” you could say that sir?”  “Engineer give me the run down on this air machine!” Walsh politely asks. Forney quickly details the list of emergency procedures that have been done on the aircraft.  Nothing more and nothing less.  ”

Well, we got two engines, so I guess we are in good shape.” Walsh adds.  “Excellent work engineer!” he continues.“Navigator” “Pilot”  “Where are we?’ Walsh asks.  ” From the looks of the aerail reconnaissance photos, we are over Swiefalten ,” Paulo replies. Painfully and with clenched teeth. Col. Walsh launches into a lengthy briefing on the situation, ” listen up everyone, as I see it, we have several options at this point. Our First option is getting back to England anyway we can. The second option is landing in Switzerland and spending the rest of the war in a Swiss internment camp that is no better than a German POW camp. Third we can bail out over German territory and spend the rest of the war in a German POW camp. It looks like we have about 1000 gallons of fuel left with 200 gallons of  transferable fuel  behind number 1 engine.  That is about 5 hours at 170 mph to dry tanks with 4 engines . With two engines, I am not certain how much fuel we will use given the lower altitude we will have to fly. We are maintaining 15,000 feet at the moment, but I would like to drop the bombs, and see how high we can climb. Any questions?None on the crew speaks up. “Ok then, bomb doors clear to open?” walsh asks. “Doors clear,”  a crewman responds.  “Bomb doors open, Bombardier lets get rid of some weight,” Walsh orders! Owens looks through his Norden bomb sight and  sees only fields. “Bombs away,” Owens answers.

Walsh then asks the Flight Engineer to  work some magic on the rear elevator  to see if they could get some altitude gain. Forney  and Williams wedge the bar under the elevator, jump up and down on it and move the elevator to an up position. Walsh pushes the throttles up and watches the altitude indicator. The B-17 starts to climb slowly.  “Navigator, give me a heading,”  Walsh orders.  Meanwhile, the last of the entire 1000 B-17 air armada is still flying towards Munich 2 miles above. Paulo suggests a heading that would put the B-17 through a long cloud bank  and goes directly to Metz, France.  Paulo had noticed the cloudy area en-route some hours before.  Walsh agrees and the aircraft course it set. Within 20 minutes, the B-17 is cruising at 18,000 feet through the camouflage of a cloud bank en-route to Metz. Forney and Williams feather the elevator to neutral position to save gas and the crew crosses their fingers.

At the radio operators bulkhead, Parsons is on his second morphine shot.  The crew bandaged his arm and had been loosening the tourniquet on a regular basis.  Pete’s leg artery is now choked off with a set of medical hemostats that  one of the crewman had in his flight bag. Jack also bandaged up Pete’s wound and gave him a few shots of morphine.  The crew moved their wounded to points where they could get adequate oxygen lines etc. At 18,000 feet, on this beautiful German day the temperature in the aircraft was 5 to 10 degrees.

The rest of the mission would be uneventful. No German fighters would harass them, and only a little flak was encountered.  Walsh landed the aircraft without incident. Parsons and  Contreras would spend several months in a British hospital and then be shipped back to the states for separation from the Army Air Corps. Walsh would heel up in a short order. Jack would spend a few weeks in the hospital for his wounds also.

A B-17 Story Part 18

Part 18

“Pilot” , “Navigator”  “set your heading indicator bug to heading  one one zero and prepare to turn on my mark,  Paulo calmly tells the pilots over the aircraft inter-phone system! The pilot responds, “Heading set to one one zero”! The radio operator then tells the entire B-17 cell to prepare for a left turn.

“Three, Two, One, left turn heading One one zero”, Paulo commands. Walsh responds, ” turning left to one one zero”, and he banks the bomber into a shallow left turn. The radio operator briefs the B-17 cell.  Each bomber combat box will turn to heading 110 when they reach the turning point over Nancy.  One after the other, the B-17 combat formations make the turn at the appropriate point and stay perfectly in line and in order. The aircraft station keeping is almost perfect.

Forney the flight engineer speaks up over inter-phone and state’s .:enemy fighters at 12 o’clock high moving  from right to left at approximately 5 miles!”  Col. Walsh speaks up and tells the crew to man their stations and stay alert.

From the looks of it, there were approximately a dozen ME BF109s off in the distance.  20 Mustangs were already posturing to interdict the German formation when Franz  and his ME262 suddenly appear from out of a cloud bank  a mile above  and two miles in front of Walsh’s B-17.  Franz dips the nose of his jet , and dives at the nose of the B-17. Franz only has a few seconds to get a salvo of 30 mm off. The closing speed is in excess of 700 miles per hour and close to the speed of sound. He has to take into consideration projectile motion, deflection, and trajectory. The solution must be figured out in a micro second. Franz fires off his 4 30 mm guns at the lead B-17. The rounds miss the aircraft completely and fly past it’s tail. Franz dips the nose of his ME262 another 20 degrees. This is his last chance to hit the lead aircraft Franz again pulls the trigger on his MK cannons and this time, the lead B-17 runs right into the rounds. The entire event lasted approximately 2 seconds.

Franz banks right while holding the trigger. He now knows exactly where his rounds will hit. His next victim is a B-17 to the left and aft of the the lead B-17. A round impacts the Flying Fortresses #4 engine and another impacts the fuselage aft of the right waist gunner. The next B-17 in his path of fire takes a round on it’s tail. Franz then rolls level and accelerates toward the posturing Mustangs. He banks right to line up but does not have position. Franz then rolls level again while yanking the stick back to climb. Within  minutes he is a mile above the B-17  cell.  A few Mustangs attempted to gain a firing position on his jet to no avail. Franz was carrying too much speed and momentum. Franz would climb to 40,000 feet and then scan the massive B-17 air armada for a week point. His next attack would be a roller coaster attack from the rear.  He would start his dive at the rear of the B-17 cell and then descend and ascend while firing along the entire length of the B-17 cell.

From 40,000 feet, Franz observes the massive Boeing bomber air armada.  He counted no less than 12 formations with 36 aircraft each. Each formation was 4 miles from each other making the the cell of B-17s 50 miles long.  This was just the center cell of the 3 cell bomber force a thousand in all. The entire length of the air armada was 150 miles long and 500 yards wide.

Franz flew for several minutes at 40,000 feet in the opposite direction of the bomber force. He  then performed a 180 degree bank and lined up on the tail end of the center cell bomber formation. He descended at a steep angle of attack and 560 miles per hour.  It would only take a couple minutes to negotiate the 10,000 feet that separated him from his prey.  Franz blasted through the escort Mustangs  behind the aft most bomber formation. He then yanked back on his yoke and positioned his guns on the copious B-17 underbellies that were now above him. he would close to within 500 meters ,and execute small bursts of his MK108 cannons to save munitions. Once he had fired upon a formation he would push the yoke forward dive a few thousand feet. He would then yank the yoke back, climb,  and fire at the next formation in his view and then ascend onto the next formation.  For 50 miles, he would repeat this roller coaster process.

By the time he had reached the lead formation again, his guns were empty. In his wake a dozen damaged B-17s . One B-17 exploded. One B-17 fell out of formation, and several more had severe battle damage. Once he had emptied his guns, he needed to head back to the airfield. He was out of gas.

Franz banked the ME262 to the right and started to extract himself from the air battle. Milton Buford Kost envisioned this and was waiting for the turn. He and his wing man Nelson Chattfield had broken away from close fighter  escort  and positioned themselves a mile south  and ahead of the lead B-17 element.  Franz did not see them when he yanked the yoke right and came into their line of fire. Kost and Chattfield were able to close to within 1000 feet from the ME262. Both P-51s led the ME262 and let their 50s roar. The tracers showed that the deflection was extreme, but it only took one piece of led to change the odds of battle. Chattfield was able to lob one single 1.71 ounce piece of lead which found it’s mark. The projectile entered the right engine of the ME262 at the ring cowling and then impacted on a compressor blade. The affect was immediate. The once smooth running single stage jet engine was now a shaking liability. Franz could feel the entire aircraft shutter and vibrate as if the engine was ready to destroy the wing and come off the airplane. Franz had no choice but to T-handle the engine and shut it down.

He was now down to one engine and slowing. He could maintain speeds in excess of 400 down low if he kept it clean and avoided turns etc. Suddenly from above him, another P-51 was diving on him at 450 miles an hour. He was 50 miles per hour faster with guns blasting. Franz at this point had lost situation awareness and decided to bank left  in order to reduce his silhouette for the diving P-51.  By doing so, Milton Buford Kost lined up again and salvo-ed on the ME262.  A stream of lead struck the ME262’s aft fuselage section and right elevator and ripping through the delicate skin. Franz again banked right avoiding death only to be hit by Chattfield. His bullets struck the canopy blowing it off. Franz realized that he had to out run them, and fire walled the remaining engine.

