Category Archives: Personal Accounts

In their own words – Stories from veterans of “The Greatest Generation”.

Veteran Stories – Hawker Typhoon pilot Frank Johnson

Thanks to The Memory Project

From Hawker Typhoon pilot, Frank Chalmers Johnson, who served in the ETO.  The red link below is the source for his complete transcript.

Frank Johnson, holding a model of “his” aircraft, RB396. He is still with us, and we are talking to him…

Transcript

But what bugs me most now and this is a thing that it plagues me, it really plagues me now when I think about all the destruction that I did and the people that I know that I had killed through my activities [as a Hawker Typhoon pilot, a single-seat fighter-bomber aircraft]. And that bothers the hell out of me. It bothers me so much that it even wakes me up at night thinking about it.

I got shot down [on] March the 30th, 1945. And I crashed my head, my forehead crashed up against the ring site, you won’t know what that is but the ring site, that’s supposed to have a sponge rubber flange around the edge of it so that if you did hit your head on it, you wouldn’t get hurt. But I cracked my head on it and really split it open.

Firsthand Accounts from Japanese Naval Pilots

Dan King’s well documented presentation; this provides a badly needed perspective about Japanese procedures, accounts from their pilots, cultural views, loss of seasoned personnel, (a willingness to be captured meant shame to their families) and other little -if at all- known facts.  Among the many previously untouched stories is the process that recruits went through to become pilots; extremely harsh training I had read about in Saburo Sakai’s book “Samurai”

Produced by Jarel & Betty Wheaton for Peninsula Seniors http://pvseniors.org based on Dan’s presentation at the Western Museum of Flight.

Veteran Interview Rick Brown – Veteran Tales Project

The gentleman interviewed passed on in 2013.  I call your immediate attention to his revealing statement about 35:30 thru 37:31 in the interview.

For this reason, I posted it on Partnering With Eagles under Constitutional Issues, instead of People.

Brits had to give up their guns in 1965 (!); I had no idea that this occurred so long ago.

This statement is a stern warning to us with Government intent on destroying our second amendment.

From Erik Johnston’s YouTube channel:

Published on Sep 10, 2012

To purchase this on dvd, email me at veterantales@gmail.com

This is an interview with RAF Pilot Rick Brown. Rick flew planes such as the Hurricane, P-51, Sterling Bomber, and the Horsa Glider. He was also an infintry man and explains what it was like to live in London while the Germans were bombing the city.

Battle of Peleliu – E. B. “Sledgehammer” Sledge

Battle of Peleliu Eugene Sledgehammer (Sledge)

Below is an audio book video; below that, is a link for the complete series of 10 discs; the substance of E.B. Sledge’s book “With the Old Breed”.   Umurbrogol Mountain would become known as Bloody Nose Ridge; Rising 300 feet above the surrounding terrain, the rest of Pelileau was solid coral, making it impossible to dig foxholes for protection from heavily fortified bunkers, caves and underground positions all interlocked into a “honeycomb” system. They were so well camouflaged; it was hard to pinpoint them even with field glasses.  Marine casualties were higher than in any other campaign of the war.

Part five of this audio book, takes place after the 1st division’s terrible losses during the first two weeks of fighting that would last a month on Pelileau.  Faced with the grievous losses of their fellow Marines, and the brutal nature of the Japanese, Sledge relates the brutality of the war itself; described in gruesome detail.

Published on Nov 15, 2015     E.B. Sledge – With the Old Breed Disk 5

 Audio book From YouTube channel Chicago Piano –

308th Bomb Group – Mission, Hankow, in Japanese-held China.

640px-375th_Bombardment_Squadron_-_B-24_Liberator

By United States Army Air Forces – United States Army Air Forces via http://www.flickr.com/photos/18532986@N07/page105/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15164262

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was at its inception, “a modern design featuring a highly efficient shoulder-mounted, high aspect ratio Davis wing. The wing gave the Liberator a high cruise speed, long range and the ability to carry a heavy bomb load.” (Wikipedia)

Due to its range, it proved useful in bombing operations in the Pacific, including the bombing of Japan.  But the design which gave it those attributes, also made it weaker structurally than the B-17; the double bomb bays, and larger fuel capacity made it more vulnerable to fighters, especially when sent on missions without fighter escort.  During this time, the Eighth Air Force in the European Theater experienced twenty percent and above losses (see Black Thursday)  of B-17’s on missions to Germany beyond the range of their fighter escorts.

This story recounts a mission which was supposed to have had escorts, but  none showed up.  The bomber crews experienced half of their numbers destroyed by enemy fighters.

425th BS 308th BG 14th AF Jun-Sep 1943 Kunming Airfield, China 24.992, 102.743

425th BS 308th BG 14th AF Jun-Sep 1943 Kunming Airfield, China 24.992, 102.74

B-24D Liberator “Chug-A-Lug” of the 308th Bomb Group ready for take-off from the Kwanghan Airfield, Kwanghan (now Guanghan), China, Jun-Sep 1943 ww2db

Source, Wikipedia –  B-24 Liberator units  of the United States Army Air Forces

These units were the ones assigned to the  China-Burma-India Theater

Fourteenth Air Force

Formed out of the American Volunteer Group in March 1943 in Kunming, China.   Primary United States Air Force in China as part of the China-Burma-India Theater 308th Bombardment Group  Formed with B-24s in April 1942; deployed to China in March 1943

373d Bombardment Squadron  374th Bombardment Squadron

375th Bombardment Squadron  425th Bombardment Squadron   Inactivated October 1945

Tenth Air Force

Constituted February 1942. Moved to India March–May 1942. Primary USAAF Air Force in the China-Burma-India theater.

