Crew # 555

Crew # 555
Crew # 555 - planes flown: DAMIFINO , DIXIE, LET ER RIP, TIMES A WASTIN

1st. LT. J. William Smith

1st. LT. J. William Smith

Monday, September 5, 2016

S/Sgt. Roland Magee - Tail Gunner - 306th. Bomb Group - 368th. Squadron

My Wife recently received an old photo album of her late Father, 
J. Udall Magee.
He was a U.S. Navy Medic on Saipan and then Tinian
We knew his Brother Roland Magee tradically died in
 a motorcycle wreck in the 40's but knew nothing much more 
about his Brother Roland. 

This newpaper clipping was in the photo album revealed he 
was an 8th. Air Corps Gunner on a B-17. 
This knowledge got my interest so the afternoon 
was spent digging into archives and data bases.

With only his name and the date he was shot down
I started my search to find out more about Roland.
I began my search by looking for B-17's shot down on the
 given date of April 5, 1943.
Numerous data bases are available. Finding numerous B-17's
lost in april 1943
I recorded each aircraft serial # and then researched the
U.S. Air Forces Aircraft Serial Number data bases.
 Every aircraft designated for Military use is logged
on the data base...
sometimes some are not listed, or listed incorrectly.
Eventually I found he was a member of the 308th. Bomb Group.
With this finding I searched the "MACR"'s
(Missing Air Crew Reports) for the Group.
Eventually the "MACR" was located and more
details began to emerge.

The earliest MACR listed S/Sgt. Magee as "Dead", but that was later
 amended as "Wounded" after he was captured and interned
as a POW.
The newspaper article listed him as a "Ball Turret Gunner",
 but other documents listed him as the "Tail Gunner".
The "MACR" listed the B-17 Aircraft Serial Number as "42-24465".
Searching the Air Force Data Base I found that Aircraft # 42-24465
was not delivered to the Air Corps until after April 5th. 1943
so something was awry.....looking at the data base again
I checked Aircraft # 41-24465 and found the proper aircraft.
 I've found conflicting information in the past so this didn't
surprise me. 

Assigned 368BS/306BG [BO- ] Westover 17/8/42; Thurleigh
Missing in Action to the ERLA works in Antwerp 5 April 1943 
 with Pilot Robert W. Seelos (POW).
 Co-pilot: Alexander Kramarinko (Evaded - POW)
Navigator: William W. Saunders (POW);
Ball turret gunner: William H. Keskey (Evaded - POW);
Left Waist gunner: William E. Baker (Evaded - POW);
Right Waist gunner: Raymond E. Walls (Evaded);
Tail gunner: Roland Magee (POW);
Bombardier: James E. Murray (KIA);
Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Stanley P. Stemkoski (KIA); 
Radio Operator: Fred R. Hampton (KIA).
 Hit by Flak and shot down by Oblt Otto Stammberger (4/JG26),
 lost #1 engine and unable to feather, crashed in the Heikant
hamlet, 4km South West of Kalmthout,
North of Antwerp, Belgium. 
Missing Air Crew Report 15534

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Fortress
B-17E 41-24465 (306th BG, 368th BS, "Montana Power")
damaged by AAA, shot down
by Maj. Josef Priller in Fw 190A-5 of JG 26/Stab and crashed
at West Kapelle, Belgium Apr 5, 1943.
MACR 15534.  3 KIA, 7 POW                                

The Target on April 5th., 1943:  "ERLA Aircraft Works"
The industrial area of Antwerp, Belgium is the primary target
of this mission. More specifically the Erla 
aircraft and engine factories are the highest priority.
79 B-17s are depatched: 91BG (20); 303BG (21); 
305BG (18); 306BG (20). 64 of the 79 are effective on the target.
 The fighter opposition is fierce, 
especially on 306BG which loses 4 aircraft MIA.
It so happens that Brigadier General Frank A. Armstrong 
has tagged along as an observer on the lead B-17 from 306BG.
The aircraft is damaged and several of 
the crew are wounded, but the aircraft manages to make it back
to England. BrigGen Armstrong later 
recounted the lead aircraft was attacked from head-on at least
25 times by the German fighters.

