Life History of Ralph Julius Lauper

Chapter 6c

More War Memories

Bombing - British Versus American and Both Versus the Germans

The British never did develop a bombsight which afforded them any accuracy at all from high altitude so they conducted their bombings from low altitude, and at night. They were unable to utilize any protective close formation flying because they couldn't see each other. They also had problems seeing a specific target, so the Royal Air Force did most of their work by going in one at a time and often down to almost housetop level, to escape radar detection. That type of bombing is called Area, or Saturation Bombing. They would frequently devastate an area while missing their primary target completely.

The Royal Air Force guys were a game bunch and severely punished the enemy. They also suffered staggering losses. The Germans would light up the sky with rocket flares, catch them in their spotlights, circle and shoot them down like ducks on a pond. Parachute jumping at such low altitudes is simply out of the question. Besides it was no picnic to be welcomed on the ground by the guy who has just watched his home and family being blown into eternity.

Along came the high flying Yanks to completely change the methods of Aerial Warfare. A new dimension was introduced in the form of the super secret Norden Bombsight. It was named after its inventor. The Americans by using the device could employ pin-point bombing, in close formation during broad daylight hours, and at altitudes of near 30,000 feet, which was about as high as we could get wing lift in the thin air. The result was phenomenal increase in direct hits, less bomb waste, fewer civilian casualties, they were still higher than intended and because our altitudes sorely tested the accuracy of the German Ground Batteries our own losses while still heavy were much lower than they would have otherwise been.

I used to marvel at the performance of those gunners. They possessed, for a long time, radar capability far more advanced than our own. I noticed that as we entered the target area where their guns would go into action that those radar-controlled guns would invariable be "right on the money" in altitude from which point they would work from side to side and box you in until they got to you. If you were lucky you finished your business and got out of there before they finished theirs.

We detested Nazi ideology and the politicians in power. We all held great respect and admiration toward the German populace and the competence of its fighting men. We concluded that if you wanted to fight a war and wanted to wage it against a people who really knew how to fight one, and had all the energetic "smarts" to back it up, then you really ought to try Germany on for size. They were a full wagon load.

As I've already noted, the 15th Air Force Strategic Air Command was made up of B-17 Flying Fortresses, built by Boeing and B-24 Liberators built by Consolidated and flying about equal in numbers, the total strength of which was slightly less than that of the 8th Air Force in England.

We were very hard on the Germans. On a maximum effort mission we would send up about 1,000 bombers. Each bomber carried a three ton payload. That's 3,000 tons of destruction (one ton = 2,000 lbs so that is 6,000,000 lbs of destruction). Typically the first third of the planes would drop cluster bombs (clusters of 15 ' pound shrapnel) which would separate as they left the plane and detonate about 15 feet above the ground. They were deadly anti-personnel bombs and disrupted the activity of the ground defenders. Wave number two would drop the big stuff. The big bombs blew up factories and bridges, railroad yards and refineries. They would throw a loaded rail car straight up into the air and twist the track beneath it like a piece of copper wire. Five hundred pounders were generally dropped. When a target involved gas lines or oil, either at a big refinery or in loaded rail cars, massed by the hundreds in a rail yard somewhere and awaiting movement, we would change our loading. The final third would drop bundles of magnesium bombs. They, too, separated at drop time. The slender sticks lit upon impact and became an instant 4,400 degree inferno of death. One of those little items could strike a multi-story building and hardly slowed down on its way to the basement. We really lit them up.

And still the Germans fought on. Frequently the British would go out at night to bomb a target. They would be coming in to land while we were getting briefed to go out and hit the same target! When we got to that target we could expect to have some trouble with smoke from both fires started by the British and from smokescreens activated by the Germans. They would be up as high as 20,000 feet. Our radar soon became good enough so that we could bomb very effectively right through cloud covering at the target. We operated above the clouds. On two occasions we couldn't get above them and we went back to base loaded. We would disarm the bombs.