7th Bombardment Group 

Formed September 1918; deployed to Philippines September 1940; withdrawn to Australia late December 1941; combat in Java Jan-March 1942; deployed to India.   Transitioned from B-17C/Ds to B-24s at Karachi, March 1942

9th Bombardment Squadron   436th Bombardment Squadron

492d Bombardment Squadron    493d Bombardment Squadron 

Inactivated December 1945

Courtesy of HISTORYNET

 

A Bad Day For Flying: The story of a WWII B-24 Commander shot down over Hankow“It was a great day for flying,” my father always said afterward.  But August 24, 1943, turned out to be a thoroughly bad day for the crews of seven Consolidated B-24D Liberators of the 425th Squadron, 308th Bomb Group (Heavy), on a mission to Hankow, in Japanese-held China.

 

On that day my dad, 24-year-old aircraft commander 1st Lt. John T. Foster, and the rest of the crew of B-24D No. 42-40879, dubbed Belle Starr, were awakened at 4 a.m. in Kunming and briefed on the mission.  For the recently formed heavy bomber force of Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault’s Fourteenth Air Force, this would be only the 15th mission.    

The crews were well aware that they were on their way to the scene of a recent bloodbath.  Just three days earlier, a group of Liberators based at Chengkung—14 B-24s from the 374th and 375th squadrons of the 308th Bomb Group—had bombed Hankow.  Leading that flight was Major Walter “Bruce” Beat of the 374th.  They flew to the rendezvous spot over the fighter field at Hengyang, but when a promised escort of Curtiss P-40s and Lockheed P-38s failed to appear, Beat decided to continue on to the target without any escort.

As the B-24s approached Hankow, they were met by a swarm of an estimated 60 Japanese fighters, which pounced on the lead squadron’s ships.  Almost immediately, Beat’s Rum Runner burst into flames amidships, then exploded. Seeing that, as one co-pilot of another B-24 said, “We just poured on all the power we could to get the hell out of there.”  Only one plane of the 374th and six of the 375th returned, carrying badly wounded crewmen.

The 308th’s commander, Colonel Eugene H. Beebe, watched as the shattered survivors landed at Kweilin.  One crewman recalled: “Colonel Beebe didn’t say a word.  He just stood there with tears streaming down his face as he saw the condition we all were in.

”Now, three days later, the 308th was going back to Hankow.  For dad and the rest of Belle Starr’s crew, it would be their first combat mission since their arrival in China three weeks earlier.

My father grew up near Waterbury, Conn., but his earliest childhood years had been spent in Changsha, China, where my grandfather taught medicine.  When civil unrest made life there risky for foreigners, he and his family slipped out of Changsha on a cold foggy morning in January 1927 in a small riverboat, making a stop at Hankow, then on to Shanghai and the ocean liner that took them back to the States.

Dad graduated from college in 1940 and after a year of selling insurance enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in September 1941.  He had never even been inside a plane and had no particular interest in flying, but it seemed preferable to a life “in the mud” as an infantryman.  Once he was accepted, he went to an airfield and paid $5 for his first ride—just to see what it was like.

Ten days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, dad was inducted.  During primary training, he later recalled, “It was soon clear, to me at least, that I really wasn’t cut out for all this, and in the first weeks I was confused, disoriented and scared.”  In advanced flying school some cadets found they could put holes through the target sleeve in aerial gunnery drills, while others could not.  Cadet Foster was among the latter, and he was assigned to B-17 training.  In an August 1942 letter to his parents, he rationalized: “We’re all pretty satisfied with this heavy stuff.  Not so glamorous as pursuit, but it is important and [it is] the offensive end.  At the same time it’s the safer branch of flying.”  The B-17s and B-24s, he had been told, “are so well defended that the Japs just aren’t attacking formations”!

Their instructors told them how lucky they were to be in B-17s, not the homely, slab-sided B-24s—“the box the B-17 came in.”  But his graduation was followed by orders to Tucson and crew training. In the B-24.

In mid-June 1943, the crew was assigned a factory-new B-24D, one with the newly introduced “hi-tech” ball turret in the belly, and learned they were headed for the China-Burma-India Theater.  Before they left the States, a former Disney artist airbrushed a sexy cowgirl and the name Belle Starr on the nose of 42-40879.

In later years my dad mused: “Let it be said that I never boasted of having much flying skill.  Yet the Army Air Forces was handing me a fresh new quarter-million-dollar B-24, telling me, at age 24, to fly myself and my crew to China on my own.  Was the Air Force so desperate?  Or so overconfident?”  His crew included Lieutenant Sheldon Chambers, co-pilot; Lieutenant Harry Rosenburg, navigator; Lieutenant Lionel “Jess” Young, bombardier; Tech. Sgt. Bill Gieseke, engineer and top turret gunner; Tech. Sgt. Jack Miller, assistant engineer and gunner; Staff Sgt. Alvin Hutchinson, ball turret gunner; Staff Sgt. Ray Reed, tail turret gunner; Staff Sgt. Don Smith, radioman and waist gunner; and Staff Sgt. Ray Pannelle, armorer and waist gunner.