If he could hit 500 on the deck, he could out run the P-51s. Meanwhile as he accelerated, he made slight banking corrections to throw off the P-51s ordinance and siting.  Kost  and Chattfield could not fully regain their synergy and were losing the air race. That is until the turbine section of the ME262 over heated, and the blades stretched until they started scraping the turbine section case. Franz could see the RPM drop off as the EGT climbed. He had to put this thing on the ground or bail out. At 450 miles per hour, he did not have time to slow. Even if he did, the American Mustang pilots would kill him on the ground or on approach to land.

Franz yanked the yoke on the ME262 and went straight up. Just as the aircraft went vertical, the engine flamed out and seized up.  All was quiet except for the rush of wind. Franz could see the airspeed indicator dropping off as the ME262’s momentum eroded. 400. 300, 200, 100 miles an hour. At 100 miles an hour, Franz yanked the yoke all the way back and attempted to loop. At 100 miles an hour the shot up elevator did not have enough authority to loop the the aircraft swiftly. It seemed like forever for the cockpit to go inverted in relation to the ground,  Kost and Chatfield flew right passed. Below him, Franz could see a tiny village with a small road and surrounded by forest. Should he bail now or land the aircraft on an open field. He had heard of American pilots gunning on parachuted German pilots. All he had to do was unbuckle and let gravity drop him out of the cockpit. The gear was not down, so he had no choice. Franz unbuckled his seat harness and pushed himself from the open and inverted cockpit. Franz saw how the ME262 refused to glide away from him. It seemed to take forever for his body to gain separation from the jet. Both were in the same apex momentum zone and were both now  speeding to the ground at over 70 miles an hour. Franz kicked his feet out frantically in order to push his body from the jet. Franz could also see the ground that was only 2000 feet away.  Finally, Franz gained enough separation to deploy his chute. The chute opened fully at 200 feet. Meanwhile, below, the ME262 impacted the ground and exploded.  Franz would descend on to the cobblestone street of the village and then  break his leg  and lower back landing.  A farmer helped him with his chute and then  tucked him into an open barn door. A few seconds later Kost and Chatfield would buzz passed the burning ME262 wreckage. For shits and grins, Kost would shoot at a German girl tending a small herd of  milk cows off in another field. It startled him to see her fall to the ground as his 50 caliber bullets seemed to almost hit her. What did I just do, Milton thought to himself. Once the P-51s were gone, the girl got up and went about her business.

Franz  was done flying and fighting for the duration of the war. Lost in the large Nazi medical system  somewhere in Bavaria.

Two miles below the massive air armada, Walsh’s lead B-17 is frantically assessing it’s damage. The second salvo from the ME262 guns struck the top of the windscreen frame and exploded.  The explosion left a 2 foot hole in the upper fuselage between the upper turret and windscreen. The pilot side windscreen was blown out and Parson’s had been struck through the right cheek and at his right bicep muscle. The impact knocked an inch of arm bone through the back of his arm. A piece of the wind screen frame shrapnel  went through Col. Walsh’s mask,  upper lip and  front teeth. It then exited out at his right lower jaw  and joint. Additional shrapnel pelted his chest and shoulders. He was knocked completely out. Parson the copilot was screaming in agony.

Another round struck the Bombardiers  windscreen. Oblivious were Paolo and Owens blazing away at their guns.

still another MK 108 cannon projectile impacted an area between the tail gunners position and the rear horizontal stabilizer. The explosion tore a massive hole in the fuselage at the tail gunner area exposing the gunner. The impact also destroyed the tail gunner glass canopy and destroyed any use of the guns. The tail gunner would catch shrapnel on his left side from his hands to his ears, but for some reason not be wounded severely. Another byproduct of the ordnance hit was that the rear elevator was now wedged into a  full down position, and the B-17 began to descend.  Jack Williams could not believe he was still alive. For an instant, he was mesmerized by the gaping hole and stared at the hundreds of B-17s behind him. He waved his hand into the  40 below zero air stream that was coming on at 160 knots. He then noticed the aircraft descending. Jack would come to his senses and head for the main fuselage.  The waste gunners and the lower ball turret gunner are of no help. They are engaged in firing their 50 caliber machine guns at German  fighters.

At the front of the aircraft 40 below zero air at 160 knots was blowing into the aircraft cockpit. Parsons was rocking back and forth while holding his right arm. Blood was dripping from the sleeve of his bomber jacket. Walsh was unconscious.

By the time Jack Williams the gunner had reached the cockpit to see what was going on, the B-17 had descended 2000 feet. Soon it would be well below the bomber formation. The Flight engineer was shaking Walsh to see if  he would come to. Instead he remained still. When Forney removed Walsh’s mask, a full cup of blood would pour from Walsh’s mask. Forney figured he was dead and focused his attention to the stuck yoke of the aircraft.  Meanwhile, Parson’s is screaming “we are all going to die, we need to bail out!” Jack screams to Forney. ” what do you need me to do?” Forney responds, get Parsons out of that seat and tend to his wounds. When jack attempts to pull Parsons from his seat, Parson screams “no” repeatedly. Jack finally slaps him up side the head and then pulls him from the copilot’s seat. Jack then cuts the sleeve of the Bomber jacket and exposes Parson’s bloody wound.  Just then, the radio operator shows up with the first aid kit. Here let me put a tourniquet on this and you go help Walsh.

By this time, the flight Engineer was tugging on the stuck yoke seeing if it would free up. The autopilot was still working, but the plane was descending. Another few minutes and the aircraft would be two miles below the bomber formation and a sitting duck. Forney was frantic and freezing. Suddenly, Walsh begins to cough up blood and come to. When he attempts to talk, he feels the severe pain in his jaw. For a moment he is speechless and simply observes the damaged co-pilots windscreen, and the blood on the floor. Holding and cupping his right cheek area with his hand, he looks through his intact windscreen to see the bomber formation 6000 feet above him. He then grabs the yoke and finds it frozen in the down position. ”  Engineer, put her in a bank!” he yells to Forney through clenched teeth! “get in that seat and put her in a bank!”

Forney jumps into the seat, straps in and carefully checks to see if the aircraft has aileron authority. To his surprise it does. Walsh taps on the altitude indicator. Forney realizes what Walsh wants to do. He wants Forney to put the aircraft in a bank so the aircraft will not lose altitude. A few seconds later Walsh passes out. Jack pulls him from his seat and the radioman starts first aid on Walsh’s jaw. The aircraft is pilotless and it is all on the Flight Engineer to get the aircraft home. But first, Forney has to figure out how to fix the elevator and also avoid German fighters. As for now, the aircraft is not losing altitude while circling at 20,000 feet.

Paulo pokes his head out of the navigators compartment and yells “What the hell is going on?” “We have been hit and the yoke is jammed!” replies Forney. “I have the aircraft in a bank while we work the problem!” Forney continues.  “you need to get in the right seat and take control of the aircraft while I look at the the rear elevator bell crank and flight control cables!”  “Ok!”  Paulo responds.  Paulo then tells the radio man to inform the Richards 728th  crew that they are now lead aircraft. Meanwhile, Parson’s and Walsh are huddled together at the radioman station. Walsh stopped bleeding after the radioman stuffed gauze in his wound and wrapped his head in ace bandage.  The tourniquet had stopped Parson from bleeding out, but he was in excruciating pain and going into shock. Jack was finally able to access his situation also. After he took his heated suite down a little, he noticed that several pieces of shrapnel were lodged in his back and a large piece of scalp was flapping on the rear  of his head. Jack decided, given the situation, to simply put his suit and hat back on and focus on the emergency at hand.

For the moment, and except for the rumble of wind and engines, the aircraft was quiet. The guns were silent.  Paulo looked skyward as the tail of the massive middle cell of B-17 bombers flew off in the distance  a mile and a half above them. The German fighters were still engaging the B-17 cell. It was only a matter of time before the enemy would notice the  solo and wounded B-17 that was flying westward in semi  circles.

Forney left the controls of the aircraft and scurried to the back of the aircraft . He knew Boeing flight control systems like the back of his hand, and he knew what he was looking for. He crawled up the aft fuselage section and inspected the cable inputs to the bell crank assembly that operated the elevator system,.It was all intact. He then moved aft ward to the tail gunners station,  and stuck his head out the gaping hole in the fuselage.  Upon further inspection, Forney found that the elevator section was jammed down because of lodged remnants of a  fuselage frame and stringer. He then retrieved a crow bar used for  remedying a stuck bomb release. He and Jack then levered the elevator to a neutral position using the aircraft skin as a pendulum point. It was no small feat. It took the weight of Jack’s body and Forney  jumping up and down on the bar to move the elevator even and inch.

Forney then heads to the cockpit to inform Paulo that the elevator, while non functional, is a non factor. Paulo turns the aircraft to a heading of 270. Owens abreast of the situation shuffles through the navigation documents and suggests a heading of 280.

Oh no! Not again. We have two bogies at our 5 o’clock position and closing fast. The waste guns and lower ball turret guns erupt with directed fire.  Contreras is able to get off a salvo that hits the propeller of the closest ME109. A moment later the pilot bails out. The second fighter is untouched .  It releases a salvo as it passes over the solo B-17. The ordinance punctures a cylinder jig on the the number one engine. The object then rattles around and the disintegrates the piston. The disintegration takes out the two adjacent cylinders and the engine starts to vibrate and shutter. A moment later and the crankshaft breaks in half.