They had been armed by the bombardier shortly after take off. He would do this by removing a cotter-pin from a screw type bar which protruded out of the tail of the bomb. A small propeller was turned ten or fifteen turns on the bar. As the bomb left the plane the propeller, now free, swiftly turned off the bar, breaking a small wire in the process. A 15 lb blow on the nose would detonate a bomb in that condition.

The enemy tried everything. Up the big valley we called Flack Ally lay priority targets at Schweinfurt, Regensburg, Augsburg, Salzburg, Munich and Vienna. They created a mobile force. They would hook four or five locomotives together and tie them to a train of up to 100 flat cars, each carrying a big gun, ammo and crew. They parked the trains between the potential targets. They had us on their radar screens from the time we left our bases. The problem lay in trying to figure out where we were going. Our sometimes zigzag course only exacerbated their problem. Sooner or later they had to commit, and when they did, those flack trains took off at about 100 mph to where they felt we were headed. Sometimes they guessed wrong. When they guessed right soon enough their problems would suddenly become our problems. Sometimes they would get close enough to fire while rolling.

Looking out my window at the ground I would see what appeared to be a long strip of ground, set afire all at once. Thirty or forty seconds later their shells arrival all around us was announced by the big puffs of black smoke. I was never shot down but rarely did I escape some form of damage from ack ack fire or enemy fighters, or both.

On some days when we would bomb the target would be all alone, such as one of the big refineries at Ploesti, Romania. The Germans would wait until we were almost there, at which time they would send up a box barrage and saturate the area through which we must pass. It's a true test of discipline and brain-washed courage for one to plow into a situation such as that. It was on such occasions that I came to a real appreciation of the utter stupidity of war! Millions of men on both sides going through what we were all going through, and for what? We were trying to destroy property and kill each other off. We didn't have anything against each other! We didn't know each other! We hadn't even seen each other before and now someone else told us that we were enemies! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

The "ace on the hole" of the German Defense System was to be found in their Luftwaffe (Air Force). The poorest pilots were good. Their best ones were excellent. Their aces were a special group. They were an elite outfit organized by and serving at the call of Field Marshall Hermann Goering. He was the #2 man after Hitler himself. All of this group wore the Iron Cross, it is the equivalent of our Congressional Medal of Honor. They were fed and housed better than the rest of the German Pilots. They were paid more and the best women were available or furnished. They also enjoyed the accolades of the Marshall who kept them on their toes by saddling them with monthly performance quotas which they were forced to meet if they wanted to remain a part of the group.

We never welcomed the sight of them, especially near the end of the month, when they would reach their aggressive peak. They were called the Abbeville kids, named after the French city where they were first based. Our bombings were planned, as much as possible, to follow the weather fronts which moved, one after the other, from England over Central Europe down through the Balkans in a southeasterly direction to Turkey and beyond. We thus became somewhat predictable and the kids could split their time between the 8th and 15th. They did that and gradually became better known as "The Yellow Noses," so named because as they became more transient, moving from one base to another overnight The base at Abbeville eventually lost its significance and since the noses on their ME-109's were pointed yellow they became identified with that and the nickname stuck.

They always seemed to be a part of our biggest raids. Our G-2 kept track of their whereabouts and there was always an audible groan at briefings, when it was announced that the "yellow noses" were in the area. The ample space devoted to their activities is not meant to denigrate in anyway the abilities of the other pilots in the top notch Luftwaffe. It is only meant to show that when you saw them, you were then looking at the best which the Germans had to offer in aerial combat.