Belle Starr left Homestead, Fla., headed for Trinidad, then Belem and Natal. After that came the hop across the Atlantic to Ascension Island, and finally on to Chabua, India—the primary supply station for the 308th Bomb Group.  The next day Belle Starr made its first crossing of the Himalayas—“the Hump”—and continued on to Kunming, where it would be based.

After pulling the B-24 into a revetment, the weary fliers relaxed, pleased that their nine-day, 12,000-mile trip had at last come to an end.  But while they were still in their seats, filling out the usual reports, the crew got a shock. “Alongside came a truck,” dad recalled, “and with it came a carrier piled with very real bombs and, as one group of men hurriedly threw boxes and baggage from our airplane onto one part of the truck, others were bringing aboard boxes of .50-caliber ammunition and pushing the bomb carrier under the bomb bay and starting to load.  Someone said, ‘We have a mission in the morning.’  I was stunned because throughout our bomber training there had been the consistent message that when we reached our particular war zone there would be a period of training in local tactics.

”After a restless night, my father was told early the next morning that Belle Starr had a fuel leak, so they wouldn’t be going along on that mission after all. “I don’t remember going back to sleep, but I do remember the wave of relief,” he recalled.  Three weeks of waiting, interrupted by one supply flight back over the Hump, still brought no training for Belle Starr’s crew.  Finally on the evening of August 23 came word that there’d be an early call the next morning for a mission.

In the dim light of the briefing tent the next morning, they learned that seven B-24s from the 425th Squadron would rendezvous en route with seven more from the 373rd.  Then a major said, “They clobbered our friends over Hankow the other day, and we’re going back to show they can’t do that to us!”  Another officer announced they were going back to “get those Zeros” that had mauled the 374th and 375th squadrons on the 21st.

Last to speak was the charismatic squadron commander, Major William W. Ellsworth, who had previously impressed the men as a confident leader.  My father recalled: “I watched and listened, and suddenly I felt a growing chill—not so much from the words I was hearing but more from growing recognition that this was a very different major than the one I had expected. This was a very uncertain man.  His voice shook.  His words were slow.  The man seemed aged.  We were going back to Hankow, and the major was as frightened as I was!

”Oddly, the name Foster came up three times during that briefing.  Major Horace Foster, the group operations officer, would fly the lead plane.  Captain “Pappy” Foster, the squadron’s intelligence officer, would be waiting at Kweilin, where the flight would land and be debriefed before returning to Kunming.  Then Major Ellsworth said: “I’ll fly you, Lieutenant Foster.  Meet you at your ship.”

“It should have been a thrill, but this changed man was no longer reassuring,” my dad said.  Sheldon Chambers, Belle Starr’s usual co-pilot, would be staying behind that day, and dad moved to the right seat to make way for Major Ellsworth.  Ed Uebel, a darkroom technician who had volunteered to take bomb damage photos, would replace assistant engineer Jack Miller for that mission.

Clustered fragmentation bombs were loaded aboard Belle Starr, and long belts of .50-caliber ammo were fed into each gun position.  Without any greeting, Ellsworth bounded onto the flight deck, took his place in the left seat and began flicking switches.  To dad’s amazement, the squadron commander abruptly started two engines at once, violating normal checklist procedures.

Soon the seven Liberators were roaring down the runway and into the air.  The formation slowly climbed and turned left, with Belle Starr on the right, or outside, of the others as one by one they faded into a cloud layer.  But when Belle Starr emerged, the other planes were not to its left anymore, but to the right.  It had flown through the entire formation in the clouds!

Dad’s uncertainty about Ellsworth increased as they flew on: “He seemed oblivious to me as though absorbed in a world of his own.  He wrestled, at times angrily, with the plane, jockeying the throttles back and forth and profanely cursing our plane’s ‘lack of trim.’  In truth, our plane with its belly turret was new to the theater, and it was a heavy addition to the tail, but he seemed to have unusual trouble keeping in formation.”  (Much later my father learned that Ellsworth had had a premonition about the mission, telling his roommate that he knew “his number was up.”  In an effort to calm Ellsworth, the roommate had shared a bottle of whiskey with him the night before—finally getting the major to bed only about an hour before he had to get up for the briefing.)

As the bombers flew on, word came over the radio that their sister squadron, the 373rd, would not be joining up—they were fogged in at their base in Yankai.  Just as Major Beat had to decide whether to continue without fighter escort or to abort, now Major Horace Foster, leading the formation in Sherazade, had to call the shots.  He too decided to continue on.

The weather was beautiful, with bright sun and high cumulus clouds.  Feeling rather useless in the right seat, my dad started thinking about Changsha.  He wondered whether he would ever see his childhood home and beloved Amah (Chinese for nanny) again.

Suddenly four P-40s appeared off to the right.  The pilots of the shark-nosed fighters flew alongside for a bit, saluted, then snaked on ahead. “At least,” thought my dad, “it is reassuring to know the P-40s are out there somewhere.