Early 1943 Group Photo so Wife's Uncle Roland is likely in there

Also found this little content on a 306th. Bomb Group Site:

"Roland Magee was Tail Gunner on B-17 #41-24465
 'Montana Power', shot down 5 April 1943 in Belgium. 
Prisoner of War (POW). He had lost his eye to a Flak fragment
during the attack. 
After landing in parachute, he was hidden by a farmer near
Loenhout (12km East of the crash place in Kalmthout, Belgium), 
where the Germans brought his Pilot Robert Seelos
to identify him. 
Also captured, he was sent to a German field hospital,
 from where he left around the end of April 1943 
to the Luftwaffe Interrogation Center at Dulag Luft, Oberursel.
From there, he was sent to Stalag 17B, in Braunau Gneikendorf,
near Krems, Austria, where he was in Barrack 36B. 
NARA POW records : “Returned to Military control 27 01 1945”. 
As many other wounded POWs, he was part of a prisoner
exchange program. 
Sent to Stockholm, Sweden, he boarded the “Gripsholm”,
a Swedish liner  transformed into a hospital ship and
arrived in New York on 16 February 1945 as one of 463 US, 
70 Canadian and more than 600 civilians repatriated from Europe. 
After being transferred to the Halloran Hospital,
Staten Island, New York, 
he got a furlough and was ultimately honorably discharged. 
Sadly, he died a few months later, apparently in a motorcycle
accident in California."

Sad to think he survived such a deadly situation in the Air Corps,
make it home from a POW Camp
only to die in a motorcycle accident as a civilian.
Interestly, his Brother J.Udall Magee repaired the
motorcycle and was involved in an accident soon after
getting it repaired.
 He gave the old Harley away.

Some 306th. Bomb Group Photos:


A flight of B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 306th Bomb Group
leave contrails behind as they fly in 
formation. B-17 (serial number 42-31539) is visible in the foreground.
Printed caption on reverse: 
'27814 USAF - with their contrails blending into the clouds below them,
these Flying Fortresses of the 
U.S. Army 8th Ari Force head out over Europe to blast
Nazi installations deep inside Germany. The large 
black burst in the centre of the photo is thought to be a ground fired
enemy rocket.
 Handwritten caption on reverse: '306th BG Thurleigh.'
(Roger Freeman Collection)
Two 306th Bomb Group B-17 Flying Fortresses collided 
in mid-air in heavy fog over Thurleigh airbase 
after returning from a mission; both were destroyed with all hands lost.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015

In rememberance of Pilot Lt. Melvin Westbrook

SEP. 2, 1922-DEC. 22, 2014

Melvin "Mel" Westbrook, of Turlock, was born into a farming family in Genoa, NE. He died at age 92 on Dec. 22.
Mel moved to Turlock in 1940 where he worked as a carpenter for H. A. Hubbard. During WWII he joined the US Army Air Corps, and as a B-24 pilot he flew 35 missions over Europe "on the books" and two OSS missions "off the books."
He was proud of his country and of his crew, only one (Richard Chapdelaine) of whom now survives him. Richard was a Tail Gunner who Mel considered to be the brother he never had. Mel loved to tell war stories and his family heard them almost daily. One of his favorite expressions was, "I got a million of 'em!"
Mel was an excellent carpenter, and after working all day he spent evenings and weekends building the house he and his wife, Barbara, shared together for over 50 years. Other hidden talents included his penchant for growing the best Stockton red onions, snowmobiling, playing guitar, a huge love of the outdoors, hunting (he was an excellent marksman) and fishing, and dancing.
Mel also loved his friends and community, where he involved himself in activities all over town. He was an active member of the Turlock Kiwanis Club, VFW and American Legion. He assisted in delivering pumpkins to local elementary schools, ushered at the fair, made enchiladas with the Soroptomist Club, and worked with the Arrowhead Club.
He had a smile and handshake for everyone, and as a member of the "greatest generation" he will be missed.
Mel is survived by his wife, Betty Westbrook, son Chris (Sheila) Westbrook, daughter Anne (Jim) Walls, step-children Byron, Joyce, Mark, and Joyce Anderson, Kari Doo, and one grandchild. His first wife, Barbara Westbrook, and son Kevin Westbrook, preceded him in death.
A visitation will be held at Turlock Funeral Home on Fri., Jan. 2, from 3 to 7 p.m., with funeral services to be conducted at the same location on Sat., Jan. 3, at 1 p.m. Private interment will take place at Turlock Memorial Park.