Even without their identifying markings, the veteran U.S. pilots could quickly pick them out. They flew better and smarter than the others. They were excellent acrobatic flyers and thus gave our fighter pilots all they could handle when they were engaged in dog fights. When attacking us the average German pilot might begin firing at 1,800 yards, not these guys! They liked to save ammunition and get a better shot. They tended to wait until they were within 1,000 yards or less. And they always went for the lead planes to get the party started off right. When a lead plane was taken out, then the Deputy leader who was on his right wing had to move up to lead. The regrouping always carried the potential to loosen things up and prove to be costly. The enemy was always quick to exploit any weakness. The yellow noses were a brave bunch. They were not at all suicidal and they knew we weren't either. When frustrated by our successes or lack of it on their side they sported 4 fifty caliber machine guns in each wing and a 20 millimeter cannon in the nose. You were in for a long-remembered thrill when one or more of those wild guys would get out ahead of you then wheel and come at you head on, with all their guns going and kicking their rudders from side to side for spray effect. Every third round was a bright red tracer bullet. With all those guns spurting out 800 rounds per minute you were granted an unwelcome opportunity to view lots of tracers. For every one you saw you knew two more just like them were on the way and you couldn't do a thing about it except squirm in your seat and fly on.

Split second timing was required of all parties to this crazy maneuver. They were attempting to either shoot us down or scatter the formation, or both. At the very last instant they might dive slightly beneath us and sail out behind. If they didn't "give" then we would have to put some awfully strong pressure on the rudder pedal and rudder that big plane sideways. With that done they would zip right through our formations, right off our wing tips so close we would look each other in the eye. I picked up lots of bullet holes that way. One day they shot off one of my propellers.

I saw the "yellow noses" more times than I care to remember. The same applies to all German Aerial Fighters, as a matter of fact. It's just that on a given day you might run into one or more of the described tactics being employed by one or more of their pilots. While with the "yellow noses" you might see all of tactics on the same day, only done a little bit better. They also knew how to conserve fuel better. This allowed them to stay in the hunt for a longer period of time when they were up. Accidents happened from time to time and when they did occur it became statistic-time for all involved, including any plane in a too close proximity.

The Norden Bombsight couldn't do everything. It couldn't, for example, tie your shoelaces or cook your breakfast for you. It could do some things amazingly well. In retrospect I would call it a computer with wheels and gears. That little black box took up barely a cubic foot of space and was a marvel of engineering. It shortened the war! Its innards were made up of scads of little gears and wheels, the top was made of thick, see-through plastic. The bombardier checked one out each morning and was responsible for it. The sights were kept under armed guard when they were not in use.

The workings were controlled by the bombardier and once it was plugged into the planes circuit he could actually fly the plane through the use of several buttons and switches on the box, by which he would issue instructions to it. The pilot always had the capability to override those instructions by simply throwing a master switch up in the cockpit.

When the plane arrived at the Initial Point and started the 15-20 mile bomb run the bombardier should already have some figures available to him gained in the morning briefing and by working with the navigator. He needed to know the ground speed and air speed of the craft, the speed of the wind and its direction, plus the exact altitude. He then identified the target and its exact distance away. When all of these facts were fed into the sight he would be ready to give the pilot an exact heading to fly. The pilot would strive to maintain that heading, unless last minute changes were given by the bombardier. Speed should be constant and flight level must be maintained. A sudden up or downdraft causing a wing to lower or lift at the exact point of bomb release could throw the whole bomb load a quarter of a mile off target. The same was true of sudden raising or lowering of the planes nose.

Great concentration and coordination between pilot and bombardier was required on any bomb run. Once a bombardier had entered all the data and had instructed the bombsight of the selected hit point a horsehair would show up on his scope picture of the area, showing a line straight from plane to that target. Another horsehair would show across it at a direct right angle and would begin creeping up toward the target as the aircraft approached. The pilot would be busy fighting natural elements as well as sudden changes in the ships attitude, which could be caused by bursts of flak or prop-wash from other ships ahead. On the bomb run just forget about flak. Enemy fighters were not too much a factor right in the flak area. Unless they were very upset or aggressive they would pull away and wait outside while the ground batteries were active. Once the all clear was signaled by the red puff of smoke from a single shell sent up from the ground the fighters would close in again and start working over the most heavily damaged units. Sometimes it didn't work out that way. When the action was too spread out they would just keep firing until the last plane was about eight miles beyond the last gun. They used 88 and 105 millimeter guns.