”Major Foster in Sherazade, leading A Flight, was flanked by new planes and their novice pilots, Lieutenant Clarence Robinson in the unnamed “938” on his left and Lieutenant Linus J.  Austin in Star Dust to his right. Leading B Flight in Chug-a-Lug, Captain Leland Farnell (ordered to command that aircraft by Major Foster, who had displaced Farnell in his usual position in Sherazade) had 1st Lt. Joe Hart on his left in Glamour Gal.  On the right of B Flight was Belle Starr. Below and behind them was Cabin in the Sky, piloted by 1st Lt. David W. Holder.

After five hours the Liberators approached Hankow and its twin city of Wuchang along the Yangtze River.  The bombers lined up on their target, the second of two airfields.  Flak started bursting around them, and then the little red light flickered on the pilots’ instrument panel, indicating bombs away. But instead of rapidly turning away from the target, they continued straight ahead, eventually beginning a slow turn to the left.  Then came a cry over the intercom: “I see fighters taking off!”   Meanwhile, the 30 P-40 and eight P-38 escorts that had been promised were nowhere to be seen.

Off to the right my dad saw a distant airplane paralleling their course. Next he spied a speck straight ahead, heading right at them.  Then it grew into another plane, with little “lights” blinking on and off along its wings—a Japanese fighter, firing at them!

Ellsworth gripped the controls tightly, and all dad could do was close his eyes and sink down in his seat.  Belle Starr shuddered as its gunners returned fire. The smell of gunpowder permeated the plane.  Then came shouting over the interphone—“Get that one!” and so forth, like cheering at a football game.

Robinson’s plane started streaming a trail of gray smoke from its right wing, then dropped out of the formation in a flat spin.  Crewmen from other planes said they saw three chutes emerge from 938 before it crashed.

The B-24s had been under attack for some time when my dad heard a popping sound somewhere behind him.  Suddenly Ellsworth leaned over and shouted: “Call the lead plane and tell them to slow down.  They’ve got a cripple back here!” At first dad thought he meant that Holder was in trouble behind them. Then he saw Ellsworth’s hand thumbing over his shoulder and turned—to face an inferno in the bomb bay.

Three days earlier the lead B-24 had experienced this same sort of fire over Hankow and exploded.  Like that plane, all the Liberators on this mission were carrying extra fuel in bomb bay tanks.  My dad needed no further instructions. He hit the red bailout button repeatedly.

In the nose, bombardier Jess Young turned from firing his .50-caliber to ask Rosenburg if the alarm was what he thought it was, just in time to see the heels of Rosenburg’s shoes going out the floor escape hatch.  Young quickly followed him.

Across the formation, bullets ripped through Glamour Gal’s nose, skimming over the heads of the navigator and bombardier and into the back of the pilot’s instrument panel, setting it afire and sending glass and metal fragments into pilot Lieutenant Hart’s face, temporarily blinding him. Bombardier 2nd Lt. Gordon Ruhf and navigator Lieutenant Fred Scheurman scrambled up to the flight deck.  Standing behind Hart and co-pilot 2nd Lt. Clarence B. Stanley, Ruhf put a comforting hand on the co-pilot’s shoulder.  Just as he did so, more bullets crashed through the side windows and into Stanley’s chest, killing him.  Despite his injuries, Hart managed to dive the bomber and then ordered the crew to bail out.

Major Foster was still leading the small formation in Sherazade, with Lieutenant Donald J. Koshiek in the co-pilot seat.  When Sherazade was raked by cannon fire in its bomb bay, right wing and rear fuselage, the No. 3 engine oil tank was punctured, and fuel began pouring from a broken line in the bomb bay.

Then things got even worse, as Koshiek later explained: “A 20mm shell entered the cockpit in front of me and exploded at Major Foster’s head.  My face was full of plexiglass and shell fragments, and the shock of the shell knocked me out.  I came to in time to take the plane out of a stall.

”In Chug-a-Lug’s nose, bombardier Lieutenant Elmond J. Purkey watched a fighter coming right at him.  A shell exploded at his feet, and shrapnel peppered his legs.  Substitute tail gunner Staff Sgt. Louis Kne was hit and killed instantly, and four other crewmen were seriously wounded.  Co-pilot John White headed to the back of the plane to administer first aid, saving two of the gunners.  White subsequently manned first one and then the other waist .50s until the ammo ran out.  Chug-a-Lug had more than 200 holes from cannon and machine gun fire by the time Captain Farnell flew into cloud cover and turned south, headed home.

As the attack continued, the Japanese turned their attention to the trailing plane, Cabin in the Sky, piloted by Lieutenant Holder and co-pilot 2nd Lt. George E. Mosall.  The B-24 was soon riddled with holes, and both engines on the left were knocked out.  Even with full power on Nos. 3 and 4, it couldn’t keep up with the formation.  No guns were firing, and Holder and Mosall got no response from the nose or tail.  When they were only a thousand feet up, they agreed it was time to get out.  But to their horror, as the two teetered on the narrow catwalk near the bomb bay, they saw the engineer, Staff Sgt. William Spells, staring at them from the far hatchway—without a parachute.  The plane then rolled to one side, and Holder and Mosall dropped out.  They landed safely, but they never forgot the look on Spells’ face.

Back in Belle Starr there was a crisis in front and rear. Bail-out procedures had seemed obvious during training.  But figuring out how to follow those procedures was a different matter when Belle’s bomb bay was a holocaust, and flames were also streaming from the right wing and engine No. 3.