As the German pilot passes the wounded B-17, he sees that it is damaged at the nose and tail section and would have  no ability to defend its 6 o’clock high position.  He banks his aircraft in a turn in order to make a rear attack on the B-17.  The young German pilot brings the aircraft in slower than normal and unleashes all of his guns on the tail section of the Boeing bomber. The ordinance  strikes the number 2 engine propeller, and it also begins to vibrate. The ordinance also struck the top of the wing and peeled back the top skin panel. All the fuel in number two wing tank is lost within an instance without igniting.

The German pilot also hits the lower ball turret. Contreras’s right leg is obliterated at the thigh and the ball turret canopy is blown to bits. Contreras is dangling in the air stream with his main leg artery gushing blood and the rest of his leg dangling by some tendons and muscle. .  Jack yells. “get him out of there!”  The radioman pulls Pete from the ball turret and lays him on the floor. He then attempts to tourniquet the leg. The blood is not stopping. Jack remembering his days as a buckaroo in Elko, Nevada knows all to well what to do.  He retrieves a pair of pliers from the aircraft tool box. He pulls his pocket knife out and cuts into Pete’s leg exposing the large blood pumping artery. He clamps off the blood flow with the pliers. Petie had lost several pints of blood, but now he would live.

The German pilot convinced that he has downed the bomber extends his turn and waits for the B-17 to falter. It is not happening. The German ponders whether he should head home or dispatch the wounded solo B-17.  He opts for the kill after wasting minutes thinking about it.

Forney had his hands full in the cockpit. He instinctively shut the fuel and electrics off of the left wing extinguishing the burning engine. He feathered the props and double checked the good engine indications on the right wing. “We need to drop the bombs!” he yells!

Just then the waste gunners scream, “He is coming around again!” “Jack, he is coming around again!”

Jack feels helpless. He is supposed to be the tail gunner, but he has no gun. No gun? No gun!  “To hell with that he mutters under his breath!” Jack pulls  the  50 caliber from the Nav station and heads to the rear of the aircraft.

This time, the German pilot is slowing his aircraft to 200 knots.  The gun camera is running. The young German has sat through many a squadron meetings watching other pilot kills. After 25 sorties, he had zero kills to his name.  He wants a  kill and he is going to be deliberate.  He  comes in a little below the tail and closes to within  100 hundred  meters. For a moment, the German pilot takes his eyes off the B-17 and flicks safety lock from the yoke trigger assembly. He looks back up at the floundering B-17  and just as he is ready to salvo his guns, he sees the outline of Jack’s  smiling face appear at the ass end of the damaged B-17. he also notices just a couple of flashes.

Jack was not used to this heavy awkward gun. At the Ruby Marshes of Nevada he would shoot deer off the back of his horse at 100 yards. His horse Chipper would settle into a still position whenever Jack pulled his 410/.45 single shot rifle from it’s saddle sleeve. Jack would always shoot off the back of his horse so the sound did not hurt his horses hearing. Chipper would stay in a rigid stable position for as long as it took to site in and dispatch the deer. Today, the back of the B-17 was bobbing up and down, the gun was heavy, and had no sites worth a damn. Jack sites in like he is shooting an old shotgun and makes due.

Jack pulled the trigger on the 50. After two rounds, the machine gun jammed.

Jack was mortified to see the ME109 still at their 6. Nothing had happened. In fact, the ME109 was still closing in on the B-17. It was odd though. The ME109 was not firing. The ME109 closed to within 30 feet of the B-17. The propeller was only a few meters from the tail of the bomber.  Jack focused on the pilot. He could now see two holes in the ME109’s windscreen. On closer inspection he could see that half of the ME109 pilot’s face was missing. One side of his face was completely normal. The other side from the nose over was missing  and blood was spurting.  The top of his head was sheared off at the eye brows.  Jack could see the blue eye of the German still gazing at him. The ME109 was still closing in. Now the propeller was a few feet from the tail of the bomber.  Jack has no time to remove himself from the tail area so he pushes the 50 out the back and into the propeller of the ME109. The propeller explodes and the aircraft begins to descend.  A second later, all the guns on the ME109 erupt and it fires all it’s ordinance off until  exhausted. In the throws of death, the German finally pulled the trigger.

At the front of the aircraft Paulo and Forney have their hands full. The aircraft is flying on two engines. Forney right rudder kicked in to keep the aircraft going straight, and some aileron in to keep the wings level. He is not a pilot. He knows the theory, but he is just an Engineer. Forney has kept the aircraft in flight but he is at his wits end.  Just then, Col. Walsh appears on the flight deck, and with clenched teeth  and bandaged head says, ” get the fuck out of my seat!”

 

 

 

 

 

A B-17 Story Part 17

Franz ran the half kilometer to the hole in the base perimeter fence. His face grimacing as he breathed rapidly with the cigarette between his lips at the side of his mouth. The  stainless Steel Luftwaffe lighter  he had possessed since Spain was low on fluid,   was hard to light, and extinguished with the slightest little breeze.  Franz  gave up and stashed the lighter in his pocket for the time being. He re-positioned the cigarette between his lips in what looked like a kiss.  He would breath awkwardly through his nostrils for the remaining meters to the fence line.

Once through the fence hole, Franz  pulled the Eckstein cigarette from his mouth, and bent over hacking and short of breath. His heart was racing. He was  dizzy. He had been a smoker since he was at the orphanage.  Almost every single Luftwaffe pilot he ever served with smoked.  During operations close to Stalingrad, the air field Ops building would be filled with smokers. Outside, it would be 30 below zero.

Retrieving his prized Luftwaffe “Condor Legion”  lighter  once again, he finally lit the crumpled cigarette.  He took a  long hard draw. The nicotine, like some sort of voodoo medicine, seemed to halt his coughing. Resuming his trot to the airfield, Franz retrieved an old bicycle he had stashed behind a hangar.  The ME262 he was to operate sat at a camouflaged area  in the tree line, at the west end of the ramp. It was a kilometer away. He was late. He was nervous and embarrassed, but no one in the command structure really cared.  Franz attended all the briefings and would always show up,  and  do his job. In some regards he was a celebrity. The flight line officer would not say a thing.  All the once strict and by the book officers had either been killed off or evolved and saw the big picture.

Franz jumped on the light brown sun rotted spring seat of the old bicycle. The tires were old , age cracked  and low on air pressure. He began to peddle the heavy steel bike. His body would bob up and down.  Slowly, the  heavy rusted old steel bike gained speed. He would take another long draw on the Eckstein cigarette which was  now half way gone.  The wind was in his face. His cigarette was gripped in the center of  his  stained teeth and pointing skyward.  The bike was now at it’s lumbering cruise  speed. He could see the aircraft mechanics standing, searching and waiting for him in the distance. Franz could also see that two ME262s had already left their camouflaged revetment areas and were rolling down the taxi way toward the west end of the runway.

Franz recollected that these two were a newbie pilot and Col. Ludwig Vogler, the squadron training officer.  It wasn’t long before the inexperienced Luftwaffe pilot was on the runway with throttles advanced.  Even though the jet was a half kilometer away Franz could tell  take off power was set from the  copious black sooty exhaust smoke.  A micro second later the booming sound of full military would  reach his ears. The Airman was rolling. A few short moments later, the young pilot at 120 KPH  passed by Franz  from the opposite direction. Franz, was  only 20 meters away from the ME-262 when their eyes met. The newbie cast Franz a thumbs up as he passed. They knew each other and had sat at the same table during chow. They never really exchanged  many words, but Franz knew the man or the boy rather.

Franz had heard all the stories.  He had shared mess with pilots from Spain to the steppes of the Ukraine.  He had seen hundreds of ego driven big mouthed pilots come and go.  Some were quiet and reserved. Some preferred to listen. Some were close friends.  Many were obnoxious, self absorbed, and extremely competitive.  Either way, if a pilot made one little mistake or was incompetent, he would not  last long. Franz had seen it time and time again. Sitting down for chow with his fellow airman became a silent event for  Franz. To him it seemed like the orphanage all over again. One day he would have a friend that he sat to eat dinner with, and the next day his friend would be chosen by a family and gone.  Now, death would choose the pilot. Chow time became a constant reminder of this reality.  Instead of making friends, Franz chose to remain quiet, polite and distant. The equation was simple, this new pilot was one of dozens that came, flew and may die. It was best to not make him a friend.

Franz wondered if the boy would make it back to the base without being shot down or killed. Franz  postured upright on the bicycle, coasted, pulled the cigarette from his mouth,  and threw it to the tarmac. He then turned his body and saluted his fellow airman in a show of respect.