During the final 10-12 seconds the bombardier might slip in a directional change or two on his own while the pilot worked to keep the plane straight and level. The actual drop might be made a mile or two before the plane passed over the target, depending on both the wind and speed of the plane. "Bombs away!" would be shouted over the intercom by the bombardier, a fact already sensed by the whole crew as the now lightened plane suddenly jumped upward. The pilot then called out to the co-pilot, "Close bomb doors!" When done with it he would give his acknowledgment.

At this point the airwaves would be alive with frantic calls between planes and groups. Some wag could always be counted upon to make some kind of attempt at humor in order to lessen the tension. He might broadcast something like, "And now we leave this idyllic but unfriendly little spot. We must be home in time for afternoon tea."

Sardonic humor but therapeutic to some degree, I suppose. When the drop was completed and we began the turn toward home I personally would exchange information with all crew members regarding their own condition and that of our ship, as well as others about us. We also appraised each other of the location and numbers of enemy fighters. If time permitted I tried to compliment and thank them for their good job up to that point. I might add my usual, "Let's go home to dinner. I'll try to get you there"

The radio operator had his batch of strike film as captured by the camera looking down from the floor of his radio room. Good crews make good strikes. I make no apologies for myself or my crew. I always thanked them for extending my life. Good boys! Security Surrounding the Bombsight

The Norden sight was so top secret we would not give it to the British nor allow them to copy it. The following comments show the great pains taken by the U.S.A. to keep our planes and bombsight from falling into unfriendly hands. Let's consider country by country.

ENGLAND - They knew all about our planes. The 8th Air Force was based there. They were never allowed to examine the sight.

SPAIN - Early in the war if a bomber crash-landed the pilot, who was always last man out, was to shoot the sight with his pistol, (mess up the gears), open the gas valves and burn the plane. Later on we allowed them to try to salvage the plane.

RUSSIA - Same as Spain. The point at which we stopped burning the plane was after the Germans attacked them and they came into the war as our ally.

SWEDEN - We always allowed that neutral nation to have the plane.

SWITZERLAND - Like Sweden, Switzerland was neutral and we tried to leave the plane as intact as possible. The Swiss added a little friendly twist. When a crippled bomber entered their airspace, they would send up a couple of the few fighters possessed by them. They would escort the stricken bomber to the nearest landing field, where the plane would be interned for the duration.

No one, repeat, no one ever got the sight.

The clever Germans were able to retrieve parts of crashed or shot-down bombers from allover. They actually got a few of them in service. Several times they sneaked into our formations and raised a lot of havoc before they were eliminated. I didn't witness this myself. They were never able to figure out how to put a sight back together in running order.

Airplane Logos

When a plane was assigned to a crew most of them would name the ship and paint that name on its side, below the pilot's window. Some were innovative and clever. On our original ship Ross and I couldn't seem to come up with a suitable name. In desperation we finally had "Nameless" painted on. When I got my second ship I elected to not get caught up in that stuff again so my ship flew without a name, while "Nameless" became one of the most popular of all.

None of this mattered a whole lot in the long run. My ship was shot down a week after I completed my tour of duty. Nameless met its Waterloo about 10 days after Ross finished his. "What's in a name?" Shakespeare asked. My answer to that, "I don't know."


After several days of successive flying an airman became subject to fatigue. In such times we would be happy to hear of weather activity over Europe being bad enough to ground us. Meanwhile, headquarters people who were so disinterested in promotions that they made us pilots work as 2nd Lieutenants through nearly half of our tour of duty, were ever so prompt to hold decoration ceremonies. Instead of having a day to relax we all had to turn out spit-and-polished for these big events. The General would fly in and he along with the Colonel would do the "pinning." They did this ostensibly to of all things keep morale up! We hated it! I'll comment further about decorations later on.