Dad leapt up and unlatched the small hatch above the engineer’s position, then pulled himself up into the 200-mph wind—and his seat parachute caught on the lip of the opening.  He struggled for a few minutes, then fell back into the cockpit, exhausted.  Sitting there, he was vaguely aware of Bill Gieseke dropping down from the upper gun turret.  When dad tried once again to get through the hatch, he felt Gieseke’s hand on his left heel, pushing hard enough to pop him through the opening.  “I know I laughed out there in space,” he said.  Starting his free fall from 18,000 feet, he delayed opening his parachute and landed with only a broken rib to show for his brush with combat.

Gieseke, wearing a chest-pack type chute, had an easier time exiting the plane.  But then he made a crucial error, opening his chute immediately. A fighter made several passes at him, shooting off half of one foot as he floated down.

Belle Starr’s waist gunners had watched a hole appear behind the No. 3 engine and a long streamer of flames flowing back toward them.  Then they saw the hit to the bomb bay, followed by a roaring fire.  The two gunners, Pannelle and Smith, were working frantically with tail gunner Ray Reed to extract Hutchinson from inside the ball turret.  Uebel stood waiting to jump with the others.  They were snapping Hutchinson’s chest-pack parachute to his harness when “Suddenly everything turned red,” Pannelle recalled.  The right wing broke off, and the bomber went into a tight spiral.  Centrifugal force threw Pannelle out one of the open waist windows and Uebel out the other.  The other gunners died when Belle Starr hit the ground. Also left aboard was Ellsworth—still at the controls when Gieseke and dad last saw him.

Chinese guerrillas collected the downed fliers near the village of Hsiung Chian Tung and, carrying Gieseke on an improvised stretcher, managed to evade Japanese searchers.  Eventually the party would number 11 survivors of the Hankow raid: dad, Rosenburg, Young, Pannelle, Uebel, Hart, Ruhf, Scheurman (navigator of Glamour Gal), Solberg (Glamour Gal’s engineer), Holder and Mosall. Gieseke died of his injuries a day after the mission.

Chug-a-Lug, riddled with holes, had escaped via that fortuitous cloud.  Flying on a compass heading that navigator Lieutenant Irwin Zaetz provided from memory (his maps had blown out of the shattered nose), it headed straight back to Kweilin.  Captain Farnell told the wounded crewmen they could bail out over the field rather than risk landing.  They all decided to ride it down. Farnell landed without flaps, at 150 mph.  He later explained, “With all the damage that plane had had, I was going to make sure it didn’t quit flying until I got her on the ground!”  Without brakes, and given all that speed, he ground-looped at the far end of the runway, spinning the bomber around and around until it came to a stop neatly in the parking area.

Sherazade had its own problems but was still flying. Bombardier Morton Salk climbed up to the flight deck, helped to remove Major Foster’s body from the left seat and sat down to help Koshiek fly the plane.  But then they got lost. After three long hours navigator Charles Haynes eventually got them on course to Hengyang.  They too landed without brakes, managing to stop at the end of the runway.  But Hengyang was too close to the Japanese for comfort. Frantic work patched up Sherazade’s fuel and hydraulic lines, at least sufficiently for the crew to fly back to Kunming the next morning.

Star Dust, piloted by Lieutenant Austin, landed at Kweilin without apparent damage and was scheduled to return to Kunming the next morning. “Pappy” Foster, on hand to debrief the returning crews, decided to return with Star Dust.  The bomber took off normally, and Austin called Kunming when they were 40 minutes away from landing. Shortly after that, Star Dust flew into a mountaintop.  Miraculously, two sergeants were thrown from the plane and survived.

In the end, only one of seven B-24s that left Kunming that morning returned to its base.  Of the 73 men present at that early morning briefing, just 12 returned to base on August 25.  Fifty men had died (31 at the scene of the battle), and then there were the 11 who were walking back.

For 10 strenuous days dad and the others were escorted through the country, mostly on foot—up and down mountains, across rice paddies, through villages and hiding in secret camps.  During most of the journey the Americans had no idea where the Chinese were taking them, but eventually they learned their destination: Changsha, my father’s childhood home.

When they arrived, a small party of Westerners was waiting to greet them. An Englishman walked up to dad and said, “My name is John Foster.” “That’s my name too,” said my father.  The Brit was John Norman Foster, a Methodist minister who worked for the Red Cross.  When the fliers were assigned billets, dad chose a house across the street from the home where he had lived as a boy.

Nine fliers were invited to lunch the following day by Ethel Davis, another Methodist missionary.  As they introduced themselves, Davis exclaimed “Johnny!” and hugged my very surprised father.  She had known his family during the 1920s.  After lunch she announced, “If the rest of you wouldn’t mind returning to the living room, I have a surprise for Johnny.”  She then went into the kitchen and returned with a weeping Chinese woman.  My father was at first stunned, but then he too began to cry—this was his Amah! With Davis translating, they spent an hour catching up on family news.

The next day brought a ceremony with speeches and gifts for the “American air generals,” a noisy parade and an elaborate banquet. But before the fliers began eating, an Army sergeant went to each man and whispered that Japanese infiltrators were rumored to be in Changsha.  They would have to leave immediately.  One by one the Americans rose and slipped out the back door, where rickshaws waited to take them to a boat.