The smell of jet exhaust, brain rattling noise, and the heat emanating from the tarmac reminded him of where he was, who he was, and what he  was about to do for the Fatherland. He was a Luftwaffe pilot and a Luftwaffe Ace.  Above all, he was a German. A German fighting for his country.  The  familiar smells and sounds of the flight line filled him and strengthened his courage.  The juices of aviator competence began to flow.  His mind was now saddling up for the journey ahead, and he was ready to fly. He was now fully into his role as an air warrior, and his new jet was chomping at the bit waiting for him. The freshly painted fighter would come straight from the factory.  A product of German technology, engineering, quality, craftsmanship and pride.The engines had been ran up and tuned at the test cell, but the virgin aircraft had never left the ground.  Several mechanic would inspect every bolt as soon as the fighter was delivered via rail and hoisted to the ground. It was a  German made aircraft, and he could depend on it with his life.

Airplanes, the flight line, all the noises, smells, people and purposeful interaction had become Franz’s only home. It had replaced the orphanage. On this day, he was no longer the quiet and withdrawn boy that nobody wanted, he was a well respected German ACE ,and the pride of the squadron.

Franz had just made love to his gal in the forest. Her scent and juices remained. His first love,  however, was sitting on the tarmac and waiting for him under camouflaged vale.  The ME262 had never been with a pilot before. This was to be it’s first time. Franz trusted the jet and all the solid German mechanics that massaged her being. The ME262 mechanics were the best that Germany had to offer. Many were older and had wrenched on fighters in every theater. Some may have worked on fighters in two feet of snow at 40 below zero at the airfields outside of Stalingrad, Leningrad and Moscow. Some had worked the  120 degree flight lines of North Africa from Tunis to Benghazi. .

On this beautiful July day in 1944, these superb Luftwaffe technicians had made certain that this aircraft was airworthy. A salute from these fellas meant that they had done all they could for the pilot. This air machine was safe to fly.

Suddenly from out of a low hanging cloud bank and over the west end threshold of the airfield, a Red-Tail Mustang appeared,  the propeller boring and whisking a hole into the remnants of the mist .  He could now hear the 12 cylinder engine as the supercharged Merlin powered P-51 Mustang quickly descended into firing position. He was lined up on the new guy. Franz  glared as the Mustang passed the same location that his fellow airman had passed only seconds before.  Franz could hear every cylinder firing on the Merlin engine in a  flowing  combustion chorus of sound. He turned his attention to his friends ME262 as the Doppler effect changed the sound and orchestra of the Mustang’s power plant and propeller.  Franz flicked his eyes back to the Mustang and gazed at the first black pilot he had ever seen. The pilot was a black Tuskegee airman and he  was occupying the same location his friend had occupied a moment before. Instead of a thumbs up, Franz received the finger as the American airman  took a gander at Franz and then turned back to focus on his his prey.

Franz had thought the warning horn was for the B-17s that were approaching. How did these Mustangs make it to the airfield without encountering the ME109s and FW190s that were already in the air.   Where was the radar? Apparently, this fella had flown on instruments  through uninterrupted low hanging cloud cover to the field. He did not give himself away until he was making the kill.

Franz had heard of  blacks flying planes, and this was his first experience with one.  According to German NAZI  white supremacists, Africans were “Untermenchen” and only good for military slave labor. Even in America,  German prisoners of war could use a white man’s bathroom and drink at a public fountain when on work details away from the prisoner camps. White NAZI prisoner’s of war could eat in a public establishment while Black soldiers, pilots and officers could not?  In America on this July day 1944,  Black American patriots  that were fighting and dying for the freedom of  all America were subject to Jim Crow laws. On this gorgeous and green German day in Bavaria, this Tuskegee airman  was fighting NAZIs. He was not thinking about sitting in the back of the bus or working his father’s share cropper land in  Carolina. He  was focused on making a kill.

Unaware, the  student Luftwaffe pilot  approached rotate velocity and scanned his instruments. This was his 10th flight in an ME262 and he  did not have the presence of mind to  check his 6. The tower would eventually warn him, but it was too late and would not have mattered anyway. The Red Tail Mustang pilot was an experienced killer and knew his aircraft. This African American pilot was initial cadre of the Tuskegee airman.   He was now part of the 99th fighter squadron and had cut his teeth in North Africa. From the beginning, he had to be better than his white counterpart. He had to dress sharper, conduct and communicate better, be smarter, work harder , and operate an aircraft in superior fashion. Moreover, he had been trained by the best Air Force in the world.

In the field, the Tuskegee Airman was on his own. In many cases, he could not trust the military intelligence from some  of the white pilots because the communication was strained  and ridden with the underpinnings  of conditioned racism.  Racism that had been  taught and re-enforced for centuries.  The only fellas that truly had his back were his fellow Tuskegee airmen. He saw racism at home and racism in the Air Force.

Captain Marvin Mitchel would become an ACE during WWII only to return to the racism and segregation of the South. The WWII Tuskegee airman would fight and die for  our freedoms, but could not eat in a white owned restaurant and use a public bathroom. The Tuskegee Airman would go on to help defeat segregation and become the catalyst for change.

When he was in the air  “Mitch” was one with his flying machine, like a cowboy on a quarter horse. In fact, he owned the sky and was a fully competent pilot. In 1936, Hitler looked on as Jessie Owens became the fastest black man on the planet.  Now the fastest black pilots in the world were killing off Herman fat boy Goering’s prized Luftwaffe.

Air superiority does not care what color the warrior is. Mitch  had flown fighter escort from Sicily this day in support of the 8th Air Force. He and his small flight of fighters were strafing targets of opportunity on there way back from the bomb run. The first causality that day was a radar Jadwagen that had been giving radar information. By the time he had lined up on the fresh Luftwaffe pilot he had been flying since mid 1941 and had several hundred combat mission under his belt.

Calmly, the Red Tail Ace lowered his nose and started a descend to  approximately 50 feet from the runway surface.  He was oblivious to the antiaircraft  guns directing fire on his aircraft.  All he cared about was bringing the sites of the  Mustang onto the tail of the smoke laden ME-262 in front of him. At 400 knots, the entire 1.5 kilometer long runway would be in his rear view in short order  He only had a few seconds to make the kill.

The Red Tail  pilot efficiently  adjusted his angle of attack. He pulled the trigger on his yoke.  There was no leading this target. It was an easy shot. With the touch of the trigger, the guns blazed on the  fully loaded and fully fueled  15,000 pound jet fighter.  Hundreds of rounds would hit the  ME-262  just as it  eclipsed take off speed.

The right engine was hit in the  turbine section causing the turbine wheel to unbalance, disintegrate , and explode through the side of the engine case. The gyro effect would sling the turbine blade assembly several meters into the air..  Jet fuel under high pressure gushed forth into obliterated burner cans.  Still functioning spark igniters and the red hot void of the tail pipe would create a massive fire plume 5 to 10 meters long. Both wing tanks were penetrated and began to explode . Raw Jet fuel began spewing aft ward igniting on the burning engine.

Satiated with the kill, the Red tail Ace pulled back on his yoke, and climbed  back into a cloud bank to avoid anti-aircraft fire.The mortally wounded  ME262 rolled to the right, nosed down,  struck the ground cartwheeling, burning  and leaving a trail of burning debris. When the aircraft came to rest on it’s belly, the cockpit area was undamaged save the loss of the glass canopy.  Franz could see the young pilot jumping from the now open cockpit. He too was on fire.

Instinctively, the pilot  ran several meters from the burning wreckage, dropped to the ground and rolled to extinguish the flames.  The fire would burn every part of his body that was not covered. He would go through the rest of his life with  goggle like burn rings around his eyes where his goggles once were. His neck and face  were badly burned.  Shrapnel had also severed the bone and muscle of his left collar.   With the fires burning on his uniform extinguished, the adrenalin  quickly subsided. He began to feel the excruciating pain of his burns.  He laid on his back on the cool grass next to the runway. It was giving no relief.   The young man felt cheated.  He writhed in excruciating pain. He  gazed skyward as two more Red Tail killers swarmed over him. The last thing he  heard  before he passed out was the sound of supercharged Merlin engines moaning and groaning above him and the intermittent burst of guns and AKAK .

Unlike the utter thousands of German pilots that would die in air battle, this young fella would finish out the war in the hospitals of Munich. He would not be among the 12 million German soldiers and airman that gave their lives for Hitler. He would live to be an old man and cherish every single day with family and friends. He would become a leader in a New Germany.

About this time,  a 4th Red Tail appeared lined up on the squadron training officer  about to take the active, and unloaded it’s guns.  It was a raking broadside hit. Two dozen rounds of ordinance hit the right wing. The salvo would  then  walk it’s way to the on looking, terrified and now screaming Col. Ludwig Vogler. The  officer was hit with three 50 cal rounds to the upper torso which bloodied and blew out the cockpit canopy glass and structure. The aircraft exploded into a massive ball of fire. Franz skidded the old black bike to a stop at his new ME262 that was fresh from the factory. The engines were running as he threw on his chute, goggles and helmet. A moment was spent talking with the mechanic and the flight line officer. Franz  only needed a the heading and location of the B-17 cell. He had flown over Germany  since the early 1930s and  knew every airfield and every landmark. He could navigate Germany like the back of his hand. It did not matter if it was dark, overcast or clear in a million.  All he needed to find the B-17s was their latitude, longitude and heading, and he would stalk them for the kill.