Fear and Fatigue

Men who are called upon to live and work under constant threat of violence and death are simply not living a normal, civilized life. Sooner or later such abnormalities will become manifest in the behavior of anyone so afflicted, I don't care who they might be. Some break under the strain.

The Squadron Operations Office and Orderly Room were located near to our tent and some others. One night at 10:30 "lights out" time, the young orderly on duty came out to shut down the gas-powered generator which supplied power for all of our tents. I had just crawled into my bunk when a shot and a scream came from the area of the generator. I was the first to arrive. I snatched a high powered rifle from the hands of an armed Air Force Guard whose unit was assigned the night patrol around our squadron area. The soldier was completely "out of it" and he offered no resistance when I disarmed him. Others said he challenged the Orderly but shot him before he could finish his answer to the challenge. It was a sickening sight to see that boy lying there, completely disemboweled and moaning. He was lucky to die in a few minutes, before the ambulance arrived.

On a Sunday morning a Flying Sergeant was sitting in front of his tent, cleaning his 45 caliber revolver. A little Italian kid came walking through the area, loudly hawking his wares, tangerines and eggs. The Sergeant didn't like his yelling, so he just raised his gun and blew the kid's leg off at the knee, he was about ten years old. Men changed in less violent ways. The braggarts did less of it, many introverts tried to escape their shell by engaging in excessive conversation with everyone in sight. There were those whose drawn faces indicated what tension and strain they were under. There were those who became irritable while others drank far more than was good for them, which was none.

The group functioned on a high level in spite of all of those things and I, like most of the flyers, tried to maintain a balance of humor and camaraderie in order to combat the reality of seeing good friends lost in battle and knowing we could very well be next. As before mentioned, veteran poker players quit planning their next session because of the uncertainty, and when a pilot would jump off the truck bearing each to their plane, about all he could do would be to voice the hope in his heart with, "See ya' tonight." And still the losses mounted!

Axis Sally

This young woman left her home in New York City and turned up in Berlin at the outbreak of hostilities. She became a traitor and broadcasted anti-American propaganda for the Nazis. We could always listen to her programs while on our way to the target. She would apologize for not having the latest Bing Crosby records, but that she would do the very best she could for us. She would remind us that our mothers, wives and sweethearts really missed us and that loneliness would surely cause wives and girlfriends to go looking for someone to take our places. Why didn't we stop all this madness and go home, etc. This kind of drivel didn't do a whole lot of damage. It did bother us a bit when that girl would get on the air while we were still on our way home from a mission and tell us about some pilot or pilots who had been shot down an hour or so ago. She would welcome these guys as new guests of the German Reich. She would provide us with name, rank and serial number of such new prisoners of war. The only unusual thing so far would be the speed with which she could get this stuff on the air, all of which any prisoner would give to his captors under the international provisions of POW conduct. What was surprising and somewhat unnerving was the additional stuff they had on us. She would proceed to give their hometown address and even the names of some family members. The Gestapo was everywhere.

On the day before our Officers Club was to be completed Sally announced it on the air and said the Luftwaffe was planning to send down some Ju-88's (bombers) to help us warm it up. For me the real chiller was when she gave the names of about 10 members of the group and my name from Piedmont, CA, was one of them!

I believe I looked under my bunk that night. The next night I did go to the Club opening and yes, a few junker 88's did come but were driven away by our fighters and ack ack. The few bombs they were able to drop did no damage. The Germans were lousy bomber people anyway. Fighter planes were their game. It still was kinda spooky!

Stress Continued

I never did suffer from inordinate amounts of stress, my nerves were too good. There was never a night when I couldn't sleep. I did lose a lot of weight, but that was just because I didn't like most of the chow and wouldn't eat it. I did become fatigued at times. This condition was in large part one of my own making. I have since come to realize that my temperament is different from most. I'm a home-type guy who does whatever it takes in order to be with those I love when the day ends. After the war, when I spent years on the road as a Factory Rep, I noticed that most salesmen loved those nights on the road. So they could slip out to the bars and restaurants at night, to "live it up." I'm not like that. It was hard for them to understand why I would drive 100 or more miles home at the end of a selling day and then drive right back again the next morning. I had the same urge throughout my tour of combat.