Thus for the second time in his life dad surreptitiously exited Changsha by riverboat.  As an evadee he was required to go back to the States, where he spent the rest of the war.

The August 24 Hankow raid represents just one mission in one theater of a global war.  Yet it embodies the universal story of American volunteers thrust into combat.  As for my father, John T. Foster, his experience with China had come full circle—and he had lived to tell about it.

Alan Foster is the younger of two sons of the late U.S. Air Force Major John T. Foster, who lived until 2003 and self-published an account of his experiences, China Up and Down. Additional reading: Chennault’s Forgotten Warriors: The Saga of the 308th Bomb Group in China, by Carroll V. Glines; or B-24 Liberator Units of the Pacific War, by Robert F. Dorr.


This article by Alan Foster was originally published in the January 2008 issue of Aviation History Magazine.

Ernie Pyle Vs. Revisionist history on “Patton 360” YouTube

I just finished reading my 1944 copy of Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men.  It was a learning experience;  books listed in the sidebar represent only about 25% of the biographies, and autobiographies I have read since I was nine years old.   Ernie personalizes his accounts by mentioning every soldier, airman, and sailor by both name and their addresses; with a physical description, education, family, and his relationship to them during his time overseas, that he met and traveled with, from North Africa, through the Normandy Invasion.  Only the book Semper Fi, Mac;  personal accounts of Marines throughout the Pacific campaign hit me so close to home.

In one of the last chapters, titled Break-Through, he chronicles the events of July 25th, 1944. This was (according to Patton 360) on the 24th, and tells a very different story.

Ernie lived through this snafu, only to be killed later in the Pacific Theater, by  enemy fire on Iejima  (an island lying a few kilometers off the Motobu Peninsula on Okinawa Island)  during the Battle of Okinawa.  I can only say that unless publications such as his are kept alive, the “newspeak” Orwellian world we live in will crush any truth in favor of their filtered information.  I  invite those interested to spread the word.  I am typing most of this chapter, providing the reader with a feel for the sights, smells, and the same anticipation of the troops involved.  I have skipped few paragraphs, when I do, it will be noted by  “…”

Break-Through

Surely history will give a name to the battle that sent us boiling out of Normandy, some name comparable with Saint-Mihiel or Meuse- Argonne of the last war.  But to us there on the spot at the time it was known simply as the “break-through”.  We correspondents could sense that a big drive was coming.  There are many ways you can tell without actually being told, if you are experienced in war.  And then one evening Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commanding all American troops in France, came to our camp and briefed us on the coming operation.  It would start. he said, on the first day we had three hours of good flying weather in the forenoon.

We were glad to hear the news.  There wasn’t a correspondent over there, or soldier, or officer I ever heard of who hadn’t complete and utter faith in General Bradley.  If he felt we were ready for the push, that was good enough for us.  The general told us the attack would cover a segment of the German line west of St-Lo, about five miles wide.  In that narrow segment we would have three infantry divisions, side by side.  Once a hole was broken, the armored divisions would slam through several miles beyond, then turn right toward the sea behind the Germans in that sector in the hope of cutting them off and trapping them.  The remainder of our line on both sides of the attack would keep the pressure on to hold the Germans in front of them so they couldn’t send reinforcements against our main push.

The attack was to open with a gigantic two hour air bombardment by 1,800 planes – the biggest ever attempted by air in direct support of ground troops.  It would start with dive bombers, then great four motored heavies would come, and then medium, then dive bombers again, and then the ground troops would kick off, with air fighters continuing to work ahead of them.  It was a thrilling plan to listen to.  General Bradley didn’t tell us it was the big thing, but other officers gave us the word.  They said “This is no limited objective drive.  This is it.  This is the big break-through.”

In war everybody contributes something, no matter how small or how far removed he may be.  But on the front line the break-through was accomplished by four fighting branches of the services and I don’t see truly how one can be given credit above another.  None of the four could have done the job without the other three.  The way they worked together was beautiful and precisionlike, showering credit among themselves and General Bradley’s planning.  The four branches were: Air Force, Tanks, Artillery, and Infantry.

I went with the Infantry because it is my old love, and because I suspected the tanks, being spectacular, might smother the credit due the infantry.  I teamed up with the Fourth Infantry Division since it was in the middle of the forward three, and spearheading the attack.  The first night behind the front lines I slept comfortably in a tent at the division command post, and met for the first time the Fourth’s commander – Major General Raymond R. Barton, a fatherly, kindly, thoughtful good soldier.  The second night I spent on the dirty floor of a rickety French farmhouse, far up in the lines, with the nauseating odor of dead cows keeping me awake half the night.  The third night I slept on the ground in an orchard even farther up, snuggly dug in behind a hedgerow so the 88’s couldn’t get at me so easily.  And on the next day the weather cleared, and the attack was on.  It was July 25th.