For the moment, it seemed  the P-51 air assault was over.  The tower gave the thumbs up for take off. Franz and his aircraft were exposed and he had no choice but to take off. Franz advanced the throttles and went across the grassy area between the taxi way and runway. The front tire skidded, skipped  and struggled to turned onto to the active runway. Once aligned, Franz fire walled the throttles. He checked the RPM and EGT and vowed to recheck them when he was airborne. He understood the limits of the engine, but for now, he was pouring the coals to it.

At best, the the Jumo 004 engine was good for 25 hours of operation. This virgin aircraft was now his bitch and he would ride it hard.

Unlike the ME109 he had flown in Russia, the ME262 took copious runway and was slow to accelerate.  Franz inpatient, looked over his shoulder and scanned for another fighter. He then checked his gauges and  airspeed . Franz would hold the aircraft on the runway until he could lift off with authority. At 10 knots above rotate, Franz yanked the yoke and left the runway at a 30 degree angle.  He again checked his six with a much better view.  Franz could see that the P-51 Mustangs were descending on the field and hitting everything  in their path.  One Mustang pilot had his guns trained on Franz and released a burst of his guns .  A dozen rounds dug up the runway behind his aircraft  missing the German fighter.  Another P-51 moved to the left to support the attacking P-51 . The third P-51 tucked in behind.

Franz  was a sitting duck with limited  airspeed. Accelerating straight ahead would allow the 3rd P-51 an unimpeded kill shot.   He knew he could not go vertical and let the fighters rush past underneath him. He did not have the airspeed. Franz opted to  hard bank to the right and  head for a tree line that paralleled the runway.At 400 knots, the  first Red tail went vertical when Franz banked. The second  Red tail was not in position for firing and continued the runway heading. The third P-51 moved to the rights and lined up on the floundering ME262.  This third Tuskegee was able to get a small burst off, before Franz turned behind the column of trees. The  P-51  machine guns caught the tail of the ME262 causing damage to the rudder and right elevator skin.

Franz  then continued the bank into a a narrow  6 kilometer long access road  within the dense forest adjacent to the runway. The belly of the aircraft and the left engine hit the branches of trees at the apex of the turn. The left engine ingested some pine needles and a few soft tiny branches, but avoided any catastrophic failures for the time being.  When Franz rolled the aircraft level, the right wing tip struck a tree knocking off   the wing tip light.

The  heavily loaded Me262 had bled off several  knots of airspeed  in the turn and was now right above stall speed with  full flaps and gear.  Franz lowered the nose, threw up the gear handle, retracted the flaps and rechecked his EGT and RPM. Everything was within specification and the ME262 unburdened by the gear and flaps started to acclerate. Franz leveled the ME262 off at 10 meters  from the ground and waited  frantically for the airspeed to come up. 130, 170,  200 ….. Franz checked his 6 again. The first P-51 that had  gone vertical, went inverted and inside looped. The Tuskegee Ace was now rolling his aircraft to upright and descending to line up on Franz. It was only a matter of seconds before the black man would unload. Franz knew  he was caught dead  to rights. The access road that had saved him was now his coffin. Franz scanned his 6 and the P-51 was right on his tail 200 meters away.  Franz was now accepting his fate. He was done. The sober reality is that he could not climb out of this trench because the entire silhouette of the aircraft would be an easy target.  Resolved and sober, Franz waited to be killed.  It was over.

At approximately 100 meters, the Tuskegee airman cut lose. Franz ,  with head turned to the rear, looked on.  Franz had anticipated the distance the Mustang pilot would fire at, and yanked the yoke back and forward which porpoised his aircraft.  The ME262 was now at 30 meters above the ground The P-51 gun  ordinance pattern  flew underneath him. He missed. Franz braced for the next shot.

About this time, an ME109G  from above made a visit.  The ME109G could see the entire silhouette of the P-51 on Franz’s ME262.  The Tuskegee airman was so focused on the kill that he did not check above for the enemy and thought there were no other German fighters in the area. He was wrong.  From an altitude of 5,000 feet, The ME109G was vectored  back to the field by German combat controllers when the first P-51 had downed the student pilot. The ME109G pilot saw the  second set of Mustangs and began a dive. He also saw the ME262 avoid the hit and turn into the forested area.

With a  only few adjustments, The ME109G  dove at 400 knots, led the nose of the P-51. and salvoed.  The fire from the ME109Gs guns strafed  from the front to the the back of the unsuspecting P-51.  The Tuskegee airman was inundated with fire and 108 cannon ordinance. It wasn’t his day to fly. One of the 108 cannon projectiles hit the cockpit of the P-51 obliterating the pilot and cutting  the fighter in half.

250, 300, 325  knots as Franz waited nervously. The  once distinguishable individual trees of the 50 meter high tree line became one continuous  blur of darkness, blue sky, and blurry motion. . The effect was enchanting and  lulled Franz into observing a magic tunnel of color, light and speed. Franz thought of Maria and how he was in love with her. During Spain, France, England and Operation Barbarossa he never had the love of a woman.  He wanted to spend his last seconds on earth thinking about the woman he had fallen in love with. He struggled to put her out of his mind and focus on his air speed indicator.

He could not believe that he was still alive.  The P-51 behind  him had to have closed to within 50 meters.  He rechecked his 6 for the P-51 only to find it gone. “What the fuck” he muttered to himself. His questions would be answered when the forest behind him erupted  into flames, and an  ME109G  flew overhead  rolling and dipping its wings. At 350 knots, Franz pulled the yoke back and nosed the aircraft upward at a 60 degree angle. The jet exploded from the tree line.  Franz scanned the area for the other Red Tails, only to find one at  25 meters below and 150 meters to his left and rear. This was Mitch again. Mitch was the flight leader and had instructed his men to spread out for the kill.  The a second P-51 was at a flt level 200 meters and  600 meters away.  Still a fourth Tuskegee P-51 was climbing above him at approximately 1000 meters.

Mitch instinctively followed the tree line and assumed wing man position.  Mitch watched as the ME109G  instantaneously appeared from out of no where and killed his associate. Mitch winced with emotional pain at the site of his friend exploding into bits, and waited for the ME262  to climb and show itself.   Mitch compartmentalized the death of his friend. He would grieve later.   Mitch radioed the fourth P-51 to engage the ME109G.

These fellas were not ill prepared aviators, they were more like a team of wolves attempting to run down an elk or deer.   They were working as a well oiled killing  machine.  Mitch had carefully studied the Intelligence and Arial reconnaissance  photos relating to this airfield prior to the mission.  He vaguely recalled the access road  and how it ended a few kilometers beyond the west end of the runway threshold. He knew that the German pilot would have to show himself  there and he turned the P-51 to intercept at the top of the tree line. Mitch was on  a  parallel course  to the west end of the  runway threshold  climbing  slightly to intercept and align his guns when the almost vertical  ME262 shot out of the  tops of the trees.

This was a different animal now.  According to Mitch’s thought processes, this was supposed to be a point blank range kill.  He would catch the ME262 as it rose from the tree line and obliterate it.  Instead, Mitch was dealing with a German ACE that had been flying gliders and airplanes since he was a boy.  Franz  yanked the yoke to his left and banked  into and over the Red Tail just as it gave a burst of the of it’s M2 Browning machine guns. The volley completely missed the ME262.  Mitch looked above as the now inverted ME262 blasted by him. . Franz then  rolled the aircraft upright,  banked right, lowered the nose  and  continued to accelerate.  He passed under the third  P-51. and lined up on the fourth P-51 that was now crossing his path to engage the ME109G.  Franz gave a burst of his 108 cannons striking the propeller of the  Mustang and blowing the entire propeller assembly off the aircraft. Too low to parachute out, the Alabaman simply lowered the gear and landed his Mustang on an open Bavarian meadow.  He would live out the war in a POW camp.

Mitch banked hard left attempting to bring his guns to bare, but  opportunity had passed.   Franz was now off to his right, 2 kilometers away and accelerating to 430 knots. Mitch, radioed his airman to give up the chase and his remaining fighters limped back to Sicily. The battle was a two for two fighter exchange while several Air Base buildings burned to the ground . Had Franz simply exited the treeline and continued parallel to the runway, all three Tuskegee fighter pilots had a clear shot at him. Franz had learned how to roll an aircraft and do an inside loop on the JU87, and the ME262 was a piece of cake

.Behind him the airfield  buildings were on fire. Several  junk  and non operational ME262 decoys were burning on the tarmac.  A total of 5 ME-262s would leave their tree line camouflaged revetment areas and become air born once the Mustangs left. Crash , fire rescue would retrieve the the burned airman and take him to a Munich hospital close to the Wehrmacht head quarters.