Dad flew as Navigator for Pilot Westbrook during their final months in the European Theater. This timeframe included the O.S.S. Missions into Neutral Sweden. Lt. Westbrook also piloted their final flight from England to the United States in late May of 1945. 

      Westbrook with his Bomber Crew:

      "Civilian" Westbrook (2nd. from Right) in Sweden in early 1945 during layover on an  O.S.S. clandestine supply mission.

Dad commented favorably to Mel's piloting skills during one especially harrowing night flight into Stockholm Sweden. While being "tracked" by a German radar equipped night fighter, Mel took the unarmed bomber down to wave top level over the North Sea to avoid the deadly advisery.
During another of these night missions the weather was terrible, with unbelievable cross winds. As Dad gave Mel navigation corrections, Mel could hardly believe the huge course changes Dad (Navigator) was dictating to him. Always the "Crews Pilot", Mel trusted Dads' Navigation skills and he followed the given course corrections getting them safely to their Swedish Airstrip.
Complete trust of your crew mates was an essential of survival.

Time marches on, the WW2 Veterans List quickly grows smaller. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nose Gunner William E. Gilbert

"Gil" Gilbert, Aerial Gunner, Crew #555, 466th. Bomb Group, 785th. Sq.

"Gil" with Pilot Paul Bridgman (center) and Ball Turret Gunner Allan Miller

"Gil" on right with Crewmates out for a little golf.

William E. Gilberts Flight Jacket:

"Gil" (standing left) with Crew #555 mates and a couple of the ground crew.

Photos courtesy of John Gilbert

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tail Gunner Raymond "R.E." Weckerly - "Weck"

another Crewmen located
Received an e-mail this AM from the Nephew of Raymond "R.E" Weckerly, affectionately known as "Weck" by the other crewmen. He is alive and well and living in Delaware. My Dad will be happy to know that "Weck" is still with us. 

Tail Gunner "R. E. Weckerly" - "Weck"

"Weck" in his position

Photos courtesy of John Gilbert

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Miracles or Luck?

Some background about Airman William E. Gilbert of Crew # 555.

William "Gil" Gilbert joined the L.A. Police Force directly after leaving the Air Corps.
He served with Law Enforcement until his retirement.

One of the stories my Dad told me was of a crewman having his oxygen mask knocked of his face by a piece of AA shrapnel coming through the aircraft. The lucky fellow was Gil, and he was unscathed. He found the chunk of shrapnel lodged in the body of the plane. He retrieved it, and his son has it to this day.

During one long mission the Tail Gunner, Airman R.E. Weckerly, moved from his position to stretch his legs for a minute, at that precise moment a German 88 mm anti aircraft round passed upward through the aircraft's body, passing right between his legs. The rounds fuse must have been altitude controlled as it exploded well above the plane after passing through the fuselage. Weckerly was shaken but didn't receive so much as a scratch.

Miraculous that these guys came through unscathed..... or just luckier than many. In those situations a fraction of a second would have meant the difference between life and death.


According to Gil's son, when the crew arrived at Attlebridge England they had to choose a Quonset hut for their quarters. They found an entire hut empty and decided to take it. As they were getting situated another Airman came in and told them that the Hut, #13, was to be avoided as other crews had been billeted there and not returned from Missions. The Crew must have figured that having the entire hut to themselves was better than worrying about superstition, they stayed and had the entire hut to themselves.

Each hut was only rationed a small supply of coal for the heating stove so most huts were like refrigerators in the damp, wet seasons. Dad's told me more than once about being the coal "supplier" for the coke stove. They were given a weeks allotment which would last no more than a couple of days and were not happy about being cold all the time. Dad was a wiry fellow at 27 and found that the Coal Supply "Depot" was secured right near hut # 13. He made "night runs" over the fence and kept their coal supply buckets full and the stove a cook'in. Others would visit hut #13 and comment on how damned nice is was in there compared to the other huts. Dad would just smile and tell them "they rationed carefully".
Dad is the most honest soul whoever walked the earth, but his "liberation" of a little of Englands coal supply has not played on his conscience.