If you don’t have July 25th pasted in your hat I would advise you to put there immediately.  At least paste it in your mind.  For I have a hunch that July 25 of the year 1944 will be one of the great historic pinnacles of this war.  It was the day we began a mighty surge out of our confined Normandy spaces, the day we stopped calling our area the beachhead and knew we were fighting a war across the whole expanse of France.  From that day onward all dread possibilities and fears for disaster to our invasion were behind us.  No longer was there any possibility of our getting kicked off.  No longer would it be possible for fate, or weather, or enemy to wound us fatally; from that day onward the future could hold nothing for us but growing strength and eventual victory…

The first planes of the mass onslaught came over a little before 10 am.  They were the fighters and dive bombers.  The main road, running crosswise in frontof us, was their bomb line.  They were to bomb only on the far side of that road.  Our kick off infantry had been pulled back a few hundred yards from the near side of the road.  Everyone in the area had been given the strictest orders to be in foxholes, for high level bombers can, and do quite excusably, make mistakes.  We were still in country so level and with hedgerows so tall there simply was no high spot – neither hill nor building- from which we could get a grandstand view of the bombing as we used to do in Sicily and Italy.  So one place was as good as another unless we went right up and sat on the bomb line.  Having been caught too close to these things before, I compromised, and picked a farmhouse about 800 yards back of the kickoff line.  And before the next to hours had passed I would have given every penny, every desire, every hope I ever had, to have been just another 800 yards further back.

Our front lines were marked by long strips of colored cloth laid on the ground, and with colored smoke to guide our airmen during the mass bombing.   Dive bombers hit it just right.  We stood and watched them barrel nearly straight down out of the sky.  They were bombing about a half mile ahead of where we stood.  They came in groups, diving from every direction, perfectly timed, one right after another.  Everywhere we looked separate groups of planes were on the way down, or on the way back up, or slanting over for a dive, or circling, circling, circling over our heads waiting for their turn.

The air was full of sharp and distinct sounds of crackling bombs and the heavy rips of the planes machine guns and the splitting screams of diving wings.  It was all fast and furious, yet distinct.  And then a new sound gradually droned into our ears, a sound deep and all encompassing with no notes in it- just a gigantic far away surge of doomlike sound.  It was the heavies.  They came from directly behind us.  At first they were the merest dots in the sky.  We could see clots of them against the far heavens, too tiny to count individually.  They came on with a terrible slowness.  They came in flights of twelve, three flights to a group and in groups stretched out across the sky.  They came in “families” of about seventy planes each.  Maybe those gigantic waves were two miles apart, maybe they were ten miles, I don’t know.  But I do know they came in a constant procession and I thought it would never end.  What the Germans must have thought is beyond comprehension…

The first huge flight passed directly overhead and others followed.  We spread our feet and leaned far back trying to look straight up, until our steel helmets fell off.  We’d cup our fingers around our eyes, like field glasses, for a clearer view.  And then the bombs came.  They began like the crackle of popcorn and almost instantly swelled into a monstrous fury of noise that seemed surely to destroy all the world ahead of us.  From then on for an hour and a half that had in it the agony of centuries, the bombs came down.  A wall of smoke and dust erected by them grew high in the sky.  It filtered along the ground back through our orchards.  It sifted around us and into our noses.  The bright day grew slowly dark from it.  By now everything was an indescribable cauldron of sounds.  Individual noises did not exist.  The thundering of the motors in the sky and the roar of bombs ahead filled all the space for noise on earth.  Our own heavy artillery was crashing all around us, yet we could hardly hear it.

The Germans began to shoot heavy, high ack ack.  Great black puffs of it by the score speckled the sky until it was hard to distinguish smoke puffs from planes.  And then someone shouted that one of the planes was smoking.  Yes we could all see it.  A long faint line of black smoke stretched straight for a mile behind one of them.  And as we watched there was a gigantic sweep of flame over the plane.  From nose to tail it disappeared in flame, and it slanted slowly down and banked around the sky in great wide curves, this way and that way, as rhythmically and gracefully as in a slow motion waltz.  Then it suddenly seemed to change its mind and it swept upward, steeper and steeper and ever slower until finally it seemed poised motionless on its own black pillar of smoke.  And then just as slowly it turned and dived for the earth – a golden spearhead on the straight black shaft of its own creation – and disappeared behind the treetops.  But before it was down there were more cries of,  “There’s another one smoking – and there’s a third one now.”  Chutes came out of some of the planes.  Out of some came no chutes at all.  One of the white silk caught on the tail of a plane.  Men with binoculars could see him fighting to get loose until flames swept over him, and then a tiny black dot fell through space, all alone.

And all that time the great flat ceiling of the sky was roofed by all the other planes that didn’t go down, plowing their way forward as if there were no turmoil in the world.  Nothing deviated them in the slightest.  They stalked on, slowly and with a dreadful pall of sound, as though they were seeing only something at a great distance and nothing existed between.  God, how we admired those men up there and sickened for the ones who fell.

It is possible to become so enthralled by some of the spectacles of war that a man is momentarily captivated away from his own danger.  That’s what happened to our little group of soldiers as we stood watching the mighty bombing.  But that benign state didn’t last long.  As we watched, there crept into our consciousness a relization that the windows of exploding bombs were easing back toward us, flight by flight, instead of gradually forward, as the plan called for.  Then we were horrified by the suspicion that those machines, high in the sky and completely detatched from us, were aiming their bombs at the smoke line on the ground – and a gentle breeze was drifting the smoke line back over us!  An indescribable kind of panic came over us.  We stood tensed in muscle and frozen in intellect, watching each flight approach and pass over, feeling trapped and completely helpless.  And then all of an instant the universe became filled with a gigantic rattling as of huge ripe seeds in a mammoth dry gourd.  I doubt that any of us had ever heard that sound before, but instinct told us what it was.  It was bombs by the hundred, hurtling down through the air above us.