Franz scanned his gauges, cleaned up his checklist items, and headed for the B-17 air armada.   The aircraft did not need the right wing tip. and was fully operational.   At a safe distance and away from the attack, the emotional sting of losing the squadron training officer enveloped his mind and Franz began to sob. Franz had known this fella for several months and shared more than a few beers with him. Franz remembers the time when he was invited to Vogler’s  home to celebrate his son’s one year birthday. He remembered Renate and how she welcomed him to the home. She was  a splendid host.  He remembered how good the schnitzel was.  He had cherished the  welcome,  and the nourishing conversation.  He enjoyed strong coffee and German chocolate cake next to the warmth of the fireplace. Vogler was the first friend he had after Stalingrad and his stay at a hospital in Berlin . Vogler had  trained him on the ME262.

Franz had been shot down over  a snow covered Russia in February 1943 , and was not rescued from the cold and snow for a few days. In fact, Franz spent two full days walking west until he was picked up by a Panzer division on a tactical assault mission.  The only thing that saved him  from the 20 below zero night was the confines of a blown up half track, and burning emptied ration boxes in the cab of the vehicle. The warmth of  Maria, the German summer and Vogler  family was a stark contrast to two days on the Russian steppes and cold feet and hands.

The emotional and sensual divide between love and war was hard for Franz to resolve. Franz was fighting for the country he loved under a dictator he despised. Instead of laying in the loving arms of a beautiful woman, he was killing others for Adolf Hitler. Franz had seen the ruins of the 6th Army from 5000 feet. He saw the destruction and the bodies strewn across miles of snow covered  barren land. He understood that Germany had lost 10 million German boys to war.

Franz was oblivious to the slight vibration and rise in EGT. He  looked at his compass  and turned his fighter to a 240  heading and began a climb to 35,000 feet. The German controllers would update him on the B-17 bomber force and its location.  Franz’s sorrow quickly turned to the need for revenge. He was now in the hunt for the biggest trophy of all: the lead B-17 of a a massive cell of bombers.

Franz had flown over countless cities that had been gutted by American and British air power. He had  been to see the massive swaths of destruction in Munich.  Franz figured every B-17 he shot down meant hundreds of German men women and children would live. He wasn’t fighting for Hitler, he was fighting for the German people.

An hour had passed and the Tuskegee airmen were flying over the Austrian Alps at 30,000 feet.  The sky was clear and the sun was shining . The Austrian alps were bathed in light and the brightness of snow reflecting the sun’s  rays. The effect was refreshing to the senses. Not this day. Mitch was now grieving the loss of his fellow airman. I guy he had known since 1940. A fella he had learned with, bunked with, ate with, served in combat with, and shared happiness with. His friend was now gone, disintegrated into a million pieces.  Mitch attempts to remember his face, his smile, and the laughter.  He remembers the good times in Tuskegee, Alabama and how Leon was a good and honest fella. He was hard working and proud to be an American aviator. Together they had served as brothers in arms against NAZI tyranny. Now he was gone. Tears streamed down Mitch’s face.  The silence was violated when one of the other airman spoke up on the radio and in a crying voice stated, ” son of a bitch we lost Leon and Howard”!  It seems that everyone was on the same page and were crying and grieving for the fellas that they grew to love. Mitch keyed the mike and replies, ” yall no your radio discipline. We will brief the mission on the ground stay alert now!” It seems even when the Tuskegee airman would lose brothers, they maintained the highest levels of conduct, discipline and airmanship….

Maria rises from the homes spun knitted blanket. It was made by her mother during  long cold Bavarian nights. She folded the blanket with care and placed it in her cotton shoulder bag. She could hear the familiar sounds coming from the base only a kilometer away. She paid little attention to the airfield noises. Maria began the walk back to the store, but not before she picked some edible mushrooms and wild asparagus at the edge of the meadow. She had been picking these delectable treats since she was a child. She would make a cheese sauce and feed the fresh delights to her boys that evening. Maria sensed a new sound coming from the airfield and the eruption of gun fire. She turned to listen to munitions fire when an unfamiliar fighter with a Red tail flies right over the top of her. She is startled when she hears a massive explosion and then observes as a black plume of smoke climbing from the top of the treeline before her. On no! Is this Franz she wonders. Maria turns and runs back to the store to check on her boys.

 

General Harold Mitchel previous 728th Commander

 

 

 

 

A B-17 Story Part 16

Part 16

Behind the leveled aircraft hanger, there was a hole in the fence and small well worn path through the forest. A mile long, the path turned and curved through the dense Bavarian forest. After a few minutes walking, one would be deep into the forest with the smell of flowers, berries, grass, and trees rich to the senses. Occasionally, a small deer would dart across the path and startle the hiker. Here and there, large patches of eatable mushrooms could be seen among brilliant wild flowers and raspberry.

In the center of this forest was their meeting place. It was  at an old wooden  hunters bench seat installed high in a tree. The wooden hunter’s bench had been used for decades. Next to the tree was a small hidden meadow with openings n the treetop canopy that let in copious sunshine.  The little meadow was inundated with the smell of pine needles, and wild flower. Rejoicing from the summer sunshine, the flowers reached  out for the comfort of the rays with broad green leaves. Several bees were flying from flower to flower, while crickets and all manner of insect engaged in their rhythmic  buzzing song. Next, the  chorus of ground bound insects would be interrupted by the low frequency whir of a large dragon fly. A humming bird would then dart in and out and from plant to plant.

The secluded meadow bathed in sunshine was perfect for a picnic on a freshly washed homemade blanket. Complete with the chatter of birds in the tree tops, the warmth of sunlight and the smell of afternoon dew on robust natural grass and petal was kind to the soul.

She was 27 years old and the daughter of a baker. During the day, she could be seen through the large shop window making the dough, and baking the large loaves of bread. At other times, she would load the glass counter case with local jams, milk, butter, and sausages, and stack fresh cases of local beer in the corner.

The large stone built shop had been in business under their family name since Bismarck. Originally, the stone building was a stage stop for travelers between Munich and Salzburg. Travelers could stop, water their horse team, and enjoy a paprika schnitzel or bratwurst. Weary travelers could rent a room for the night.

During the time of Bismarck and the Franco Prussian wars, German convoys with thousands of horses and troops would pass by the store. The store owner would be ready ahead of time with copious fresh bread, and sausage. His young daughters dressed in traditional Bavarian cotton dresses would run up and down the columns of marching soldiers and hand out fresh loaves of bread for a few pennies each. The sons would fill the canteens with fresh well water. Hundreds of soldiers would drink from the same stainless steel cup and be thankful. The fresh and pristine well water would momentarily quench the thirst and wash the dust of the march from the throat. The older veterans would ask for the bottled beer and pay the young boys to go and fetch it.Some loaves were warm and fresh from the oven. The soldiers would pass the loaves around quickly and tear the loaves to pieces.

Once the baggage train would arrive at the end of the convoy, the quarter master would buy up anything and everything from the store leaving empty shelves. Soon the sound of marching feet , clapping hooves and squeaky wagon wheels would subside. All was quiet again. The store owner would have bags of German coin, and thousands in German Mark. During the years, the process would repeat time and time again. Young German men marching off to war. Teutonic Knights.

By the spring of 1944, the once little stage stop town of farms and dirt roads was a huge village with a German Luftwaffe Air Base. The bakery now was the center of town. Every day villagers would come to the store and buy the bread and jam. Many of the village folks knew exactly when the loaves were to be removed from the oven and showed up at that precise time every day. This day, it was mid afternoon, and all the fresh bread had been sold. Only a dozen loaves of 1/2 day old bread remained. These would be gone soon. Purchased by the older folks and handicapped veterans that had a different schedule for the day. For them, just the interaction, a warm cup of coffee and some fresh sausage made their day. They came to visit Maria. She would always greet them with a smile and ask them how they were that day. They did not care if the bread was cold, Maria’s beautiful eyes and caring demeanor was their true nourishment for the day. They loved her. If they did not show up, the German girl would send her oldest to check in on them.

Before the rise of Hitler in 1933, Maria was just the young and quiet beautiful daughter. By 1944, her three older brothers were either missing in action or killed.

The first and oldest brother was taken at the battle of El Alamein. A Panzer 3 tank commander in the Africakorps, he had been MIA  since his tank ran out of petrol and a dozen British tanks swarmed in. The rest of his tank crew were killed immediately when the tank turret was hit. The initial attack obliterated his leg just below the knee, and burned him severely, but he was able to exit the tank and drop to the desert floor. The upper hatch of the tank was open and he was standing erect with binoculars in hand when the shell hit, hence the concussion was not as severe. The rest of the tank crew in the depths below were turned into burning mush. After falling from the tank, he had raised his hand for help, but the British tanks would not stop for fear of Rommel’s 88s. Herbert would make it through the cool Egyptian night with a tourniquet on his thigh above the knee. The next day he sat in the 120 degree sun, unable to move and without water. By the evening of the next day, the pain from his severely burned  torso and grotesquely swollen thigh was hell on earth.

The stars were out and shining beautifully. He was all alone. Thousands of British troops had passed by during the sun scorched day. He was under the now cold and darkly burned tank to avoid the sun. They did not see him. His throat was burning and he struggled to even make a sound. With all his strength, he pulled the luger 9mm from his side, stuck it to the side of his head and attempted to pull the trigger. He had not chambered the round, and was lucky. Just then, the warm old hand of an Egyptian scrounger touches his hand and takes the Luger from him. Delusional, Herbert can only here Egyptian gibberish as he is hoisted into a small wooden wheeled cart and jackass.