Jane had written soon after I left, the news that we were expecting. There were guys in situations similar to mine allover the place. I know some of them were quite concerned but not a single one of them attacked the problem in the same manner that I did. To me it seemed only natural that I should do what it took in order that I might be home in time for the big event. I volunteered for every possible flight I could get, sometimes I felt so-o-o-o burned out.

"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," wrote the playwright. Almost, maybe, but not quite. However when you are sitting in an airplane cockpit, close to six miles up in the air, then it is no trick at all to see 100 miles ahead through the windshield. From that vantage point, and if you happen to be toward the rear of the groups involved, then you are granted a ringside seat at the attack of target of a force which stretches out nearly that far. I would often sit and watch while the groups would pass over the target, and wonder how a group here and there would get through that flak and come out the other side without seeming damage, while the very next group to follow would have ships blowing up, spinning out and other weird things.

I was continually evaluating the state of my nerves, and my fatigue level. I used the above phenomenon as my barometer. When it got to the point where I didn't feel any great amount of tension or fear, or merely looked upon it all as I would if I were a spectator, then I knew that my reflexes couldn't be up to snuff. Then I realized it was time to take a day off, and I did. I remain convinced to this day that a man feeling no fear under such conditions is simply not in a normal state. I'm convinced also that my awareness of that fact and my response to it most surely extended my life.

Composition of an Air Force

A Squadron is made up of an element of three planes, flying in a "V". A 2nd element right behind and a bit lower than the lead element contains a 7th plane flying in the slot of the "V". The Squadron Leader on that flight is the front man in the lead element. The one flying on his right is the Deputy Leader. The flying strength of a squadron is 7 planes with 10 men on a crew, for a total of 70 men in the air. Four squadrons made up the normal complement of a group. A group's mission size was, therefore, 28 bombers and 280 men. The 5 groups in a wing would put up 140 planes and 1,400 men. The 7 wings meant 980 planes and nearly 10,000 men.

In order to put up that many men and planes on a mission a much larger number was required to bring a unit up to full strength. That number was 15 planes and 150 men in a squadron, 60 planes and 600 men in a group, 300 planes and 3,000 men in a wing, 2,100 planes and approx. 20,000 men in an air force at full strength. These figures were most difficult to maintain, 60% of the flyers were enlisted men, 40% officers.

Fighter Escorts

Our fighter pilots deserve a great chunk of credit in the systematic destruction to be wreaked upon the Nazi War potential by the Allied bombers. They were divided into three segments, more or less dictated by the kinds of planes they flew.

The first group of escort pilots would be still in bed as we took off and would catch up with us long before we reached the target. They would stay with us through any action on the part of enemy fighters and as long as their fuel lasted. They flew our P-51's, a high performance aircraft which could take care of itself in any company.

Before we could get to the rendezvous with the fighters we had already rendezvoused by units: plane to element, element to squadron, squadron to group, group to wing and wing to air force. The first unit to assemble would slowly climb to an altitude of several thousand feet and circle slowly within a prearranged circle always to the left and as the force grew larger with the addition of successive units, the circle expanded to a radius of perhaps 50 miles. The position of each unit, from top to bottom in the entire operation had already been established in briefings at every bomber base in the participating air force.

When the line-up was completed the force began the climb out toward the target at the rate of 100 feet per minute. Our descent off the target was at the same rate of drop, down to about 10,000 feet. Going out we observed strict radio silence until enemy fighters were observed or anti aircraft firing was begun.