Many times I’ve heard bombs whistle or swish or rustle, but never before had I heard bombs rattle.  I still don’t know the explanation of it.  But it is an awful sound.  We dived.  Some got into a dugout.  Others made foxholes and ditches and some got behind a garden wall – although which side would be “behind” was anybody’s guess.  I was too late for the dugout.  The nearest place was a wagon shed which formed one end of the stone house.  The rattle was right down upon us.  I remember hitting the ground flat, all spread out like the cartoons of people flattened by steamrollers, and then squirming like an eel to get under one of the heavy wagons in the shed.

An officer whom I didn’t know was wriggling beside me.  We stopped at the same time, simultaneously it was hopeless to move farther.  The bombs were already crashing around us.  We lay with our heads slightly up – like two snakes – staring at each other.  I know it was in both our minds and in our eyes, asking each other what to do.  Neither of us knew.  We said nothing.  We just lay sprawled, gaping at each other in a futile appeal, our faces about a foot apart, until it was over.

There is no description of the sound and fury of those bombs except to say it was chaos, and a waiting for darkness.  The feeling of the blast was sensational.  The air struck us in hundreds of continuing flutters.  Our ears drummed and rang.  We could feel quick little waves of concussion on the chest and in the eyes.  At last the sound died down and we looked at each other in disbelief.  Gradually we left the foxholes and sprawling places and came out to see what the sky had in store for us.  As far as we could see other waves were approaching from behind.  When a wave would pass a little to the side of us we were garrulously grateful, for most of them flew directly overhead.  Time and again the rattle came down over us.  Bombs struck as far as half a mile behind us.  Everything about us was shaken, but our group came through unhurt.

I can’t record what any of us actually felt or thought those horrible climaxes.  I believe a person’s feelings at such times are kaleidoscopic and indefinable.  He just waits, that’s all- with an inhuman tenseness of muscle and nerves.  An hour or so later I began to get sore all over, and by midafternoon my back and shoulders ached as though I’d been beaten with a club.  It was simply the result of muscles tensing themselves too tight for too long against anticipated shock.  And I remenber worrying about War correspondent Ken Crawford, a friend from back in the old Washington days, who was several hundred yards ahead of me.  As far as I knew, he and I were the only two correspondents with the Fourth Division.  I didn’t know who might be with the divisions on either side – which also were being hit, as we could see.  It was not until three days later, back at camp, that I learned that Lieutenant General McNair and AP Photographer Bede Irvin had been killed in this same bombing and that Ken was safe.

When we came out of our ignominious sprawling and stood up again to watch, we knew that the error had been caught and checked.  The bombs again were falling where they were intended, a mile or so ahead.  Even at a mile away a thousand bombs hitting within a few seconds can shake the earth and shatter the air.  There was still a dread in our hearts, but it gradually eased as the tumult and destruction moved slowly forward.

Two Mustang fighters, flying like a pair of doves, patrolled back and forth, just in front of each oncoming wave of bombers, as if to shout to them by their mere presence that here was not the place to drop – wait a few seconds, wait a few more seconds.  And then we could see a flare come out of the belly of one plane in each flight, just after they had passed over our heads.  The flare shot forward, leaving smoke behind it in a vivid line, and then began a graceful, downward curve that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  It was like an invisible crayon drawing a rapid line across the canvas of the sky, saying in a gesture for all to see: “Here! Here is where to drop. Follow me.”  And each succeeding flight of oncoming bombers obeyed, and in turn dropped its own hurtling marker to guide those behind.

Long before, the German ack ack guns had gone out of existence.  The ack ack gunners either took to their holes or were annihilated.  How many waves of heavy bombers we put over I have no idea.  I had counted well over 400 planes when personal distraction obliterated any capacity or desire to count.  I only know that 400 was just the beginning.  There were supposed to be 1,800 planes that day, and I believe it was announced later that there were more then 3,000.  It seems incredible to me that any German could have come out of that bombardment with his sanity.  When it was over even I was grateful in a chastened way that I had never experienced before, for just being alive.

I thought an attack by our troops was impossible then, for it is an unnerving thing to be bombed by your own planes.  During the bad part a colonel I had known a long time was walking up and down behind the farmhouse, snapping his fingers and saying over and over to himself, “g——-t”, g——-t!”

And I said, “There can’t be any attack now, can there?”  And he said “No,” and began snapping his fingers and tossing his arm as though he were throwing rocks at the ground.  The leading company of our batallion was to spearhead the attack forty minutes after our heavy bombing ceased.  The company had been hit directly by our bombs.  Their casualties, including casualties in shock, were heavy.  Men went to pieces and had to be sent back.  The company was shattered and shaken.   And yet Company B attacked – and on time, to the minute!  They attacked, and within an hour they sent word back that they had advanced 800 yards through German territory and were still going.  Around our farmyard men with stars on their shoulders almost wept when the word came over the portable radio.  The American soldier can be majestic when he needs to be.

The “360” video tells a completely different story; especially the supposed recall of the bomber stream, and one flight “not hearing the recall”, which then dropped on the troops.

If Patton were nearby, Ernie would have made a record of it.