Maria’s second brother was infantry in the 6th Army. He was a cook. When Field Marshal Von Paulus surrendered in the winter of 1943, Max was marched off to Russia . Russia was supposed to fall like Poland,and France. Within hours, when marching in 12 to 24 inches of snow or icy roads at 20 below zero, his boots had become soaked and then frozen. Other soldiers had suffered the same fate. Any German soldier that broke from the forced march because of frost bite, was shot in the head and left at the side of the road. Every day, shots could be heard every couple of minutes as wounded German soldiers collapsed from the march. Four or five abreast, the 90,000 troop prisoner march was miles long and continually left dead bloodied soldiers in it’s wake. At night, it wasn’t as bad, one could not see the hundreds of dead soldiers with the contents of their brains scattered and steaming in the brisk cold air.

The unpleasantness of constant executions was replaced with soldiers freezing to death. All one heard was the sound of grown men crying, moaning or going on insane death seeking rampage. Countless soldiers preferred Russian pistol lead to life. By the third day of the march, Max’s feet were frostbit from his toes to the ankle joint. As a cook, He had eaten much better than the infantry troops when the 6th Army was still intact. He had not eaten for 5 days since leaving Stalingrad.It was by design. The Russians refused to feed the soldiers for a week to weed out the weak.  Like clock work, one troop after another lost the strength to continue. They could no longer fight the cold and hypothermia set  in.

Max became delirious and hallucinated that he was back at the store. His brothers were there. His father was strong and respectful. His mother was there dishing out another heaping spoonful of her tasty blaukraut. They were at the family table eating, laughing, and enjoying a robust beer. Max collapsed tripping the POWs behind him. Most were in this same state of being and could not rise again. Max’s vision was blurry, but he recognized the leather gloved hand with the Makarov as it came close. He struggled to his feet, while a chorus of pistol shots rang out. Later that night, he would retrieve some stale old bread and sausage from his underwear and eat. The next morning, the massive POW march would hold up in a treed area. max would volunteer to cut down trees. Once the trees were cut, they would be set a blaze. Over the next several days, utter thousands of soldiers would die from exposure and their bodies tossed into the fires. Soon, trucks would arrive with flower to make hardtack and bread. Max volunteered and was spared starvation. Of course, the POW march would continue in order to thin the German ranks. The German soldiers realized that surrendering was not better than simply fighting and dying in Stalingrad. Countless soldiers had completely frost bitten hands and feet. They marched on legs that had no feeling below the knee. By the end of the seventh day, German POW deaths would accelerate, and the fires became bigger. The only survivors at this stage of the game had appropriate winter boots, gloves and clothing. When a German collapsed now, other POWs would fight over the soldiers clothing like starving dogs fighting for a piece of  edible garbage.

Maria’s 3rd brother Ludwig was killed at the Warsaw Ghetto. Shot through the chest by a 70 year old pissed off Jewish woman who was being forced from her Ghetto enclave. She had appropriated the pistol from a dead SS troop who had been killed by a ghetto sniper. Once she had shot Ludwig, several troops unloaded their MP40s into her. She went out fighting.

By 1944, Maria’s parents were too old to work and sat together in the back room of the store. Maria not only ran the business by herself, she took care of her parents and many of the older folks in the community. She also took care of her two young boys. Her husband, A Luftwaffe Heinkel HE111 pilot, he had been killed during the Battle of Britain. Downed by a British Hurricane fighter. Maria was 27 years old.

All of her duties finished for the short term, Maria put the “Closed for lunch” sign up and went to meet her lover at their forest meeting place.His name was Franz and he was a Luftwaffe Ace. Franz was an orphan in his younger days. His father Joseph had died from duty in the trenches of France in 1917. A mustard gas attack went very wrong. The wind had shifted and pushed the gas cloud into the German trench line. The heavier than air mustard gas settled in the trench. Joseph had lost his gas mask in the shuffle leaving him to breath the mustard gas for several minutes. He ended up in a Berlin hospital with lungs badly burned and full of puss. He would eventually die from infection while writhing in agony.

Franz’s mother had known Joseph from childhood. She became grief stricken, went mentally insane, and left the 3 year old Franz at the door step of an orphanage in Berlin. He would remain there until he was 10 years old. In the spring of 1925, he would be adopted by a childless couple. His new father would work as an aircraft designer and pilot, and was from a very rich family in the construction business.

By the time Hitler had become chancellor of Germany in 1933, Franz was a very able glider pilot in a Berlin flying club. In 1936, he would become a member of the Condor legion in Spain and fly dozens of sorties in the Heinkel 51. In 1938, he would transfer to the JU87 Stuka Dive Bomber and perform bombing missions in Poland, Rotterdam, and France. In 1941, he was assigned to an Me109G squadron for the Russian campaign. Now he was the lead pilot and test pilot for the ME262 at Nuebiberg Air Base. Unlike many German pilots, Franz had survived. He was an ACE. A German ACE. He was 29 years old.

At an orphanage for 7 years, Franz learned to not speak up for fear of reprisal. This particular Berlin orphanage was known for it’s brutal disciplinary tactics. Franz simply learned to keep is mouth closed and to do what he was told. Of course, many times prospective parents would come to the orphanage and not even consider the shy boy. Meanwhile, Franz witnessed how all of the friends he had made at the orphanage would ultimately leave him behind. The family that finally chose him, were among the Berlin elite, hence, Franz went from one form of institutionalized discipline to another.

His new family was very attentive and sought to refine the boy to their expectations. Franz would play the game but refused to come out of the shell he had grown accustomed to. This would change somewhat when Franz’s new father introduced him to model gliders, and then full scale glider flying.

Franz’s father instructed his boy on every aspect of aircraft design, and operations. The quiet shy boy took everything in like a sponge. Soon, and at 14 years old, Franz could perform every aspect of flying a glider from preflight to launch and landing. Years in a glider and navigating the envelope of gravity, thermals, speed, and momentum taught the boy how to fly, and fly well. He may have been quiet and reserve on the ground, but in the air, he was a sound and aggressive aviator. His next challenge was to fly a powered aircraft. He took to this task like it was ordained. By 1934, he was recruited by the Luftwaffe.

The Air Base had been built in early 1933. For over 10 years, Maria and her parents saw pilots come and go. Their store would become a local favorite among aviators, and Maria was the main attraction. During the early days of the German Luftwaffe, Maria would see the same fellas come to the store for a great while. By 1943, pilots came and went like match sticks. One day they would be there, and the next day they would be killed by a Redtail. Franz also saw fellow aviators come and go. First it was the low time guys that served in Russia. Next it was the formidable guys that flew in Africa and France. Finally, only super high time ACEs or young boys with barely 10 hours and no navigation training became prey for American pilots.

Just like his days at the orphanage, he never got close to anyone, because they would be gone in a heart beat. Maria noticed how Franz stuck around month after month while hundreds of pilots were recruited and minimally trained for the slaughter. Maria and Franz would eventually meet in the forest and become good friends.Franz paced back and forth as he waited for Maria to show. He was supposed to be on alert status. In the forest, he could still hear the warning horn sound, so he did not see a problem with climbing through the fence and being AWOL sort of. Besides, he was a test pilot waiting for the newest ME262 to be checked out. In addition, the command structure had their hands full just corralling the new recruits and attempting to teach tactics.

Franz’s lack of communicative abilities was ineffective in the training environment, but he was a lucky ACE and always came back with a kill. His specialty became the B-17 and head on attacks. It seems that his experience enabled him to make a kill in very high speed environments. His days as a glider pilot taught him to always preserve speed. Once you get speed, you attempt to keep it in all flight regimes.

“Hi!” Maria says, startling Franz. “Why Hello there” he replies. He is happy to see her and seeks a hug. He embraces her. He can smell the sent of her beautiful Dark Auburn hair mixed with the smell of flower and baking. The contact with her feeds his soul. He starts to tear up and then asks, how are you? “Very good” she adds! “I have something for you” and she produces his favorite toasted inch thick sour dough bread with melted butter and Frau Klemmer’s marmalade. He eats it hastily and moans mmmmmmm. Maria lays down a homemade quilt and sits down. “come and sit,” she orders. Franz eagerly sits down and engages his girl in pleasant chat. Soon, they are laying down facing each other and gazing into each others eyes. Maria grabs his idle hand and places it on her ample breast. She then tells him that she is carrying his child and that he will be a father. Franz immediately freaks out and storms off. The reality has brought back all the memories of his father’s death and abandonment at an orphanage. He does not know what to say, but stops a few paces away and says” I love you!” Just then, the Airfield warning horn sounds and Franz begins to run towards the hole in the fence.