The second segment of our escort consisted of the big P-47 fighters. They had a powerful engine and a broad wing which gave them high altitude capability. They were fitted with wing tanks which increased their range. As soon as they became involved in a dog-fight they would jettison their wing tanks and fight. They would meet us and provide top cover, which we sorely needed, to prevent the enemy from diving on us from above.

I had high regard for all fighter pilots, but I liked one of the P-47 groups best of all. It was commanded by Lt. Col. Benjamin Davis, Junior. Ben's father was the first black cadet ever to graduate from West Point. No man should have to endure what he is reputed to have been put through there. He retired from the service as the first Black General in US History. He was a Lt. General. Ben Jr. was a West Pointer also and got a little farther than his dad did. He retired a few years ago as the army's first black 4-Star General. Davis' group were all black and all college graduates. You could cut your hand on the crease in their pants. You could see your reflection in the shine on their shoes. They were very articulate and charming guys. Besides, they could fly! Benjamin Davis, Jr., was a man's man and a leader who liked to fly with his men. I chatted with him briefly one evening downtown in Foggia and discovered just how much charisma he had. That group never surrendered their humor, even under attack. I can still hear one of those guys chortling as he was being pursued by 5 fighters, "Hey you guys! I got a half dozen of 'um cornered over here, if someone wants a piece of 'um, come right on over and I'll scrape a few of them off on you, but y'all better hurry or they'll be gettin' away." I saw and heard this and laughed!

As we came off the target we would be picked up by our P-38 escorts. They were our most easily recognized fighters. They were the twin-engine craft with twin boom tails. A long range plane they provided lots of escort for shot up bombers. They also flew well on one engine, but could not fight on one.

One day a sad thing happened. We were coming down the alley east of the Swiss border and near the Brenner Pass, through which the rail track connected Germany and Italy. We were down not much higher than the Alps themselves. A P-38 had lost an engine and was trying to get into the bomber formations for protection. There was an unwritten law of the "jungle" out there. No friendly plane ever came into our formations on a direct line. Several of our planes had fallen into German hands, so for safety sake our planes would slip in sideways. This poor guy was so badly damaged that he couldn't do that. He was also under attack by the Jerry's from his offside. He came straight in, where upon one of our bombers promptly opened up on him with its guns on that side. He went out and tried it a couple more times, with the same results. Everyone should have seen him suffer, his original damage. Many of us were shouting over the radio, trying to tell them to knock it off. They loaded him with lead and he lost the ability to maintain his altitude. He slowly fell behind, and steadily glided on a downward path, straight toward a tall mountainous peak. He was probably too badly injured to jump. His plane slammed into the side of the mountain and blew up! That was the end of a tragedy which should never have happened.

I Led the 15th Air Force on two occasions. It happened once when I was a 2nd Lieutenant and once as a 1st Lieutenant. Here's the way such things come about. If you are leading your group and your group is assigned to lead the front wing of the day then you suddenly become the front man in the whole show. The only change made at the briefing would be to replace the tail gunner for the day. Major Perry Ford, who was our Squadron Bombardier, would take his position and act as "eyes" out the rear, to give the pilot the answers to questions he required regarding other groups etc.

The lead plane must be certain that all planes are properly assembled and in position before he starts the climb toward the target at a precise rate of speed, ascent and direction. The slightest change of direction must be ever so smoothly executed or the groups on the outside of the turn will be spun off like kids on the end of a game of "crack the whip". The first time I led the mission, it went off like clockwork. The second time was quite different from the first.

Col. Frank Kurtz became the fly in everyone's ointment. He was the Commanding Officer of the 463rd. COs flew missions right along with their group whenever their schedule permitted. It was normal for them to have themselves assigned to the lead plane as the first pilot of a crew they would select, and it was the practice for a CO to select some missions which had so far become difficult. It was to be expected of a Commander, that he lead his men in hard times, most Commanders did but not Kurtz.

Space had previously been given to Col. Kurtz but further assessment is needed in order to perhaps explain and justify his behavior, at least in part. A man likes to follow someone who is at his very best when under stress and pressure. Such conditions brought out the very worst in Frank Kurtz.