Produced matte of "DAMIFINO"

Tail gunner R.E. Weckerly in position on "DAMIFINO"
A good sense of humor must have helped.

Photos courtesy of John Gilbert

Sgt. Corodon Norton Crew #555 - 785th, bomb Squadron

Top Turret Gunner, Sgt. Corodon Norton, or "Stud" as he was nicknamed by his crew mates:

A few years ago, Norton's son contacted me and informed me that his Dad, Corodon, was still alive and well, living in Florida. I was able to connect him and my Father together via phone. Their "reunion" was brief as both are seriously hearing impaired, likely a result of their Air Corps Service.

"Stud's" nickname didn't stick for his civilian life, as one would suspect. He was known by his friends as "Buzz" after the war.
Viewing a number of "Studs" photos, I really get the sense that he must have been quite the character. His loose posturing is much different than all his peers....kind of a "James Dean" look about him.

The photo below was taken shortly before their departure for England in 1944.
They flew the "Northern route" to Newfoundland / Iceland before arriving in Scotland.
The majority of their combat flight training was as a developed stable crew, which bonded them into a tight "family". Each depended on the others to perform their jobs.

The seriousness of the "business at hand" is apparent in their faces after a few missions:

"Stud" standing on left.

Corodon Norton, William Gilbert, Elijah Porter, R.E. Weckerly

I've lost contact with the Norton Family, I wish them the best and sincerely hope that this post finds "Stud" alive and well.

"Stud" Norton assisting(?) a ground crewman:

I attempted to identify the aircraft from the serial number on the tail, but it comes up with a B-24 from a different Squadron. Possible that it was a transient aircraft, or the tail ID number was different than the USAF Serial Number.

These men entered the Service as kids, beat the odds and served with determination.

Photos courtesy of John Gilbert.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Men & Planes of the 466th. Bomb Group

466th. Bomb Group B-24 "Nose Art"

Notice that nearly every aircraft has a "plate" attached below the Pilots / Co-Pilots windows.
These were light steel plates installed to provide a bit more protection from shrapnel for the Pilots..... for what it was worth.
Considering the thin aircraft skin could be penetrated easily by an ink pen, anything helped.

"Blockbuster" - Declared war weary after losing two engines on the bomb run on the 12 Aug 44 mission to Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, and landing at Beccles, Suffolk, where it was repaired. It flew no more combat missions and was eventually salvaged by BAD 3, Langford Lodge, Northern Ireland.

"Chris's Crate" - Flown to England as an original aircraft by 491st BG / 853rd BS (T8 -L). Transferred before flying any combat missions to 466th BG / 784th BS (T9 T). Transferred to 785th BS (2U V+). Ditched 23 Feb 45.

Later assigned to 406th BS (NL) as J6 U and RZI from Harrington on 8 Jul 45.

"Dumbo" - Lead Formation Assembly Ship
The D style nose has been grafted on to this H model. It became the second assembly ship.


"Gran Slam"

"Duffy's Tavern"

"Parson's Chariot"
Transferred from the 491st BG immediately after arrival in England.

Before Name and Nose-Art were Applied

"Nobody's Baby"

"Merchant of Venice"

"The Lemon"....I wonder if it was a "Ford" Produced B-24?

"What's Cookin' Doc?"
Originally 8/491/855 (V2 Q+). Transferred before 14 Jun 44 to 466th BG.

"The Falcon"
Crashed 8 Jan 45 on return from a mission to Wittlich about 1000 yards WNW of Shipdham airbase, after making one low level pass over the airfield and running out of fuel, it lost about 10 ft of the right wing in a tree, hit a haystack, went through two hedges and into an ice-covered pond, coming to rest in the pond, having stopped some 75 ft from a cottage. The nose was crushed and the left wing was torn off. Salvaged 9 & 10 Jan 45.