 

 

A B-17 Story Part 15

Part 15

From his navigator’s window, Paolo watched as the sun rose over Germany. His adrenaline level was  high, but the sun light  stirred the juices and  revitalized him. He had only slepted a few hours the night before. He found it hard to sleep before a mission especially when there is a tent full of aviators snoring, farting, tossing and turning. Paolo reached into his flight bag and pulled out a 12 inch Italian smoke sausage his mother had sent. It was wrapped in tan paper and wax paper. After cutting off a small piece and tasting it, he cut it into 10  one inch long pieces and  dispersed it among the crew. The combination of the rising sun, and the stress of high altitude aviation enhanced the taste buds. The crew would chew on the sausage from Little Italy and resist swallowing until the wonderful taste was completely gone.

This Flying Knights crew was a unified crew and saw the big picture. They conducted their interaction skills with mutual respect, empathy and listening skills.

This event had become routine. The B-17 and it’s crew would pass the coast of Belgium, Holland or Germany just as the sun peaked from the east. Some times they flew over France. Now that the German Luftwaffe was a tiny fraction of it’s former capability, the mission planners flew directly to target only avoiding heavy FLAK locations. Today, they were over Belgium well south of Brussels. They would continue south to Verdun, France, then the city of Nancy. The bomber group would then turn east and fly towards Munich via Freiburg and south to Ulm. In early 1943, there would have been dozens of German fighters south of Brussels.

The Germans had found that the 88mm anti aircraft gun was more deadly and cost effective than a German fighter when it came to downing a Flying Fortress. .Erwin Rommel had used the 88m and crews with devastating affect against British armor in North Africa. During the early parts of of the North Africa campaign, the Africa Corps became very adapt at killing British tanks with the 88. Rommel had little to work with. At times, his units would have very few Panzers left and had to make up for it with the deadly accuracy of the German 88 crews. Rommel would send in a dozen or so tanks engage British armor, turn tail and run. The British tank units would take the bait and give chase only to run into tactically located and camouflaged 88 guns. The 88 crews would wait until the British tanks were in a kill zone and then cut loose.

The German 88 was all mechanically operated. It utilized a small base turret concept that was operated by turning a wheel. The elevation of the barrel was also accomplish by gears and the turning of a steering wheel style devise. These wheels were operated by a crewman that sat at a seat. A good 88 team could hit a jeep while it was moving. They could also keep up a rate of fire of one shell every 3 seconds. A battery of (3) 88mms could lay down fire on a British tank at a rate of 1 shell every second.All of the ordinance was loaded by hand.The 88mm had become the weapon of choice for killing B-17s. The Germans poured the gun into the coast line of Europe.

By July 1944, the German Air Force was running out of pilots with no way no replace them. Gas was at a shortage. Pilots were at a shortage. Even then , the Germans were building thousands of ME109s in 1944. Over 16,000 were built in 1944 alone.Paolo looked at the drift meter of his B-17. The winds aloft were quite brisk that day. The B-17 navigator by July 1944 had the benefit of a massive catalog of aerial photo reconnaissance. Every heading and turn could be visually validated by observing visual cues from the terrain below. Paolo checked his drift and then gave the lead pilot a slight heading change to offset the winds and aircraft drift. According to his maps and visual observations, the bomber force was right on the money. “Yupp” thats the river bend next to the forest area adjacent to a mountainous terrain, we are good.” Paolo utters to himself.

The next visual reference and the turn to the east will be at Nancy south of Verdun, France.About this time, the squadron of P-47 Thunderbolts that had been flying lead escort was running out of gas.

It was time for these little friends to bug out as a P-51 Mustang squadron comes into view. It is Miltie. Milts squadron had attacked the FLAK batteris on the coast of Belgium earlier that morning as the Mid cell of B-17s were flying at 20,000 feet over head. It was still dark, so the FLAK guns gave away their positions with every blast of their 88mms. Milt’s squadron had flown 100 feet off the deck across the channel. Their only altitude reference was the sparkling of waves from the moonlight.

The FLAK crews did not know they were coming. Many of the P-51s scored several hits on unsuspecting FLAK gunners. Milt had lined up his right wing on a FLAK team and cut lose the .50 caliber machines while strafing from left to the right. All six guns raked across the gun emplacement. he could see the brilliance of the tracer rounds hit the gun emplacement as it fired it’s last round ever.The tone deaf Germans with cupped ears never heard the P-51 coming when the 6 guns cut loose killing every single German soldier manning the gun.

Some were as young as 17 years old. The oldest was a 50 year old that had served in WW1. He had been pressed into service again in June 1944. This fella had survived through 5 years of trench warfare only to be killed instantly by a .50 caliber tracer bullet through the back of the skull.At the end of WW1, Ernst Vogler would head back to his home in Bavaria. He grew up on the streets of Munich. In 1919 he went back to the streets of Munich. He was there during the Wiemar Republic and massive inflation. He watched as the Brownshirts marched. He looked on as the NAZI cyclone began to spin. After 5 years in the trenches of Western front, Ernst did not believe in anything except unfiltered German cigarettes, beer and schnitzel. He worked as a Gasthaus cook and lived on the 4th floor of an old Munich apartment building.At one time he had been married and had two sons. Both of his sons had been sent off to die at Stalingrad.

Ernst was slender and emaciated looking. His eyes were deep set with perpetual dark rings. By 3 O’clock, he would always sport thick gray razor stubble. His uniform was too big and the German helmet sat low on his head. Ernst smoke one cigarette after the other. Some days he would finish 3 packs in a day. At the end of his shift, he would head to the bar, drink beer and schnapps until he was kicked out. While at the bar, he would say nothing. The only communication was his sad deep set eyes and the facial theatrics and mouth expressions he would engage in during the draw and exhale of stale German cigarettes.To remain sober meant thinking about his life, the trenches, his dead sons and the demise of the Germany he loved. When sober, he had to think about the grotesque nature of the NAZI party and how it had infected one of the most advanced nations on earth.

There were no prosts to Germany, just cheap Schnapps and a shadow at the dark end of the bar. The round blew almost his entire head off leaving only his jaw still attached to remnants of skull. His body remained standing with hands cupping ears that no longer existed,. After 2 full seconds he toppled over. Unlike the soldiers that died painful deaths in the trenches of the Western front, this fella existed that day in 1944 and then did not exist. It is simple as that. He did not have to deal with lunges filled with puss and pain from mustard gas. He did not have to deal with infection, amputation or the loss of limbs in “No-mans land.” One second he was a live and split second later he was dead. It happened so fast that his brain could not account for anything. Instead of dying an excruciating death at 18 in the trenches of France, he died at 50 with zero physical pain. This paled when compared to the mental pain he had suffered from 1914 to July 1944 . 30 years of PTSD. 30 years!!!

!Once they had cleared the coastal FLAK area via a single gas saving pass, Milt’s fighter squadron had climbed to altitude on a course to intercept the B-17s at Verdun and before the Bombardment group made the turn at Nancy. They had flown east of the B-17 bombardment group over the Ruhr and heavily populated areas in Germany just looking for something to kill. There were some 650 to 1000 American fighters over Germany this day. Some at 20,000 feet. Some at 30,000 feet. Many on close bomber escort, while many strafed everything of military value at 300 feet or lower. All told, some 50 fighter squadrons were involved. Every mission planned in order to use precious fuel effectively so all could make it back to England.

The combat radius of a P-51 Mustang changed dramatically. Fuel consumption on a high speed low altitude strafing mission used much more gas than bomber escort speeds at altitude.The P-51 Mustang could go close to 400 miles per hour down low and simply suck the gas. At altitude, it could go over 400 miles per altitude in the thin air. During the escort phase of flight it had to slow to 180 miles an hour to stay with the B-17s. The gas consumption was way less. Every mission had to balance distance, fuel consumption with escort and strafing.

After killing the FLAK emplacements Milt’s crew began a slow gas saving climb to 15,000 feet. They would fly a heading intercept course at ferry flight speed until they say the B-17 contrails. The British pilots did not have this luxury as night bombers. An 8th Air Force bombing group would leave 4000 contrails in the sky to and from the target area. It was like a huge highway in the sky. All one had to do is look for it after flying and intercept heading.

Paolo stays on his drift meter lens. He lines up on roads and edges of fields to verify the drift angle. The clear day over France allows him to make out the thousands of bomb craters and the grassed over trenches of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The B-17 is flying over the WW1 battlefields that signaled the end of the German military in 1918. This is the place of the “Lost battalion.” A place where the Dough-boys gave their lives. Utter thousands of American soldiers had died in the fields and forests of France fighting the German soldier. Paolo visualizes bi-planes in dog fights and the blasts of a thousand infantry guns going off for hours at a time. He visualizes the trenches and mustard gas. He visualizes soldiers going over the top. This is the Western front. “Uh Oh, bogie at at 12 oclock high,” the FE declares over interphone. Paolo is startled from his day dream.

If there was cloud cover, the navigator’s job was much harder. He had to know how fast the aircraft was going, the magnetic heading. head winds, tail winds, cross winds and drift angle. Even slight errors in reckoning, after a few hours flying could put the entire bomber force of course.

My German grand father would fight in the German Cavalry for over 4 years on the Western front…