As earlier stated, Kutz had substantial and individual credits of which he could be justly proud. He had the seeming ingredients needed to become a group commander. When the exact opposite became all too apparent I began to search for answers. I finally hit on one which satisfied me. Everything Frank had done so well had been done with a lot of attendant publicity and acclaim. He was on stage and playing to an appreciative audience when he won a Bronze Medal for diving in the 1936 Olympic Games at Los Angeles, ditto his record speed flight from Australia to the U.S. in the late 1930s. The book "Queens Die Proudly," which he wrote about his exploits with his bomber, "The Swoose Goose," brought him national acclaim when it topped the best-seller list.

The truth of the matter was that in every instance where Frank showed up good it was always in a situation where he functioned alone and without great risk to his life. When he came to the point where he was required to take the same chances as the rest of us, without any praise, he fell flat on his face. He resorted to pills and partying with the nurses. He rarely led the group. He would impose himself into a mission at the last minute and bump the Co-pilot off. He would then sit in the Co-pilot seat and try to run the mission without having any responsibility. It didn't work when he tried that with me. He made it a practice of picking what he felt would be an easy one. The second time I led the Air Force, the prospects for a milk run were promising. It wasn't to be!

About 90 enemy fighters hit us a hundred or so miles before we got to the target. It seemed that all of them were after the lead plane. That plane was me! Frank was beside himself, his neurotic state began to show in his shouts over the intercom, as well as the jumping, twisting and turning he was doing in his seat. He was no help at all. Ford remained calm and professional in the tail. So did the rest of the crew. The target was much better defended than expected. Enemy fighters and flak combined to shoot down about 30 of our planes. After I came off the target I began working to keep the Air Force together and give the stragglers a better chance. I first slowed down, then zigzagged so they could keep up. Finally I dropped the wheels and flaps, so higher RPMs on the props could be used at low, near stall out speed. Jim Newcomb, of the 775th Squadron, became disabled and out of control. He must have been trying to get away from the area before jumping out. He waited too long. He had been on the bomb run and veering all over the place. A few seconds before "bombs away", his plane turned and came right through my squadron and within a very few feet of my plane. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and felt that it would be close, but that he would miss us. It was doubly important for the lead plane to remain level and straight on course. Now when a pilot was sitting in the left seat he was in total command of the craft and made all decisions. His was the final word as to whether or not his plane was in condition to even take off. He could "scrub" a plane from any flight.

Jim was just slipping by us through the squadron when Kurtz grabbed the wheel and started what I am sure would have been a violent turn into the side of my Deputy Lead Engine on my right wing. Before he could do any damage I reached over and slapped his hands off the wheel. He was still yelling and screaming as we dropped our bombs. It was then that I took my oxygen mask off, and while flying with one hand, I leaned over and shouted in his ear, "Colonel, you can court martial me when we get back to the base, if we get back. But for the rest of this mission I want you to keep your hands off the wheel! Now sit down and shut up! I don't want to hear another word out of you."

He did what I told him. On my part I felt miserable as I flew home with the specter of a court martial looming ahead. A few minutes before landing the reality of the matter hit me squarely between the eyes. There would be no court martial! First of all, the Colonel lacked the guts to take me on and charge me with insubordination. The whole crew would testify about his pitiful performance. He had apparently been thinking along the same lines and may have even been afraid of what I might say and what charges I may bring against him. Whatever else might be said of him Frank Kurtz was no fool. When we landed and I had shut the engines down on our parking pad we both unbuckled and started to get out. I said to a very subdued and crestfallen Colonel, "Thank you Col."

He muttered in a low voice, "Good job, Lieutenant."

Poor Frank was there in Italy when I left. He survived to this day and I'll wager that he never flew more than 15 combat missions. I have not seen or spoken to him since and this is the last reference I will make of him.

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